During the spring quarterly meeting of the Flagler Model Land Company Neighborhood Association on Monday, May 13th, special guest speaker and local historian David Nolan, gave his unvarnished view of city staff and politician’s approach to management of St Augustine’s 450th Commemoration.
Irene Arriola, who describes herself as “a lifelong fan” of Nolan, hit the nail on the head when she advised residents of the downtown neighborhood to arrive early to get a good seat. Nolan spoke at Markland before a full house.
During his presentation, Nolan made clear his long-term concerns for future historians; citing the many starts and stops to a “master plan” that arguably exists in name only. He was critical of the use of general funds, implying that they are being squandered.
Specifically, Nolan objected to the city commission’s annual funding allocation of $328,000 to the ongoing commemoration — two-thirds of which he said goes to pay three city staffers.
When asked about his impression of the latest orange and powder-blue 450th logo, the city’s second or third attempt to develop a brand for the event, and the $15,000 price tag, Nolan quipped, “It looks just like a sinking ship.”
Nolan was also critical of what he sees as misusing a $750,000 state grant for “historic renovation” to pay for repairs to public bathrooms on St George Street.
Among the pursuits Nolan suggested would be a better use of limited funds, the reclaiming and gathering of historic items related to St Augustine that are located elsewhere, like letters written home to New England during the Civil War and reprinted in many northern newspapers.
“We have too long a history of getting rid of stuff,” Nolan said; using the example of the historic railroad train engine along West Castillo Drive given to Jacksonville Beach when it came time to maintain it. Nolan disparages the lack of regular scheduled maintenance of all of our public sculptures; and other outdoor treasures. “What is the future historian going to wish we had saved?”
Photographers should be mobilized, in Nolan’s opinion, to take pictures of every house, as the character changes over time. “It would be an invaluable tool for restoration.” Nolan also believes the city should be replanting the Live Oak trees that once made San Marco Avenue look like Magnolia Street — in front of the Fountain of Youth.
Before concluding, Nolan recommended that the city invite celebrity descendants of St Augustine-related historic figures to participate in the 450th celebration. For example, the direct descendant of Edward Rutledge, one of the three signers of the Declaration of Independence who was held prisoner in St Augustine during the American Revolution, is Goldie Hawn. Linda Ronstadt was born in St Augustine and is the direct descendant of Agustin Zamorano, who was California’s first printer and acting governor. The great-great-great-great grandson of Rev. John Forbes (1740-83), first Anglican rector in St Augustine, is Secretary of State John Kerry.