San Marco: River Road

by Tim Gilmore, 6/18/2012

It almost feels urban and almost feels Floridian, palm trees and stucco foursquare buildings that aren’t quite Art Deco. But never mind even that.

A few blocks away San Marco Square still lights up with a jazz fusion band in Café on the Square and coffeeshops serving wine at night. The Little Theatre and San Marco Theatre are lit inside with local director and actors and play and an independent movie. The San Marco Bookshop is closed and the bronze lions in the square, partly copied from the sculpted winged lions in San Marco Square, Venice, Italy, are always either awake or asleep. They don’t move, but their eyes are open. But never mind even that.

Never mind that so much of the little public art in Jacksonville is derivative or directly copied.

Mind instead the one block of River Road that is what it proclaims. Behind the road are apartment blocks. Built in the 1920s and 1930s, they connote Art Deco and Art Moderne, but aren’t quite. They’re foursquares. They’re pale stucco, smoothed, white or pale yellow. Beside the front doors and framing interior stairwells are windows of glass cube. The foursquares face the river. One side of River Road, the apartment buildings, and the other side of River Road, the sunset.

She leaves her San Marco apartment for work at five a.m., before the sun comes up, and by the time she arrives at her office each morning, it’s almost dawn. Yet not. She misses the sunrise. She is already working. But every day, when she arrives at home in the late afternoon, she parks her car and walks three blocks from her apartment to River Road. She is just in time for the sun to go down. And it is marvelous. All the world is the river and the sky. The darkening blue and the scalloping of cloud in the river are seen in the sky that darkens and glows behind its clouds attested by the river. Between the river and the sky, there can be no other world. Chiasmus. All encompassed.

The rest of the city does not exist. The river exists and the sky does.

For 30 minutes she watches the sun sink behind clouds and trees and horizon, briefly brightly glowing.

And it’s not schmaltz, but a fact, that just the other side of this section of the St. Johns River, just south of downtown, the man who has not met her but will love her for the rest of his life walks from his Five Points apartment down to Memorial Park in the evenings. He stands at the stone tip of Riverside and looks toward River Road, a road he does not know, on the other side of the water, to watch the sun sink, glowing briefly brightly.

When, in 1925, every lot in the entire new subdivision of San Marco was sold before the streets were even paved, even then, on River Road, the rest of the world had no room between the river and the sky. And when the real estate bubble burst and the stock market crashed and the Great Depression flattened the rest of the country, even then, on River Road, there was no room for the rest of the world between the river and the sky.

Before she met the man standing in Memorial Park, she once stood at the water at the end of a workday and thought there was a math, a perfect diamond, river / sky / San Marco / Riverside.