Relax Inn / Garden Court / Main Street Motor Court

by Tim Gilmore, 4/9/2023

– Easter 1942 –

Maroon-hued Pontiac De Luxe Metropolitan Torpedo four-door four-window sedan, advertised “New in the Low-Priced Field!” idles beside the little check-in cottage in the middle of the courtyard. Family-run establishment, no crime nearby “to speak of,” Main Street murder: look the other way, corn liquor a jump away for a buzz and a gas, dollop in the morning mud, coffee compluh’ment’ry, for “He is Risen,” Hallelujah! “He’s alive,” Hallelujah! Moonshiners down from The Fish Camp, Prohibition’s been gone a decade but gangsters cain’t give it up, nor Rex Sweat, sheriff, best friend of “Jacksonville’s gamblin’ mob,” while he brags he keeps it all out of Jax. He’s got it “all under control” alright, rooms at the Main Street Court always convenient.

Duval County Sheriff Rex Sweat, courtesy State Archives of Florida,

– Easter 1972 –

“Dear Folks,” Auria and Guilford write to Mr. and Mrs. Walter Van San in Newfield, New Jersey.

“Reached at our place Easter Sunday – stayed 3 nights out, didn’t get started early mornings, with the children, makes a difference.

“It rained hard all the way to Georgia. Snowed, hail, thunder & lightning in Va., is nice and warm here. The boy have fishing rods and have caught little fish in the lake here at the Trailer.”

One of them signs the postcard, “Auria and Guilford.”

Beside a six-cent Eisenhower stamp, Auria or Guilford writes, “We Stayed Here” by Garden Court Motor Hotel, 5020 North Main Street (U.S. # 17) at 41st Street – Jacksonville, Florida – Quiet – Back from road – Tile baths – TV – Steam Heat – Air Conditioned – Room Phones – Family Owned and Operated – The WALTON FAMILY MOTELS, INC. – Phone area 904-354-0496

– Easter 1984 –

There, outlined in the night, I saw the figure of a man standing on the rooftops. I saw him clearly. Do not think it was a delusion. I have never in my life seen anything with such clarity. As much as I could tell, the figure, if it could truly be said to be that of a man, was that of a man unnaturally tall and thin. He stood with his legs a little apart, his arms folded across his chest, his head bowed as if he were brooding over this urban wilderness, for what’s wild is what doesn’t need us, concrete and brick upon brick and asphalt and concrete, which sprawled miserably but hauntingly before him. He might have been the very spirit of this terrible place!

still from the 1939 Sidney Lanfield film The Hound of the Baskervilles

– Day before Thanksgiving, November 25, 1998 –

Burgundy Chrysler stops at his door at the Relax Inn, driver enters his room asking random questions about tattoos. Two other men follow the first man. One man wears a ski mask and points a revolver. They tell him to lie facedown on the stained ancient carpet. One man kicks him in his ribs, then steals from the sodden chest of drawers a few dollars, a bong, a picture of his mother.

– Thanksgiving, November 25, 1999 –

“Listen,” 38 year-old Shirley Smith says. “If you wanna have a child, have your own.”

Patrina Faye Cox, who’s befriended Smith these last six months, and Carey E. Brown, both 20 years old, are arrested on kidnapping charges.

Shirley works at the thrift store at 4644. When she finishes helping a customer, she sees that Patrina, who’s been standing near the front door, and Smith’s three month-old grandson Ebony, who’s been sitting in a bouncer at the front of the shop, have both disappeared.

Witnesses see Patrina jump into a taxi with the baby and head to the Park View Inn at 901 North Main. The taxi waits. Patrina and her boyfriend Carey load a couple bags in the trunk and head downtown to the Greyhound station to purchase tickets for Fort Lauderdale.

But the cops are everywhere. And Patrina’s scared. So she hails another taxi and takes Ebony back up Main Street while Carey waits at the bus station. The driver drops them off at We’re For Jesus, Patrina sets the baby on a couch inside, and she runs and hides next door in a room at the Relax Inn.

Police officers flood the neighborhood. A stranger finds Ebony Freeman abandoned and unharmed beside the Relax Inn in the We’re for Jesus House of Prayer.

Shirley and Patrina talk about church and children. All the time, they talk about church and children. Patrina’s lost custody of her child, she says. She tells her family in Fort Lauderdale she has a beautiful baby boy and she’s bringing him down for Thanksgiving. Nobody else — not even the father — knows she miscarried in July.

– May 14, 2001 –

The manager tells the police this man’s been threatening his wife. Officer Mossman approaches, the man reaches into his pocket, Mossman grabs his arm. When the man pulls away, Mossman pushes him to the ground.

Officer Beckner approaches, but the man knocks him to the concrete, the raised slab where the check-in cottage once stood, knocks him down, knocks him out. Mossman runs after the man, who kicks him, knocks his handheld radio to the ground, flees into a nearby trailer park. Mossman finds him huddled under a 60 year-old trailer here in the middle of the city, charges 23 year-old Kareem Griffin with battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting an officer, possession of marijuana.

– September 15, 2013 –

A knock, five o’clock Sunday afternoon, he opens the door and two men enter. One of them pushes him down, pins him to the ground, shoots him in the chest. Tires on the dark Sports Utility Vehicle squeal as they pull out onto Main Street.

Mistaken identity.

The victim lives, but he’s got no place to go. Already he’d had no place to go. And so he’d been staying at the Relax Inn.

– Easter, 2023 –

Motives often elude us. Men seem, too often, to know not what they do. I don’t accept that excuse. Strange Northside expanses, inner-city but trailer-parked, yesteryear’s motor courts parked atop yesteryear’s motor courts, ongoing mysteries and strange inhabitants, inscrutable as ever.

The heavy rains come. I wish that you would too. I know the earth ever tells a true story; would that you were here to make sense of it, to elucidate the mysteries, to tell us we are not mad merely by and from our presence in such a mad place.