While much of the original layout of the historic commercial district remains intact, Five Points has seen its fair share of change and evolution over the years.
The district, which ranks among the most culturally significant areas in both Riverside and Jacksonville at-large, was mostly residential space a century ago. It didn’t start becoming a retail hot spot until after World War I, in a time of economic prosperity that would last less than a decade prior to the Great Depression.
Among the first buildings to be constructed as part of what would become Five Points was the Riverside Theater – now known as Sun-Ray Cinema. The theater opened its doors to the public in 1927 as the first of its kind in Florida, offering the then-unique experience of talking pictures, or “talkies”.
Just a year later, Park Arcade Building completed construction, housing – you guessed it – an arcade. Its Italian Renaissance-style architecture would set the tone for similar retail shells that were constructed along this stretch of Park Street shortly thereafter.
By 1930, Five Points had gone from no retail presence to a collection of around 20 businesses, including an ice cream parlor, clothing store, and two pharmacies. A Texaco gas station sat at the corner of Park and Margaret streets.
When the mini-golf craze of the 1930s hit Jacksonville, the Park Arcade Building was used as part of an indoor-outdoor mini-golf course. The course extended out to what was then a private park behind the building. This space is now occupied by a stretch of Oak Street and an apartment complex for retirees.
Next door to the Park Arcade Building, a two-story building popped up. It would cycle through a couple of other uses before eventually becoming home to Woolworth’s, a popular five-and-dime department store.
The Five Points area continued to thrive for a few decades – but for the Riverside Theater, problems were already arising.
The theater’s main draw – its ability to show talking pictures – was taken away, as its voice-syncing technology was taken to be incorporated in a downtown theater. It also didn’t help that ticket sales were down due to the Depression.
As a result, Riverside Theater would shut its doors for most of the 1930s, only re-opening briefly for an unsuccessful stint as a community theater.
However, in the late ‘40s, the theater was revitalized and given a new name: Five Points Theater.
The theater – and Five Points in general – carried on without problems for a couple more decades before hitting a rough patch in the 1970s.
Business declined, and tenants began shuffling. Woolworth’s ditched its two-story building, and was replaced by a series of similar five-and-dime stores.
Five Points Theater was remodeled, but would shut its doors again in the late ‘70s.
While there were still tenants present in Five Points, it was undoubtedly a turning point in the district’s lengthy history. Something had to be done to upgrade the declining area – preferably without just bulldozing everything and building a Walmart.
That’s where Riverside Avondale Preservation stepped in.
RAP was founded in 1974 with the mission of preserving both the architecture and culture of the Riverside and Avondale neighborhoods. The organization was able to secure funding for revitalization of important areas such as Five Points, as well as getting structures such as Park Arcade Building designated as historic landmarks and thus protected for decades to come.
Following revitalization efforts, the culture of Five Points gradually began to transform. Beginning in the ‘90s, the district became known as a cultural hot spot, drawing crowds of artistic-minded residents and becoming an incubation point for local businesses.
In the mid-2000s, after failed experiments in community theater and live music, the original Riverside Theater was restored, re-opened and renamed Sun-Ray Cinema.
In 2017, Hoptinger opened in the former Woolworth’s building, bringing a more mainstream element back to the district while still keeping it local.
Park Arcade Building now houses long-time tenant Edge City along with BARK and a few other tenants. It sits between two relatively new additions: Hoptinger and Hawkers Asian Street Fare.
Today, Five Points continues as the go-to spot for young and hip Jax residents, with a collection of quirky local shops and bars. And as the area – and the city as a whole – continues to grow, there are sure to be several more chapters added to the district’s storied history.