The 14 Parks of San Marco

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

Published September 13, 2010 in Neighborhoods -

The Parks of San Marco Map

1. Belmonte Park

Belmonte Park is located in the San Marco section of the City. James H. Hendricks established the central portion of the park on a recorded plat in 1922, with additional parcels added between 1927 and 1937. Residing across from the old South Jacksonville Grammar School built in 1916, it was formerly known as Hendricks Park. Eventually the names of an adjacent avenue and the park were changed to Belmonte, possibly derived from a city in Portugal. When a parking lot was considered for the site in 1982, the San Marco Preservation Society successfully championed its preservation. Scenic oak trees surround the park’s open expanse of lawn without any man-made amenities, which is being complemented in 2004 by the renovation of the school building into 38 live/work rental units for local professionals. Development of the park was completed on October 31, 2005. A serpetine sidewalk now connects Belmonte and Larue Avenues. Decorative landscaping, irrigation, benches and waste receptacles were installed. Park is now a prototype, passive, neighborhood park.

2. Southside Park

Southside Park is located in San Marco section of South Jacksonville, which existed as a separate municipality in 1925, when the park was first established and known as Central Park. Between 1930 and 1955, the park doubled in size, and the Southside Branch Library moved to its new location at the park in 1950. The grounds also contained tennis courts and other amenities that were augmented by a large swimming pool/teen center that opened in 1956. The City demolished the pool in 1991, and added six more tennis courts in 1996. Through the cooperative efforts of the San Marco Preservation Society and the City, and a large bequest from the estate of longtime San Marco resident and benefactor Abla Balis (1901-96), a new community center (connected to the expanded library) and a new outdoor park opened at the site in 2003 and 2004 respectively – which together with the adjacent tennis facility comprise today’s park.

3. Historic Kings Road Park

Historic Kings Road Park is located at the intersection of the historic Kings Road (now Kings Ave.) and Atlantic Blvd., in the San Marco area. The wedge-shaped park was part of the 1918 plat of the Fletcher Park subdivision and was named Fulton Green, for Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamship. Later in the twentieth century, a small commercial section developed around the park, and the area became known as Times Square and the park as Times Square Park. In the early 1960’s, Peoples Gas System, Inc. erected a mock spaceship on the grounds, and many citizens called the site Rocket Park. Through the efforts of the San Marco Garden Circle and the City, a major renovation and beautification of the park occurred in 1991, and the name was changed that year by City Council resolution.

4. Fletcher Park

Fletcher Park is located along Atlantic Boulevard, in the San Marco section of South Jacksonville, which from 1907-1932 was a separate municipality. First known as Belote Green, for prominent South Jacksonville politician William Belote, the park was established in 1918 (during World War I) as part of Fletcher Park, a federal housing development created to provide homes for workers that were building naval ships at the nearby Merrill Stevens Shipyard. Prominent architect Henry Klutho designed Fletcher Park, which was named for Florida’s U. S. Senator Duncan U. Fletcher (1859-1936), a Jacksonville resident who served continuously for 27 years. Later, the park also became known as Fletcher Park, which has seen many improvements since the San Marco Preservation Society formed in 1975, such as re-location of the old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church building to the grounds in 1994 and the Stockton Cottage in 2003.

5. Brown L. Whatley Memorial Park

Alexandria Park was born in 1937 as part of Brown Whatley`s and Joseph Davin’s Alexandria Place subdivision in the City’s San Marco area. The park took its name from nearby Villa Alexandria, the palatial estate of Alexander and Martha Reed Mitchell that was built in the late 1870’s. After the death of Brown Whatley and his wife Marion in a 1982 automobile accident, the City renamed the park in his honor. Telfair Stockton, Brown Whatley, and Joseph Davin, were the premier developers of the San Marco area in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In 1937, Whatley & Davin built the Little Theatre in San Marco, which is now the nation’s oldest community theatre group. Tree-shaded areas, numerous benches, and open spaces combine to provide a pastoral environment at this neighborhood park.

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.

11. Landon Park

Landon Park, in the San Marco section of the City, takes its name from the John and Mary Landon family who moved to the area in 1867. Their daughter Julia became the teacher for South Jacksonville’s first school, and she taught continuously for 36 years until her retirement in 1919. After the area’s first high school was constructed in 1926-27, on the site of her old home, it was named Landon High School in her honor. The original park was established on the 1925 plat of the San Marco subdivision, and it more than doubled in size by the closing of an adjacent street and an additional land purchase in 1939. The nearby commercial district was modeled after St. Marks Square in Venice. Today several large magnolias and oaks canopy the park grounds, and a rose garden brightens the southwest corner.

12. Riverfront Park

Riverfront Park is located on a fifteen-foot, one-block strip of land along the St. Johns River in San Marco, between Landon Avenue and La Verne Street. When San Marco was platted by the Avondale Company in 1925, the street adjacent to the park was known as Mareno Place, which was later named present-day River Road. The .1-acre park provides one bench and several trash barrels for the convenience of visitors. For decades the park’s bulkhead has been a favorite spot for local fishermen, and manatees have been seen surfacing near the shore. The river view and cooling breezes bring out the visitors with folding chairs. And on winter evenings, when the river sunsets are most beautiful, people congregate at the park to enjoy the view.

13. Greenscape Celebration Park

Greenscape Celebration Park is at the end of the LaSalle Street facing the water of the St. John`s River. It serves as an outlook to the River. In 2007, the bulkhead was repaired. Renovations to the Pocket Park in 2009 makes this park a more aesthetically pleasing place to enjoy the view of the river.

14. Jim Rink Park

Property is located at the end of Cedar Street. Ordinance 2002-503: Property declared property surplus land. November 5,2003: Parks Department formally request property. July 2005:Renovations to the pocket park begin; the renovations include an original Enzo Torcoletti granite and marble sculpture titled "Coming Home" and a bench for viewing the waterway. The funds were appropriated from Council District 5`s Better Jacksonville Bond funds. In 2007: Repair is being conducted on the Bulkhead.

Photographs by Ennis Davis

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