HISTORIC ST. AUGUSTINE PRESERVATION BOARD
May 2, 1973
MEMORANDUM TO: John D. Bailey, Chairman
From: John W. Griffin, Director.Ap"-
Subject: Ribera House; an interpretive problem
Having received a certain amount of adverse comment on recent
changes in the Ribera House (as well as some positive ones from the AAM
inspector and other professionals in historic preservation) it seems
advisable to discuss the reconstruction of the building, its furnishings and
grounds, and the alternatives available to treating it as a unit in a historical
A house of stone belonging to one Juan Rivera (or Ribera) stood
on the site in 1764, at the end of the First Spanish Period. It was one of the
properties which Jesse Fish accounted for. In 1770 "stone of the new walls"
of the house was sold for 86 pesos, and in 1777 the "old house and lot" were
sold to Luciano de Herrera for 117 pesos.
By the time of the Rocque map of 1788 the site was occupied by a
two-story timber-frame house in good condition. We are concerned with the
At the present time we know nothing about Juan Ribera other than
Massive foundations were uncovered and the ge. .-al size of the
house determined. Foundations for the kitchen were also located.
Datable ceramics incorporated in the footing trenches indicate
the earliest Uate at which the foundations could have been laid. This is
mid-eighteenth century. Construction is therefore fixed between roughly
1750 and 1763.
Memo: John D. Bailey
May 2, 1973
Based on the somewhat meager evidence it was apparently
decided that a large structure was indicated. Beyond that the details were
based on the general type of First Spanish Period architecture and similar
styles elsewhere in the New World and were apparently influenced by the
sizes of the doors and windows Mr. Newton had brought from Spain. It
should be noted that this inclusion of antique fenestration elements in a
reconstruction was a questionable practice in terms of generally accepted
professional practice in restoration and reconstruction.
The Final Product
The end result is a very fine looking building which may, or may
not, resemble anything which once stood in St. Augustine. The woodwork
is almost certainly over-ornate for the poor garrison town of St. Augustine.
The formal garden, of which no evidence existed at this site, adds to the
generally unconvincing total picture. Antique furnishings were acquired in
an amount which surpass any evidence which we have for St. Augustine.
In toto, the house, furnishings, and gardens give a misleading picture of
colonial St. Augustine in the First Spanish Period.
The Interpretive Alternative
1. We begin with what was done with the building in the past. In
our literature it was presented as "typical of a 'fine' house, occupied by a
prominent well-to-do family", and the use of the rooms and the furnishings
presented as actually determined fact. This is basically a dishonest approach,
or at best a "half-truth" of the kind for which St. Augustine is criticized from
time to time. Some better approach is needed.
2. A second alternative would be to leave the building, furnishings
and grounds as they were when completed and attempt to remove any implica-
tion that this represents the St. Augustine situation (much as the Spanish Inn
is used as a historic house exhibit unrelated to the history of St. Augustine).
There would seem to be a limit, however, to the extent that the Historic St.
Augustine Preservation Board should engage in this type of museum work as
opposed to telling the story of St. Augustine. In addition to thle Spanish Inn we
also already have the Pan-American building housing formal museum exhibits
oriented away from this community.
Memo: John D. Bailey
May 2, 1973
3. A third approach is the one which I was attempting to inaugurate.
The basic premise is to remove the obligation to explain the building by
making its basic function that of a background to the visitor services of
tickets and information, and a pleasant place from which to begin the visit.
The furnished upstairs would be a setting for an audio message to draw the
visitor into exploring the remainder of the area. The kitchen, too, would
have audio interpretation. The garden would not have to be interpreted,
or explained away--merely enjoyed.
A fiscal consideration was that setting up a ticket and information
station in a previously unmanned spot would add at least $7, 000 in wages per
4. Any alternative of a complete restudy of the Ribera complex,
and taking the steps necessary to bring it into line as an acceptable two-story
building on its original site, would involve sums of money better spent for
other purposes at this time, although eventually consideration should be given
to this approach in this building.
If the usage which I have been developing (Alternate 3) is not
acceptable to the Corporation, and others, the only viable alternative is
number 2, a museum of Spanish furniture carefully explained as not repre-
senting a late eighteenth century home in St. Augustine.
It would then be necessary to find a new location for ticket and
other sales, and information, and to determine how to fund the additional