Proposal for Government House Project


Material Information

Proposal for Government House Project
Series Title:
Government House (Progress Photographs, Book No. 3)
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
Newton, Earle W.
St. Augustine Restoration, Inc.
Publication Date:
Physical Location:
Folder: Gov't House


Subjects / Keywords:
Saint Augustine (Fla.)
48 King Street (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Government House (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Spatial Coverage:
North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine -- 48 King Street
29.892465 x -81.313142

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
West Plaza Lot
System ID:

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The origins of Government House are shrouded in early St. Augustine history. The first Governors occupied their own homes, without an official residence, and it seems that these were thatched roofed wooden houses near the waterfront. The discomforts of this caused Governor Gonzalez Mendez de Canzo to build his own house at the west end of the plaza, after establishing a public market at the east end. His successor, Gover nor Ibarra, urged that the government purchase Mendez de Canzo's fine new house for an official residence and this was done in 1604. At that time all houses were of wood, to the best of our knowledge. The use of coquina evidently began in the 1670's with the building of the Castillo, and it is possible that some structures of coquina were begun during the latter part of the 17th century. But the city was burned by the English in 1702, and there is no conclusive evidence that anything was left except possibly coquina walls at undetermined sites. It is not possible to conclusively date the present structure, therefore, back of the period 1706-13, when a new governor's home was built in stone. Our first picture of the building was one done by an Englishman in 1764, a handsome watercolor which is the basis of most of our knowledge of how the building looked in Spanish times. It covers only the principal, east facade. However, the building appears on de la Puente's map of 1764, and we have an extensive and detailed appraisal of the building in 1763, even extending to the gardens. The building was added to quite extensively during the English period, and a much larger structure appears on de la Rocque's map of 1788. It is unlikely that any of these walls were calstructed by the Spaniards between their return in 1784 and the date of the mad in 1788. The building was not well cared for during the succeeding years, and some of these additions fell away, so that by the time of its acquisition by the Americans in 1821 it had reverted to an L-shaped building like the 1764 edifice.

In 1833, contracts were issued for the rehabilitation and remodeling of the building, and it is here that historians have gone astray. One contract calls for the razing of the north wall and the extension of the width of the building by 14' 6". Historians have assumed that this was done, as did even an examining architect as late as 1965. But a correlation of the width measurements of the building from 1764 to the present, indicates that this part of the contract was not executed, and archaeological investigations along the wall show the breaks in the wall representing the additions made in 1833 and again in 1873. It is probable that the height of the walls was increased at this time, and drawings of the building as well as old prints show a completely different "Mediterranean" style superimposed upon the structure by the distinguished architect Robert Mills, of Washington. At this time the building was given an extension to the west by 16' 9", and the narrow west wall taken down to accomplish this. In 1873 another comparable extension was made, giving the building its principal east-west dimensions of today. In 1873 the style was changed again to "Victorianize" it and

long porches added on both sides. The English-Spanish wing to the south, which had been retained in the 1833 remodeling, was now removed, and the building became a long rectangle. In the 1930's, the building was remodeled again. The Spanish colonial east portion of the building was returned to its "original" architecture, utilizing the 1764 drawing of the facade. But the scale was somewhat different, due to the increase in the height bf the walls in the intermediate period. The remaining American portions of the north wall were brought into architectural harmony with the remodeled Spanish portion, and a large south wing added in the place of but in much larger dimensions than the original Spanish-English south wing. Small extensions were also added to the west for utility purposes, for the post office which by now occupied the bulk of the building.


This site has been a center of government in Spanish, English and
American Florida (which in the earliest days covered the entire southeast United States, to Mexico) for over 300 years a history shared by no other known site in the United States.

The building itself, known as the Governor's Mansion or "Government House", has evolved in a series ofy nlargements and changes since it was first begun late in the 17th century, replacing earlier wood buildings which had decayed. It has periodic moments of dis-use during the changes of government, while it awaited repairs, but had an essentially continuous use as a center of government down to the present day, first by the Spanish, then the English, and finally the Americans.

The building, as well as the site, is believed to have primary historical
significance for both nation and state. It is the only Governor's Mansion surviving from such an early date (those at Williamsburg, Virginia, and New Bern, North Carolina, were recently reconstructed because of their historical significance) and the only such building known to this Commission to have had such a continuous history as a center of government, mostly as a Governor's Mansion or Capitol, or both. It is especially significant as a survival from the Spanish period, of which there are so few. The Governor's Mansion in Texas and New Mexico which survive, were abandoned as governmental centers early in their history, but are today preserved and exhibited as significant historic monuments.



a. Survivals: Since the principal walls of the original Spanish Governor's
Mansion stand, it is contended that the basic integrity of the structure
survives from a very early period.
b. Setting: It remains as the central building of the historic Spanish Plaza,
which has been preserved down the years, including the original Spanish church (now cathedral) on one side and the first Protestant church (1824)
on the other. Its historic setting is unusually felicitous. Ugly modern business blocks across the street to the north have been removed by the Archbishop and reconstructed as a park. The gardens of the Governor's
Mansion remain open to the rear having been maintained through the years
as a city park. The Plaza to the east remains open and intact to the waterfront. d. Accessibility is excellent, with route A-1-A only one block away, but screened
from the site by the length of the Plaza.
d. Adaptability for public uses: The exterior of the oldest part was restored to
its 1764 appearance in the remodeling of 1936; the interior, the courtyard
and wall, and gardens could be restored with little difficulty. The more
modern west wing is equipped ideally to serve as museum and/or library and
archives, supplementary to the restored colonial building. It has the qualities of maximum security, solidity, and climate control needed for these purposes
and would require a minimum of alteration to serve perfectly the historical functions of preservation and exhibit of documents and artifacts relating to
the building itself, and to the successive government which inhabited it.
Seldom has there occurred such a perfect meeting of historical structure
and prospective utilization.
Moreover, the preservation and restoration of the site and structure is
the key element in the state-sponsored program for the restoration of the entire colonial city. State, city, county, private and church expenditures
toward this end have already passed the $5, 000, 000 mark, and will probably
exceed $20, 000, 000. "Government House" is the second most important
element in this program after the famed Castillo de San Marcos, long since
preserved, restored and exhibited by the National Park Service.
e. Cost of treatment: The costs are well within the resources of the State of
Florida and this state agency which has as its current appropriation $300, 000
from the state, $100, 000 from city and county, and $200, 000 from private
funds for its restoration program. Over five million dollars have been expended to date from public, private and church funds toward this end. The
Governor and several Cabinet members, who sit on the Budget Commission,
have indicated their firm support for the project.
f. Maintenance: The condition of the building is A-1 and no heavy maintenance
expenditures are anticipated.
g. Boundaries are the historic boundaries, excepting the widening and addition
of streets to each side, and permit the proper development and interpretation of the property.
h. Place in state or regional plan: As noted in (e), the site and building are the
central element in a state plan, supported by a National Commission established by Congress and appointed by President Kennedy, aided by foreign
governments and a regional international association (the O.A.S.).



This proposal is in two parts, since it is our belief that only the east
portion of the building, dating from the colonial period (prior to 1821) is sufficiently original to warrant restoration, while the west portion of the building, which was evolved in three changes in 1833, 1873 and the 1930's, does not lend itself to restoration to any particular period of its evolution. We therefore propose:

a. Restoration of the Governor's Mansion (east wing) to the period of 1763. The principal walls of the building of this period survive;
those which were added during the English period have all disappeared and been replaced by the additions of the 19th, and 20th centuries. The two most significant historical sources are dated 1763-64: the detailed appraisal of the building and its gardens and the watercolor drawing of
the principal facade of 1764.

b. Remodeling of the west portion of the building as an Hispanic
Center, to include a working auditorium in the old mailing and sorting area, conference and cinema rooms also usable as special exhibition
galleries, a convertible exhibition gallery to the rear of the auditorium
which can also be used to expand its seating, conversion of the lobby
space to an exhibition gallery with protected glass cases, an Hispanic library and research rooms, archaeological and museum laboratories
and curator's work space. The development of these areas required
so few changes, that they have been virtually completed by our own
personnel. The one major change remaining in this area, requiring
special engineering, is the completion of a floor over the auditorium to
improve acoustics, heating and air conditioning, and to provide future
expansion space in an area which is now unsightly and a trap for the hot
and cold air needed down in the auditorium area itself. A new boiler
is necessary.



At present we lack the plans for the building, which we know were made and which unquestionably reside in some Spanish archive. These must be located, as well as a search instituted for inventories of furnishings, which were also unquestionably made from time to time. These and ther data relating to the structure are essential before a proper restoration can begin. It is believed that Spanish scholars can be retained to search for this information, if a staff

member can go briefly to search out the proper person and make the arrangements. The ice has been broken in preliminary correspondence. I cannot at this time recommend sending any staff members to Spain for research, if only because of the cost as compared with the cost of utilizing Spanish scholars, who will know their own archives better, not require separate expense accounts, and who will have entry many places where a stranger does not. But unless the research is done, we ought not to undertake the restoration of the east wing in a conjectural fashion. If we do not find the material after a reasonable search we will work with the materials we have, but it would be tragic to turn up materials which might have been had by reasonable research two or three years later after we had done the restoration, and then have to do it over.

Between one and two percent of the total cost should be set aside for this
purpose (less actually than is normally expended for an architect's fee). We will bfdbr the most part, as always, our own architects, although we may seek architectural and engineering services in connection with the work, probably from the Architect who did the remodeling in the 1930's.


Certain critical decisions which will affect the cost must be made here, and should not be made until the basic research has been pretty nearly completed. We know, for example, that the height of the building was increased over that which we see in the 1764 drawing, and consequently the exterior restoration of the 190's is out of proportion. When the great courtyard wall on the east is reerected, it must be erected to its original height so that it will not be disproportionate, but then the higher dimensions of the colonial building will be out of proportion to it. Plans if they can be found can help us make this difficult decision as to whether the roof should be lowered in this portion (a not inexpensive move), or whether a restoration can be accommodated within the present shell and roof.

A second decision will need to be made with respect to the interior partitions, which can involve considerable variations in cost. We know the position of the partitions in 1788, and they are different from the present locations. Yet the present partitions are bearing partitions and are engineered into the structural support of the second floor. We might hope that the partitions of 1764 might be closer to the present ones and save us extensive structural work.

We shall have to decide the degree to which we can use the present Spanish type windows and doors placed in the building in 1937, and the degree to which they will have to be replaced by new ones made in our woodworking shop, or originals to be obtained in Spain.


There are other lesser decisions involved here, but these three: roof,
partitions, and woodwork, constitute the major ones bearing on cost, and which could represent a cost variation as much as 100%, according to which way the decisions go.


Costs are unpredictable here, since there is no supply warehouse for authentic Spanish furnishings of the kind which would be in a Spanish Governor's mansion. They will have to be sought in Spain and the Latin American countries, and a very extended period of time will be necessary to obtain them. The state of North Carolina has to date spent in excess of $700, 000 in obtaining appropriate original furnishings for the restoration of the Governor's Palace in New Bern, and undoubtedly Williamsburg's expenditures have exceeded one million dollars. It is not likely that funds will be available to operate on this scale, but something between $100, 000 and $200, 000 will be necessary to do anything at all. It is the unanimous opinion of the staff that no consideration should be given to using reproductions, except in temporary status where original pieces have not been found, and that they then should be carefully marked and explained so that the visitor is not misled.


These were the finest gardens in St. Augustine, and like those at New Bern and Williamsburg can be one of the high points of the St. Augustine restoration. There are many problems involved in restoring these gardens, including the search for sites and permissions for latter day memorials which have been placed in the public park which replaced the Governor's gardens in the 19th and 20th centuries. We fortunately have a map which shows the lay-out of the gardens, and an inventory of the principal plantings in the Governor's Mansion appraisal of 1763. Considering that over $10, 000 was expended in the Hispanic Garden, we should not allocate less than $20, 000 for this project.


1. Research $390 5,000
2. Building Restoration $100, 000 200,000 3. Furnishings 100,000 200,000 4. Gardens 20,000 30,000 5. Contingency 30,000 50,000
6. West Wing contraction
and repairs 10,000 15,000

Total $263,000 500,000

11.17.67 EYWN