Casa Monica twin towers
The Casa Monica Hotel, its history and culture flaunts the visitor to St. Augustine, Florida, where the city is celebrating the past 450 years. The Spanish founded it in 1513, but by1564 the French took over, only to step back in1565 when the Spanish arrived again. They conquered the French garrison on the St. Johns River and held the coast of Florida. The garrison remains, and you are welcome to walk on the grounds of those that came before.
Popular are the horse & buggy rides
The architecture of the Casa Monica, built in 1888, and very much part of the history of this city, was the best of Moorish and Spanish designs. Built to serve as a hotel, it opened January 17, 1888. Franklin W. Smith, amateur architect and entrepreneur developed the poured coquina (shell aggregate) concrete and built the Casa Monica in a layered type of construction.
Ambiance of the dining areas
According to my research, what makes this work of architecture interesting is that the material was first used to build forts in St. Augustine in the 16th century. The coquina is made of ancient shells bonded together to form a type of stone similar to limestone. The idea was that because it was a soft material, cannon balls would sink into it, rather than crash through it. I have to wonder about that philosophy, but that’s what I found when researching this material.
The hotel is recognized as one of the most impressive public architectural complexes of the late nineteenth century of American history.
Located on the corner of Cordova and King Streets, Casa Monica is a U-shaped building with five towers, some battlemented, some with hip roofs, where all sides slope gently downwards to the walls. The large corner tower boasts a superb exterior spiral column. There are small hotel shops at street level on King Street.
When it was built in 1888, balconies were numerous, some with turned spindle posts and small balconets, which in Seville were called Kneeling Balconies, allowing the faithful to kneel during religious processions.
Tiles, imported from Valencia, Spain, were set in panels in some of the exterior walls. Inside, on the first floor, many rooms were arranged for the pleasure of the guests; sun parlor, drawing room, ladies waiting room, main dining room and private dining rooms. Three hundred guests could be seated at one time. There were 200 rooms, gas lighting, steam heat and electric bells to call for service and one bath on each floor. Metal rings were attached to the walls under the windows and tied to a rope long enough to reach the ground in case of fire.
Casa Monica has gone through growing pains in its 128 years. By 1900 the hotel was converted into an apartment building; in the 1920’s, it served as a low budget hotel. And in 1932, the depression forced its closing and it was idle for thirty years.
In 1962, it was used as a courthouse; by 1997, it was sold to Richard C. Kessler and then restored. Today, Casa Monica is an elegant, upscale luxury hotel, and is included in Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The building has kept its architectural and interior Moorish character. The interior is flanked with mahogany columns, Moorish arched doorways, stenciled beams and wall sconces. The furnishings, gleaming chandelier, fountain and numerous palms and ferns give it that Victorian ambiance.
Casa Monica is listed on the National Register of Historic places and recipient of the AAA Four Diamond Award.
Services in the Casa Monica are exemplary, including the bellmen and parking garage attendants. Thank you goes to Kayley at check-in and to Holly and Tarrah at check-out. A special thanks to the Assistant Front Office Manager, Matthew.
Our room had strange sounds. Imagine? But I slept well. It wasn’t until the morning . . . when at the bar . . . I met Mr. Parrish . . .
Tune in for more next week . . .
In early 1850 a young Frenchman named Morris Greenberg and his family set sail for California to make their fortune in the gold rush. Suffering a shipwreck in the Straits of Magellan, he didn’t arrive in San Francisco until late 1851. By that time the gold rush was pretty much played out but San Francisco was becoming established as a major port city.
There wasn’t any fortune in gold waiting for young Greenberg, but the new city had a need for brass ship fittings for its burgeoning maritime industry. Having been a foundry apprentice in France, Greenberg founded the Eagle Brass Works and started a bustling enterprise serving the shipping industry.
After San Francisco’s 6th great fire in 1851, the city set about creating a reliable municipal water system. Greenberg was contracted to provide cast materials for the water works. By the 1860s Greenberg was the major provider of cast iron and brass water system components. Greenberg now operated a major foundry which incorporated and was named M. Greenberg’s Sons, Inc. in honor of his sons who were now helping run the family’s business.
San Francisco’s original fire hydrants were based on an eastern dry barrel design and cast by the Hinckley Iron Works in San Francisco. While the Hinckley design was traditional, it was not very efficient. The flood valve was slow to open and the hydrants had somewhat limited flows. Greenberg, his imagination not being polluted by traditional convention, reasoned that a 6″ pipe with one or more valves above the surface would be much more efficient for locations where freezing was not an issue. He built the first wet barrel hydrant which drew wide acceptance and was dubbed the “California hydrant.” When San Francisco rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire, every hydrant on the municipal water system was a Greenberg “California hydrant” with double 3″ outlets.
Greenberg went on to produce more types of fire hydrants than any other manufacturer, producing over a dozen distinctive models with as many as four variations within each model. One of the goals of this collection was to collect and restore a representative example of each of Greenberg’s designs in tribute to the young shipwrecked Frenchman that forever changed the Pacific coast fire service.
The 21st century is seeing forever changes as I write this blog.
Growing up in Brooklyn, some hydrants looked liked this. Some were fat and black. Now the hydrants are being prepped and resemble strange sculptures in color. Unlike in-your-face architecture, even though fire hydrants are below eye level, do you see them as public art?
Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who designed some of the 20th Century’s most famous modernist buildings, died December 5, 2012, ten days before his 105th birthday. A memorial service was held in the presidential palace in Brasilia. Niemeyer’s family was informed of the honor in a phone call from President Dilma Rousseff. “Brazil has lost one of its geniuses.” Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes declared three days of mourning in Niemeyer’s home city.
A student of Le Corbusier, Niemeyer developed a distinctive style defined by stark concrete and sweeping curves. He rose to international fame as the architect of the main government buildings in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, inaugurated in 1960. His bold futuristic designs in Brasilia made the new capital a dramatic statement of confidence in the future of Brazil, and an icon of modern architecture. He also worked with Swiss-born modernist architect Le Corbusier on the UN building in New York. He continued to work on new projects until earlier 2012.
Niemeyer said his stylized swoops were inspired by Brazilian women’s curves.
“Form follows function” has been the credo of designers and architects since the 19th century. The dictum was coined by the American architect Louis Sullivan in his article “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” that was published in 1896.
The last hundred years of architecture are often described–in grossly simplified language–by a tug-of-war between ornament and functionalism. Niemeyer never saw things in those terms. He was 20 years younger than Le Corbusier and looked up to him. Like Corbu, Niemeyer saw his expressive buildings as “pure forms,” driven by his own brand of rationalism. “When you have a large space to conquer, the curve is the natural solution,” he said. “I once wrote a poem about the curve. The curve I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean and on the body of the beloved woman.” “My work is not about ‘form follows function,'” he famously said, “but ‘form follows beauty’ or, even better, ‘form follows feminine.'”
In 1988, he was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize. British architect Lord Norman Foster was inspired by Niemeyer, then a 104 year-old who was still youthful in his energy and creativity. “He told me that architecture is important, but that life is more important. And yet in the end his architecture is his ultimate legacy. Like the man himself, it is eternally youthful – he leaves us with a source of delight and inspiration for many generations to come.”
Oscar Niemeyer portrait by Eduardo Kobra
However, Niemeyer’s style was not to everyone’s taste, and for a communist some people say his work was not very people-friendly – focusing more on the architecture’s form than on its inhabitants or functionality. He went on to create more than 600 buildings around the world. His legacy endures in museums, monuments, schools and churches in Brazil and beyond. Many of the designs were initially sketched on a table overlooking his beloved Rio de Janeiro and its famous Copacabana beach, replete with the women, waves and hills from which he drew such inspiration.
Renzo Piano, fellow architect said, “Architecture is a profession where you need a long period of apprenticeship. You never stop learning, this is something that Niemeyer kept saying. And I think he learned until the end, he was that kind of person. As an architect you have to be a sociologist, builder, scientist, poet. It was about integrity. In some ways he was more of a moral example, an example of life. He was concerned about political life, and architecture is political in some ways. In the sense of doing things that belonged to the civic life of people in the city. Architecture is the art of making cities not just making buildings. He was a good example of how architecture can be a noble, civilized job.”
Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra has graced the entire side of a skyscraper on the bustling street of Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo with a 52 meter tall polychromatic portrait of Oscar Niemeyer. Kobra began work on the mural on the 14th of January, 2013 and since then has solicited the help of four other artists from his team to complete the colossal artwork.
Which is your favorite? Clean curvy contemporary forms or the classics with ornamentation?
St. Augustine is the oldest city in the nation, so I have been told. America is not that old anyway. What, maybe six centuries?
That’s six hundred plus years. America is still a baby. Certainly not as old as the Middle East, or Europe or Asia. It was a fun place to visit and see where people had walked in the past.
Guys doing cannon demo
Today’s blog is not about American history though, it is about one of the cities founded at the beginning, in 1565 says history. Fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the Spanish established St. Augustine.
Tom and historic sign
The Spanish bakery there is famous, on the famous George Street. It has been handed down through the years and has stayed in the same family. They bake delicious breads to dunk in their delicious soups.
There is a fort, right on the water and in the town center, where they did a cannon shooting demonstration. We were able to see the dormitories for the guards.
We stayed at one of Marriott’s Autograph Collection Hotels in St. Augustine. It was lovely. The Casa Monica was opened in 1888, and is filled with authentic antiques only seen in museums. They were easily identifiable by their historic characteristics.
England’s William & Mary chest, 17th century, walnut with brass tear drop pulls, and bun feet.
The city’s skyline was dramatic with its spheres and domes.
Sphere & dome
Historic George Street was crowded with tourists as they looked, sought and ate the most delicious looking ice cream combinations you could want. The eateries and pubs were plentiful, as were the shops with their samples of wines and other goodies.
If you are a people watcher, this is the place. The tourists were a mixed bag of colors and faces, young and old. Some from New York, some from the Middle East, some from the Orient. Everyone was friendly and courteous. It was delightful to be in such an amorous atmosphere.
George Street walkway and shops
George Street is an old walkway in St. Augustine. In the evening it is so filled with people, you could rub shoulders. Could be a good way to make new friends.
I am doing some research for my book that I am writing and came across interesting information. The Spheres in the image below are the architectural elements of the former Ponce de Leon Hotel, 1885-88, where Flagler College was located. It would have been great to visit the building to see Tiffany’s windows in the dining room. The Ponce de Leon Hotel was designed and built by graduates of McKim, Mead & White offices and the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Famous, very famous architectural offices and school.
These spheres belong to the former Ponce de Leon Hotel, now Flagler College in St. Augustine
The streets had a horse and carriage on every block, sometimes two.
What’s the oldest city you’ve been to?
Lights at night
Shop window at night
Sagrada Familia Church, Barcelona, Spain
Antonio Gaudi died under the wheels of a tram and was to be buried in an unknown grave. Yet, he is known for his Barcelona Gaudi Architecture – Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Milà, Casa Batlló in Barcelona. He was an enthusiast of the nineteenth century popular style of Art Nouveau, a style celebrating art for art’s sake. A style that did not relate to any designs of the past. The style was an invention of a new kind of ornament based on the asymmetrical flowing lines of plant forms. Gaudi impressed the architectural community with his wild, vehement and whimsical forms of the curls and furls of the style. The stone and iron used in his work were bent and warped creating surfaces of great complexity that flow like molten lava. He used outlandish, original, colored mosaics and toyed with ideas in architecture, both interior and exterior, that bring visitors and tourists to Barcelona by the millions.
Unless you have been there, you cannot possibly imagine the overwhelming pomposity, grandeur, and fantasy of this church. I have traveled the world over, from the USA to England, Portugal, Mexico, Spain, Bangladesh, Africa, and to other countries. I have seen churches, I have studied churches, I have painted churches . . . and to clarify before you have a chance to verify, the churches I painted were on canvas. Never have I seen, explored, or experienced any like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. His work has been described as “melted butter.” The towers here, in the above image, with the rippling contours of the stone facade make it look as though Sagrada Familia is melting in the sun.
The holy figures of stone imbedded into the fascia are unbelievable. From afar, the details blur some. This image shows the details. The church began its life in 1882. From 1883 Gaudi worked on the architecture until his death. He left a legacy of information. The church, in the lower level, has models, architectural drawings, and yards and yards and yards of information to continue building to completion. And so it goes. There are always cranes on site. Always workers on site, always lines of onlookers on site. The church is open to the public everyday all year except for Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Gaudí’s funeral (12 June 1926)
On 7 June 1926, Gaudí was taking his daily walk to the Sant Felip Neri church for his habitual prayer and confession. While walking along the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes between Girona and Bailén streets, he was struck by a passing tram and lost consciousness. Assumed to be a beggar because of his lack of identity documents and shabby clothing, the unconscious Gaudí did not receive immediate aid. Eventually a police officer transported him in a taxi to the Santa Creu Hospital, where he received rudimentary care. By the time that the chaplain of the Sagrada Família, Mosén Gil Parés, recognised him on the following day, Gaudí’s condition had deteriorated too severely to benefit from additional treatment. Gaudí died on 10 June 1926 at the age of 73 and was buried two days later. A large crowd gathered to bid farewell to him in the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the crypt of the Sagrada Família.
Gaudi is dead, long live Gaudi.
Roof architecture at Casa Batllo
The towers of Sagrada Familia can be seen from almost everywhere in Barcelona. Buildings . . .architecture, set the tone, the culture, for a town, a city, a country. Architecture is a live, breathing, functioning sculpture. You cannot hold it in your hand, but you can become part of it. You can love it, hate it, tolerate it, but like it or not, architecture sets the pace by which you live and survive.
Are you familiar with the architecture surrounding you? Are you aware that architecture is public art?