The San Jose neighborhood, located about four miles from downtown Jacksonville, is among the city’s nicest areas to live in – but surprisingly, the community is only a fragment of what was once planned for the area.
The neighborhood’s modern history begins in the mid-1910s, when local businessman Claude Nolan formed the San Jose Company to buy up over 1,000 acres of land outside of Jax’s city limits at the time, near the St. Johns River. The land was previously used for a Spanish plantation named San Jose Plantation.
Nolan was a major advocate for the development of vehicle-friendly communities, but his San Jose Company never got around to actually developing its land holdings. Instead, that land was sold in 1925 to the newly-formed San Jose Estates company, led by Charles Strickland and several other prominent members of the local community.
San Jose Estates was eager to capitalize on the development of San Jose Boulevard through its land, creating a direct traffic route from San Jose to Jax, as well as the Florida land boom of the 1920s. The company hired renowned city planner John Nolen to envision a master-planned, self-contained suburban community, complete with hundreds of homes, multiple hotels, a country club and golf course, churches, and a boulevard of retail shops. One of those hotels, the San Jose Hotel, was to be the community’s centerpiece; the planned retail shops would have been adjacent to the hotel. Many of its planned streets, which were to be named for Spanish cities, formed a radial pattern around what would become Dupont Middle School.
Local architecture firm Marsh and Saxelbye handled the design of the community’s public buildings, including the country club and hotel. Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean Revival architecture was to be the dominant style of the neighborhood. Golf course designer Donald Ross was brought in to help with forming the club’s golf course.
O.P. Woodcock Company served as the general contractor for the community. Roads were laid out, and just under 2,000 lots were platted. Around three dozen buildings, including the grand San Jose Hotel, the San Jose Country Club, an administrative building, and multiple entrance gates, had sprung up by 1926.
Unfortunately, that would essentially be the full extent of San Jose Estates’ involvement with the area. Due in part to the end of the Florida land boom, and the impending arrival of the Great Depression, the company ceased operations.
Nolan made a brief attempt at reclaiming his former property, but by the end of 1927, Florida National Bank had taken possession of the land.
Among the many amenities proposed but never built by San Jose Estates were the hotel-adjacent shops, a harbor and yacht club, and a second hotel to be called the Vanderbilt.
The site for the latter was sold in 1927 to Alfred I. DuPont, a wealthy businessman who wished to establish a winter home with his wife, philanthropist Jessie Ball DuPont, in the Jacksonville area. The grand riverfront Epping Forest mansion, designed by Marsh and Saxelbye, was built on the land.
The San Jose Hotel, meanwhile, shut down in 1928 and was purchased by Richard Bolles.
DuPont’s holdings in the area would increase dramatically when he and business partner Edward Ball acquired Florida National Bank – and, along with it, almost all of the San Jose Estates property.
DuPont died in 1935, but his wife Jessie remained at the Epping Forest property for several decades and continued her local charity work. In the early 1940s, she donated the San Jose Estates administrative building to the Episcopal Church to form Grace Chapel – later known as San Jose Episcopal Church and Day School.
In 1947, most of San Jose was purchased by Stockton, Whatley, Davin, & Co., a development firm founded by Telfair Stockton who played a role in the development of San Marco, Riverside and Avondale, and Springfield. Lots were re-platted, and subdivisions of post-World War II-style homes began to fill out the undeveloped portions of the area.
A few years later, the company allowed San Jose Country Club to spin off on its own. The club would later undergo expansions in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
In the late ’60s, San Jose was one of many suburban communities absorbed by Jacksonville during consolidation.
When Jessie Ball DuPont passed away in 1970, the Epping Forest mansion was sold to local businessman Raymond K. Mason, who would own the property through the mid-‘80s. Gate Petroleum then purchased the mansion and its surrounding 58-acre estate and converted it into a private community of million-dollar homes and upscale condominiums over the next decade. The mansion became its centerpiece, the Epping Forest Yacht Club.
A local preservation group, San Jose Estates Preservation, Inc., played an instrumental role in getting the neighborhood’s historic properties added to the National Register of Historic Places in the ‘80s.
Today, the neighborhood is a thriving community made up of mostly single-family residential properties. The old San Jose Hotel is now the centerpiece to the riverfront campus of The Bolles School; the school has also acquired a couple of the original San Jose Estates homes for administrative use. San Jose Episcopal Church and Day School still operates within the old administrative building. One of the former entrance gates can still be seen along San Jose Boulevard.
Most notably, the majority of the structures built by San Jose Estates Company are still standing today in surprisingly good condition, providing the small neighborhood with a crucial sense of place and history.