Urban Neighborhoods: The Cathedral District

September 30, 2008 12 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Sitting on the crest of Billy Goat Hill , the Cathedral District contains the bulk of the Northbank's residential population base.

The district is also the home of Downtown's largest remaining collection of historic residential structures, which should be viewed as a highly valuable asset for preservation and urban infill opportunities.


 The Cathedral District of Yesteryear

A portion of the Cathedral District lies on land and streets that were a part of the original City of Jacksonville that was founded in 1822.  The image above is the intersection of Liberty and Monroe Streets in 1948.


A Walk Through The Cathedral District Today

Like a large portion of the Inner City, the Cathedral District does not resemble the scene it enjoyed during the boom years of the Great Fire's aftermath.  However, despite decades of neglect, there is still enough infrastructure and building fabric in place to give today's residents a glimpse into the neighborhood's past.

The 400 block of East Church Street contains Downtown's largest intact remaining collection of historic residential structures.  Most of the single and multi-family buildings along this stretch were constructed right after the Great Fire of 1901.

The Duval High School was the first public school in Florida to offer courses beyond the elementary grades.  During the late 1970s, the structure was converted into 52 apartment units.

Hidden from the rest of the world by the Duval County Jail and the Hart Bridge Expressway ramps, this brick structure looks like it belongs in New Orleans or Mobile, as opposed to Jacksonville.  At one time, our fair city was dominated by mixed-use structures such as this. Residential above retail...what a concept!

Construction of the Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, began four months after the Great Fire of 1901.  This congregation was founded by former slaves on July 28, 1866.

The Parks at the Cathedral townhomes were one of the first new infill projects to be constructed in the downtown core this decade.

The complex is a great example of how to incorporate new multi-family residential development, into a historical urban area.  51 townhouse units line the sidewalk, creating a pedestrian friendly street edge.  Despite the urban appearance, private parking is still accommodated in the middle of the block.

Located next door to the Parks at the Cathedral townhomes, this Community Connections project represents a failure within our planning and zoning community.  Instead of following the same concept that was successfully pulled off by the project across the street, Community Connections was allowed to design a suburban oriented facility within the core of a historical urban district. 

The substitution of a parking lot retaining wall, as opposed to a building entry along the sidewalk, can be seen in the image below.  Here, a sidewalk lined with pedestrian friendly entries has been broken up with an infill surface parking lot.

The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church's 178.5' steeple was the tallest structure in the city from 1910 to 1913.

Located at 711 North Liberty Street, this building served as the original Jacksonville Police Headquarters.

The eastern area of the district was once dominated by industrial and commercial uses. As the district and downtown continue to redevelop, this area may once again become a popular neighborhood location for commercial uses.

Cathedral Center

During the late 1960's, the nearby St. John's Cathedral congregation felt they had an obligation to address their decaying surroundings.  This desire grew into a plan to redevelop the entire area bounded by Hogans Creek, Duval, Ocean and Union Streets.

Called Cathedral Center, this massive 23-block urban renewal project included highrise towers, townhomes and condominiums, a major public park, hotels and a health care center.  Unfortunately, federal funds earmarked for these type of developments ran out before the plan could be finalized.  Despite failing, three retirement towers and a rehabilitation center from the plan became reality.

Downtown's only full service grocery store is located in the Cathedral District.  This Winn-Dixie store was renovated and expanded earlier this year.

In 2001, while working on underground utilities for the Parks townhome project, contractors discovered human remains.  This area was then determined to be a part of the Old City Burying Grounds, Jacksonville's oldest documented public cemetery.  The 19th century graveyard was relocated, allowing the project to move forward.  A portion of this area was developed into Cathedral Park, a small pocket park.

Walking through the Cathedral District can be pretty difficult experience due to the large number of vacant properties and surface parking lots.  However, these areas of blight also can be viewed as an opportunity for small affordable infill projects within the downtown core.

The Cathedral District is dominated with small properties that can be taken advantage of by visionary urban pioneers.

These two Liberty Street structures are a form of multi-family residential construction that heavily dominated the district during its heyday. 

 The Elena Flats at 122 E. Duval Street, represent a form of urban housing that dominated the streets of downtown during the early 20th century.  Today, it sits abandoned and is one of the last remaining examples of small historic rooming houses in the Northbank.


Many of the older homes have been saved from demolition by being converted into office uses.  While they no longer contribute to the residential population base, they are still an integral part of the district's distinct urban atmosphere.

 The St. John's Episcopal Cathedral sits on the crest of "Billy Goat Hill," the highest point in the original city limits.  Because the church grounds were originally on the outskirts of town, Market Street stops and picks back up again around the property.

For more information regarding the area's rich history visit:

Exploring Downtown's Cathedral District - 5/16/07

Article by Ennis Davis