Walkable Commercial Districts: Arlington's "Crossroads"

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.

Published July 12, 2011 in Neighborhoods - MetroJacksonville.com

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.

Details of Arlington history through 1924 can be seen by clicking Arlington, Past present and future. This was a promotional document prepared by F. W. Bruce for the Arlington Community Club.

By the end of the boom era, Arlington was a community complete with the infrastructure that defined a community. However, the area we now refer to as Arlington then consisted of scattered communities that did not regard themselves as a part of a larger neighborhood called Arlington. Clifton, Floral Bluff, Eggleston, Gilmore and Chaseville remained distinct settlements connected by roads and separated by wooded and undeveloped tracts and rural areas. The area most closely identified as Arlington was contained within the blocks from University Boulevard to the river on both sides of Arlington Road. Also from University east to Rogero and south along Arlington Road to Strawberry Creek.

Little changed in Arlington during World War II as most of its citizens were in the service, worked in the shipyards or in other war efforts. Towards the end of World War II a mining company known as Humphreys Gold Corporation opened on Mill Creek road and provided jobs for those coming out of the service or being laid off at the shipyards due to the end of the conflicts.

The construction of the Mathews Bridge in 1953 provided a direct link between Jacksonville’s downtown and the Arlington communities. Within a few years the divisions between Arlington’s separate communities became blurred by development and Arlington emerged as one of Jacksonville’s premier suburbs. The main roads were soon lined with gas stations, restaurants, markets and stores and single-family home subdivisions were constructed. In 1950 growth was also spurred by the relocation of Jacksonville University to a large wooded riverfront parcel off University Boulevard. Today the university has an enrollment of 2600 students of which approximately 1200 live on campus. Quite a few subdivisions sprang up between The Arlington Bluffs Subdivision of 1873 and 1953. A list is provided.

Other major developments, such as, the construction of Atlantic Boulevard, Beach Boulevard and Arlington Expressway provided easy access to places east of the river. In 1967, Regency Square Mall was built at the intersection of Atlantic Boulevard and the Arlington Expressway. Regency Square Mall was Jacksonville’s largest enclosed shopping mall at the time. The opening of Regency Square Mall was a first step in Old Arlington’s decline as a retail destination.

Arlington officially became part of Jacksonville with the consolidation of Duval County in 1969. The next year a group of concerned citizens put forth an effort to save the woodlands now known as Tree Hill which was put up for sale due to an increase in property tax.

Our Old Arlington group was founded by Melanie Cross in 1993 to preserve our history and published a document “Arlington A New History” by William R. Adams, April 1997. Most of the information from the turn of the century forward was taken from this document.

The Old Arlington Study Area is currently facing problems that are common to suburbs built during the first part of the twentieth century, also known as first tier suburbs. Issues include aging populations, flight of the middle class to newer developments and deteriorating commercial corridors.

Broiling ribs at the Mathews Bridge barbecue in 1953.

The "Crossroads" of Arlington

Atlantic Boulevard, originally known as Pablo Road, was opened in 1910, and a few years later a bridge, of sorts, was built over Arlington River, and a road was opened from Atlantic Boulevard to the point originally known as Reddie Point or Chaseville Point. The road became known as Chaseville Road, and in 1959 it became University Boulevard. Arlington Road, which runs from Atlantic Boulevard across the old Mill Dam at Strawberry Creek and then west to the river, was named by proclamation in 1912. Thus the “Crossroads” were formed where these roads intersected and by 1930 it was the “Town Center” of Arlington.
Before the crossroads the town center was located at the foot of Arlington Road, which was connected by ferry service to the foot of Beaver Street ca 1912.

A Glimpse of Arlington in the mid-20th century

Old Arlington's Crossroads district can be seen at the bottom center of this 1955 aerial.

Along with the increasing dependence of the automobile, businesses began to “pop-up” along Atlantic Boulevard and at the intersections of Arlington Road and Chaseville Road. Again, these were almost all mom and pop businesses, and you had to go to “South Jacksonville” for drugstores, doctors, major groceries and hardware stores.

Beginning again at the intersection of Arlington Road and Atlantic Boulevard, going north down Arlington Road towards the crossroads, there were a few houses but no businesses until you got to Gloria Norman’s Dance Studio, and then the Aderhold’s Grocery at the intersection of Arlington Road and Cesery Terrace. The waterworks were near the Crossroads on the south, and across the street was P. S. Moody’s Station and lunch counter. At the Crossroads, Haines was on the southeast corner, and was formerly owned by the Davis family, Cliff’s Garage on the southwest, Gillespie’s station on the northeast, which was the location of Reid’s Garage in the twenties, then C. Richard’s grocery store. William Bradshaw and later Lillian Bradshaw were the Postmasters of a small post office a few lots west of the northwest corner of the crossroads. A little later Turners Hardware and Bruce’s Shoe Shop was between there and the river where Olson’s Boat-yard and Seaboard Dredging (Parkhill-Goodlow) had been located since the twenties.

Coming north into Arlington there was nothing until you got to Malloy’s Shell Station just beside the school, then Minnie’s Diner, and you are back to the Crossroads. Continuing north on Chaseville past the Crossroads was Arlington Grocery, a small “one-chair” barber shop, Dickson’s Pharmacy, and then Brinson’s Store on the northwest corner of Chaseville and Floral Bluff Avenue. I’ve skipped a few owners but I remember Mr. Brinson because you could bring a stack of comic books and give him 25 cents, and take a stack home to read. All of these businesses besides the Borden’s Ice Cream were, I believe, family owned and managed by families that lived in or near Arlington.
What is it like in 2009? Well times are again hard and the small family enterprise is again keeping things going. Cleve Powell

Mathews Bridge under construction in 1951.

Crossroads Development Timeline

1912 - Alderman Realty established. Residential development of Arlington begins.

1930 - The "Crossroads" is the commercial epicenter of Arlington.

1950 - Jacksonville University relocates to Arlington.

1953 - Mathews Bridge completed.

1967 - Regency Square Mall opens.  The Crossroads begins to decline in retail prominence.

Sprawl begins to engulf Old Arlington after the opening of the Mathews Bridge and Arlington Expressway.

The Crossroads Today

The majority of structures remaining in the Crossroads area today were constructed shortly before or after the opening of the Arlington Bridge in 1953.  The cluster of building fabric in this district captures Jacksonville's mid-20th century's transition from urban-to-suburban-scale building design.

Kelly's Piano and Organ has been a part of the Arlington business community since 1963.

Although commercial buildings in the area would not be considered worth saving from demolition, the fact that they remain standing is important for small business growth. One business that is excelling in the district is Lewey's Crabhouse and Soul Food Cafe.  The small enterprise has converted a building constructed in 1954, into a restaurant with outdoor seating along University Boulevard.  Several small businesses like this would not have been feasible if there were no affordable building stock to move into.  That's a lesson we should remember as our downtown revitalization efforts continue.

The Arlington Elementary School was constructed in 1922.

The Arlington United Methodist Church has been apart of the community since March 24, 1889.  The congregation has been located at this site along University Boulevard since 1920.

University Boulevard was originally known as Chaseville Road.

Chaseville Road: Chaseville Road was significant enough to have the first north/south road running through Arlington named Chaseville Road. It originally ran from Atlantic Boulevard crossing Strawberry Creek across the old milldam; that portion became known as Arlington Road by petition in 1912 calling it the “old” Chaseville Road. When a bridge was placed across the Arlington River ca. 1913, its connection between Atlantic Boulevard to Chaseville (Reddie) Point became the (new) Chaseville Road until it became University Boulevard In 1959.

Context-Sensitive Streets: The Solution to Improving the Crossroad's Future?

Over the years, the intersection of Arlington Road and University Boulevard has been modified to accommodate autocentric movement - to the point where Old Arlington's "Town Center" actually severs the neighborhood, instead of being the central business and pedestrian-friendly focal point it was 60 years ago.

Here are a few affordable suggestions that would make the environment of this retail district more business- and pedestrian-friendly.

1. Curb Extensions At Intersections

Considering the retail district already has on-street parallel parking, the simple addition of curb extensions at existing intersections could create room for trees, as well as reduce the exposure of automobile traffic to pedestrians.

A curb extension (or also neckdown, kerb extension, bulb-out, kerb build-out, nib, elephant ear, curb bulge,"curb bulb" and blister) is a traffic calming measure, primarily used to extend the sidewalk, reducing the crossing distance and allowing pedestrians about to cross and approaching vehicle drivers to see each other when vehicles parked in a parking lane would otherwise block visibility.

Curb extensions are often used in combination with other traffic calming measures such as chicanes, speed bumps, or rumble strips, and are frequently sited to "guard" pedestrian crossings. In these cases the "squeeze" effect of the narrowed roadway shortens the exposed distance pedestrians must walk.

The recent makeover of Jacksonville Beach's 3rd Street successfully illustrates how to incorporate landscaped curb extensions that serve a duel purpose of "greening" an automobile artery and buffering pedestrians from motorized vehicles.

2. Add Medians Within Retail District

Both Arlington Road and University Boulevard are wide, five-lane asphalt canyons severing this historic retail district into four parts. The simple addition of medians (a block or two in each direction of the intersection) would allow for landscaping, while also serving as a pedestrian refuge for residents and consumers trying to cross the streets.

This median was recently added at a major intersection along San Marco Boulevard to make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street.

3. High-Visibility Crosswalks

High-visibility crosswalks with alternative paving or ladder/zebra striping help slow down automobile traffic, making it safer to use other forms of mobility.

An example of a high-visibility crosswalk and landscaped curb extension along Atlantic Boulevard in the Beaches Town Center.

4. 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 along a street with constrained right-of-way in downtown Atlanta.
Street trees are a primary element in providing a sense of safe separation from traffic for pedestrians. Old Arlington's commercial district currently appears barren and full of visual blight, due to the domination by vehicles.  A simple way to enhance the district's appeal is the planting of street trees along the sidewalks and in potential median areas.

While there are several other techniques that can be applied to improve the visual quality and environment of Old Arlington's retail district, these four simple "complete streets" ideas are worth considering when the next repaving project comes for either Arlington Road or University Boulevard.  A simple makeover of an existing urban-neighborhood retail district such as Old Arlington's has the power to stimulate additional redevelopment, and support infill development in an area of Jacksonville where the public has already invested in the infrastructure needed for growth.

Visiting Old Arlington's Crossroads Retail District

Old Arlington's commercial district is located at the intersection of University Boulevard and Arlington Road, just north of the Arlington Expressway.

For more information on Arlington and the Crossroads district: http://www.oldarlington.org

Article by Ennis Davis. Historic photographs courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.

This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-jul-walkable-commercial-districts-arlingtons-crossroads

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