Historical Society names preservation award after Shepard
The St. Augustine Historical Society
By Margo C. Pope
The St. Augustine Historical Society Board of Trustees informed local Historic City News reporters that they have honored longtime Florida architect Herschel E. Shepard by naming an annual award in his honor for excellence in historic preservation architecture for more than 50 of his 55-years-plus in St. Augustine and Florida and other locales.
Historical Society President James G. Cusick announced the award at the Society’s annual meeting on Jan. 12 at Flagler College’s Ringhaver Center, saying he has known Shepard as a “dear friend and colleague” for many years. “Every summer, for 10 years now, I’ve seen him gain a kind of rock star status, as he guides visiting teachers around the city with a personal tour of colonial architecture. St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by the Spanish, then was a British colony for about 21 years, and Spanish again until American Territorial occupation began in 1821. “It’s clear to me each year that those teachers understand Herschel’s love and respect for St. Augustine and its heritage, and go away with a great appreciation for the value of historic preservation in general, and a fondness for St. Augustine in particular, and that’s true of everyone who spends time with Herschel.”
Cusick said Shepard has volunteered “hundreds of hours of his time to assist the Society in preserving and documenting its historic structures; and he is always a generous spirit and a delightful person to be around.”
Shepard, in response to the award, said, “It is a very great honor and I am not at all sure that it is deserved.” He said he would accept it on behalf of the hundreds of people, past and present, who have worked in historic preservation and those who provided community support for historic preservation. Without community support it would not be possible, he said.
The Society Board of Trustees’ resolution acknowledges his contributions “to historic preservation in the city, and to that spirit of generosity in sharing his knowledge and talent.”
Cusick said the award will be given annually to a person, organization, group or, project that makes an extraordinary contribution to the preservation of St. Augustine’s historical legacy.”
Historic preservation architecture endeavors began at Fort Clinch
Shepard expanded his career into historic preservation when he was asked to do a roof restoration project at Fort Clinch in Fernandina Beach, a Civil War and Spanish American War fort, for the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials, in the mid-1960s. After he learned more of the history, he recommended that they not only accurately restore the roofs but the buildings themselves. “I realized the history of this place was incredible.” He talked the state into giving him a few more dollars and he and his wife, Jean, went to Washington, D.C. to research the history of the construction of the buildings. That project lasted around five years. Other architects followed him and continued with further restoration projects.
Other state projects followed including a proposed restoration and reconstruction at the state-owned Bulow Plantation sugar mill ruins in Flagler County. Again, after further study, he recommended preservation and protection of the ruins because there was little money for a reconstruction project.
But there was one state project that did not move forward. The Whitfield Building in Tallahassee was the home of the Florida Supreme Court from 1912 to 1949, after the Court moved out of the Florida Capital Building. But, after extensive on-site study, and research, Shepard concluded it could not be saved. Later when the demolition began, his conclusion proved correct. “It collapsed very quickly as we had predicted,” he said.
The restoration of the 1902 Old Florida Capital followed in the late 1970s after that building was scheduled to be demolished upon completion of the new 25-story capital was completed. But citizens rallied, led by then-Secretary of State Bruce Smathers, and the old capital was preserved. Shepard’s firm was selected by the state. He believes the state awarded his firm the contract because of the thoroughness of his work on evaluation of the Whitfield Building.
St. Augustine historic preservation work varied
Shepard has worked in St. Augustine since the 1970s when Elizabeth Towers, a member of the State’s Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board, asked his help on the restoration of the 1807 Joaneda House, 57 Treasury St., north of the city’s Plaza de la Constitution. Shepard develop a preservation design that also allowed for the requested interior modernization so Mrs. Towers could use it as a part-time residence in her lifetime and then donate it to the Preservation Board in her estate.
His other St. Augustine projects included the St. Augustine Historical Society’s Gonzales-Alvarez House, (aka The Oldest House), Jose Tovar House and the Segui Kirby-Smith House (the Society’s Research Library), the Ximenez-Fatio House for the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Florida, and the City of St. Augustine’s Alcazar Building; home of the Lightner Museum and City Hall.
Shepard’s expertise is still sought regularly by Susan Parker, executive director of the Historical Society, and the board. “Herschel Shepard has made an astonishing level of contribution to St. Augustine’s historic preservation over many decades, Parker said. “And he continues. Herschel questions deeply and cares deeply. He has been lauded for his work. He has also been derided for his findings, but stood by them in the face for unpopularity and mean-spirited attacks.
“Over the last few years Herschel has donated hundreds of hours to research, field investigation, advice and monitoring the exploration of the Historical Society’s Jose Tovar House. He will be on the scene again as the Society soon begins another phase of research to understand the construction sequence of the building and the people who lived in it.
“This work is, in the end, not just about this single building, but about the history of the people who lived in St. Augustine’s past,” she said.
True to his continuing involvement in preserving St. Augustine’s past, Shepard is serving on the University of Florida Historic St. Augustine board. Allen Lastinger, chairman of the UFHSA board, said Shepard, “is truly a St. Augustine hero for his love and dedication to our historical heritage. Not only has he spent countless hours researching and documenting the historical society’s properties, he has provided invaluable insights to the University of Florida Historic St. Augustine organization. We are privileged that he is so willing to share his enthusiasm, expertise, and engaging personality to make our town a more compelling historical treasure.”
Mentors impacted Shepard’s architectural career
Shepard’s mentor in historic preservation was Blair Reeves, a professor of architecture at the University of Florida and a lifelong friend until his death in 2012. He encouraged his work, Shepard said, because Reeves appreciated the extensive research that Shepard did before determining the restoration of an historic building. “Blair was the one into the nuts and bolts of historic preservation helping me learn about federal regulations for historic preservation projects,” Shepard said. Shepard’s involvement in teaching at UF came because of Reeves. He held various teaching positions at the University Of Florida Department Of Architecture between from the mid-1980s through 2001, including the Bienecke-Reeves Distinguished Chair in Architectural Preservation.
Another architect who had a lasting impact on Shepard was the late Jacksonville architect Bob Broward. “He was a strong influence in enhancing my love of contemporary art and architecture, as well as being a lifelong friend.” Further expanding those who have helped his career, Shepard says, “My work owes tremendously to the talent of my staff and the support from my wife and our sons.”
Now serving on the board of the University of Florida Historic St. Augustine, Inc., and Shepard’s longtime expertise is aiding UF’s care of the state properties it now maintains and manages including Government House and other original and reconstructed buildings in St. Augustine’s historic Spanish Quarter. Allen Lastinger, chairman of the UFHSA board, appreciates Shepard’s service. “Herschel Shepard is truly a St. Augustine hero for his love and dedication to our historical heritage. Not only has he spent countless hours researching and documenting the historical society’s properties, he has provided invaluable insights to the University of Florida Historic St. Augustine organization. We are privileged that he is so willing to share his enthusiasm, expertise, and engaging personality to make our town a more compelling historical treasure.”
Recognition and awards continue
Shepard’s other commitments have included the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board; the Florida Department of State’s National Register Review Board; founder and director of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation; Advisor, the National Trust for Historic Preservation; City of St. Augustine Historic Preservation Advisory Board, and as member, officer and president of the Jacksonville Chapter, American Institute of Architects. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects emeritus.
His awards include the University of Florida School of Architecture Lifetime Achievement Award (2015) and Academic Achievement Award (2014); City of St. Augustine’s de Aviles Award ( 2012); State of Florida Senator Bob Williams Award, (2002); the Tallahassee Preservation Council Award for Historical Research (1958); the Carl Weinhardt Award, Florida Trust for Preservation (1997); the Florida Trust for Preservation Award (1983, 1986, 1995); and the Henry Adams Fund Award, American Institute of Architects (1956).
He is a graduate of Princeton University earning a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in Architecture. He and his wife Jean live in Atlantic Beach, and they have two sons.