Community takes lead in revitalization

Many St. Augustine business districts have gone neglected for some time and could use a little tender loving care — north of town is no exception, but residents there are willing to pitch in to improve the conditions where they work and live.

San Marco Avenue has an interesting history — it was the US-1 thoroughfare before Ponce de Leon Boulevard was constructed. The area north of West Castillo Drive, now known as “Uptown”, was teeming with businesses all the way to the site of the San Marco Drive-in Theatre.

Business began to die down after Ponce de Leon Boulevard was opened — then suffered even more when Interstate 95 was completed. Businesses we would consider too “commercially intensive” today, seemed to co-exist peacefully with their neighbors when San Marco Avenue was in its prime.

The left behind and now repurposed buildings, quite a few of which were car dealerships and gas stations, now house art galleries, restaurants and retail stores. Can you remember when you could have shopped along San Marco Avenue for a Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldmobile, Cadillac, Ford, Rambler, Studebaker, Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge, or Jeep – when it was still owned by American Motors?

Last weekend, full of energy and purpose, neighbors who live in the still residential areas east and west of San Marco Avenue, turned out to set an example for other parts of town that they could soften the rough edges between commercial and residential and make their part of town a little safer and pedestrian friendly.

In a quote from First City Beautification Committee chairman Rhey Palmer, that appeared in The Report newsletter this week, he expressed the tone of others who showed up for work this weekend.

“With crosswalk signs, a new Uptown sign at each intersection, planter boxes and this weekend’s work, San Marco is beginning to look more like a destination than a stepchild,” Palmer said.

The work that is being accomplished is not being paid for by the city — the clean-up and plantings along the Uptown business district are the work of citizen volunteers taking pride in their part of town.

Bill and Mary Ann Rosenthal’s Antiques Emporium at Cincinnati and San Marco Avenue, was once a Sinclair gasoline station complete with “Dino the Dinosaur” in the window. Following their sizable investment on remodeling the inside, last weekend they were busily at work repainting the outside.

The First City Beautification Committee has brought themselves under the governance of a local 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Rhey is reported to be planning to expand the volunteer group as we approach the events scheduled for the 450th anniversary of the city’s founding.

Rhey said they are formalizing their efforts with an official name, tagline, logo and soon a website.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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