Urban Living in Jacksonville: St. Johns Park

June 16, 2015 6 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a stroll through St. Johns Park.

The extension of a streetcar line in 1908 from downtown Jacksonville to Ortega, greatly facilitated growth along the westside of the St. Johns River during the early 20th century.  St. Johns Park was one of several major subdivisions established as a result of this infrastructure investment.

Covering a large area between Herschel Street and Cassat Avenue, St. Johns Park was originally established by the Ernest L. Hill Realty Company of 235 West Forsyth Street. Located just south of Fishweir Creek and built around the Atlantic Coast Line's railroad between Jacksonville and Palatka, Hill promoted his segregated 42-block development as having wide streets, beautiful trees, attractive homes, and being far away from Jacksonville's black neighborhoods. Perspective buyers were encouraged to invest $10 cash and $5 per month in neighborhood lots, priced at $350 to $600 each, and watch them enhance in value.

At the time, other than St. Johns Avenue, all of the neighborhood's east-west streets were numbered. Branching off from Herschel Street, St. Johns Avenue provided connectivity between the neighborhood, Avondale, Lake Shore and Orange Park.

Neighborhood map from Ernest L. Hill Realty Company. Courtesy of the Jacksonville Historical Society.

During the neighborhood's early years, the majority of development was concentrated along the blocks sandwiched between the Herschel Street streetcar line and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. As the neighborhood and other nearby subdivisions, such as Lakeside Park and Fairfax Manor, came online, Herschel Street developed into a walkable commercial district between Fishweir Creek and San Juan Avenue. Connectivity to downtown was provided by streetcars running every 30 minutes. In 1925, St. Johns Park, east of the railroad tracks, was annexed into the City of Jacksonville.

Following World War II, major highway projects and mid-20th century retailing trends in the area radically altered this development pattern. In 1960, the Jacksonville Expressway Authority completed the Roosevelt Expressway, which severed St. Johns Park in half. Named for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the highway was originally designed as a bypass system around older westside neighborhoods, built partially to freeway standards between downtown and Orange Park.

Early residences developed by the Ernest L. Hill Realty Company. Courtesy of the Jacksonville Historical Society.

That same year, Robert H. Jacobs, developer of the Universal-Marion Building and Ivey's Department Store complex in downtown Jacksonville, announced his intentions to build a $2.5 million shopping center just south of St. Johns Park. During the mall's 1961 opening day ceremony, Jacobs told shoppers that his Roosevelt Mall was something more than just another shopping center. Indeed, Jacobs had constructed what was considered an ultimate shopping center of the era, featuring pools at either end, both containing a pair of swans, and a forty-five-foot abstract sculpture created by Andre Bloc of Paris.

Inside Roosevelt Mall after it was enclosed in 1968. Courtesy of the Florida Times-Union.

These investments, along with the expansion of Blanding Boulevard (former St. Johns Avenue/Orange Park Road), resulted in significant commercial development along and between these thoroughfares.

After 60 years, Jacksonville's outward growth has long moved on from this early 20th century streetcar suburb. Nevertheless, St. Johns Park still retains many of the amenities originally promoted and marketed by Ernest L. Hill. Take a look for yourself!

Next Page: St. Johns Park neighborhood photo tour

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