Suburban Jacksonville: Exploring Cedar Hills

June 14, 2010 30 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Cedar Hills is a unique neighborhood that was developed during Jacksonville's transition from an urban to a suburban dominated community 60 years ago.

About Cedar Hills

Cedar Hills lies along the Cedar River (called Cedar Creek by the locals), on the opposite shore from Lake Shore, and stretches from Blanding Boulevard on the east to Lane Avenue to the west. Built in the 1940s and 1950s, Cedar Hills consists of some 3,000 single-family brick or concrete block homes in seven different residential neighborhoods that are anchored by the Cedar Hills Shopping Center business district. Most of the homes are modest, although many of the homes along the shore of the Cedar River have been greatly expanded, or replaced with much larger homes.,_Florida#Cedar_Hills

An aerial view of Cedar Hills in 1959.

Looking west, from Blanding Boulevard, at recently completed Wilson Boulevard in 1955.

The Cedar River wanders through the Westside before joining the Ortega River. Popular with weekend anglers, fish that travel between the Cedar River and the St. Johns River are also caught be commercial fisherman.

American Ranch Style Architecture

The residential fabric of Cedar Hills is dominated by American Ranch Style architecture. The Ranch was arguably one of the most long-lived and quintessential home styles of the mid 20th century.

Ranch-style houses (also American ranch, California ranch, rambler or rancher) is a uniquely American domestic architectural style. First built in the 1920s, the ranch style was extremely popular in the United States during the 1940s to 1970s, as new suburbs were built for the Greatest Generation and later the Silent Generation. The style was exported to other nations and so is found in other countries.

The style is often associated with tract housing built during this period, particularly in the western United States, which experienced a population explosion during this period, with a corresponding demand for housing.

The ranch house is noted for its long, close-to-the-ground profile, and minimal use of exterior and interior decoration. The houses fuse modernist ideas and styles with notions of the American Western period working ranches to create a very informal and casual living style. Their popularity waned in the late 20th century as neo-eclectic house styles, a return to using historical and traditional decoration, became popular. However, in recent years, interest in ranch house designs has been increasing.

Preservationist movements have begun in some ranch house neighborhoods, as well as renewed interest in the style from a younger generation who did not grow up in ranch-style houses. This renewed interest in the ranch house style has been compared to that which other house styles such as the bungalow and Queen Anne experienced in the 20th century, initial dominance of the market, replacement as the desired housing style, decay and disinterest coupled with many teardowns, then renewed interest and gentrification of the surviving homes.

New ranch style homes along Jammes Road in 1959.

The following features are considered key elements of the original ranch house style, although not all ranch houses have all them.

- Single story

- Long, low roofline

- Asymmetrical rectangular, L-shaped, or U-shaped design

- Simple floor plans

- Open floor plans

- Attached garage

- Sliding glass doors opening onto a patio

- Large windows

- Vaulted ceilings with exposed beams

- Windows often decorated with shutters

- Exteriors of stucco, brick and wood

- Large overhanging eaves

- Cross-gabled, side-gabled or hip roof

- Simple and/or rustic interior and exterior trim

Streets of Cedar Hills

The developers of subdivisions are responsible for the naming of the project's streets. Sometimes they are touched by a thematic muse. Such is the case with the roads of Cedar Hills, including Mother Goose Road, Peter Pan Place and the rabbit warren of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton Tail lanes.

Characteristics of a Transitioning Neighborhood

Being that Cedar Hills was one of Jacksonville's early suburban communities, the neighborhood features a unique mix of urban and suburban characteristics.

Residential lot frontages are typically large with wide front building setbacks. (suburban)

Residential and commercial uses are not integrated (suburban)

Commercial uses are suburban in nature and typically limited to linear congested corridors, such as Blanding Boulevard and 103rd Street.

Intersection of Blanding Boulevard and 103rd Street in 1957.

Looking east on 103rd Street

The Charles D. Webb Wesconnett public library is located at the intersection of 103rd Street and Harlow Boulevard.

103rd Street's 155,769 square foot Anchor Plaza opened in 1970. Anchor Plaza features 1,005 surface parking spaces which is a starke contrast to the 125,000 square foot Jacksonville Landing's 300 dedicated spaces.

Biking on Blanding Boulevard.

Blanding Town Center

Founded in 1952 as the Jax Navy Federal Credit Union, the headquarters of VyStar Credit Union is located in Cedar Hills.

Located at 4825 Blanding Boulevard, Adventure Landing's attractions include an arcade, miniature golf, laser tag and a go-kart speedway.

The 282,000 square foot Cedar Hills Shopping Center was a forerunner to the local regional mall. Originally completed in 1955, this shopping center once included a JCPenney, S&S Cafeteria and movie theater.

Cedar Hills shopping center in 1957.

Neighborhood parks are not walkable (suburban)

Cedar Hills Park is an early example of a regional suburban park. Unlike its predessors in the urban core, the park was designed to accommodate automobile use instead of pedestrians despite being surrounded by a dense collection of residential structures. Renovations to this active park were completed in 2002.

This image captures the creation of someone who values park space. This pedestrian bridge provides direct access from the backyards of nearby residences to Cedar Hills Park.

The public pool at Cedar Hills Park in 1959.

Civic structures are not focal points within the community (suburban)

Completed in 1960, this Jammes Road structure is now home to Cedar Hills Baptist Church.

Cedar Hills Elementary School has served the surrounding area since 1956.

Named after the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis Middle School was completed in 1961.

Church of the Epiphany on Harlow Boulevard.

Street grid connectivity not prohibited with cul-de-sacs, gated communities or dead-end corridors. (urban)

Harlow Boulevard serves as a conduit to connect several residential neighborhoods to major commercial corridors like Blanding Boulevard and 103rd Street.

Despite a large network of drainage ditches and canals, Cedar Hill's street network offers residents the ability to use a significant amount of routes to access various destinations.

Hugh Edwards Drive is an alternative north/south corridor to Lane Avenue and Jammes Road that directly connects residents with Wilson Boulevard and San Juan Avenue. Hugh Edwards Drive is also an example of an existing street where stripping could be added to mark bike lanes.

This 1959 aerial of Cedar Hills Estates illustrates a suburban street grid network without cul-de-sacs.

Exceptions to the rule

Infill development, with its own development patterns and architectural styles continues to take place throughout Cedar Hills.

About Sweetwater

Now engulfed by Cedar Hills, Sweetwater is a small area, near I-295 and Wilson Boulevard, that was settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. According to local legend, the community's name originates from an event that had "revenuers" chasing moonshiners hauling syrup on Old Middleburg Road.  During the chase, the moonshiners spilled their sugary cargo into a nearby creek, resulting in the name "sweet water."  While many Cedar Hills streets are named after cartoon characters, Sweetwater's streets bear Biblical names such as Luke, Matthew, Mark, John, Esther and Moses.  The majority of structures in the community were constructed between 1949 and 1953, when the Sweetwater Park subdivision was developed.

Intersection of Jammes Road and Wilson Boulevard in 1959.

The corner of Firestone Road and Luke Street.

A new religious facility on Esther Street.

The Mary Lena Gibbs Community Center is located in the Sweetwater/Cedar Hills Estates area of southwest Jacksonville. Formerly the site of the Cedar Hills National Guard Armory that was built in 1957, it became a City recreational facility in October 1996, after the Guard moved out. It is named in honor of Mrs. Gibbs (1914-1973), who was a second mother to the children of Sweetwater, operating a free kindergarten, serving as PTA president, working with the local 4-H Club and more. In addition to the Center, the site is also home to the charter S.O.S. Middle/High School, the Sweetwater Athletic Association (youth football & cheerleading), and Barco Field. With money from a National Football League grant and City funds, a major improvement project was completed in December 2004 at the football/soccer field that is named for the Barco family, who are strong supporters of the community.

Before telephone service came to the area in the 1950s, news was delivered to Sweetwater residents by ringing the bell at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Firestone Road.  Prior to the suburban development of the Westside, the production of illegal moonshine was a huge economic generator for the rural community that was surrounded by dairy farms and pastures.    

The neighborhoods of Cedar Hills (purple) and Sweetwater (orange) are located seven miles southwest of downtown, between Blanding Boulevard, 103rd Street, Ricker Road and San Juan Avenue.

Photo tour by Ennis Davis