By Max Royle ~ St. Augustine Beach City Manager
It doesn’t have the renown of Paris’s Champs-Elysees, the breadth of Washington, D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue, and certainly isn’t lined by the flagships of fashion like New York’s 5th Avenue, yet humble A1A Beach Boulevard is special to us because it’s our fair City’s main street. Though there’s a four-lane state highway along the City’s western side, it doesn’t, like the Boulevard, bring you to where the “action” is: the hotels/motels, restaurants, gift shops and sundry other businesses that define the City’s commercial core, and to off-beach parking lots and the A Street access to the beach.
The Boulevard’s history also makes it special. Early 1900s maps of what became St. Augustine Beach show that the Boulevard’s name was “Ocean Avenue.” Then, sometime prior to World War II, Ocean Avenue became a segment of that famous tourist highway, State Road A1A, which goes from Fernandina Beach to Miami Beach and is Florida’s version of Route 66. In the mid-1980s, there was another name change when the state gave ownership of the road to the County and its name became County Road A1A. In 1998, when the road along the City’s west side was widened to four lanes, its name was changed from State Road 3 to State Road A1A. Thus, there were two A1As quite close to each other. Do you think that might have been confusing? In those pre-GPS days, visitors would be perplexed: Which A1A would take them, for example, to the La Fiesta Motel, Sunset Grille, or the A Street beach ramp and which to Crescent Beach? The complaints made local business owners ask in the early 1990s that the name of County Road A1A be changed to A1A Beach Boulevard. Why not A1A Boulevard or Ocean Boulevard? Because the business owners wanted the road’s name to have a clear connection to the beach and to the iconic “A1A” designation.
In the early 1990s, the Boulevard physically was what it had been for decades: two narrow north/south travel lanes, a mile-long sidewalk on the east side but no curbs, no underground drainage. Around 1994, St. Johns County decided the Boulevard needed to be modernized. After a series of meetings with citizens and the City Commission, it was agreed that the road would be widened to two travel lanes, have a center turning lane, a sidewalk on each side plus curbs and underground drainage.
But changes to the Boulevard weren’t finished. After its widening in 1996, the City Commission decided it should be beautified and appointed the Beautification Advisory Committee. One of the members, Mr. Craig Thomson, proposed that palm trees be put on each side to create an “Avenue of Palms.” Over 700 trees, purchased by donations from citizens and businesses, have been planted. Other changes focused on safety, such as traffic signals at A Street and Pope Road, pedestrian crossing flags at key intersections and widening the curbside lane on each side for bicyclists.
What future improvements await the Boulevard? Possibly, pedestrian crossing flashing signals at certain intersections, undergrounding of electric wires along it and making it part of the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, which will be a paved sidewalk/bike path adjacent to the Boulevard. Exercise-minded individuals can use the Loop to cross the County from Palatka through St. Augustine to our City and south into Flager and Volusia counties. The Boulevard segment of the Loop might be done during the next 10-15 years.
Any other changes for our humble main street? Difficult to say exactly, but as it has been throughout its history, A1A Beach Boulevard will be a work in progress.