Article by Ennis Davis, AICP
A South Jacksonville Municipal Railways streetcar. (State Archives of Florida)
Jacksonville’s urban core is home to a number of historic walkable neighborhood commercial districts. Many are a direct result of the defunct 60-mile Jacksonville streetcar network, which was operated by the Jacksonville Traction Company. San Marco Square is an early 20th century example that survives today.
Streetcar service in the area was originally provided by the South Jacksonville Municipal Railways. Constructed in 1923 by the City of South Jacksonville, two streetcar lines ran in the vicinity of the Gamble and Stockton Brick Company.
Located just south of the South Jacksonville, Gamble and Stockton produced bricks, hollow blocks, roof tile, drain tile, ceramic materials and more. In the 1920s, the Florida land boom greatly increased demand for construction materials, and Gamble and Stockton doubled the capacity and size of the brickyard. By 1923, it was producing 50,000 bricks a day.
An early 20th century view of San Marco Square. (State Archives of Florida)
The opening of the St. Johns River Bridge in 1921 brought a new wave of growth to South Jacksonville. With a statewide land boom in full swing, Gamble and Stockton determined their property would be more profitable as a residential development. In September 1925, they relocated the brickyard to a site on Doctors Inlet in Clay County, and Stockton announced the original property would be transformed into a new neighborhood called San Marco. Taking its name from Venice’s famed district, the development was so popular that after South Jacksonville was annexed by the main city in 1930, the name “San Marco” came to be applied to most of the former town.
The original San Marco development was relatively small, consisting of 80 acres of the former brickyard property divided into 250 lots. To improve vehicular access to the development, Stockton created San Marco Boulevard, which connected directly from the St. Johns River Bridge south to the intersection of Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard. Where these three streets met, near the crossing of the city’s two streetcar lines, he planned a triangular shaped commercial area, inspired by the Piazza San Marco in Venice. This commercial area, which included a multi-level fountain at its center, was called San Marco Square, inspired by the Piazza di San Marco in Venice.
Seven years later, in the midst of the Great Depression, the South Jacksonville Municipal Railways was swept up in the merger of the City of South Jacksonville into Jacksonville in 1932. This would be the same year that the Jacksonville Traction Company was acquired by the Motor Transit Company, which was part of National City Lines and the nationwide General Motors streetcar conspiracy. By the end of 1936, Jacksonville’s streetcar network was no more. However, San Marco Square, one of the Southside’s earliest town centers continues to thrive and survive.
Photo by Erik Hamilton