Arlington: Poised to become the next Riverside Avondale?

Advocates for revitalization say the neighborhood is making progress.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 12:00 a.m. December 15, 2023
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
the Jacksonville City Council voted unanimously to designate the former Arlington Federal Savings & Loan building as a historic landmark.
the Jacksonville City Council voted unanimously to designate the former Arlington Federal Savings & Loan building as a historic landmark.
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Riverside Avondale. Springfield. Arlington?

Supporters of the Arlington neighborhood say it’s on its way to becoming “Jacksonville’s next great historic neighborhood,” in the words of Steve Matchett from the nonprofit advocacy group Old Arlington Inc. 

On Dec. 12, supporters scored a victory for their cause at City Hall.

It came with a 17-0 City Council vote to protect the former Arlington Federal Savings and Loan building at 930 University Blvd. N. from plans by its owner to demolish the structure. 

Arlington supporters want the vacant building to be resurrected and repurposed as a restaurant, bar or similar use to attract people to the neighborhood.

Built in 1961, the structure is designed in the mid-century modern architectural style that is commonly seen in Arlington, which grew rapidly after the opening of the Mathews Bridge in 1953.  

Matchett said Old Arlington’s strategy for revitalizing Arlington echoed similar efforts in Riverside Avondale and Springfield, where preserving the neighborhoods’ characteristic architecture was key to establishing their identities, creating demand for homes and boosting property values. 

“Today, both are nationally recognized, revitalized neighborhoods whose identity is linked to their architecture,” Matchett told the committee. 

“Arlington too has its architectural style – it’s mid-century modern, and it’s become historic in our lifetimes.”

The Arlington Federal Savings and Loan Building at at 930 University Blvd. N., at northwest Arlington Expressway and University Boulevard.

Mid-century modern was a prominent form in the middle decades of the 20th century, and is distinguished partly by its creative use of materials that include steel, concrete and insulated glass. 

In the case of the Arlington building, its design features a facade made of a precast concrete array of triangles, diamonds and vertical “fins” that provide shading from sunlight and solar heat while still allowing natural lighting into the building.

The property’s owner, Charles Tower, made plans to demolish the building and sell the site to Take 5 Car Wash. Tower’s request for a demolition permit prompted a review that led to the creation of legislation, Ordinance 2023-0701, that would grant a historic designation for the property. 

The Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission approved the designation on a 6-0 vote in September, with city staff saying the building met four of seven criteria to receive historic protection. 

The legislation means any request to demolish or modify the street-facing portions of the building will require a review for historic appropriateness.

Attorney and lobbyist Paul Harden, who represents Tower, told the committee that the building had deteriorated and was not suitable for restoration. 

He said Tower bought the building not knowing it would be subject to historic review, and now was saddled with a property that would decrease in value if given the historic designation.

A developer wants to tear down the former savings and loan at 930 University Blvd. N., at northwest Arlington Expressway and University Boulevard.
Photo by Ric Anderson

Several dozen supporters of the building turned out to the Council Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting Dec. 5, including former Council members Bill Bishop and John Crescimbeni. 

Crescimbeni brought his own piece of Arlington history – the pocket ledger for the account he opened in July 1966 from the savings and loan with a deposit of $11.50.

The committee supported the designation in a 5-0 vote.

Bishop, Crescimbeni and others said the building was significant to Arlington not only because of its architecture but its gateway location across from the former Town & Country Shopping Center that is being redeveloped as College Park. 

A contractor at College Park, Dan Manjack, told the committee that he moved from Clearwater to Arlington after he and his partner, Jessica Rodriguez, fell in love with the neighborhood.

 They’ve since bought the Arlington Bait & Tackle store in the shopping center and are building a coffee shop next door. 

“I’ve looked at this building (the savings and loan) for the last two years, every day, 14-16 hours a day,” he said. 

“To me, the building is worth saving. I’m in construction: I’ve been around that building, there’s nothing structurally deficient about that building.”

The neighborhood revitalization effort is decades in the making. Old Arlington Inc. started 30 years ago. 

Advocates like Council President Ron Salem, a former chairman of the Greater Arlington Citizens Planning Advisory Committee, say it’s on the rise.

During an appearance at the Cuppa Jax speaker series Dec. 6, Salem listed Arlington and Mayport as neighborhoods that are experiencing a turnaround.



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