The Saving St. Augustine’s Architectural Treasures project will conserve and digitize an irreplaceable collection of the earliest architectural drawings of John Carrère (1858-1911) and Thomas Hastings (1860-1929). In 2010 Flagler College received a prestigious Save America’s Treasures grant (administered by the National Park Service and the National Endowment for the Humanities) to help preserve architectural drawings for the National Historic Landmark Hotel Ponce de Leon and the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Florida. During this two-year project, over 260 drawings will be conserved and reproduced digitally by the University of Florida Smathers Libraries.
Created for Henry Flagler in St. Augustine, many of these drawings had been “lost” for decades. The few people who knew of their existence were unaware of their historical significance. Stored in a boiler room under high Florida temperatures and humidity, and exposed to insects and rodents, this treasure trove remained unknown and endangered until its rediscovery in 2004.
Carrère and Hastings were two of the most significant American architects of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Their firm designed more than 600 buildings, including the New York Public Library (1902-11) and the House and Senate Office Buildings in D.C. (1908-09). According to Charles D. Warren, co-author of Carrère & Hastings Architects, they were “innovators in both technology and aesthetics.”
Regrettably, as Janet Parks, Curator of Drawings & Archives, Columbia University, states: “Most of the archive of [their] office was destroyed in the 1920s.” Comprised of 267 original, fragile drawings on cloth, silk and paper, as well as blueprints and copies, the collection is the largest known archives documenting the firm’s earliest work.
In 1885 multi-millionaire industrialist Henry Flagler initiated a grand scheme to turn the Florida wilderness into the “American Riviera” and St. Augustine into the “Winter Newport.” The Hotel Ponce de Leon (1885-1887), now Ponce de Leon Hall at Flagler College, was the first and the flagship of Flagler’s resort empire. This palatial Spanish Renaissance Revival hotel, with Italian, French and Moorish influences, was the first major commission for Carrère and Hastings. Nationally significant for both its architecture and engineering, the building is America’s first large cast-in-place concrete building. Following construction of the Hotel, Flagler also commissioned Carrère and Hastings to design the Memorial Presbyterian Church (1889-1890).
In 2005 the drawings for the Hotel and Church were deposited at the University of Florida Architecture Archives to ensure that they were protected and available for research. Many of the drawings cannot be handled because they are literally crumbling on the shelf, and even items in stable condition are in jeopardy due to increasing demand by researchers. These drawings have been inaccessible to scholars for years, but use of the drawings can only occur once the drawings are properly conserved by the UF Libraries Conservation Unit and digitized by the Digital Library Center.