Friday, February 20, 2009

Spanish Fragments on St George Street

As everybody knows, St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States, having been founded by the Spanish in 1565. Little remains of the original Spanish city, of course; between pirate attacks, hurricanes, attacks from the British colonists in South Carolina and Georgia and everyday fires and termites, the city of the first couple of centuries is long gone and detectable only to archeologists.

Some 18th century buildings or at least parts of them remain, and the locations of all the earlier buildings are known and in many cases there are traces of their foundations. In the 1960s and 1970s, the city began a project to “recreate” some of the Spanish areas, particularly St. George Street, which had been the main drag. Some of the buildings were recreated from drawings or 19th century photos, others were rebuilt on their old foundations, and others had their remaining authentic Spanish era features – parts of walls, generally – incorporated into recreated but essentially new buildings.

Now, of course, it’s become a gauntlet of tourist traps and tee-shirt shops, with a few decent shops squeezed in between.
It has a couple of attractive features, though. One is a little park, the Hispanic Garden, created in the 1970s. Unfortunately, it’s never open to the public, allegedly because the city had trouble a few years ago with vagrants attempting to take up residence there. This is a pity, because right in the middle of the park is a charming small statue by Anna Hyatt Huntington. It shows Isabel I of Spain, Isabel la Católica, being led on a mule as she travels through Spain.
Anna Hyatt Huntington was a well known sculptor when she married Archer Huntington, who in addition to being fantastically wealthy, was another Hispanista or Hispanophile, and created the Hispanic Society in New York City. His wife did the imposing equestrian statues on the plaza outside the building. And she did this little tiny equestrian statue in our park.

This was not a great day to take a photo of the statue because the gardeners who are preparing the park for spring had left a hose draped over the figure. But this will give you an idea of it and I’ll try to get a better photo when the planting season is over.