Sunday, September 28, 2014

The little church on the river

I was trying to imagine Green Cove Springs in the 19th century: steamboats dropping off passengers, deluxe Victorian resort hotels, and visitors taking the waters in search of restorative health. As I ambled down St. Johns Avenue, taking photos of some of the houses lining the street, my friend Robin from Authentic Florida yelled out "we'll meet you at the church." I continued down the road until I saw a white wooden building that I assumed was the church. (It turns out that structure was a WWII-era building from Camp Blanding in Starke.) As I walked alongside the structure and turned the corner – Bam! Right next to the river was one of the prettiest Carpenter Gothic style churches I've ever seen... anywhere!

St. Mary's Episcopal Church, perched a mere 40 feet from the St. Johns River was built in 1879. Phil Eschbach, our guide on this photo journey of north central and northern Florida, is working on a book documenting the thirty-some Carpenter Gothic churches in the state. This is one of his favorites and he pointed out details like triangular shaped battens and panels below the windows that open to allow for cross ventilation.

Photo from the State Archives of Florida from the late 1800s

The interior is stunning as well. The church recently received a grant to allow for the restoration of the stained glass. Rising above the altar, the focal point of the church are three stained glass windows representing the virtues of St. Mary: faith, hope, and charity. Above each is a bird representing the same virtue: a Phoenix rising from the ashes, a pelican pecking at its breast, and a dove.

The beautiful Carpenter Gothic church reflected in the window of the building from Camp Blanding 

John the Baptist, one of two windows in the back of church

My photo doesn't do the space justice. Rich in history and soaked with the energy of decades of worship, it is quite stunning.

Our guide Phil, sits in a pew with the panel open to show how the church can be cooled with the cross breeze coming off the river.

On my previous visit to Green Cove Springs, I passed within a block of the church and never knew it was there. One of the things I learned on this road trip was that it's easy to overlook Old Florida right in your own backyard. While it's great to have a knowledgeable guide like Phil, it's also important to stop and check out the local business you've driven by for years, or explore what's down that dirt road you pass by every day. You'll never know what treasure you might discover once you get off the beaten path.

Note: This is the first in a series of posts based on a two and a half day road trip with Florida history tour guide Phil Eschbach and Authentic Florida's Robin Draper. More posts to come...

Friday, September 26, 2014

Old Florida home remodel phase 1: DEMO

Part of the process of creation is destruction. To build anew one must start with a blank canvas, Tabula rasa. And so the first step in the renovation of our 1924 bungalow was demolition.

First a temporary wall was constructed sealing off the front half of the house from the back half. The majority of the renovations are taking place in the back half, and by walling it off we could continue to live in the house a bit longer. So it wasn't long before plaster walls were crumbling down.

I have to admit it was kind of exciting because I was curious to see what we might find. Everyday after the workers left I poked through the rubble.

First the plaster wall was removed from the guest bedroom exposing the wood lathe from the wall on the opposite side. This would be become our guest bathroom.

Also exposed was the old knob and tube wiring that was used throughout most of the house.  Contemporary building codes required that we upgrade the electricity throughout the entire house.

Something appeared to have created a nest under our bathtub, probably rats.

When we removed the drop ceiling in our tiny kitchen we found two florescent light fixtures with bulbs intact. Perhaps the light switch that we thought did nothing was actually turning on lights we never knew existed. Could this explain our large power bills?

Beneath the vintage bathroom tile was plaster scored to look like tile.

My favorite surprise was this tiny ironing board found in the wall of the kitchen. It would have opened up in the back room which at one time had a washer and dryer in it.

Underneath the bathroom tile was this blue linoleum.

Snail shells inside the walls. Did they crawl there themselves or did a rodent feast on escargot?

Proof that our back room was an addition; the white tongue and groove overhang was the original back of the house. The addition will have similar tongue and groove overhangs. 

The back room sans windows. My guess is that it was originally a Florida room.

Walls demoed, the floors exposed to the elements before they too ended up in the dumpster. The floor boards were in rough shape and could not be salvaged.

Layers of linoleum in the kitchen like sedimentary rock formations, each one holding a story of our home's history. It was difficult to determine what the original flooring looked like.

Here's the back of the house with the back room removed. This would be as far as the house  originally stretched. The addition most recently held a room we called the "Elbo Room", a small bathroom, and two cramped closets. New construction starts here.
City code also mandated that we demo much of our driveway. Our home was once used for a construction business, and my theory is that the business was responsible for much of the concrete that surrounded the house. While I was happy to see it go, I was not thrilled about the unforeseen expense. But I suppose that is all part of the ongoing process....

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Renovating an Old Florida home

There have been many reasons why my posts have been few and far between, but lately it's because we are renovating our home. Anyone who has been through this process knows how overwhelming it can be, and I am finding it exasperating at times. But it is also a source of great insight and personal inspiration.

My wife and I learned soon after we moved in this house ten and a half years ago that the galley kitchen was not functional with more than one person in it. My Mother-in-Law dubbed it the "One Butt Kitchen." It truly was not suitable for more than one butt at a time.

Despite the house's ideal location, we soon stopped entertaining out of our frustration with the limitations imposed by the home's 1924 floor plan. And we started saving our money. About three years ago we hired an architect but got scared when several of the contractors bidding the job told us for almost the same money we could knock down our home and build a new one. But the real reason we hesitated was that we just weren't ready to commit to the process yet. About a year and a half ago we hired a contractor who specialized in renovating older homes. This was a good decision for us, because while we were at times exasperated by this 90-year old bungalow, we loved her like a little boy loves his 'blankey.' It's frayed and old but the sentimental attachment is deep and enduring.

So we are progressing with a plan that maintains the vintage elements of the home, but takes better advantage of its location and makes it more livable. Here are some photos that I took to document some of the areas that have since been demoed.

I created this mosaic to fill in the spot that was once obviously a window. Having dealt with a similar area that rotted in my previous home, I was anxious to try to make it less vulnerable to moisture. 
While I loved the vintage tile and tub of this bathroom, it was actually larger than our kitchen.  To have a larger kitchen, sadly, it had to go.
We wondered if the bathroom was original to the home's 1924 construction. Underneath the blue tile was plaster scored to look like tiles that was original to the house. My guess is that the this bathroom was added some time in the 1950s.
We called this room the Elbo Room, and it was our main living area. While it looks large in this photo, with furniture in it was actually quite small and a tight squeeze for family gatherings. Demolition showed this was originally an addition, probably a Florida Room or screened porch with dark wood paneling and linoleum floors.
This is actually a driveway in our backyard. At one time our home was used for a construction business so we had poured concrete driveway on three sides of our house. I did my best to make it more patio-like, but to no avail. While I was disappointed to lose the planter in the foreground, I will not miss this stretch of concrete.
At one point I stained the concrete to make it look better, hence the  remnants of the brick color. Drainage is an issue on our lot so previous owners had the driveway drain into a pipe that emptied into the yard. I tried to improve the appearance by adding rocks and a proper drain cover.
The renovation process has been both frustrating and exhilarating. I wanted to document what was, as an homage to a cute home with spaces we loved, despite their quirkiness. Stay tuned for images of the construction process as our space morphs into something new...

Friday, July 4, 2014

Freedom Ride 4

As has become my personal tradition, July 4th is the day I jump on my bike and ride around Orlando looking for interesting stuff to photograph. There is little traffic, so it makes it possible to attempt to photograph places in the city which would be more difficult to access on other days. And for me nothing feels more free than riding around taking pictures. The pursuit of happiness at it is finest.

Happy Independence Day!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Florida's Quadricentennial in St. Augustine: Crosses to Bear

In 1513 Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed somewhere on our states’s coast and christened it “La Florida.” To help commemorate the 500th anniversary of this event, last year the state celebrated with a program called Viva Florida 500.  Consisting of mostly cultural and historical programming, the promotion was considered successful enough be continued into 2014 as Viva Florida.

Florida’s Quadricentennial Celebration took place fifty years ago from 1959 to 1965. The Florida Legislature established a state Quadricentennial Commission that oversaw a six-year celebration marking the 400th anniversaries of both Pensacola (1959) and St. Augustine in 1965. Warm Mineral Springs participated with a celebration in 1960.

In Pensacola, 1959 marked the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Tristan de Luna's 1559 expedition that established the city as the first European settlement within the current United States. DeLuna's settlement was abandoned in 1562, and while another attempt was made to settle the site a few years later, it was not until 1696 that a colony was permanently established.

1559 Landing of Tristan de Luna at Pensacola

Herbert Rudeen, 1959 from the Pensacola Historical Society

The statewide celebration of the Quadricentennial seems to have been driven by the leaders of St. Augustine, who saw it is an opportunity to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. St. Augustine, the nation's oldest continuously occupied city, is preparing to embark on the commemoration of the 450 anniversary of Menéndez's landing next year.

The Kennedy administration established a National Quadricentennial Commission in 1963 and the US postal service marked the occasion of St. Augustine’s anniversary with a special postage stamp. The amount of federal money dedicated to the Quadricentennial was relatively small compared to the amount raised locally, said to be over $6 million dollars. The main federal contribution was the Park Service's reconstruction of the defense line or Cubo constructed of earthworks and logs extending from the fort to the city gates.

Reinventing the City

A number of building and restoration projects were undertaken in anticipation of the Quadricentennial are some of St. Augustine's most notable landmarks. According to a 2013 article in the St. Augustine Record, many buildings in the historic colonial center of the city were restored or reconstructed. Over 70 structures were preserved or reconstructed.

At the spot where Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was said to have placed a small wooden cross in Florida’s soil marking the beginnings of Christianity in the new world, a 208 foot tall stainless steel cross was erected.  The Great Cross at the Mission of Nombre de Dios would not be completed until 1966, but the top portion was dedicated during an interfaith prayer service in 1965. The mid-century modern Prince of Peace Votive Church and nearby bridge were also completed at this time.

Prince of Peace Votive Church
The 208-ft. tall Great Cross
Perhaps the most significant structure built for the Quadricentennial was the St. Augustine Ampitheatre completed in 1965. The 2,000 seats in the ampitheatre came from the Polo Grounds in New York when the New York Giants football team left the stadium.

State Archives of Florida
State Archives of Florida

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Dr. Paul Green created a play dubbed “Cross and Sword” to be performed in the amphitheatre for the celebration. Proclaimed the official state play of Florida by the state legislature, the plot was about the Spanish colonization of the St. Augustine by Menéndez and drew visitors for years before finally closing in 1996. According to Wikipedia, it was written as a "symphonic drama" blending music, dance, pantomime, and poetic dialogue into a larger-than-life historical play. 

The Movement begins
The St. Augustine Civil Rights movement began in 1963 when civil rights leaders sent letters to then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson, (who was to speak in St. Augustine), and other members of the Kennedy administration protested the fact that there was no African American representation in the Quadricentennial activities. Jim Crow segregation laws were prevalent in 1963 St. Augustine, and the city's Slave Market still stood as a visible symbol of the slavery era in the South. Civil rights leaders asked that President Kennedy withhold any federal funding appropriated for the Quadricentennial  because they said this money would be used "to celebrate 400 years of slavery and segregation in America's oldest city."

The Slave Market, Library of Congress

After a number of newspapers and magazines reprinted the letters to the administration, President Johnson, who was invited to St. Augustine, responded that he would not attend any Quadricentennial events that were not integrated. When Johnson arrived in St. Augustine to swear in the members of the all-white Quadricentennial Commission, a dozen African Americans were allowed to sit in an out-of-the-way alcove at the event held in the grand Hotel Ponce de Leon. It was said that this was the first time that African Americans were allowed onto the property as guests and not working staff.

Despite negotiations between the local NAACP, reluctant city leaders, and the Kennedy administration, St. Augustine's remained thoroughly segregated. In 1963 protests were organized at the Woolworth's on King Street across from the slave market. Thorough timelines of the events of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine can be found here and here.

Photo submitted to Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth's Guest Book
Later Martin Luther King, Jr. came to St. Augustine and was arrested for trying to eat lunch at the Monson Motor Lodge restaurant. Police were involved in clashes between protesters and segregationists during attempts to integrate St. Augustine's beaches and the swimming pool at the Monson Motor Lodge.  Dramatic images were captured on film when the hotel owner poured acid into the demonstrator-filled pool. Still photos and film footage of confrontations between protesters and segregationists provoked national outrage.

Protest at the Monson Motor Lodge
State Archives of Florida

Motel manager pours acid in the pool of the Monson Motor Lodge
State Archives of Florida

Segregationists respond to an attempt to integrate St. Augustine Beach
State Archives of Florida

Protest in front of the Slave Market, AP Photo by Harold Valentine
Martin Luther King, Jr. in a St. Augustine Police car, AP Photo

Working on getting it right
The St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement of 1963–1964 that was sparked by planned events for the city’s 400th anniversary focused national attention to the effects of segregation in Florida and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

This year in an effort to honor the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the City of St. Augustine opened an exhibition called Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience highlighting the region’s important African-American sites like Fort Mose and historic events like the city’s civil rights movement. There is also a self-guided historical trail called the ACCORD Freedom Trail. And a St. Augustine Civil Rights Museum will be opening in the near future. 

I was born after the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Growing up just an hour and half from St. Augustine we visited the city often. But I grew up in complete ignorance of what transpired in the nation's oldest city in 1963 and '64. In 2009 when I learned of the civil rights movement that occurred there, I was shocked. My memories of the city were exploring the fort with my brother, eating chocolate fudge on St. George Street, or in more recent years walking around the streets of the colonial quarter soaking up the historic architecture. I only learned of the connection to the Quadricentennial when researching a paper intended to be about the cyclorama at Warm Mineral Springs. The effect of the commemoration of  the anniversary of Menendez's landing in St. Augustine not only permanently changed the physical landscape of the city, it changed the social fabric of the entire nation. I'm glad to see that a place that normally focuses on history that is centuries old is now turning its attention to the important events that occurred there a mere fifty years ago.