Walkable Commercial Districts: Arlington's "Crossroads"

July 12, 2011 10 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While much of the focus in our city is on downtown revitalization, Jacksonville's Urban Core and inner ring suburbs are home to a number of long-overlooked historic, walkable commercial districts. In our effort to promote better use of existing assets in our communities - which will facilitate sustainable growth and subsequently increase the city's tax base, Metro Jacksonville highlight's Old Arlington's "Crossroads" district.

Area Development Background

Old Arlington's commercial district dates back to the early 20th century, when the area underwent development financed by the Alderman Realty Company.  The intersection of University Boulevard and Arlington Road was the central focal point of pre-automobile dominant Arlington.

Old Arlington's commercial district can be seen at the top of this image, just north of the Arlington Expressway, shortly after its opening in 1953.

The abandonment of the J.M.&P. railroad and the great freeze both in 1895 hit the east bank communities of Jacksonville hard. Recovery was slow and development halted for more than a decade before resuming. Jacksonville’s great fire of 1901 and the subsequent rebuilding did not affect Arlington.

In 1912, Frederick Bruce, John Alderman, George Spaulding, and H. L. Sprinkle organized the Alderman Realty Company. Intensive settlement began in the area later known as the heart of Arlington, the blocks to the east and west of the intersection of Chaseville Road, now University Boulevard, and Arlington Road. The company purchased 1,100 acres of land that was part of the original Richard Mill grant north of Strawberry Creek. This property was subdivided into blocks and lots for further development known as Arlington Heights and Alderman Farms. The firm established a ferry service to better market the area to prospective buyers. The ferry landing was located at the west end of Saint Johns Street, now Arlington Road. The ferry ran to the foot of Beaver Street in Fairfield.

For a short time before World War I, Jacksonville attracted the fledgling movie industry. The first film company was located on the St. Johns River at Clarkson Street in Jacksonville; however, it went out of business after one year. In 1915 one of the companies set up a studio in Arlington in a former cigar factory. In 1916 the Eagle Film Manufacturing Company constructed four new buildings near the former cigar factory. This company declared bankruptcy in 1917. In 1924 Richard E. Norman, Sr., purchased the Eagle Studios and formed the Norman Studios. He believed films were a useful mechanism to overcome racial prejudice and made full-length adventure movies featuring all-black casts. After Norman retired in 1952, his wife used the building as a dance studio until the mid-1970s. The Norman Studios complex has been largely vacant since the mid-1970s. The buildings remain as a reminder of Jacksonville’s time as a movie capitol and are now the focus of an acquisition and a restoration effort.

World War I disrupted trade and the economy nationwide, and Jacksonville was no exception. Following the end of World War I and a period of adjustment, the national and local economies Jacksonville experienced the Florida land boom of the early 1920s. The city changed in 1921 with the completion of the first automobile bridge, the old Acosta Bridge, across the St. Johns River linking south Jacksonville and downtown. Development in Arlington during this time included construction of the Arlington Elementary School, a state-of-the-art educational facility for the time. Community groups lobbied for neighborhood improvements such as installation of electric lights, organization of a volunteer fire department and development of a playground The Arlington Park Cemetery was donated to the community during that time.The largest sub-division created during this period was Oakwood Villas, which was south of Strawberry Creek.

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