Walkable Commercial Districts: Brooklyn's Park Street

May 12, 2011 13 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Brooklyn's Park Street is a walkable commercial district that is anchored by a number of businesses in the paint, floral and linen industries.

Brooklyn History

The 300-acre Brooklyn subdivision, platted in 1868 by Confederate veteran Miles Price.  The neighborhood contained thirty blocks between McCoy's Creek and Price Street.  Six east-west streets, extending from the river to Cedar Street (now Chelsea Street), were largely named for various tree species.  Occupying federal sources found Brooklyn an attractive overlook of the river and convenient to downtown.  Consequently, a small garrison was stationed in the southwestern edge of Brooklyn in the late 1860s to help restore order in the war-torn city before occupying forces left in 1869.

During the 1880's and 90's, Brooklyn developed primarily as a residential neighborhood due to its proximity to railroads, lumber mills, docks and wharves.  The community would be annexed by the City of Jacksonville in 1887 and by 1893, the neighborhood contained over 250 buildings.  Middle and upper middle class white families constructed substantial homes along Commercial (Riverside) Avenue.  However, the majority of houses were small wood structures occupied by African-Americans, many whom migrated to Jacksonville after the Civil War to take advantage of employment and housing opportunities.  Located to the west of Riverside Avenue, these structures reflected the simple frame vernacular styles of traditional worker houses.

After the Great Fire of 1901, rapid growth in downtown Jacksonville resulted in the gradual replacement of many residences by commercial and industrial uses, along both Commercial and Pine (Park) Streets.  Early commercial and industrial entities in the area included the Jacksonville Traction Company streetcar barn and power plant (1903), Delcher Brothers warehouse (1910), the Yale Steam Laundry, the Jacksonville Concrete Company, and the Lubin Manufacturing Company (film studio).

Following World War II, the neighborhood began to decline as the railroad's importance in the immediate vicinity declined and the Jacksonville Expressway System severed the community from its adjacent neighborhoods.  Road widening projects and failed redevelopment strategies would result in the majority of Brooklyn's historic building stock being demolished over the last two decades.  Today, Brooklyn's Park Street is one of the few corridors in the neighborhood where the majority of its historic and mid-20th century building stock still remains in place.

Source: Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission

This aerial view captures Brooklyn during the neighborhood's heyday. Via the old viaduct, extending across the terminal railyards and McCoys Creek, Park Street can be seen splitting the neighborhood in half at the bottom of this 1946 image, courtesy of Florida State Archives.

Park Street can be seen in the upper-right corner of this image of the Jacksonville Terminal, taken between 1960 and 1979, courtesy of Florida State Archives.

Park Street Today

Alsco Inc. is a global uniform & linen rental company that started in 1889 as door-to-door delivery of clean linens from a horse-drawn cart.  Alsco purchased this Park Street facility from National Service Industries, Inc. in 2003.

Brinton's Paint Company has over 7,000 square feet of showroom space and 5,000 square feet of additional warehouse space to serve your painting requirements.

Incorporated in 1957, this Company has served the Jacksonville area by selling quality paints and painting supplies to the Commercial, Industrial and Painting Markets, as well as Homeowners.

Owned and managed by Burk and Bob Brinton, and staffed with dedicated and experienced personnel, which include Bob's sons, Jeremy and Jason, this Professional Paint Company has earned the reputation of being one of the best in Jacksonville, for service, quality products, and very competitive store wide discount pricing.

Pennock Jacksonville has been providing fresh flowers and floral supplies to area florists and related trades for decades.  Pennock was originally founded in 1882 by Charles E. Pennock in Philadelphia, PA.

Blp Jacksonville Paint Company

Once a Warehouse, This building built in 1922 was converted into an 8,000 square foot reception hall, with a 1700 square foot dance floor. A nostalgic look featuring a large open arched ceiling with an old world brick wall interior. Consider us for your wedding, reception or other special event.

This building has had many uses since 1922. It was first a car dealership. The main dance hall is where the cars were stored. It was later a laundry. The floor was slightly sloped to the middle for the water drainage. Because of this, we had to float the dance floor. That is what gives the dance floor the smooth spring it has.  After the laundry, my father ran his business out of it. Roy L Smith ran a theatre wholesale business out this location for over 40 years. He made his own popcorn, roasted his own peanuts and made snowcone and fountain syrup. He at one time sold everything that went into a movie theater, from the carpet to the movie screens. His brand was ROYL. After my father passed, my mother and I gutted the warehouse, replaced the electrical completely, refurbished the plumbing, built new bathrooms, the stage and bar. We also had 20 tons of Air Conditioning installed. We tried to leave much of what the main hall was alone. Other than painting the ceiling and pressure washing the walls, it remains as it was.

Old industrial/warehouse buildings in corridors like Park Street open the door to affordable expansion opportunities for small businesses. Dragonfly Metal Worx is a successful, adaptive, reuse project within the Park Street district.

Context-Sensitive Streets: The Solution to Improving Park Street?

Over the years, Park Street has evolved from a mixed-use residential/retail district into a corridor with a dominate industrial feel to it. Moving forward, Jacksonville's Mobility Plan, JTA's Streetcar Prefeasibility Study, and the North Florida TPO's long-range transportation plan all indicate the possibility of Park Street being used as a streetcar corridor, connecting Riverside with the Jacksonville Transportation Center and Downtown.  

Assuming this plan goes forward in the next couple of years, here are some suggestions to improve the quality and atmosphere of the Park Street corridor.

1. Lane Diet

Like many older commercial corridors, at some point in the past Park Street's on-street parallel parking spaces were replaced with four lanes for automobiles. With the streetcar potentially being added to this corridor, perhaps a couple of automobile lanes should be converted for mass transit and parallel parking. Doing so would help buffer the pedestrian from fast-moving motorized traffic, improve transit reliability, and create space for infill businesses on small lots that don't have room for off-street parking.

Tucson, AZ's Old Pueblo Trolley enjoys its own designated lane for significant stretches. A "lane diet" on Park Street would enable Jacksonville's proposed Riverside Streetcar to have its own lane without purchasing additional right-of-way.

Tampa's TECO Streetcar Line was constructed with its own designated right-of-way, within existing street boundaries.  The same could be done to Park Street, providing the neighborhood with viable mass transit and an anchor proven to attract TOD (transit- oriented development) and infill economic development opportunities.

2. Historic Preservation

The buildings along Park Street may not be as architecturally significant as those in nearby neighborhoods such as the Downtown Northbank and Riverside. However, they are a part of Brooklyn's history and give the area a distinct feel to build upon. In addition, the warehouse structures provide an opportunity for creative uses (see Dragonfly Metal Worx example above) to take place at an affordable rate.

Atlanta's Cabbagetown is a neighborhood similar in character and style to Jacksonville's Brooklyn that has benefited from creative, adaptive reuse and historic preservation.

3. Street Trees

"Given a limited budget, the most effective expenditure of funds to improve a street would probably be on trees. Moreover, for many people, trees are the most important single characteristic of a good street." - Allan B. Jacobs

Street trees are a primary element in providing a sense of safe separation from traffic for pedestrians. Park Street currently appears barren, partially due to being a "green-less" public realm. A simple way to enhance the district's appeal is the planting of street trees along the sidewalks.

This street scene in Atlanta's Cabbagetown is a good example of how to incorporate street trees and greenery in constrained urban conditions.

4. Street Integration

Although Park Street has seen better days, it is still home to a number of active businesses and uses. However, they tend to ignore the street. One simple way to add life to the street and enhance the area's image is work to open adjacent land's interior uses to the street.  Miami's Design District (shown below) does a good job of integrating interior uses with the public realm.

Visiting Brooklyn's Park Street

Brooklyn's Park Street district is located along Park Street between Forest Street and the Jacksonville Terminal (Prime Osborn Convention Center).

Article by Ennis Davis