Celebrate Preservation Month
May is National Historic Preservation Month and on Florida’s Historic Coast, there’s a lot to celebrate!
May is National Historic Preservation Month. In 1972, the idea of a formal time frame was proposed for communities to celebrate their historic places. That year holds importance here in St. Johns County as construction of the Castillo de San Marcos, the region’s most iconic landmark, had begun 300 years earlier. From that time forward, well into the twentieth century, the region’s landmarks represent the breadth and richness of our community’s history. Take some time in May to experience some special places built over the centuries in Florida’s Historic Coast.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, 1 South Castillo Drive, St. Augustine
Securing the north end of the original one-mile long town of St. Augustine, the native coquina stone Castillo de San Marcos was constructed between 1672 and 1695. Over the next two centuries, the fort was modified to reflect changes to military strategy, though it was never challenged in battle. In 1924, with interest in historic places a new national policy, the Castillo and its south county partner Fort Matanzas, were protected through Presidential order as National Monuments. Under the National Park Service’s stewardship, preservation experts have assisted in the long-term preservation of the structure. Their knowledge has assisted the community in maintaining high ethical standards for the preservation and material conservation of St. Augustine’s unique resources. Today, almost a century after that designation, the fort is recognized as one of the most important heritage tourism attractions in the nation. The Castillo draws an annual visitation of nearly one million, and the grounds remain a favorite place to appreciate preservation of the building and enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks.
St. Francis Barracks & St. Augustine National Cemetery, 82 & 104 Marine Street, St. Augustine
Colonial St. Augustine’s southern boundary was anchored by a Spanish religious structure converted to military use by the British in the 1700s. Known as the St. Francis Barracks and built of the area’s locally-quarried, native coquina stone, the building was rebuilt in 1915 after a fire. At that time, the property became home to the Florida National Guard, a role that continues proudly today.
Markers along Marine Street at the waterfront side of the property attest to the contributions to US military history that the Barracks has played. In 1828, the property gained additional significance with establishment of the St. Augustine National Cemetery immediately to the south of the Barracks. Open to the public, the cemetery includes military burials dating back more than two centuries. The Dade Pyramids, coquina stone monuments and a white marble obelisk can be seen at the southwest corner of the property. This is considered as one of the earliest military memorials in the nation.
Hotel Ponce de Leon National Historic Landmark, 74 King Street, St. Augustine
When the Hotel Ponce de Leon, known locally as the Ponce, opened in 1888, the five-building complex was considered the most luxurious resort in the world. After continuing to receive accolades over the decades for its remarkable architecture, the building became the founding headquarters for the Coast Guard Reserve during World War II. In 1957, when the post-war country was interested in streamlined construction and motels, the Ponce defied the new era and was recognized as one of the country’s 100 most important buildings. That status helped inspire the hotel to become the centerpiece of the newly-founded Flagler College. The small institution with its remarkable architecture became noticed throughout the United States for a demonstrated commitment to historic preservation. This year, on the eve of the Ponce’s 135th anniversary in 2023, Flagler College is recognized for preservation of the building and its elaborate interiors. Conservation of the fine and decorative arts collection has garnered national attention, too. The Flagler’s Legacy Tour program showcases the building and these achievements.
Hastings High School, 6195 South Main Street, Hastings
A drive southwest of St. Augustine on State Road 207 can transport you from the ancient Spanish city into the heart of St. Johns County. The link between the Gilded Age past and the surrounding rural communities, including Hastings, Spuds, Elkton, and Armstrong. These communities were integral in feeding guests at the St. Augustine hotels and residents in the surrounding St. Johns County. Hastings High School became a regional focal point from its construction in 1924. Designed in the Mediterranean Revival style by prominent St. Augustine architect Fred Henderich, the building represented the community’s commitment to education. Today, the building is poised to take on a new educational role as part of the expanded workforce development programs at First Coast Technical College.
St. Augustine Beach Hotel, 370 A1A Beach Blvd., St. Augustine Beach
Located about five miles east of St. Augustine, the building was part of a Depression-era initiative to construct buildings in the historic city and its environs that would help to reestablish tourism for the economically-depressed region. Noted St. Augustine architect Francis A. Hollingsworth designed the building which was faced with coquina stone and opened on Labor Day 1940. The building remained as a thriving beachside hotel and recreation area for several decades. It gained fame during the St. Augustine Campaign of the Civil Rights Movement in 1964 when internationally-televised news stories of wade-ins depicted racial divisiveness in the community. As the year 2000 approached, the vacant building began a new chapter as a cultural arts center. The City of St. Augustine Beach incorporated in 1960. Today, this property is the single historic building standing in that community. The property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2022.
Arthur Milam House, 1033 Ponte Vedra Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach
Famed Sarasota School of Architecture co-founder and Yale University Dean of Architecture Paul Rudolph designed his last house in Ponte Vedra Beach. The three-year project was completed in 1962 for attorney Arthur Milam. The oceanfront design moved away from the simplicity of Rudolph’s post-World War II creations to a more ambitious, sculptural model. The substantial concrete, both block and poured, contrasts with the large, uninterrupted expanses of glass. A few years later, Milam married Spanish author and Columbus Commission member Teresa Balmaseda (Maria Teresa Caya de Balmaseda y de Echeverria). In the 1970s, they retained Rudolph to add two small compatible outbuildings to the site. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.