The Evolution of the Arlington Expressway

January 31, 2013 70 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Arlington Expressway served as a key component of local post World War II infrastructure investments that forever altered the growth patterns of Jacksonville. Today, Metro Jacksonville's Ennis Davis takes a look at the expressway's life as Jacksonville's first major suburban commercial corridor.

The Arlington Expressway is a part of State Road 115, which was developed by the Jacksonville Expressway Authority as an alternative to US 1 during the 1950s. Prior to its construction, what is now known as Arlington, was a network of small rural communities by the names of Floral Bluff, Eggleston, Clifton, Chaseville, and Gilmore.  It was an area known more for its moonshine stills than the ranch houses that line its streets today.

The Mathews Bridge under construction. Built between 1951 and 1953, it was dedicated to Judge Mathews who had advocated building the bridge since the early 1930s. It measures 7,382 feet long, and consists of six main panels and 59 approach spans.
Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

During the efforts to advance the expressway system from paper to reality, Arlington land owners opposed the concept without the inclusion of a new high level bridge connecting their area with downtown Jacksonville.  In 1946, an agreement was reached and in 1950, what's now known as the Mathews Bridge, became to first project to break ground.  After it's completion in 1953, the fortunes of Arlington immediately changed.  First, taking advantage of the roadway infrastructure coming his way, William R. Cesery, Sr. helped kick off post World War II growth in Arlington with the 1951 development of the Lake Lucina subdivision and Cesery Road. In addition to Cesery's development, the Alderman Realty Company, who's Arlington roots dated back to 1914, would soon move forward with the development of additional neighborhoods such as Alderman Park.

Aerial view overlooking the Arlington Plaza shopping center at the intersection of Arlington Road and Arlington Expressway in 1957. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

By 1955, two years after its completion, 19,000 cars were crossing the bridge daily. That same year, Town & Country Shopping Center and Arlington Plaza opened adjacent to the expressway, fueling commercial development to serve Arlington's mushrooming population. Town & Country Shopping Center at Chaseville Highway (now University Boulevard) was developed by Benjamin Setzer and anchored by Setzer's first Pic 'N Save store. Anchored by W.T. Grant, Arlington Plaza at Arlington Road was developed by Sam Morris Spevak.  Spevak would go on to develop Jacksonville's Gateway Shopping Center a few years later.

By 1961, over 50,000 new residents had made Arlington their new home. With 26,500 cars crossing the Mathews daily, additional plans were underway by the Expressway Authority to feed traffic into its toll bridge.  This work came in the form of a $25 million feeder road program during the 1960s.  Under this program, Cesery Boulevard, Rogero Road, and Arlington Road were widened to four lanes.

Regency Square Mall shortly after opening.

The feeder roadway infrastructure projects helped fuel additional growth and development along the Arlington Expressway, paving the way for the construction of Martin Stein's Regency Square Mall. Opening its doors in 1967 to 25,000 shoppers, the $12 million shopping center replaced Gateway as Jacksonville's largest regional mall.  Anchoring the expressway's intersection with Atlantic Boulevard, the mall stimulated major infill commercial and multifamily development between it and the Mathews Bridge during the 1970s.  Soon, signs like the Thunderbird Motor Hotel, Holiday Inn East, Publix, Expressway Mall, Les Chateau Apartments and The Oaks office park lined the congested highway.

Mobility problems we deal with today also came from decisions made during this era.  Many of the expressway's intersections were converted to grade separated interchanges to reduce traffic collisions.  However, two proposed overpasses, at Townsend Boulevard and Arlingwood Avenue were not constructed due to opposition from nearby residents.  Their thought process was that an overpass connecting these roadways would ultimately lead to the four laning of them through their neighborhoods.  Instead, access to Townsend Boulevard and Arlingwood Avenue was eliminated, meaning traffic was forced to travel a mile in either direction to cross the expressway.  As a result, this section of the expressway has become known for its high rate of pedestrian/vehicular conflicts.

A day at the Thunderbird's swimming pool.

The 1980s became a decade of change for the expressway's commercial corridor.  By this time, Cesery had developed more than 2,000 homes and hundreds of apartments throughout the neighborhood, including Jacksonville's first "garden apartments" since the 1951 Lake Lucina project. However, what was once new became aged as new suburban development spread east of Regency Square Mall and competing suburban areas such as Baymeadows spring to life.  One by one, over the next decade, many long time businesses, like Steak n' Ale, Chi Chi's, Arlington Toyota, Calico Jack's and Red Lobster, either shut down or relocated their expressway locations to trendier areas of new suburban growth.  Virtually empty, the Alrington Expressway's Expressway Mall, the site of the first Publix in Jacksonville, was completely demolished in 2006.  For many years, it had been anchored by Publix, Burlington Coat Factory, and Cinema I & II Theaters.

Today, the Arlington Expressway corridor is in need of an economic makeover.  While there are challenges, it's design and density of adjacent land uses, create great potential for a transit friendly corridor between Regency Square Mall and downtown.  For a city with dreams of implementing Bus Rapid Transit, the Arlington Expressway's service roads are one area in town where such an experiment makes sense and could be affordably implemented.

Arlington Expressway Sights & Scenes

The cosmetic design of bridges is something we've forgotten locally in modern times.  Here, the 1950's design of the University Boulevard overpass pays homage to the Art Deco style.

Seven years before Sam Walton opened his first Walmart, Jacksonville's Benjamin Setzer and his partners, opened the first Pic 'N Save in Arlington's Town & Country Shopping Center, a Setzer real estate development, in 1955. Pic 'N Save would go on to grow into a 40 store chain employing over 3,000 before filing for bankruptcy in 1995. During the shopping center's best days, it had a movie theater, beauty salons, clothing and shoe stores.  After Pic 'N Save's departure, Winn-Dixie opened a $2 million store in 1997 which has since closed.

Constructed in 1975, 900 Arlington is one of many office buildings along the Arlington Expressway corridor.

930 University dates back to 1961.

This closed 270 room hotel, between University and Cesery Boulevards, opened in 1964 as a Holiday Inn.  A popular location for conferences and social activities during its heyday, for many years it was the Thunderbird Motor Hotel.  The Thunderbird was an Indian-themed chain that represented a carefree time after the war, when young families were in search of fun and entertainment. In the late 1980s, it became a Ramada Inn.  However, the 1990s saw hotel growth shift from the Arlington area to the Southside, causing a decline in business.  The hotel closed for good in 2002.

Located on Cesery Boulevard near the banks of the Arlington River, 644 Cesery Boulevard was originally occupied by the Cesery Corporation.

The former location of Meadows Develoment Company.

Now the Arlington Retirement Villas, this building dates back to 1961 and for many years was known as the Quality Inn of Arlington.

The notorious Regency Inn was the Royal Inn Motor Lodge when the motel opened in 1971.  For many years, it was the Ramada Inn East.

The Arlington Professional Center was completed in 1973 and features nearly 60,000 square feet of office space.

Originally constructed with service roads similar to Southside Boulevard, grade separated crossings at Cesery Boulevard and Arlington Road were added later to help reduce accidents and congestion during the 1960s.

The Arlington Plaza was built in 1955 by Sam Morris Spevak. Today, it's mostly vacant.

During the 1990s, there were over 200 Quincy's Steakhouses, including in this Arlington Plaza outparcel on Arlington Road.  It was perhaps most notable for it's yeast rolls, which were allegedly based on a recipe by Hardee's founder Wilbur Hardee. In 1970, inspired by the successful Ponderosa chain, Alvin A. McCall, Jr. started his own, Western Family Steak House, most of which took the name Quincy's in 1976. The first restaurant was in Greenville,SC. In 1977, McCall sold his interest in Quincy's to what would become Trans World Corporation, and started Ryan's Steakhouse. Today, there are only three Quincy's Steakhouses left.

Between 1968 and 1973, several large apartment complexes were constructed along the expressway's service roads.  Located at Arlington Expressway and Arlington Road, Arlington Village was completed in 1969.

City Ridge Apartment Homes welcomed its first residents in 1972.

A new JTA handicapped accessible bus stop between the expressway and service drive.  Several areas along this corridor lack sidewalks, creating a dangerous environment for those living in the immediate area.

The Unitarian Universalist Church

Red Lobster opened at 7707 Arlington Expressway in 1972.  Part of Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, the first Red Lobster Restaurant opened in Lakeland, FL in 1968. Relocating to Regency Square Boulevard in 2003, it was one of the last original chains to abandon the expressway.

Arlington Expressway's former TGI Friday's Restaurant opened here in 1982.

The Oaks Office Park's three 100,000 square foot buildings were constructed between 1972 and 1975.  For many years, the US Department of Justice (FBI) offices were here.  In recent years, the Concorde Career Institute, a college specializing in health care training, as operated as the only tenant in one of the buildings.  However, Concorde is slated to move to a new 45,000 square foot building off the Southside's Salisbury Road in March 2013.

Dating back to 1959, for many years, the Kings Inn was known as Holiday Inn East.

The 195,000 square foot Expressway Mall was located here before being torn down in 2006. For many years, Publix and Burlington Coat Factory anchored the mall.  Calico Jacks Oyster Bar also operated a space outside of the mall between 1985 and 1997. The Publix was one of the first two stores the chain opened in Jacksonville in 1971.  Both Publix and Burlington Coat Factory abandoned the mall in Summer 1995.

8445 Arlington Expressway was the home of Arlington Toyota from 1969 to 1999.  Like many long time Arlington Expressway businesses, growth in East Arlington resulted in the car dealership abandoning the aging property for newer digs further east on Atlantic Boulevard.

This building at 8324 Arlington Expressway was one of 36 Jax Liquors stores owned by Donald William Tredinick when it opened in 1973.  Tredinick opened his first store in 1941 on Broad Street in downtown Jacksonville.  In 1990, he sold the chain to Orlando-based ABC Liquors.  Before he passed in 2003, his company's focus was the development of the 154-acre Regency Commerce Center, north of Regency Square Mall. ABC Liquors sold this Arlington Expressway property in 2000.

Steak and Ale Restaurant's former location at 8350 Arlington Expressway. Completed in 1972, this restaurant was closed well before the entire chain shutdown in 2008.

Jax Lanes, Inc. constructed this building at 8550 Arlington Expressway as a bowling alley in 1958.   Long closed, Jax Lanes Real Properties Ltd. sold the property to Jacksonville Christian Center, Inc. in 2004 for $1.22 million.

Amazingly, downtown Jacksonville's Sears store didn't die.  Instead, it relocated to Regency Square Mall in 1981. Regency Square's expansion not only negatively impacted downtown.  It also drained business from Arlington Expressway's Town & Country Shopping Center, Arlington Plaza, and Expressway Mall.  In a weird twist of fate, Jacksonville's continued outward growth has now sucked the life out of Regency Square Mall as well.

The Arlington Expressway's story is one seen in Jacksonville and several other areas across the country.  As suburban retail corridors age, newer areas come to life at their expense.  What does this say for the future of our current suburban retail hotspots?  

Article by Ennis Davis