Reconstructing Our Spanish Heritage


Material Information

Reconstructing Our Spanish Heritage
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
Earle W. Newton
St. Augustine Restoration, Inc.


General Note:
A transrcibed speech delivered by Earle Newton on the subject of the importance of the reconstruction projects and the work of the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board, given at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, 1964

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
UFHSA Government House Research Collections
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID:

This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text


By Earle W. Newton


We gather here today to honor the nation's oldest city on the occasion of its 400th anniversary, something that no other city in this country can celebrate or will be able to celebrate for many, many years. In these 400 years St. Augustine has gone through many trials, its present experience indicates that they are not yet over. At the time of its discovery and settlement by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in early September of 1565, the city was overtaken by a tremendous hurricane. The Spaniards survived it, indeed utilized it as a cover to attack the French fort just to the north at Fort Caroline and wipe out its garrison. The hurricane also destroyed the great French Admiral Ribault's fleet whose survivors including Ribault, were wiped then out by Menendez.

In the years which followed, the outpost, guarding the routes of the bullion fleets
from the fabulously rich gold areas of Mexico and Peru, were almost forgotten by officials of the mother country, and its fortunes rose and fell. It was sacked by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, and at other times by pirates. As the northernmost outpost of the Spanish Empire, it bore the brunt of attacks from the expanding English to the north, and in 1702 the entire city was destroyed, saving only the new Castillo. As the settlers began to rebuild in the shadow of their great stone fort, which the English had been unable to take, they were struck again by hurricanes of unprecedented velocity. The city of huts was again destroyed. It was therefore not until the early 18th century that a colonial city of coquina stone began to emerge.

Then, in its 399th year, as St. Augustine gathered itself to celebrate its quadricentennial, again a colossal hurricane struck. But this time not only the fort but the city withstood its ravages, and the fact that we are gathered here tonight is indicative of the resolution of its inhabitants not to let its 400th birthday pass without a Hispanic festival of significant proportions. It does this in spite of another storm through which it had just passed, a racial storm. The very prominence of the city, its emergence into the national limelight as it prepared to celebrate, caused it to be selected, not for its sins but for its significance, as a place for demonstration in behalf of negro civil rights during the summer of 1964. But the city had already taken many progressive steps in this direction, and is continuing to do so. It resumes its life in peace and with confidence. It stands today on the threshold of the vast new opportunity--an opportunity to be the principal agency for educating North Americans as to their Hispanic heritage, and to serve as one leg of a cultural bridge between the two halves of the hemisphere. Thus we celebrate not only the history of an ancient city, but begin to envision a striking new and significant future for it.

St. Augustine passed through many phases, under many governments. After almost 200 years of Spanish occupancy, the city was handed over to the British in a diplomatic trade in 1763. The British left an enduring imprint on the architecture of the city, which was very little altered when the Spaniards returned in 1784. They found here the Minorcans who had come under English rule, from a colony in the Bolerics, which also was under English domination and whose architecture had strong English characteristics. This mixture of Spanish and English architecture was adopted by the Minorcans and continued on until the Americans took over in 1821. Many of the Americans remodeled the old Spanish houses, accepting and adapting their appealing features, while others imported familiar New England southern antebellum styles.

But St. Augustine did not especially prosper in the early days of its existence as a territory and a state, particularly after the capital moved away to Tallahassee. In 1840 a fascinating old engraving shows the Spanish buildings along the waterfront in a state of very considerable decay, and it was during the 19th century that many were lost to neglect. Nonetheless, poverty is often the best friend of preservation, and it was not until the 20th century that the wholesale destruction of the old buildings began, to make way for what was then deemed "progress".

This progress began when Henry Flagler, the oil and railroad magnate, discovered the sleepy little Spanish-American city in the 1880s. Struck by its potential as a winter resort, he extended a railroad from Jacksonville and built here this great Ponce de Leon Hotel, which with its associated Alcazar and Cordova Hotels constituted an immense resort complex, which he had hoped would make Florida the Riviera of America and St. Augustine a southern Newport. It worked for a while, but Flagler himself sealed the fate of St. Augustine by driving his railroad progressively further south, building hotels as he went, and drawing his own customers out of St. Augustine. Eventually the Cordova and the Alcazar closed, but by great good fortune the Ponce de Leon has continued, magnificently maintained amid the great glory of its Hispanic-American style, and is available to us tonight. We can foresee it in the years ahead as the center of a great Pan American conference and educational complex which will certainly emerge here.

St. Augustine, however, never lost its fascination for the tourist, and as more and
more people began to travel by car, they began to flow into St. Augustine again, especially after World War II. St. Augustine lay right across main Route 1 southward, and nearly everyone heading for the southernmost points in Florida had to go through it. But its very role as a "funnel" drew to it many promoters whose objective was to take from the tourist his dollars, without respect to the validity and good taste of their presentation. St. Augustine began to acquire the reputation of a "tourist trap", and its visitors began to fall off. Attendance at the Castillo de San Marcos, always the index to tourist travel here, began to decline in the mid-50s from its peak of nearly a half million paid admissions. Writers began to cast sidelong looks at the old city, laughing quietly at the exaggerated claims made for its commercial "attractions", while the real history and historical offerings were overlooked in the raucous promotion of the former. The whole matter came in to considerable national prominence when one of these stories in the Saturday Evening Post brought forth a law suit from one of the local promoters, who won a decision largely because the Post could not prove that his claims were wrong, even though he could not prove that they were right.

All this had produced deep concern among St. Augustine's real friends, at home and
abroad. There were great stirrings of conscience about the presentation of its historical treasures. The St. Augustine Historical Society began the rehabilitation by a careful investigation of its own "Oldest House", which had been long presented as the oldest house in the United States. An intensive archaeological, documentary and architectural investigation showed that almost no buildings survived the destruction of 1702, and established a probable construction date about ten years after that. The new story was presented in forthright fashion by the Society, despite the fact that it lost them their claim to be "the oldest house in the United States"; it stands today as one of the fascinating historical attractions, as "St. Augustine's Oldest House".

Simultaneously there began an attempt to revive an old dream for the complete restoration of colonial St. Augustine. It was not the first attempt. Back in the 1930s, under the stimulus of the growing movement for the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, the mayor and some friends in the National Park Service had been able to enlist the interest of the Carnegie Corporation, which for a period of more than a year provided funds for a staff to undertake historical research and to draw up a plan for the restoration of the city. But the corporation was unwilling to provide actual funds for restoration, and


nothing seemed to be forthcoming from anywhere else. With the oncoming war in 1939 the effort tapered off and finally collapsed. Even the research materials were scattered, bit the efforts of Dr. Verne Chatelain and his associates have borne fruit today, and many of the programs now under execution were visualized by them.

The new movement, sparked by St. Augustine's Senator Verle A. Pope and ex-Senator
Frank D. Upchurch, then Chairman of the Florida Board of Parks and Memorials, took a more realistic approach, recognizing the clear fact that such a project had to be undertaken as a public and not a private venture. They interested Governor Leroy Collins, who took up the challenge in his inaugural message, and obtained an Act and a special State Commission from the 1959 Legislature. The new Commission was given $75,000 a year for two years to come up with a program.

The Commission, as established by an act of Legislature, was an extraordinary body.
Its scope was very broad, enabling it not only to undertake historical research and architectural restoration, but to engage in all kinds of auxiliary activities to forward and support its program. Its powers were unprecedented, including the power of eminent domain, which it was recognized would be necessary if any kind of unified restoration was to be undertaken. The first five members of the Commission were Leonard Usina of Miami, William L. Sims, II, of Orlando, retired President of Colgate-Palmolive, William Rolleston of Marineland, Mrs. Nelson A. Poynter of the St. Petersburg Times, and Mr. Herbert E. Wolfe of St. Augustine, banker, rancher, contractor and manufacturer. They were later joined by Mr. J. Saxton Lloyd of Daytona. It was in the selection of Herbert Wolfe as Chairman, that the Commission made what turned out to be one of its most significant moves. He has been the mainstay of the effort over these five years, giving freely not only of his time and his personal resources, but enlisting his many friends in support of the program. He has been a warm and close friend of both United States Senators, whom he has enlisted in behalf of the effort, and has raised more than $100,000 personally to assist its program. Without Herbert Wolfe, the program could never have arrived where it is today.

It fell to the lot of the new Secretary, William L. Sims, II, to seek out a director
to provide historical background and professional management for the effort, as he has told you. I had earlier been Director of Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, a restored New England Village, where ten years ago, incidentally, I stood before a Newcomen gathering as I do tonight. We had very little attendance in the depth of winter, and I used to slip down to Florida and wander through the streets of the fascinating old city of St. Augustine, ruminating on how it could be restored as a symbol of the Spanish contribution to the American past. I just couldn't resist Mr. Sims' suggestion that I come down and talk about it. That first talk with the Commission began my association with the project. Because of the commitments I had made to get the new Connecticut museum built and staffed, I could only undertake the St. Augustine project on a part-time basis, for over two years, commuting back and forth every other week. During that period we prepared the basic Master Plan which was adopted by the Commission, and under which we work today. We set our objectives within the twin poles of authenticity and integrity, and adopted a basic statement of purpose, which has served us without change ever since. It reads as follows:

"It shall be the objective of this Commission to obtain, with its own resources and those of others, as nearly accurate as possible a restoration of the Ancient Walled
City of St. Augustine. Recognizing that this area includes the present business
heart of the modern city, and that the ultimate sources of funds to accomplish its objectives are as yet uncertain, the Commission proposes to divide its project into a series of stages, which may be approached over a succession of years to minimize any possible unfavorable impact on local business interests. The work which this


Cornission will undertake, will be based on the most authentic information which can be
derived from careful documentary, architectural, and archeological investigation,carried to every reasonable limit within the resources of the Commission and other cooperating bodies. Where preservation can be accomplished, it shall take the precedence
over restoration; where restoration can be accomplished it will take precedence over
reconstruction. Where historic buildings have disappeared, but re-creation of the
historic environment is deemed important, they shall be reconstructed in the form and on the site they originally existed. Where historical data as to their original form
is not complete, reasonably representative structures may be reconstructed, and sympathetic uses found for them. It is not to be assumed that all, or any large part of these restored or reconstructed structures will be opened to the public, and it
shall be the objective of the Commission to seek uses which can be considered appropriate within a historic restoration area, such as residences, or businesses serving the visiting public, In areas designated as transition areas because of the intensity of their present business use, the Commission shall encourage the development
of temporary compatible Snanish colonial architectures of the type used in St. Augustine, except where so doing involves an undue capital investment which might impede
the ultimate authentic restoration of the area. In areas projected for early restoration, no further investment in non-historic buildings, for building or remodeling
shall be encouraged.

"The Commission shall in every way encourage private owners to restore accurately their property, providing advice and counsel. It shall endeavor to protect those
who do so, as well as the historic interests of the community as a whole, by cooperating with the city to institute adequate historic zoning and taxation policies. It will cooperate with the city in providing adequate facilities and a hospitable environment for those who live within the historic areas, and will recognize equal obligations to past and present."

We immediately enlisted the assistance of top professionals in the state universities. The method of operation was based on a five-part program: Master Planning, plus architectural, archaeological, cartographical and documentary research. For the latter we enlisted the talents of Dr. Charles Arnade and Dr. John Dunkle, University of Florida's top Spanish colonial historian and cartographer, Mr. William Stewart, University of Florida architect, and Dr. Hale Smith, head of the Department of Anthropology at Florida State University. This four-part crew aimed their efforts at our first restoration project, the Arrivas House, which remains today our headquarters. They provided the basis for our continuing and all important research program.

By 1963, we had completed this first restoration project, as well as two reconstruction projects: the Avero-Salcedo and Gallegos houses, two completely different types of Spanish residences. It was then that President Lyndon Johnson came to St. Augustine to dedicate this first group of structures and to launch the major phase of our restoration effort. He was joined by Spanish Ambassador Garrigues and other dignitaries from Madrid and Washington.

At that time President Johnson and Senator Smathers extended to the Spanish Ambassador a formal invitation from a new National Commission to participate in the St. Augustine effort, launching the international phase of the program.

I had earlier suggested that the city's historical program was of more than a state or local nature, and the approaching 400th birthday offered an opportunity to draw to its support national leaders through a presidential commission. Through the interest and efforts of our senators and representatives, the National St. Augustine Quadricentennial


Commission was established. President Kennedy appointed to it not only the Florida Senators and two Congressmen, but distinguished leaders in industry and education such as Mr. Henry Ford, Mr. J. Peter Grace, Chancellor Edward HI. Litchfield of the University of Pittsburgh, Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley, Mr. Charles Patrick Clark and again, the durable Mr. Herbert E. Wolfe, whom the President asked to serve as Chairman, providing most effective coordination of the efforts of both the national and state agencies.

The international effort was already under way. With some temerity and at my own expense, in 1961 I had undertaken a trip to Madrid, where I enlisted the support and assistance of Ambassador John Lodge, who in turn introduced me to numerous high officials in the Spanish government. (I had already obtained an enthusiastic recommendation for my proposals from the Spanish Ambassador in Washington.) One of these was the Director General of North American Relations in the Foreign Office, IIis Excellency Sr. Don Angel Sagaz, who has ever since been our close friend and determined supporter. A second private trip the following year managed to pin down the Spanish interest, so that when the new Ambassador appeared in St. Augustine in March of 1963, their participation was assured. An official delegation left shortly afterward to carry our formal invitation to the Minister of Information, who had been designated to initiate a project for a permanent Spanish Exhibition and Cultural Center in St. Augustine. The delegation was received by the distinguished scholar and newlyappointed Minister, IHis Excellency Sr. Don Manuel Fraga Iribarne and by the Director of Information, Sr. Don Carlos Robles Piquer. Since that time a continuing series of negotiations has produced the plans for a magnificent building, on which construction is now beginning.

Similar approaches were made to the Latin American countries through the Organization of American States, at its headquarters in Washington. The interest of Dr. Jose Mora, Secretary-General, and Dr. William Sanders, Assistant Secretary-General, produced the appointment of a permanent Committee of Cooperation, headed by Dr. Guillermo de Zendegui, Deputy Director of the Department of Cultural Affairs. The partnership was sealed in impressive ceremonies at the Pan American Union in Washington last year, when Assistant Secretary of State for Inter American Affairs, Thomas Mann, and Assistant Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs, Lucius Battle, joined with Senator Smathers in formalizing our invitation to Dr. Mora and Ambassador Juan Bautiste de Lavalle, Chairman of the Council of the O.A.S.

To provide a base for the Pan American program in St. Augustine, a group of great American corporations doing business in Latin America have engaged to build here a permanent Pan American Exhibition and Cultural Center.

The work with the Pan American Union has stimulated the interest of the individual
Latin American countries. This can be illustrated best by actions undertaken by Mexico and Peru. When the Mexican Ambassador in Washington, Don Antonio Carrillo Flores, came to St. Augustine to canvas the situation, he returned greatly enthused and wrote President Lopez Mateos his ideas for Mexican operation. The First Lady of Mexico, Sra. Eva Lopez de Mateos, came to St. Augustine and reviewed the program personally and then with her husband received me in Mexico City to discuss the specific details for a cooperative program. Ambassador Carrillo Flores has since returned to Mexico to serve as Foreign Ninister in the administration of the new President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, who also expressed to me a most active interest in the program.

The Peruvian Ambassador, IHis Excellency Don Celso Pastor de la Torre, also came to
St.Augustine, returned to report his enthusiasm to his brother-in-law, President Fernando Belaunde, who received me in Lima and offered his support. I have been to the capitals of most of the Latin American countries, and have had the opportunity of discussing this with presidents, foreign ministers and other government officials, and have found universal interest in the basic concept which President Kennedy set forth as his hope for St. Augustine.


"When I recall," he said, "how Colonial Williamsburg has served so effectively as a symbol of the bond between Entlish-speaking peoples on both sides of the Atlantic, I can see how valuable it will be to have a similar symbol of the cultural heritage which came to us from Hispanic-American sources. This can be a most important new symbolic bond with our Latin-American neighbors to the south, as well as to Spain across the ocean."

It is to this challenge that we rise today. As Secretary of State Tom Adams has so aptly put it: "Florida is a finger pointing towards Latin America, and the state most suited to be a bridge-head to the southern half of the hemisphere." With Miami and Tampa as the great Inter American commercial and transportation centers, St. Augustine can also play a significant role, despite its tiny size, as the educational and cultural bridge.

The response to our international program brought an equivalent response from the state and the nation. The Cabinet of the State of Florida, sitting as the Trustees of Internal Improvements, approved a $200,000 loan to the Restoration Commission for the purpose of constructing in the city a Florida State Exhibition Building, to supplement the Pan American Exhibition Building and the Spanish Government Exhibition Building. And late last year the United States Government, again acting at the behest of our Senators and Representative D. R. Matthews, agreed to release to us the old "Government HIouse", which served as the Governor's residence or center of government right straight down through to the present day, when it contains most federal activities in St. Augustine. The major of these, the United States Post Office, will be moved to another site, releasing the building for utilization as the United States Government Exhibition Building during the Quadricentennial Year and, we hope, ultimate restoration of the original part.

A multitude of organizations have made contributions to this burgeoning program, which as of today accounts for over $5,000,000 in vigorous historical activity.

Long the leader in historical interpretation and restoration in St. Augustine is the National Park Service, which took over decaying old Fort Marion and in a continuing program of preservation and restoration has turned it into one of the most significant national historic sites, and one of those most heavily visited. Their programi for the Quadricentennial Year, has been extended to developing the fortifications which connected the Castillo itself with the old city gates, as well as an expanded program of service to visitors with new interpretative exhibits.

The first act of the founder, Don Pedro Menondez de Aviles, was to kneel and kissed
the cross held by Father Lopez who accompanied him. Immediately a mass was said, which was to be the first Parish Mass said in these United States, and the beginning of the permanent Catholic religion in this country. In recognition of this historic event, the Church celebrates its own 400th anniversary, marking the landing site -- now a part of its Mission of Nombre de Dios -- with a soaring 200-foot high cross, which will be seen miles inland and out to sea. A new Votive Church will rise upon the site, and a library to house the nation's oldest documents. The Cathedral of St. Augustine, the old Spanish Parish Church, is now being restored as well, as a part of a two-million dollar program.

The City and County have played a most active role in support of both the restoration and quadricentennial programs. Each have contributed substantially, annually, to the finances of the Restoration Commission. Each has also invested substantially in the development of a great new outdoor amphitheater, which will be the center for the quadricentennial celebration. To this effort the citizens of St. Augustine have also personally contributed in the form of contributions and bonds. St. Augustine is a very small city -- only 15,000 souls -- to support such a pro'aram of national and international significance. It has done so with enthusiasm and determination.


With all this behind us, where do we stand today on this our fifth birthday? Most
certainly we stand on the threshold of an immense opportunity. There could not have been this outpouring of national and international interest, if people prominent in the nation and throughout the world had not caught the concept so aptly put by our late President John F. Kennedy. It is through this international program that our effort at restoring a city which for more than half of its life was part of the Hispanic world, gains its real significance. It will serve therefore not only as a great educational effort to acquaint Americans with their Hispanic heritage, but as a real diplomatic instrument in the effort to build a permanent cultural bridge to our neighbors to the south. In the midst of political and economic turmoil, where governments change and our friends are replaced often by enemies, it is the cultural bridge which can be the most enduring one. It is a bridge between peoples and is based upon enduring identity of origins and interest.

As you can see, lacking an "angel", the support for such a wide ranging program has had to be drawn from a multitude of sources. It constitutes a great jig-saw puzzle, into which we fit pieces every now and then as the picture gradually emerges. The continuing support of the State of Florida has been indispensable to the program, and we believe that we have proved the value of the effort in our request for an enlargement of that support. Mr. Wolfe has personally and individually been most active in drawing to the support of the program donations from friends throughout the state, and in the extensive gifts for the Pan American Center we see the beginnings of corporate support as well. General Motors, Ford, W. R. Grace, Pan American Airways, Humble-Esso, Texaco, Gulf, American Tel and Tel and several other American corporations who do business in Latin America have seen the value of this Latin American program and come to our aid.

Equally important is the private phase of support -- expressed in individual gifts and bequests, all fully deductible for income tax purposes. The Commission has incorporated the non-profit, educational St. Augustine Restoration, Inc., for this purpose. Individual buildings carry enduring bronze plaques giving not only their history but recognition of their donors, commemorating with love and respect this segment of our historical heritage and its preservation not only for the living but for future generations.

We believe that there is an immense opportunity for American industry and for the
American people to develop here a program of surpassing significance, not only to the nation, but to the hemisphere. No program which has enlisted the personal interest and support of two Presidents, of national leaders of industry and education, and the sacrificial effort of the Chairman and his colleagues can be anything else but an immense success. We invite all of you here tonight to join us in this effort.