What became known as Oriental Gardens dates back to 1925 when real estate developer George W. Clark began planting overflow from his Riverside residence’s botanical collection on a vacant bluff overlooking the St. Johns River near the present day intersection of Hendricks Avenue and San Jose Boulevard. A former mortician, at the time Clark was the president of the Clark Real Estate Company and Panama Investment Company and the developer of North Springfield and Panama Park, financially benefiting from the rebuilding of the city after the Great Fire of 1901.
After 13 years of maintaining the grounds as a private estate, Clark opened his botanical gardens to the public in 1937. After his death in 1939, the Panama Investment Company took over the 18-acre attraction under the leadership of his son George W. Clark, Jr.
By this time, the gardens had become one of the city’s top attractions, and rivaled tourist hotspots like Dick Pope’s Cypress Gardens, W. Carl Ray and W.M. “Shorty” Davidson’s Silver Springs and Edward Bok’s Bok Tower. Described as a sunken garden surrounded by groves of stately southern pines, Oriental Gardens featured specimens of live oak trees ranging in age from five hundred to one thousand years, along with one hundred varieties of tropical and subtropical plants, shrubs and trees. Other features included hourly concerts, citrus groves with orange, grapefruit, limes and kumquats, and Asian-themed gates, bridges, bird houses, and lighting.
Rapid growth and the suburbanization of Jacksonville and Duval County led to the end of the attraction in the years following the end of World War II. Seven years after the death of George W. Clark, Jr., his widow sold the property to the State Investment Company in October 1954. Owned by real estate firm Stockton, Whatley and Davin, State carved the estate into 33 single family residential home sites. 64 years after its demise, pines, palms and remnants of the former attraction can still be found in and around the residential subdivision that replaced it.
Next Page: The former Oriental Gardens site in 2018