The Bolles School, San Jose Episcopal Day School and San Jose Country Club are celebrating 90 years of San Jose Estates, the 1920s-era Southside development in which all three neighboring organizations continue to flourish. The groups plan to mark this anniversary year with special programs and opportunities to recall the project’s historical significance.
“San Jose Estates is such a special area – both 90 years ago and today,” said Bolles President and Head of School Tyler Hodges. “As a historian, I look forward to honoring this milestone by reflecting on our neighborhood’s past.”
San Jose Episcopal Day School Head of School Lori Menger has been deeply engaged in research of San Jose Estates’ fascinating history. This fall, she shared some of her findings at a community gathering and is eager to put additional focus on the area’s past in 2020.
“While researching the history of the church and day school, I realized how rich the narrative of our community is,” Menger said. “I felt inspired to share the story of San Jose Estates and knew that this story would be appreciated by others in our community.”
Historical documents show plans for San Jose Estates began in 1914. However, the start of World War 1 delayed construction commencement. The project gained momentum on January 25, 1925 when the San Jose Estates Company purchased 1,000 acres of the former San Jose Plantation during the height of the Florida land boom. The company hired noted city planner John Nolen to lay out innovative designs for a suburban community that would include churches, schools, country clubs, hotels and shops – reflecting the advent of the suburban development and the automobile. The Mediterranean inspired project included plans for 1,911 lots and streets were named for Spanish places. Jacksonville-based architectural firm Marsh & Saxelbye began work on the development’s landmark structure – the San Jose Hotel, now known as The Bolles School.
The main building on the campus of what is now San Jose Episcopal Church and Day School was built in 1924 as the administrative building for the San Jose Estates Development Company. The San Jose Country Club next door was designed by Harold F. Saxelbye and built in 1927 by O.P. Woodcock Company for the enjoyment of guests at the San Jose Hotel. The original 18-hole golf course was designed by Donald Ross and was completed at about the same time.
Developers eagerly awaited visitors from the north to arrive by railcar to the sunny Florida coastline. Lots sold quickly and San Jose was fast becoming a destination for many. But this hope and anticipation did not last. The Florida land boom quickly became the Florida land bust.
Construction at San Jose Estates came to a halt. At the time, the community included 37 structures: 30 residences, three public buildings and four gatehouses. Plans for a second hotel, called The Vanderbilt, were scrapped and industrialist Alfred I duPont and wife Jessie Ball duPont purchased the site. Later, the duPonts hired Marsh & Saxelbye to design their winter home on the property. Called Epping Forest, the 15,000-square-foot, 25-room home was completed in 1927 and has since been the host site for U.S. presidents and visiting royalty among other guests. It is now Epping Forest Yacht Club. The duPonts also purchased the club property and the main administrative building, now San Jose Episcopal Church. In the early 1940s, Jessie Ball duPont allowed a group of neighborhood Episcopalians to use it for worship. They called it Grace Chapel. DuPont later bequeathed the property to the Episcopal Diocese of Florida and in 1971, the name was changed to San Jose Episcopal Church. San Jose Episcopal Day School was first established in 1950 as a ministry of Grace Chapel Parish.
Only open for a brief two-year period, the San Jose Hotel forever closed its doors until reopening as a military school for boys in 1933. The hotel was purchased by Florida land tycoon Richard J. Bolles, who later passed away and left his fortune to secretary, Agnes Cain Painter – the original Headmaster of the School. Today, The Bolles School is a thriving day and boarding school for children from all over the world and like the San Jose Episcopal Day School main building, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, more than 1,600 students attend Bolles.
In 1946, Stockton Whatley & Davin Company acquired the golf club property from the duPont Estate. There was a keen awareness of the need for a modern country club to serve the families of the expanding area of South Jacksonville. Financing for the new club was obtained through the formation of the San Jose Investment Company, which issued 300 20-year, 3% bonds. These were promptly bought at $750 each. With the proceeds, the Investment Company acquired the club property from Stockton Whatley & Davin and leased it to the country club organization for 20 years, with purchase options included in the lease agreement. The property was 135 acres plus the golf course. Many additions and enhancements have been made over the years. Today, the club is a thriving destination for members to enjoy community, golf, tennis, swimming and other club amenities.
The many traditions of each institution continue to thrive as time marches on! Cheers to 90 years of the San Jose Estates!
San Jose Episcopal Day School
The Bolles School
San Jose Country Club
Exposing History: The Lost Significance of San Jose by Ennis Davis, AICP