Italia 2020 Ineffable Miami: Historic District, Saint Augustine by Tanvi Shashidhar

Biography

Photo by Tanvi Shashidhar CC by 4.0

Tanvi Shashidhar is currently a junior at Florida International University and the Honors College, double majoring in International Business and Marketing with a certificate in Import-Export and Supply Chain. She has an interest in the digital media aspects of marketing as well as the more logistical side of business that comes with supply chain management. Tanvi has always enjoyed traveling internationally with her friends/family and getting to know different cultures and their traditions. She is expected to graduate in the Spring of 2021. Follow her on her journey as she explores her hometown and everything it has to offer.

Geography

Google Maps Image of the Historic District
Images by @floridahistoriccoast via Instagram

The Historic District of Saint Augustine is made up of approximately 144 blocks that encompasses not only the Matanzas Bayfront but also a multitude of colonial buildings that can be dated back as earl as the Early 1700’s. Starting on the north end, Historic District technically cuts off on Florida State Road A1A and goes along the Atlantic Ocean all the way from Key West to Amelia Island. Opposite to that on the south end, Historic District ends on King Street, which happens to hold a variety of shops, restaurants, and galleries. One notable stop on this street is the Villa Zorayda Museum, which showcases art based in the Victorian Era displayed from all over the world. Not so far to this museum is the Governor’s House Cultural Center and Museum, a picturesque building that is sponsored by the Department of State depicting a showcase on the First Colony with exhibits that are very interactive. King Street may be less than a mile long in the Historic District but it still manages to house a plethora of fascinating sites. Although the west boundary of this district is simply U.S. 1, a highway that runs from Key West to Maine, a drive along that area will display a wonderful view of the town of Saint Augustine on one side and the San Sebastian River on the other. Finally, on the east side of the Historic District you will find yourself walking along the Pier near the bayfront of the Matanzas River where you can find a great many of the tourists and children on their school field trips walking through the iconic Castillo de San Marcos fort. Or even a bit farther down you can find yourself right along the Saint Augustine Beach. This region of the Historic District is a must-see for any and all tourists visiting the area. It captures the both the iconic history of Saint Augustine as well as the beautiful views and beaches that Florida has to offer.

History

Images by @floridahistoriccoast via Instagram

Walking throughout the streets of the Historic District takes you back in time to when it was created. It helps to know that some buildings still remain from the 1700’s and although it is pretty easy to differentiate which ones it is still wildly impressive how well they have kept. As a child, I went on numerous field trips throughout Old Saint Augustine, every time learning something new and interesting. Saint Augustine is infamously revered to be the oldest permanent European settlement on the continent of North America.

To understand the long and cultured history of Saint Augustine we must stat at the very beginning to when King Phillip II of Spain ordered one of his best admirals to explore and take over what we now know as Saint Augustine, and in return he would be named the Governor of Florida. This esteemed admiral was none other than Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles. He arrived in the mid-1500’s with hundreds of soldiers and settlers on the site of where a Timucuan Indian Village was located and were greeted by the tribe peacefully. Menendez used his brilliant military tactics as well as a hurricane to destroy both a French Garrison and a French fleet, and in doing so was able to successfully explore and build the land of Saint Augustine. From a Spanish colony it then went on to be ruled by the British before finally becoming recognized as a state in the U.S.

Some of the most notable historic sites in the Historic District include Castillo de San Marcos, the Flagler Hotel, and the Alcazar Hotel. The Flagler Hotel is currently seen as Flagler College and the Alcazar Hotel now the Lightner Museum and is used as the city offices of Saint Augustine. Clearly many things have been redesigned and restored since the beginning, much of which is thanks to the addition of the “Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board”, with the purpose to protect, restore, and preserve any and all historic structures in the Historic District.

Demographics

The city of Saint Augustine has a population of approximately 14k people with a majority (81.4%) of the residents being white. The next largest ethnicity being Black or African American at 9.41% of the population. Although it started as a Spanish colony, there is just a little bit more than 6% of people that are considered Hispanic or Latino residing there. The average age of residents is 42.1 with the average income ranging at about $45,884 and the most common racial group living below the poverty line is white, consistent with how the majority off the population is of that ethnicity. Somethings to take away from these statistics is that although the Historic District displays a wide variety of culture with its history, the racial demographic of the region is not nearly as diverse. Like most of the other regions in North Florida, Saint Augustine is no different in where the ethnic majority lies.

Biography of Uma Shashidhar (current resident of Saint Augustine, Florida)

Photo by Tanvi Shashidhar CC by 4.0

Uma Shashidhar was born in the busy city of Bangalore, India, on May 28, 1962. After studying architecture and city planning, she got an arranged marriage to her current husband, Mahadaevaiah Shashidhar. She later moved to Nashville, Tennessee and then to Saint Augustine, Florida in 2007. She is currently a permanent resident of Saint Augustine with her husband and three children.

What made you decide to move to Saint Augustine?

“Being a graduate student of city planning and understanding the historical significance of how cities were created and managed was what drew me in to Saint Augustine. I wanted to be a part of a small-town culture and experience the close-knit relationships that a city like that would offer. It was also deemed to be a very family friendly society that includes a good school system, availability of activities for students and their families, and an environment that was low in crime.”

What was your first impression of the Historic District?

“My first impression of the Historic District was how the city was developed and has continued to stay within the historical guidelines from design to the operational aspect. The city historically has been a tourism center and a large percentage of their revenue does come from tourism, I admire the way they are able to make it entertaining for people of all ages that are visiting.”

What is your favorite time of the year to explore the Historic District?

“As a resident the best time to explore the city of Saint Augustine is during fall and winter seasons when tourism is light and the weather is conducive for exploration. During the holiday season, the Historic District does an impressive job of celebrating the holidays with lights, music, and festivals.”

What is your most and least favorite part of the Historic District?

“The least favorite aspect of a visit to the Historic District would have to be how bad the parking is most of the year, they don’t offer the necessary amount of parking. My favorite time would be during the holidays where the city and the local food service establishments offer a great deal of entertainment and food and beverage options, where the city becomes one big family friendly party.”

Green

Photo by Tanvi Shashidhar CC by 4.0

Although there isn’t as much green as there is blue from the ocean in the Historic District, there is still the fair share of nature. For example, in one of the historic establishments that is known for being the Oldest Wooden School House there also happens to be a mini garden that is full of an array of flowers, plants and little stone statues decorated all around.

Next, the Tolomato Cemetery on Cordova Street displays a grassy area where with trees and flowers near the headstones. An excellent example of a small area of green in the Historic District. The grass and flowers all look well maintained so it is safe to assume that they are looked after by individuals.

One of the most popular areas of greenery is on George Street where there is a small park area and a row of huge trees that are decorated in the winter season for an event called, “Night of Lights.” The decorated greenery is like no other and lights up the entire area with an almost infinite amount of lights. A spectacle that is admired endlessly in the few weeks a year that it is displayed.

Some other more simple just grassy areas are shown surrounding Castillo de San Marcos, where the fort is surrounded by hills of green, and on the Flagler College Campus, in an area called West Lawn, where there is a gazebo in the center with a large area of grass and trees surrounding.

Transportation

Although the Historic District has been ranked as one of the “most walkable cities in Florida” that does not mean that you are not offered many more options. Many of the streets of Saint Augustine are much too narrow to drive down as people are expected to park and walk along the streets but for tourists who are overwhelmed by all the attractions they usually take a trolley, like the Old Town Trolley Tours, that take them around the main roads of the Historic District with a tour guide that tells them the origin story of Old Saint Augustine and what all of the places have to offer. Not to mention, if you are staying anywhere in Downtown Saint Augustine the trolleys can pick you up from wherever you are staying in case you do not plan on driving there.

Another form of transportation is a pedicab, which a basically a bicycle rickshaw, that is a shorter-term type of cab service that gives you a more authentic experience of riding throughout the old city. It also is a great form of transportation when there is a lot of traffic due to the small size of the vehicle.

Throughout the Historic there are many transportation shops that aim to give tourists and even locals the optimal experience each time you visit. So, for families that are up for a more exertive experience there are rental shops where you can rent out bicycles, electric bikes, beach cruisers, etc.

Finally, one of the transportation options that I find to be the most luxurious would be the carriage rides where you and couple friends/family can fit into a fancy carriage armed with a majestic horse and be transported on a leisurely tour along the streets of Saint Augustine starting with the bay front.

Food

Photo by Tanvi Shashidhar CC by 4.0

With such amazing attractions in the Historic District it only makes sense that the food is nothing short of spectacular. With that in mind, even though I have resided in Saint Augustine for over a decade I have not managed to eat at even half the food places that they offer. Saint Augustine makes sure to have an array of options for whatever mood the consumer is in, the hardest aspect of it all is having to choose just one. Each restaurant offers its own unique experience and ambience whether you are eating at one of the pubs, bistros, or cafes, no two experiences will be the same.

One café that holds a special place in my heart is the Spanish Bakery and Café, where you get a feel of what authentic Spanish food tastes like in a casual outdoor setting. After learning all about the Spanish history behind Old St. Augustine it is only fair that you divulge in Spanish delicacies as well.

It comes to no surprise that there are multiple seafood options offered in the Historic District, many of which offer quite the full experience with a waterfront view as well. It is hard to turn down the offer of fresh fish when you’re surrounded by the sights and smells of the river. Finally, my favorite dining experience when it comes to the Historic District would most definitely be the bakeries and ice cream parlors. One in particular that is a local favorite is Kilwin’s, an old-fashioned chocolate shop. With their caramel apples and delicious flavors of ice cream, no one can come out of Kilwin’s feeling unsatisfied. Their traditional recipes and methods never change, they tick to the old school way of making different chocolates and caramels, never once making you doubt the true authenticity of their practices.

Landmarks

Images by @floridahistoriccoast via Instagram

Historical landmarks are a huge part of what makes the Historic District so historic. These monuments are a reminder of how significant Saint Augustine is in the history of Florida. One landmark that I have mentioned previously is the Castillo De San Marcos, which is shown as the oldest known masonry fort in the U.S. Just walking through the fort you are able to see what life was like back then from the architecture of the fort to the canyons on the top of the structure, everything had a specific purpose.

My favorite monument growing up was the Fountain of Youth, the mythical story is told that whoever drinks or takes a bath in the fountain is said to reman young. Of course they capitalize of this folklore and allow people to buy water from the Fountain of Youth, the stories are whimsical but being able to say you drank from the Fountain of Youth might provide you with some street cred. Although, as someone who has tried it once or twice, I would say it tastes like nothing more than unfiltered tap water, but the thought is there.

The Alcazar Hotel is another famous landmark in Saint Augustine, it was once one of the most popular hotels but turned into a museum which exhibits a vast collection of 19 century at from the United States. Another one would be the Fort Matanzas National Monument, which is another Spanish Fort used against British attack and is now being maintained by none other than the National Park Service and admission into this fort is free year round.

Summary

All in all, the Historic District has a lot to offer when it comes to entertainment, education, and food for people. It is quite the perfect tourist destination for those looking at a relaxing, picturesque vacation or even hang out spot for the locals. Families are guaranteed to love this history rich area with the opportunity to learn so much about not only the origin of Florida but also the United States.

The culturally diverse environment welcomes in people from all over to an unforgettable experience that is truly like none other. There aren’t many places in North Florida where you can experience such a variety of culture and entertainment.

Sources:

“First Colony Exhibit.” Florida Museum, http://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/firstcolony/.

“How To Get Around St. Augustine – St. Augustine, FL.” St. Augustine, FL | Oldcity.com, 24 Jan. 2019, http://www.oldcity.com/how-to-get-around-st-augustine/.

“Race and Ethnicity in St. Augustine, Florida (City).” The Demographic Statistical Atlas of the United States – Statistical Atlas, statisticalatlas.com/place/Florida/St-Augustine/Race-and-Ethnicity.

“St. Augustine, FL.” Data USA, datausa.io/profile/geo/st.-augustine-fl/.“St. Augustine, Florida.” St. Augustine, FL | Oldcity.com, 12 Dec. 2018, http://www.oldcity.com/history-and-culture/.

“St. Augustine, Florida.” St. Augustine, FL | Oldcity.com, 27 Mar. 2020, http://www.oldcity.com/where-to-eat/.

“St. Francis Inn Located In St. Augustine Florida.” St. Francis Inn, 7 Dec. 2019, stfrancisinn.com/st-augustine-florida/.

“The Historic District in St. Augustine, FL.” St Augustine Florida Vacation Guide, http://www.visitstaugustine.com/regions/historic-district.

“Villa Zorayda Museum.” Villa Zorayda Museum, villazorayda.com/.

Italia Spring 2020 As Texts: Tanvi Shashidhar

Photo by Tanvi Shashidhar CC BY 4.0

Tanvi Shashidhar is currently a junior at Florida International University and the Honors College, double majoring in International Business and Marketing with a certificate in Import-Export and Supply Chain. She has an interest in the digital media aspects of marketing as well as the more logistical side of business that comes with supply chain management. Tanvi has always enjoyed traveling internationally with her friends/family and getting to know different cultures and their traditions. She is expected to graduate in the Spring of 2021 and is excited to see where this Italy study abroad course will take her. Follow her on this journey by reading her Italia as Texts below.

Vizcaya As Text

Photo by Tanvi Shashidhar CC BY 4.0

“A Sneak Peek into Villa Vizcaya: A Hidden Gem of South Florida” by Tanvi Shashidhar of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

As someone who lives near the oldest city in the United States, Saint Augustine, I am no stranger to seeing famous historical landmarks in Florida. One thing I was not expecting to see in Miami amidst all nightclubs and beaches was a national historical landmark with a mix of both a European and Mediterranean aesthetic infused as well. Looking a little bit closer you notice the local influence from Miami that is incorporated into the infrastructure as well. For example, the Cuban limestone incorporated into the infrastructure represents a little bit of the cultural influence in Miami. The infamous owner of this estate was none other than James Deering, an industrialist and conservationist, whose goal for the estate was to conserve the landscape as well as the plant and animal life of the area.

Walking into the estate it is amazing to see how luxurious and well maintained the property has been kept no doubt due to the strong foundation that was put in place from the beginning. Each room gave a little bit more insight into James Deering’s life and personality. From the Greek statues to the art on each of the ceilings you can see the different time periods and European influence that Paul Chalfin, a notable artist and interior designer, put together. All in all, Vizcaya is a beautiful place with a fascinating history and should definitely be on the list of must-see’s when visiting Miami.

MOAD as Text

“The Freedom Tower and how it lives up to its name” by Tanvi Shashidhar of FIU at the Museum of Art and Design

Before coming to Miami I knew to expect a lot of Cuban culture, I mean it isn’t referred to as “Little Cuba” for no reason. But learning about the Freedom Tower and the sanctuary it provided for Cuban refugees really put things into perspective. From 1962 to 1974, this iconic building (aptly nicknamed “El Refugio”) was transformed into an assistance center for Cubans, which dealt with a multitude of things like healthcare, financing, housing, and even education. This building truly was a saving grace to those that were trying to escape the tyranny of Fidel Castro and gave a little beacon of hope to families that there was a way out. With the help of the Freedom Tower and everything it represented, refugees were able to slowly rebuild their life in the United States with programs for financial relief and food, and ultimately give their future generations a better life.

What I considered one of the most significant aspects of the Freedom Tower was the New World Mural, which spans a whopping 40 feet long, and does a spectacular job of depicting the heritage shared by the community. The mural shown is recreated by a group of individuals called the Miami Artisans who restored the original piece of tapestry from the 1920’s that had deteriorated over time. The mural represents a meeting of the Old World to the New World, showing the arrival of Europeans in America and subsequently how that symbolized a time of discovery and power. It showed me a story of fate and how it can unify one world with another.

South Beach as Text

Photo by Tanvi Shashidhar CC BY 4.0

“The Good and The Bad of South Beach” by Tanvi Shashidhar of FIU at South Beach

South Beach is one of Miami’s greatest attractions when one visits Miami, its where people come when they want to party, vacation, or even admire the sights and architecture. What a lot of people may not realize is that the history behind making South Beach the spectacle it is today was not a pleasant one. In the past it was depicted to be much more of a quaint area or small town, that is until a railroad was put in place. Before the diverse small town made up of whites and blacks who were able to peacefully coexist, after Carl Fisher restructured South Beach there were regulations put in place that banned blacks going onto the beach entirely. This injustice on humanity was not the end of it; in order to convert Miami Beach into the “desired” tourist attraction, Fisher destroyed the mangrove forests that populated much of the area. Hearing the ugly history of a wildly successful tourist attraction makes you think about how that concept is still alive today in big cities but instead hidden under the name of “gentrification”.

Another huge element that that makes South Beach what it is today, is the endless presence of art on every corner. The Art Deco that makes up the neighborhood is a sight that you will find nowhere else, with modern buildings that are inspired from machinery. They stand out in a way that makes it almost impossible to look away with bright neon mixed with soft pastels. The art in South Beach goes perfectly with the ambiance that night life near the beach offers.

HistoryMiami as Text

HistoryMiami Museum (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

“The Chronicles of Miami” by Tanvi Shashidhar of FIU at HistoryMiami Museum

The HistoryMiami Museum provides an enlightening insight of everything that happened in the past to make it into the cultural melting pot that it is today. They don’t just mention the good and positive moments either they dive into the ugly truths of this city’s foul past. The impressive exhibits showcase tools dating back to prehistoric periods in time that were able to stay intact by being buried in places like the Everglades where the wet environments conserved the artifacts. Some of the first pioneers to sail to South Florida with no knowledge of the area or its resources reached out to natives in the area for guidance, and with the Seminoles help they were not only able to survive but also teach them a few tricks to make a living as well. Stories like these in Miami’s history, where compassion is highlighted, makes you have faith in humanity and all the things it can offer.

Another exhibition called the “Gateway to the Americas” showcases many examples of immigrants traveling to Miami in hopes of finding a better life than what they were given in their home country. The lengths that Cubans and Haitians would go to in order to come to South Florida and be able to provide for their family is valiant and if not for them, Miami would not have such a myriad of culture and diversity. The history of Miami is very special in the way it has shaped the city to be completely idiosyncratic from any other city in Florida

Deering Estate as Text

Deering Estate (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

“A Sanctuary for Nature and History Alike” by Tanvi Shashidhar at the Deering Estate

The Deering Estate is a legendary historical site visited by locals and tourists alike showcasing not only tours but a number of special events and programs as well. Their honorable mission is devoting themselves to conserve and protect the environment, architecture, and history of the estate with whatever modern technology or methods are at their disposal. The prolific history of the Deering Estate goes all the way from the Paleo-Indians to the safeguarding of what nature has to offer. Buildings like the Richmond Cottage and the Stone House, both constructed in different time, demonstrate the varying architecture in history on the Deering Estate. An art studio is also on the grounds and offers professional artists an “Artist in Residence Program” to collaborate with like-minded professionals while producing their projects.

A monumental element of the Deering Estate is the nature and environment that it provides. For example, the Boat Basin offers a picturesque view of the water with sea creatures like manatees, dolphins, sharks, etc. It allows individuals to have a glimpse of these remarkable animals in their natural habitat without being interfered or disturbed by human beings, which is the sad life of many creatures today. Next, Chicken Key is an island formed by the accumulation of quartz and limestone and was restored in the past by having the mangrove forest and dune system connected making up for a history in Miami where the mangrove forests were obliterated. An interesting detail about the Estate is that it is assembled on top of a geological foundation called Miami Rock Ridge. It originates back over 100,000 years ago and acts as a barrier separating Biscayne Bay and the South Florida Peninsula. These few natural elements don’t even make up all of what the Deering Estate has to offer but it gives you an idea of how much wildlife and vegetation is being protected and preserved.