Vilano Beach is located two miles from St. Augustine in Northeast Florida's St. Johns County. The area lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the Tolomato River. When Henry Flagler attracted northern tourists to his hotels in St. Augustine, the seaside community of Vilano Beach was their oceanfront playground. Ferries and horse drawn trolleys brought visitors to the beaches.
In 1926, Florida developer August Heckscher built the Grand Vilano Casino, a Mediterranean Revival-style building on Vilano Beach. Big name bands from New York, vaudeville acts, theme parties and dances were hosted here. This unique oceanfront casino had monumental architecture on property 300 feet wide and 250 feet deep, a salt water swimming pool 150 feet long by 50 feet wide, and fine dining. A palm log bridge over the North River constructed in the 1920s provided access to the island by car from the city of St. Augustine. On August 28, 1937, 50 mile per hour winds lashed across the coast and high tides sparked the Vilano Beach Casino’s demise. But before it was destroyed, the ornate columns were saved and donated to the Florida Memorial College.
Vilano Beach was platted during the 1920's Florida Land Boom. A1A in Vilano Beach, also known as Coastal Highway, was constructed in 1928. The majority of the land remained vacant until after World War II. Beginning in the late 1940's and continuing in the 1950's, small motels and "motor courts" emerged along Vilano Road.
|Today, the majority of the original platted residential lots have been built upon and several Planned United Developments have also been created. Vilano is now a year-round residential community boasting hundreds of homes and numerous small businesses.|
Prior to 1995, a drawbridge brought traffic along Vilano Road. In 1995, the opening of a new bridge diverted traffic away from Vilano Road which had a significant, negative impact on the area businesses. The North Shores Improvement Association (NSIA) worked with the businesses and residential areas in 1998 to develop a visioning document for the area. This document was adopted by the St. Johns County Commission in 1999 and serves as the basis for the revitalization of the area. Reasonable growth, stewardship and protection of the environment are a few of the issues addressed in the Vilano vision.
North Shores Improvement Association Renewed
Under the North Shores Improvement Association umbrella, following acceptance of the community vision by the county, a citizen-government partnership was founded with St. Johns County in 1999. This resulted in acceptance to the Waterfronts Florida Program under the Florida Department of Community Affairs and to the Florida Main Street Program under the Florida Department of State. These programs have provided technical assistance in designing a new Vilano Beach Town Center to sustain local population and for creating a unique destination experience for the visitor. They also helped procure over one million dollars in grant funding assistance for public projects.
A Community Redevelopment Agency Area with Tax Increment Financing was put into place along with a Design Review Board for a new North Coastal Corridor District zoning overlay to approve new commercial and multi-unit construction. Groundbreaking for the new Town Center Streetscape with underground utilities and stormwater system was done in 2006. The streetscape completion was celebrated on October 17, 2008.
The Vilano BeachTown Center design and concept has received awards from The Council for a Sustainable Florida and the First Coast Florida Regional Planning Association, among others.
A beach pavilion at the ocean with an interactive fountain and a matching pavilion at the fishing pier on the Intracoastal Waterway at either end of Vilano Road were constructed in an architectural style combining art deco moderne and Florida vernacular, and a new boardwalk over the salt water marsh in the Intracoastal estuary connects the residential area to the north with the Town Center under construction to the south.
A new mixed-use zoning classification was approved for the Town Center district, which will allow residential living over the retail and commercial units on the first floor. A grocery store commercial/residential complex has been approved for a 4.5 acre parcel at the corner of Coastal Highway and Vilano Road with construction expected to begin when the streetscape is completed and be finished a little more than a year later.
Then and now. Today the Bluebird of Happiness is ready to smile again!