San Marco is a part of the city of Jacksonville, which is considered the most populous in the entire state of Florida. The neighborhood has a rich history and is just a few minutes from the downtown area of the city. Located on the southeastern side of Jacksonville, San Marco has a robust center, thanks to the San Marco Square but it is mostly known for its residential homes.
The neighborhood was once a popular city on its own, but Jacksonville took over San Marco in 1932. Before that, it was a part of the South Jacksonville community, which emerged in 1907 after the Civil War.
San Marco is on the Southbank of St. Johns River. Before the British period, the area did not have any inhabitants. It was only in 1760 when a ferry crossed Cow Ford, a nickname for Jacksonville. The ship was anchored on the St. Johns River’s bank, which gave way to some people living on this side of the community.
The Spanish took control of Florida once again in 1783. At that time, they constructed Fort San Nicolas in which the St. Nicholas ferry landing now stands. Ten years later, the Spanish government sent a land grant to William Jones, an orientalist, and journalist from London. The land grant was for acres where a slave plantation on Jacksonville (which was referred to as Cow Ford at that time) would stand.
The Spanish were not happy with Jones so a powerful landholder, Isaac Hendricks took over in 1797. In 1850, he married Elizabeth Hudnall, another property owner in the area. Other members of their family sought and married landholders, which resulted in the community being under these families.
The American Civil War led to the properties breaking up and eventually becoming a place for residential developments, which began in 1873. While she sold several parts of the plantations, she developed the western portion and called it Oklahoma.
A vast property was considered the winter home of Martha Reed Mitchell, one of the most prominent people in the society of Jacksonville. She was involved in several causes and started some charities as well.
South Jacksonville was later formed in 1907 and was considered a suburb of the city of Jacksonville. It progressed with about 600 inhabitants and became a regional transit hub despite its lack of sidewalks and paved streets.
It did not take long for the community to proliferate but its most significant expansion was after the construction of the Acosta Bridge in 1921. It helped with the connection of South Jacksonville to Downtown Jacksonville. Soon enough, there were establishments in the area, along with a city hall, a public school, and what is now known as the Treaty Oak Park.
At this time, San Marco was called Oklahoma where new subdivisions were proposed. This 80-acre neighborhood was the most ambitious development in South Jacksonville, particularly in 1925. Telfair Stockton developed the area who was also the developer of the Avondale, a community on the other side of St. Johns River.
Originally, San Marco was designed to preserve the reputation of Villa Alexandria, although the estate deteriorated after the death of its owner in 1902. The neighborhood had 250 lots available at that time, along with its own commercial district. It was indeed an upscale development that comprised of elegant expansions.
The plan worked out, making the area remarkably successful right from the start. In just three hours, those available lots were sold, which shattered the property-selling records in Jacksonville. Most of San Marco was merely made of lots. Construction only began in 1926 where the initial proposal was to have homes that resemble the Italian Renaissance revival style.
The other neighborhoods in Jacksonville collapsed during the Great Depression and the Florida land boom, which caused plenty of real estate venture failures. Meanwhile, San Marco kept its momentum as it continued to provide desirable properties that many individuals bought. New lots sold swiftly from the 1930s to the 1940s, allowing the area to grow steadily.
True to the original plan, San Marco did have that Italian influence. The San Marco Square is named after the Piazza San Marco in Venice. It featured numerous Mediterranean buildings, along with a fountain, which would easily give clues to the observers that the pace had that Italian touch.
However, the populace decided to change some of the homes. The style was almost eliminated from the Square. These days, there is a mix of architectural styles all over the area. Additionally, there is an artificial lake called Lake Marco, which was created from a former clay mine.
Up to this day, the San Marco Square is the major commercial district in this neighborhood. It has boutiques, consignment shops, and a bookstore among others. Many of the homes here are within walking distance to the Square. Eating out is not a problem since visitors and locals can dine at a breakfast spot, a French restaurant, sushi restaurant, and pizza among several options.
Walking along the Square will lead to the San Marco Theater that has a long history as it was established in 1938. Young ladies used to wear their best dress to go to movie premiers. It has a classic look and serves sandwiches, wine, beer, and pizza.
The Square is also home to one of the oldest community theater troupes in the entire United States, the Theatre Jacksonville, which considers the Little Theater in San Marco Square as their quarters.
The area had its moments of disappointments, too, particularly around the 1970s. The fountain that marked the Square was demolished. Many businesses closed and moved to other places, leaving San Marco Real Estate behind.
However, Jacksonville underwent an essential renovation that included some streetscaping and the restoration of the fountain in the 1990s. Due to the project, the fountain is once again visible today and now has three lion statues, just like the Piazza San Marco.
After the restoration process, the Square has become an even more popular destination than ever. Just a few years ago, it went through another makeover that resulted in the rerouting of the streets. It helped expand the Balis Park, which is the small park in the Square and turned it into a green space for the pedestrians.
Aside from dining and going to the theaters as mentioned above, San Marco still has a lot to offer. The quaint neighborhood has several parks that come in various sizes. Some have a unique purpose as well.
According to the San Marco Preservation Society, the area has a total of 14 parks. The Southbank is where the Treaty Oak Park stands, which is known to be the home of one of the oldest living oaks in the city of Jacksonville.
The Friendship Fountain Park is also quite remarkable as it is a large fountain, making it a popular attraction. When it opened, it was the tallest and biggest fountain in the world.
The other places that visitors and locals can go to include:
Both locals and tourists can enjoy the Community First Natural Life Music Festival, which is a favorite of many people who visit the city. Thousands join the yearly music festival that not only gives the attendees great music, food, and arts but also a chance to help the Children's Home Society of Florida.
San Marco Square is also those who would love to drink a few beers. However, there are other places along the neighborhood for people searching for breweries, including in the Beach Boulevard. There are also cocktail bars and restaurants that serve Mediterranean cuisines. Food trucks are also present in San Marco where cheese steak, burritos, and tacos are among the crowd favorites.
In the Downtown area, numerous attractions await, including the Fallen Officers Memorial Wall, which is one of the newest attractions in the city. It was completed in 2016 to commemorate the Jacksonville officers who gave their lives while doing their duties back in 1840.
There are still several things planned for San Marco. The Preservation Society has announced the two projects where one of them involves the restoration of what was once the South Jacksonville City Hall. It will become the headquarters of the society.
The other project is to convert the former building of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which will soon become a Preservation Hall where people can make a reservation to use it.
San Marco enjoys a scenic layout. Although it has the famous Square, it lacks business intrusion while still having its own commercial district and is in proximity to Downtown. These features make it one of the most popular neighborhoods in Jacksonville.
New developments are slated to start their construction in areas where empty lots are, and San Marco Real Estate will soon have more demands for essential amenities.