New Classicism in Old Florida
Jurying the ICAA Florida Chapter’s 2013 Addison Mizner Medal for Excellence in Traditional and Classical Architecture
By Christine G. H. Franck
As America’s oldest city St. Augustine celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the exploration of Florida by Juan Ponce de León, the ICAA Florida Chapter held its second annual jury for the Addison Mizner Medal for Excellence in Classical and Traditional Architecture.
I was honored to join one of my mentors, Thomas Gordon Smith, an architect, scholar, and professor who in 1989 established the program in classical architecture at Notre Dame. We were both thrilled to have Semyon Mikhailovsky come all the way from St. Petersburg, Russia for the jury. An artist himself, he is currently Rector of the St. Petersburg State Academy Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, which was founded in 1757 and to this day offers education in classical art, sculpture, and architecture. Over a fine repast at the Casa Monica on our first evening we remarked upon how our three respective institutions, the St. Petersburg Academy, Notre Dame, and the ICAA, when taken together, reflect the longevity and vitality of the classical tradition.
We would see that vitality on full display as our jury spent more than six hours reviewing all the submissions. But before we got to down to work on Saturday, we enjoyed a tour the chapter arranged of some of the treasures of St. Augustine.
Gathered in the Plaza de la Constitucion we enjoyed an insightful orientation lecture from Paul Weaver of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. Hosting us on this tour were ICAA Florida Chapter President, David Case; ICAA Florida Chapter trustee and Addison Mizner Medal Committee Chairman, Téofilo Victoria; ICAA Florida Chapter trustees, Cliff Duch and Joe Cronk; architect and professor, Rafael Fornés; and ICAA Florida Chapter State Coordinator, Lane Jeter Manis.
After an overview of St. Augustine’s history, urban plan, and some of its architectural highlights, we left the shade of the Spanish-moss-covered trees to walk westward on King Street for a visit to Carrère and Hastings’ brilliant Ponce de Léon Hotel, now Flagler College. Shortly after completing their studies at the École des Beaux-Arts, John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings were commissioned for their first major commission by tycoon Henry Flagler. He wanted a grand hotel in St. Augustine for the influx of wintering northerners he expected as he improved and built railway connections in eastern Florida.
An exclusive hotel with masterpieces at every turn, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows and evocative murals painted by George W. Maynard, it is astounding that construction began on the hotel in 1885 and was completed by 1887. By blending Spanish Renaissance, picturesque elements, and axially symmetrical planning, and traditional materials like coquina used as aggregate in unreinforced poured concrete walls, Carrère and Hastings created a modern classical building filled with delight.
A highlight of our visit, which began in the courtyard by the sparkling fountain, was when Flagler College President, Dr. William T. Abare, Jr., stopped by to meet our group. We were very impressed by his commitment to the preservation of their architectural heritage and his understanding that it greatly enhances his students’ experience.
In collaboration with Flagler College, the University of Florida has developed the Carrère & Hastings Digital Collection. Formed “through a Saving St. Augustine’s Architectural Treasures project grant to conserve and digitally preserve an irreplaceable collection of the earliest architectural drawings of [Carrère and Hastings]. Created for Henry Flagler in St. Augustine, Florida, these drawings had been “lost” for decades. The few people who knew of their existence were unaware of their historical significance. Stored in a basement 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.”
Though our visit was leisurely, with so much to see in the building, I never felt like I had enough time there. But another Carrère & Hastings masterpiece awaited us. Constructed in 1890, Carrère and Hastings’ Memorial Presbyterian Church, also commissioned by Flagler, is a creative blend of motifs reminiscent of Venice. Walking into the church, I found myself thinking that Carrère and Hastings must have been having fun applying “lively mental energy,” as Thomas Gordon Smith often quotes Vitruvius. On our way out, I paused a moment at Flagler’s tomb to contemplate the impact a patron and his architects can have.
Convening after lunch in the landmark building, 24 Cathedral Place, home to offices of Cronk Duch Architects, our jury settled in to review a diverse and impressive array of awards’ submissions. I can’t reveal the winners yet, but our jury discussions were intense, philosophical, and detailed. The quality of all submissions was high, making our deliberations difficult. After making our final decisions and looking back at the projects selected for recognition, we were pleased with the array and unanimously felt that it reflected the depth and breadth of contemporary classicism.
After bidding farewell to my fellow jurors, I paused to reflect on the weekend. The ICAA Florida Chapter is dynamic, as all ICAA chapters are. The work we juried was from talented contemporary classicists, as it is in the Bulfinch, Shutze, Staub, and White Awards. Taken together, this all signals yet another step forward toward excellence in the life of the ICAA and the classical tradition.
I join my fellow jurors in offering resounding congratulations to all entrants and winners on work very well done and our heartfelt appreciation to the ICAA Florida Chapter for an inspiring and delightful weekend.