Duval County

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legacy honored at Jacksonville’s Van Zant House

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The music of Lynyrd Skynyrd is widely known across the world.

“Freebird” is the southern rock anthem created almost 50 years ago by a band that got its humble start in a Westside home at 5419 Woodcrest Road.

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“Skynyrd fans are dedicated,” said Gene Odom who ran security for Lynyrd Skynyrd and was a childhood friend of band leader Ronnie Van Zant. “We would run across the roof of the house and jump on those bamboos and we would ride the bamboos to the ground because we were kids”

Odom often gives tours of the Van Zant House which is now an Airbnb where brothers Ronnie, Donnie and Johnnie grew up.

People come from around the world to visit. Andy Brown and Alison Hadad traveled all the way from Britain to stay at the house. They were all decked out in their Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirts.

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“We learned lots. There are lots of small facts that extra things that I didn’t know,” Brown said.

Lynyrd Skynyrd made its mark on Britain back in 1976.

They opened for the Rolling Stones at the Knebworth Festival.

Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy honored at Jacksonville's Van Zant House

The Stones had one rule and that was “do not go down the tongue ramp!”

That’s exactly what Skynyrd did as Ronnie Vant Zant led Gary Rossington and Allen Collins right down the ramp.

There’s a poster of that festival on the wall of the Van Zant House along with other memorabilia.

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The house was purchased back in 2015 by real estate investor Todd Smith.

“It was quite a mess,” Smith said.

Smith slowly renovated the house and a few years ago got the state of Florida to approve a historical marker that now stands in front of the house.

Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy honored at Jacksonville's Van Zant House

“It’s quite the draw. I mean you come here for any length of time and you stay here and you’ll probably get two or three people every day to stop by and take pictures in front of the sign,” Smith said.

The marker tells of the band’s history and makes reference to the tragic plane crash in 1977 that killed Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and background vocalist Cassie Gaines after the plane ran out of fuel.

Odom was on the plane and said he was the last one to talk to Ronnie Van Zant.

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“If he hadn’t unsnapped his seat belt, he probably would have survived,” Odom said.

More than 20 years ago, Ronnie Van Zant’s mausoleum was vandalized at the Jacksonville Memory Gardens. His family decided to move him to Riverside Memorial Park, about 6 minutes away from the Van Zant House.

This past Christmas, Van Zant’s remains were moved again to another section of the cemetery on a private estate in front of a fountain.

Skynyrd fans still visit the cemetery to memorialize the rock legend while also checking out his childhood home. In fact, diehards had the chance to own a piece of the Van Zant House last year in an equity crowd fund campaign.

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Smith says he cancelled the project and instead is now focusing on a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for landscaping.

“So we want to get a sprinkler system in here, re-sod, put a real driveway and some nice landscaping and really spruce it up with curb appeal,” Smith said.

The Van Zant House Kickstarter campaign just launched Wednesday.

Donors can contribute toward the costs to landscape the front of the Van Zant House.

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The campaign runs through April 17.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is still touring but with only one original band member.

They have shows later this year in Arizona, Maryland, California and Nevada.

Many Skynyrd fans are in their 60′s and 70′s now but young people are being exposed to the music every day and just like the Van Zant House, it’s preserved for future generations.

Photos: Legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd honored at Jacksonville’s Van Zant House