Lost Jacksonville: Times Square

April 22, 2014 31 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

San Marco would not be what it is today without the unique ambiance and sense of place of San Marco Square. Unfortunately, Jacksonville's true identity and heritage is in danger of being lost forever as time continues to move on. With that in mind, here is a brief look back at the rise and abrupt fall of San Marco Square's Atlantic Boulevard counterpart: Times Square.

100 years ago, the City of Jacksonville did not extend south of the St. Johns River. What is known as the Southbank and San Marco today was once the City of South Jacksonville, a community that promoted itself as "the Brooklyn of Jacksonville."

Serving a community divided by Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway, Times Square developed during the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s as a commercial, entertainment, and social epicenter for residents and industries on the east side of the busy rail line.

Three major events between 1910 and 1923 set the stage for what would become the district of Times Square. In 1910, Atlantic Boulevard opened, connecting South Jacksonville's Hendricks Avenue to Pablo Beach, making a trip from Jacksonville to the Atlantic Ocean a 45 minute drive by car.

The United States' entry into World War I on April 6, 1917 would be the second. Due to the building of ships to transport troops overseas being a major government priority, Jacksonville's Merrill-Stevens shipbuilding company was awarded large contracts to assist in the war effort. To meet those needs, Merrill-Stevens developed a South Jacksonville shipyard along Atlantic Boulevard and the Florida East Coast Railway's Mayport spur, just east of Kings Avenue.

Dredging of Merrill-Stevens South Jacksonville shipyard for WWI. Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

Soon, there was a critical housing shortage for the shipyard's workers and as a result, in Summer 1918, the US Shipping Board authorized the construction of a $750,000 housing project on a 48-acre tract of land between Hendricks and Kings Avenue.

Named Fletcher Park, in honor of Senator Duncan U. Fletcher, Architects H.J. Klutho, Mark & Sheftall, and Mellen Greenley developed the necessary plans quickly, leading to the completion of Fletcher Park's 158 houses, paved streets, trolley line, sewers, lights, gas, water, concrete sidewalks, and parks by April 1919.

Additional plans, which included five stores and two large boarding houses were scrapped at the end of the war in November 1918. However, the ending of World War I didn't cease major development in South Jacksonville and Fletcher Park for long.

In 1921, the St. Johns River Bridge (Acosta Bridge) opened, becoming the first automobile river crossing in the region. Seeking stronger connectivity between its community and the larger City of Jacksonville to the north, residents of South Jacksonville approved a $100,000 bond issue for the South Jacksonville Municipal Railway to operate across the "Yellow Monster" to the Riverside viaduct. 10,000 citizens from both cities attended the grand opening ceremonies on November 1, 1923. With streetcar service connecting Fletcher Park to Jacksonville, building permits in South Jacksonville increased over 100% within a month of the opening.
Soon, a commercial district developed at the streetcar's terminus, at the intersection of Atlantic Boulevard and Kings Avenue in Fletcher Park.  By the time, South Jacksonville's 5,000 residents were annexed into the City of Jacksonville in 1933, the district had become known as Times Square.

A Sanborn map of San Marco in 1951, illustrating the location of San Marco Square (red) and Times Square (blue).

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