PONCE DE LEON STATUE
The Ponce de Leon Statue is one of St. Augustine's most
significant public monuments. It is located in the Plaza area,
a central green with surrounding buildings on the bayfront.
The Plaza is the central feature of the Colonial City Historic
District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Plaza has been the setting for many of St. Augustine's most
prominent public monuments from colonial times to the present
and the focal point of public ceremonies, improvement drives,
and tree plantings. It has included many features over the
years, among them an alligator pond and an open bandstand
popular for music and political rallies. The original Plaza
area has been augmented by additional green spaces created
after World War I. The additional spaces consist of two small
parks east of the public market place and a third west of
government house. The Plaza has not only been a famous scenic
site for tourists, it is located at the center of the town's
commercial, religious, and governmental life.
The erection of the Ponce de Leon Statue was part of the
expansion of the original plaza which occurred after World War
I. It is located at Ponce de Leon Circle, a half-circular park
due east of the Public Market and west of the Bridge of the
Lions. It is roughly bounded by Avenida Menendez on the east,
Charlotte Street on the west, Cathedral Place on the north, and
King Street on the south.
The statue rests on fill in an area which during the
Colonial Period (1565-1821) was a cove along the shoreline of
the Matanzas Bay. The cove provided shelter for boats and ships
at anchor and was a major reason for the selection and
development of the town site. During the United States
Territorial Period (1821-1845), a seawall was constructed along
the bayfront. The seawall contained a rectangular boat basin at
the previous location of the cove. Around 1890, about the time
of the construction of the wooden bridge to Anastasia Island,
the boat basin was filled and the seawall continued unbroken
along the bayfront. The filled area subsequently became the
setting for a tourist comfort station surround by a few sparse
bushes. The area also included a pit containing alligators.
The fact that the statue is located on fill is a possible
explanation for settling and other structural problems
associated with its base.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth, there
began a trend in the United States, best known as the City
Beautiful Movement, to improve the appearance of urban areas.
Parks and attractive landscape and streetscape features became
commonplace throughout the country. Among the leaders of the
effort to improve the appearance of the city of St. Augustine
was Dr. Andrew Anderson.
Dr. Anderson's first contribution to the beautification of
St. Augustine was a marble statue and fountain. The statue
was destroyed by vandals during the 1940s but the base remains
at the west end of the Plaza near Government House.
Dr. Anderson subsequently made a greater contribution to
the public art of St. Augustine. The third anniversary of the
armistice ending World War I was to be a national observance.
The principal event was the internment of the Unknown Soldier
at Arlington National Cemetery, presided over by President
Warren G. Harding. At the local level, Andrew Anderson decided
to finance the erection of an appropriate memorial to the
residents of St. Augustine who had lost their lives in service.
He commissioned C. Adrian Pillars, a resident of St. Augustine
and sculptor of national significance, to design he base of the
Sometime after November 11, 1922, Dr. Anderson undertook a
third improvement project. With the permission of the city, he
began to develop a new park on the fill area east of the plaza
between Charlotte Street and the Bay Front. The center piece
of the new park space was to be a statue of the discover of
Florida, Juan Ponce de Leon. Through the United States
Department of State, Dr. Anderson secured permission to have a
cast made of the statue of Ponce de Leon which stands near the
explorer's grave in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The J.L. Mott
Foundry cast the original Ponce de Leon statue and the sculptor
was C. Bupert. The Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence,
Rhode Island sent artisans to San Juan to cast a new mould and
fabricated the base made of Dummerston granite.
During a public ceremony on Armistice Day, November 11,
1923, Dr. Anderson presented the statue to the city. The
statue and base replicated the original in San Juan. The
statue was cast in bronze, measured 5'11," and was oriented
toward the north. The base was approximately 10 feet in height
and had garlands, festoons, dentils, and other classical
ornamentation. On the north side were the words: The
Discoverer of Florida Juan Ponce de Leon Landed Near This Spot
1513. On the south side are the words: Presented To The City of
St. Augustine By Andrew Anderson M.D. 1923.
In October, 1987, workers employed by the City of
Augustine measured the statue as follows:
Height of statue: 71"
Length of sword: 41"
Length of handle
to holster: 10-5/16"
Length of holster: 2-3/8"
Band around tip of
sword (height): 1-15/16"
Thickness of sword
at top of blade: 1"
Base of statue: 22-5/6"
Thickness of base
exclusive of adhesive: 21-5/8"
Granite block upon
which statue rests: 30-3/16" square
Height of granite block
upon which statue rests: 11"
The information included above was obtained from records
at the St. Augustine Historical Society, the City of St.
Augustine, and the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.
Sources included the Florida Master Site File, the St.
Augustine Record, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and other
historic maps. Through Karen Harvey of the St. Augustine
Record, the consultants made direct contacts with the Gorham
Manufacturing Company in Providence to obtain technical
specifications and other information regarding the statue. The
historic records of the Gorham Manufacturing Company are
located at the John Hay Library, Brown University. Samuel
Hough, a consultant for the library, is searching the Gorham
Company records for information about the Ponce de Leon
Monument. Hopefully, the information will be forthcoming and
will assist the city in its efforts to preserve this important
t\-i, c -
^kj) e^ .~ l< V^;