by erin thursby email@example.com
Part of what makes Jacksonville a great place to live is the diverse neighborhoods that the city has to offer, each with their own history and flavor. Jacksonville isn’t just a collection of strip malls and homogenized housing. San Marco is one of Jacksonville’s crown jewels and a model of a successful, thriving neighborhood with a rich history.
Unlike Springfield, which has more than its fair share of houses and structures built in the late 1800’s, there aren’t many structures in the San Marco area that were built prior to 1921. Most of the building began when the Acosta Bridge (then named the St. John’s River Bridge) connected the banks of the river in that area. Since it was largely undeveloped and close to the Downtown area, it became a very desirable place to build in the 1920s.
One of the first things to be built was the business district, with its open plaza and brickwork. Telfair Stockton bought the land for the business district and designed it with the Piazza di San Marco of Venice, Italy in mind. Most of the architectural details you’ll see at the shopping area are still preserved today.
The style of the San Marco Square had a tremendous impact on all the houses that were built there afterwards. By 1929 a second housing subdivision was plotted: Villa Alexandria. The first two homes to be developed were the adjoining lots of Carl and John Swisher, two brothers who had just moved their cigar company to Jacksonville.
While the depression devastated other neighborhoods, San Marco held on. These days, the scenic layout, proximity to Downtown and a lack of commercial intrusion make it an exceptionally attractive place to live.
San Marco’s unique style has been conserved largely due to the San Marco Preservation Society. Along with zoning laws that keep looming high-rises out of the heart of San Marco, the Society has worked hard to ensure that San Marco keeps the look that it’s famed for.
“We are not a historic district; we have no binding legislation that sets us aside as a historic district, therefore we really don’t have a whole lot of control over what can be torn down. The City of Jacksonville has designated some of our houses as being eligible for historic listing locally and so…they’re looking a little more carefully at tear-down requests for those particular houses,” commented Preservation Society President Rob Smith.
The Preservation Society has had some success in moving historic buildings off of desirable real-estate in order to keep those buildings intact. The San Marco Preservation Hall was actually built in 1888 as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. In ‘94, the building was moved to the Fletcher Park location and the society began restorations. Besides currently being operated by the Society as its HQ, it’s also regularly employed as a rental facility for weddings and other events.
“We were able to move the old St. Paul’s Church to Fletcher Park that we restored as our headquarters…There is a small building next to it that we moved to the site a couple of years ago. It was the original sales office for the Stockton Whatley Company (which later became Stockton-Whatley-Davin) who developed and sold San Marco,” said Smith
San Marco has always had value to the city as a distinctive neighborhood. Organizations like the San Marco Preservation Society and the Merchants Association have succeeded in achieving a balance between the need to develop land and the desire to preserve the distinctive character that makes the neighborhood great.
According to trulia.com, the average going price for a home in San Marco today is about $550 thousand dollars, with an average square footage of about 2,700 square feet and lot size of 6,999 square feet.
River Road, behind San Marco Square, as well as along the river bank, is home to a number of historic houses. Many of the historic houses in the area bear a plaque from the San Marco Preservation Society, marking it as an historic building. Several of the more palatial estates you’ll find in the area belonged to the Swisher family, which made their home in Jacksonville after moving their successful cigar business to the city.
Large houses are the norm for San Marco, but luxury condos seem to be the new trend for those looking to relocate to the San Marco Area. The Peninsula on the Southbank, which features luxe condos, is now completely sold out, despite the fact that it will be several years before the project is finished. The much anticipated mixed-used Publix complex, soon to be built on the corner of Atlantic and Hendricks, will also include a residential complex of lofts, condos and town homes. Visit www.eastsanmarco.com for more info on available living spaces.
Those looking for a rental in the San Marco area can find a surprisingly wide range of sizes and prices in the area, from one bedroom apartments at a low of $550 a month to luxury condo sub-lets for $1,500 and up.
San Marco is perhaps one of the hottest places to live in the Jacksonville area. The housing market hasn’t quite slowed down as much as the rest of Jacksonville and housing prices for sold homes have increased in the last year.
Peppered with parks, the greenery and waterways of the area make San Marco an idyllic place to live or visit. Though you might know Whatley Park, which is on Hendricks, just after San Marco Boulevard, you might not know some of the parks that are tucked away from the main drags in the area. Here are just two parks of some historical significance:
Though this park is mainly just a strip of greenery with a few park benches, it does have one interesting feature you might want to check out: a maintained artisan fountain that served as a watering hole for horses on the bridle path of the former Villa Alexandria estate. Go west on Arbor Lane off of Hendricks, turning left onto River Road. The well is located at the corner of Elder and River Road.
River Oaks Park
Running through this hidden park is Craig Creek, which runs out into the St. John’s River. The creek was named for William Craig, an early settler of Jacksonville. You can find this beautiful park by heading west on River Oaks Road, off of Hendricks Avenue.
The San Marco fountain lions have become an important part of San Marco. Though they fit in with the style and architecture of the San Marco Square, it might surprise newcomers to know that they have only been a part of the San Marco landscape since the late 90s. Angela Shiffanela and Alan Wilson designed the three lounging lions to pay homage to the area’s association with Venice, Italy.
· San Marco Building 1978 San Marco Boulevard Built in the 1920s as part of the San Marco Square, this building is a prominent feature of the shopping district. Today it houses Pom’s and Square One.
· San Marco Theatre 1996 San Marco Boulevard Built in 1938, this movie theater still shows films today.
· The Little Theatre 2032 San Marco Boulevard In the same year as the San Marco Theatre, a different kind of theater was being built. A community theater for the local players was made possible by donations from Carl S. Swisher.
· San Marco Preservation Hall 1652 Atlantic Boulevard Originally a wood-frame gothic style church constructed in 1888, St. Paul’s was moved to its newest locale in ’94.
· Carl S. Swisher Residence 2234 River Road This is one of three Swisher homes on River Road. Built in 1930, it occupies what used to be the tennis court area of the massive Villa Alexandria estate.