These architectural drawings have come a long way since their discovery in a basement boiler room in 2004 in the historic city of St. Augustine. Currently, they reside in the paper conservation lab at the University of Florida, where we are now working to preserve them. I began working on this project at the end of August and have already seen the condition of these papers improve greatly. Since August, we have done preliminary conservation work on all the drawings and plans from the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church and have sent them to the Digital Library Center to be digitized. Once they have been digitized, we will complete the conservation by deacidfying and encapsulating them.
Fortunately, many of the drawings and plans of the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church are in decent condition. (And by decent I mean not falling to brittle bits the second you try to touch them or missing large chunks.) Many of the diazotypes were previously backed with cloth, which has helped keep the paper from being too brittle to handle. In a few instances, a large fold through the middle of the plan rendered it necessary to remove the backing in order to flatten the paper so the digital lab could get a complete image. Once the cloth backing has been removed, you realize how fragile the paper actually is. Many of the hand drawings were not backed with cloth since they were done on thin paper. These have been much harder to handle since there are multiple folds and tears across the entire paper which has become incredibly brittle with age and stress from being previously exposed to poor conditions. We repaired the tears on the back using archival tape and backed two of the drawings using heat-set tissue. Small, tedious wrinkles are folded out using a small metal spatula, an alcohol solution, and a tacking iron. The alcohol solution relaxes the fibers of brittle paper and allows us to return it to its original flatness without breaking off pieces and risking loss of information. The photographs here show the process of removing folds and repairing a tear with tape.
While we await the arrival of the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church plans and drawings back from the digital lab, we are beginning the preliminary conservation work of the Hotel Ponce de Leon papers. Unfortunately, these drawings and plans did not fare so well in the hot and humid boiler room and fell victim to hungry rodents with an appetite for irreplaceable materials. Some of the largest plans (measuring over eight feet wide) are rolled up, and when unrolled are revealed for the true puzzles that they are. It’s a good thing I grew up doing 2000 piece puzzles on my mom’s kitchen table. Sorry to say that this time there will be no box top to cheat off of! (But I am looking forward to the challenge.)