Friday, March 31, 2017

First magic kingdom?

Screengrab of artist's rendering of Tampa Bay Hotel in 19th century
From the Henry Plant Museum video:
  'The Tampa Bay Hotel: Florida's First Magic Kingdom'
In the 19th century, Florida was portrayed elsewhere in the nation as an exotic, tropical locale. So developers gave people what they expected. A case in point is railroad magnate Henry Plant, whose resort hotel is dubbed in the accompanying video as Florida's first magic kingdom.

One of the speakers in the Henry Plant Museum video suggests that 19th century travelers' expectations of the extraordinary is one reason Plant gave his resort hotel a Moorish look. His Tampa Bay Hotel even had minarets.

I've written about the Tampa Bay Hotel in the past - or rather, about the museum housed within the building. The National Historical Landmark is now part of the University of Tampa. Today's post shares the link to the video about the hotel's history. The 15-minute video goes into architectural detail about the structure and explains what happened to it after the glitterati of the 19th century moved on to other playgrounds.

The hotel story is replete with superlatives that are eye-opening when compared to the lives and houses of the average 19th century Floridian. The hotel had 500 rooms on 6 acres, and was furnished with European goods shipped to the site in 41 trainloads. The goods included 30,000 square yards of carpet. According to the video, the Tampa Bay Hotel was Florida's first all-electric, steam-heated and fireproof hotel. The grounds included tropical landscaping, a horse track, golf course and spaces for musical and theatrical performances.

All this glamour was unveiled on Feb. 5, 1891, at an opening ball for 2,000 guests. The New York Times covered the gala.

Enjoy this look at an increasingly distant past:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

School site echoes vibrant past

2011 Google Street View photo of St. Benedict the Moor School
Does this building still stand? This is
 a 2011 image of St. Benedict the Moor
School. (Credit: Google Street View)
Second of two parts

Six years is a long time in our age of instant communications. The turn-of-the-20th-century building at the core of today's post might not exist anymore. I can't find photos of St. Benedict the Moor School newer than a 2011 Google Street View, pictured first in this post. That's an ominous sign, for the school's history is rich. The physical remainder, as you can see, is in dire shape.

Built in 1898, St. Benedict school was "one of the first all-black Catholic schools in Florida," according to a 2014 article in the St. Augustine Record. The St. Benedict parish in St. Augustine's Lincolnville neighborhood was founded in the 1870s, during Reconstruction. St. Benedict's Church was built in the early 1900s. It's been restored and appears vibrant again. You can learn more on the church's Facebook page.

A few web resources linked in this post document the church and school history. As always, for me, the social history leaps out. Such as the time three Catholic nuns were arrested in 1916 because they were white women teaching black schoolchildren. Jim Crow laws forbade such interaction during segregation years in Florida (and probably in other states).

As a Catholic-owned educational institution, St. Benedict's was a private school. A judge ruled the law didn't apply to private schools, and the nuns were released. Their names deserve mention, though: Sisters Mary Thomasine, Scholastica and Beningus, according to the St. Augustine Record article. That news story also notes the arrests occurred on an Easter Sunday.

1920s photo of students seated in a truck decorated for a parade
St. Benedict's students ride in a school float decorated
for an Emancipation Day parade in the 1920s.
(Credit: State Archives of Florida/Twine)
The information about the nuns is listed in various websites and on a historical marker erected on the grounds of the church complex. Photos of the marker are below.

Lesser known are the photos by African-American Richard Twine, a photographer who's the subject of Part One of this post. He photographed St. Benedict class pictures, church gatherings and even the school's float in an Emancipation  Day parade in the 1920s. The images bring to life the human side of one of the decades when St. Benedict School thrived. The Twine collection may be viewed on the Florida Memory website.

The school closed in the 1960s, some 70 years after it was built with money from philanthropist and Catholic nun St. Katharine Drexel. In fact, a photo of the school appears on her Wikipedia page. Restoration efforts started, but stalled. In 2004, the school was considered one of St. Augustine's most threatened historic places. I wonder if restoration remains a goal. I sure hope so.

Front and back views of Black Catholic Heritage marker in St. Augustine
Credit: These closeup views of the Black Catholic Heritage historical marker are from a gallery on