The 14 Parks of San Marco

September 13, 2010 21 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville highlights the public spaces of Jacksonville's most walkable neighborhood.

6. FEC Park

FEC Park resides in the San Marco section of South Jacksonville, in an area that comprised part of a plantation established around 1800 by early pioneer William Craig. The City of South Jacksonville, which existed as a separate municipality from 1907 to 1932, purchased the park site in 1929 from a firm owned by Brown Whatley and Joseph Davin, the premiers developers of South Jacksonville during the 1930’s. The privilege of naming the new park was accorded the South Jacksonville Woman’s Club, and its members chose the name Southside Athletic Field. Eventually the name was changed to FEC Park, in honor of the Florida East Coast Railroad, which maintained an extensive railroad yard and passenger depot in South Jacksonville for many years. The rail line passes adjacent to the park, which consists of a large open field with scattered oaks, sycamores, palms, and pines.

7. River Oaks Park

River Oaks Park is situated along Craig Creek, in the San Marco section of Jacksonville. William Craig established a large plantation in the area around 1800. Developers of the River Oaks and the Brookwood Terrace subdivisions donated most of the park property to the City between 1935 and 1937. One block south of the park, lovely Oriental Gardens opened in 1937. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 to provide public service jobs for the unemployed during the Great Depression, supplied the labor and most of the funding to create the park, which opened in 1940. Portions of the grounds form a flood plain, with areas of natural wetlands. Groups such as Greenscape of Jax and the Audubon Society have worked to enhance the park, whose stately trees and lawn provide a natural landscape and visual enjoyment for the residents and passing pedestrians and motorists.

8. Lillian S. Davin Park

Lillian S. Davin Park is a 500 x 50 foot median on River Road, in the San Marco section of south Jacksonville. It was part of a carriage lane and bridle path at the famed Villa Alexandria estate built in the 1870’s. John Swisher and his son Carl, the manufacturers of King Edward Cigars, built mansions across from the park, as part of the subdivision platted in 1929 by Telfair Stockton, Brown Whatley, and Joseph Davin. Known for many years as Swisher Place, the park contained 24 beautiful camphor trees that were killed by two hard freezes in the early 1980’s. Due to the initial efforts of resident Earl Hadlow, 19 live oaks were planted as replacements in 1985; and the City named the park for Mrs. Davin, who lived near the park (with husband Joseph Davin) and passed away that year. Today, the mature oak trees extend along each side of the park, which was refurbished by the residents in 2003, with funding provided from a grant.

9. Largo Well Park

Largo Well Park sits one block west of the Square at San Marco on Jacksonville’s Southside. The charming park forms a half-oval that sits on raised ground, and brick steps lead up to an old-world fountain in the center. A live oak and a magnolia canopy each end, and plants grace the grounds. When the Avondale Company platted San Marco in 1925, it irrevocably dedicated the park to public use. The developer modeled the shopping district after St. Mark’s Square in Venice, and the streets were given Italian names, such as Sorrento, Carlo, and Largo. The park, surrounded by scenic trees and lovely homes, offers the amenities of visual pleasure and a place for peaceful repose.

10. Balis Park

Balis Park is located in the middle of The Square at San Marco – a commercial district in south Jacksonville. Development of the San Marco subdivision began in 1925, and one of the first commercial structures (completed in early 1927) was a quaint, Spanish-style Gulf service station, in the middle of the Square. Gulf Oil later replaced the station with a modern version, and the City purchased the parcel in 1984 for development as a park – which the San Marco Preservation Society and local merchants envisioned as a center piece for the Square. Sheffield and his wife Abla Balis were longtime residents of San Marco, and Mrs. Balis funded the park’s development, in memory of her husband who passed away in 1976. The dedication ceremony took place in January 1988, and later improvements included a sound system, the bronze sculpture Windy Days, and landscaping, which were funded by the estate of Abla Balis and the City.

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