Exploring Downtown's Cathedral District

December 22, 2015 14 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

It can be said that the Cathedral District is Jacksonville's one lost and forgotten walkable neighborhood that actually still exists. Situated on the crest of Billy Goat Hill and sandwiched between the elevated ramps of the Commordore Point and Mathews Bridge Expressways, a walk in this section of downtown provides a glimpse of what a true walkable urban neighborhood looks like.

Situated on the crest of Billy Goat Hill, the Cathedral District derives its name from the cluster of historic churches located in this section of the Northbank. It's also an example of historic preservation through the use of unintended consequences. Due to it being the long time home of the Duval County Jail and its proximity to early 20th century industrial uses and railyards, it's a section of downtown largely ignored by the City's demolition happy redevelopment gimmicks.

Other than its biggest threat of demolition for Jaguar game day parking, the Cathedral District largely exists because for decades, it was seen as a dumping ground for the necessary but unwanted uses of an urban community. Many of its century old structures live on as bail bonds, attorney's offices and social service centers.

Due to the reuse of existing building stock, the character of old Jacksonville, which included a mix of uses, limited building setbacks, interesting architecture, high density residential around a gridded street network, has been preserved.

While much of downtown's revitilization focus continues to overlook the Cathedral District, it may provide the city its best hope of providing urban pioneers and thrill seekers a place where a true mix of old and new can be easily accommodated.

Here's a brief tour of downtown Jacksonville's Cathedral District.

The Cathedral District of Yesteryear

The St. John's Episcopal Church in 1894. Courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Looking at the Cathedral District from the Adams Street viaduct over Hogans Creek in the 1910s. the Duval Street viaduct and St. Johns Terminal Company railyard can be seen in the background. Courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

The Cathedral District's Seneca Hotel in 1919. The Seneca was located on the SE corner of Ocean and Duval Streets. Courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Jacksonville's fire and police departments at Liberty and Beaver Streets in the early 20th century. Courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

The Duval County Criminal court and county jail before 1920. Built in 1913, this H.J. Klutho Prairie School designed structure was situated on the SE corner of Liberty and Beaver Streets. This property has remained vacant and undeveloped since this impressive building was demolished in 1968. Courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Intersection of Liberty and Monroe Streets in the Cathedral District on June 3, 1948. Courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Aerial of the Catherdal District in 1958. Courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

The Central Grammar School was built at the intersection of Liberty and Church Streets shortly after the Great Fire of 1901. Before it was demolished, it served as the campus of Florida Junior College. In the early 2000s, the Parks at Cathedral townhome development was constructed on the site of this former public school. Courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Next Page: Today's Cathedral District

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