Saint Augustine : the rebirth of the Nation's first city

Material Information

Saint Augustine : the rebirth of the Nation's first city
St. Augustine Restoration, Inc.
Place of Publication:
St. Augustine, Fla.
St. Augustine Restoration, Inc.
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Historic preservation
St. Augustine, Florida
Architecture -- Florida ( lcsh )
Architecture -- Caribbean Area ( lcsh )

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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The Rebirth
of the Nation's
First City


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ah iyo g h Past

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St. Augustine Tioday

St. Augustine today is a quiet city of 12,000.
Despite the rapid growth of many Florida cities, St.
Augustine has retained a great amount of its charm
and antiquity. Although less than 30 of the structures
remain today from those existing in 1763, public and private
efforts have succeeded in recreating some of the
buildings from the city's past.
While there are those who decry the failure of
St. Augustine to keep pace with the rest of Florida, this
failure has had certain advantages from an historical
standpoint by minimizing modernization. But it has by no
means halted it entirely.
Almost since its beginning St. Augustine has
conducted much of its business in the historical area
of the city and the exigencies of "progress" have resulted
in a confusion of nondescript business facades, some
with pseudo-Spanish architecture, some devoid of even
this link with the past.
In addition, there have been those who have taken
financial advantage of St. Augustine's tourist potential.
Visitors have been subjected to historical presentations
lacking in authenticity, while many other attractions
have no connection at all with the city's history.
Historical attractions are scattered over a wide area of
St. Augustine and are operated individually rather
than being integrated into a cohesive and meaningful plan.
And as historic as they are, the restored buildings
exist as museum-type exhibits, lacking the drama and
excitement of Spanish St. Augustine and failing to show the
growth and change which took place in the community
over a 256-year period.
Often, the tourist cannot distinguish between the
authentic and the unauthentic attractions and
unfortunately, as a result, the visitor to St. Augustine is
unlikely to take away any more than a vague knowledge of
the city's important role in American history.


Progress to Date

The goal of restoring the nation's oldest city is not a
new one. The first action taken by the mayor and
city commission of St. Augustine dates back to 1936, and the
St. Augustine Historical Society has dedicated itself for
more than half a century to the task of preserving
the memorable sites, buildings, records and objects of
the city.
The program received new impetus with the
establishment of the St. Augustine Historical Restoration
and Preservation Commission by an act of the Florida
Legislature in 1959 and the chartering of St. Augustine
Restoration, Inc., by a group of interested citizens in 1962.
The commission, now renamed the Historic St.
Augustine Preservation Board, is charged with the
responsibility of acquiring, restoring, preserving and
maintaining St. Augustine historical landmarks.
The nonprofit corporation was formed to accept
private financial contributions and donations of property.
Properties which it thus acquires or purchases are
rehabilitated and leased to the commission for operation.
The corporation has succeeded in bringing more than $1
million into the restoration program with donations
from foundations, corporations and individuals.
Between them the two groups have invested more than
$2 million in restoring and reconstructing more than

25 homes and shops, principally along a two-block area of
St. George Street-the oldest thoroughfare in the nation.
The first such project undertaken by the historical
commission was the Arrivas House, whose lower
walls and a part of the upstairs date back to an original 18th
Century building. The home now is used to demonstrate
domestic crafts such as weaving and candle dipping.
The Peck House, owned in trusteeship by the City of
St. Augustine, was restored in 1969-1970 by St.
Augustine Restoration, Inc. The original house, built
during the early 1700s, was the home of the Royal Spanish
Treasurer in St. Augustine.
The Spanish government has cooperated in the
restoration work by building the Casa del Hildago-a
recreated home of a Spanish "hildago" (nobleman).
American firms doing business in Latin America have
cooperated with the Organization of American States by
reconstructing the Marin Hassett House and
establishing it as a Pan American center.
Not all of the progress has been in physical facilities.
Prior to World War II the Carnegie Institution did a
great amount of research on St. Augustine's early history an
the historical commission, soon after its creation in 1959,
called for the preparation of a master plan for a
proposed restoration program.

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An Overambitious


In the early 1960s, a general master plan was unveiled
for the restoration of St. Augustine.
This plan encompassed the walled area of about 1721,
declared it a 40-block historical area, and envisioned
relocating the business district of St. Augustine outside
the area to the west.
The plan more or less called for the re-creation of St.
Augustine the way it existed in 1763, with about 20
per cent of the area to be in houses, shops and other
buildings and the remaining 80 per cent in gardens
and farms.
As interesting as this plan was, it proved to be
overambitious financially. Acquiring, maintaining and
operating the property in such a large area far exceeded
available or anticipated resources. And there was
no efficient way to show living conditions as they actually
had existed throughout the years in this extensive area.
The plan also froze the representation of
St. Augustine at one point in its history, rather than
presenting the full spectrum of life over two and a half
Although the plan has not been carried out it has
served as an inducement to further interest in a restoration
program more practical for implementation.

Concepts for Success

Although financial limitations have precluded the
preparation of a new, detailed master plan, these
concepts-or guidelines-have been developed to serve as
the framework for a successful restoration program:

Restoration efforts should be concentrated in an
eight-block area, with the initial program focused on one
three-block section within this area. This three-block area
would be walled in to control admission and then as
the "restored city" grew, that wall would be relocated
outward, around the larger eight-block area. Thus
the restored area would grow much as did the town of
St. Augustine itself. A replica of the wall, similar to what
was built in the 1700s as the Cubo-Rosario defense
line, now stands on the grounds of Castillo de San Marcos.
The selection of this eight block area-bounded by
Cordova Street on the west, Cuna Street on the south,
Orange Street on the north and Avenida Menedez and
Charlotte Street on the east-was made for several reasons.
The area is located adjacent to Castillo de
San Marcos, an established historical attraction with an
average attendance of a half-million persons a year.
It is an area in which most of the restoration work to
date has taken place. In addition, a nucleus of the property
within the three-block area already has been acquired by
either the St. Augustine Historical Restoration and
Preservation Commission or St. Augustine Restoration, Inc.
Values of the remaining property within the area are
comparatively low.
By concentrating in this area, by starting on a
small scale and then expanding, restoration becomes a
more practical program financially than the earlier plan of
restoring the entire 40 blocks of the city of 1763.

The restoration program should embrace all of
St. Augustine's first 256 years and not be limited to any one
period within this span.
Growth and change should be depicted-the
development of different types of construction from wood
to tabby to coquina; the evolution of the Catholic
missions, first Jesuit, then Franciscan; the successive
battles against different enemies, the French,
the Indians, the pirates, the English.
The restored area must be entertaining as well as
authentic, realistic and educational.
Live performances are envisioned for peak tourist
months. These performances will show the guests what it
was like to live in St. Augustine during her early years by
having the performers actually do and make the
things the pioneers did.
During periods of the year when visitor traffic
is light, automated animation is anticipated. This is
expected to be more economical but will retain the ability
to make the Ancient City come alive again.
Adequate parking and related service facilities are a
necessity and would be located adjacent to the primary
restoration area. Included would be a reception center
containing a theatre for the showing of an interpretive
motion picture. Authentic historical information
would also be made available to the visitor at this location.
An effort would be made to create a Spanish
atmosphere throughout the entire 40-block historical area.
It is anticipated that income eventually will cover
the cost of maintaining and operating the area.
However, first comes the task of creating an adequate,
authentic and entertaining exhibition which will require a
tremendous amount of time, effort and money.

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The Need for Support

Despite the good efforts of many, the restoration of
St. Augustine remains a lagging program and history
tends to overlook the city's many valuable contributions
to American life.
Although receiving financial support from the
State of Florida and the local county and city governments,
the restoration of St. Augustine must look more and
more to private foundations and corporate business for
support. This financial assistance has already been received
from several such organizations.
But St. Augustine belongs to the nation and not just
to itself or the State of Florida and it has become
increasingly evident that the search for support must
be expanded nationwide.
Additional historical research is required. A new,
more detailed master plan must be drawn.

The remaining property in the restoration area must be
acquired. Additional buildings must be reconstructed
or restored.
The new concepts for restoration are believed to be
practical and they stand in need only of the funds to
accomplish them. It is for these reasons that we look today
for outside assistance.
America's first familes-the settlers of St. Augustine-
also depended on outside support. Neglect and adversity
notwithstanding, they successfully established Europe's
first permanent settlement in what later became the United
It is with the spirit and persistence of these
unconquerable settlers that we boldly face the challenge
of restoring St. Augustine to her rightful place in American

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