Historic City News reporters will attend the presentation of the Adelaide Sanchez Award for Historic Restoration and Preservation to Les Thomas, whose wide-ranging career has contributed to maintaining St. Augustine’s authenticity. Thomas was nominated for the award by Commissioner John Valdes and supported unanimously by the City Commission.
The award may have two recipients annually, one recognizing work in historic education and interpretation and the other for work in historic preservation and restoration. The award is usually presented in May each year to coincide with Historic Preservation Month.
This year, in order to accommodate the schedules of the recipients, the award for Historic Education and Interpretation was presented to Historian David Nolan on April 22nd and the Historic Preservation and Restoration Award will be presented on June 10th.
The presentation to Thomas will be made on Monday, at 4:00 p.m., just prior to the regular meeting of the St. Augustine City Commission. The presentation is open to the public and will be held in the Alcazar Room at City Hall, located at 75 King Street, and may be viewed live via Government TV/Comcast channel 3 and online at CityStAugTV.com where it will be available for on-demand viewing the following day.
From the time Thomas opened his practice in St. Augustine in 1982, he has known where he is, recognizes the uniqueness of the place where he lives and works, and continues his dedication to historic St. Augustine and its cultural heritage; a heritage that is shared by his own family.
Thomas is of Minorcan descent and was born and raised in St. Augustine. He attended Cathedral Parish School, St. Joseph Academy, and St. Johns River Community College. After earning his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Florida, he attended that university’s graduate program in Venice, Italy studying architecture.
He returned to St. Augustine by way of Boston where he served as a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) volunteer and met his wife, Cathi Oakes. Thomas now resides where he was born and raised; on land purchased in 1840 by his great, great-grandfather, Frank Andreu.
Over the past 37 years, Thomas has assembled an extensive portfolio of public and private sector work that includes a wide range of projects varying in size and style. Restoration, preservation, and new projects designed by Thomas are scattered throughout St. Augustine and include places of worship, campuses, residences, restaurants, retail space and historic sites.
- Many new structures designed by Thomas in the city’s historic district include characteristics of architectural styles that span the city’s colonial periods. The Florida Cracker Café and Collage Restaurant are in the style of the First Spanish Period, the Fraser City Gates Plaza’s three buildings are in the style of the Second Spanish Period, and the city’s Historic Downtown Parking Facility incorporates many of the features common throughout the city’s earlier periods.
- Churches are among his clients whose projects include the Bishop Baker Parish Center and Trinity Episcopal Church Parish Hall. Educational institutions in Thomas’ portfolio include the Ketterlinus Gymnasium and the Fullerwood School rehabilitation project which provided new life for an old elementary school with future phases to add recreation and community space.
- Thomas designed the addition to the St. Augustine Art Association’s office and gallery, and the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum. Commercial projects include the Old City Jail complex and welcome centers, St. Augustine Amphitheatre, City Gates Plaza Retail Complex and restaurants Gypsy Cab Company Restaurant, Mojo Old City BBQ, Scarlett O’Hara’s Bar and Restaurant and Rhett’s Piano Bar, and the Old City House Inn and Restaurant and A1A Ale Works, and the extensive adaptation and restoration of the 1886 Carr Cottage/Drysdale House into Harry’s Restaurant.
- Thomas has been a part of many historic restoration projects often working through Florida State Historic Preservation Grants including The Ice Plant and St. Augustine Distillery, St. Augustine & St. Johns County Visitor Information Center, Hamblen House, A1A Ale Works and the former McCrory’s Building on St. George Street.
- Thomas has received awards for his architectural design work for the restoration of the historic Lamont House at 36 Carrera Street with contractor Jim Alligood, the Colonial Quarter of St. Augustine, St. Augustine’s Historic Downtown Parking Facility, and the St. Augustine Amphitheatre.
- Sometimes Thomas’ work has been to recreate a structure that no longer exists. Two such projects are the Santo Domingo Redoubt, an eighteenth-century fortification located in downtown St. Augustine and Native American re-constructions at the Fountain of Youth Archeology Park. Both projects offer the public the chance to experience an accurate recreation based on extensive research.
- For Thomas, being a part of St. Augustine means giving back through community and public service. As a founding member of the Friends of St. Augustine Architecture and the Save Our Bridge Committee, Thomas worked to save the Bridge of Lions and other historic structures in the community. He served as President and is a life member of the St. Augustine Art Association and is a founding and longtime board member of the St. Johns County Cultural Council. Along with Mike Davis and Philip McDaniel, Thomas was instrumental in the creation of Project SWING, the community-built playground at Francis Field.
- Thomas served the city as a two-term member of the Historic Architectural Review Board and as a member of the Planning and Zoning Board for an extended period. He helped to develop the guidelines for lot, yard and height requirements for new construction reflecting the Colonial Periods in the Historic Preservation Districts. Along with author Natalie Lucas and landscape architect James Turner, Thomas coauthored the book, “Tight Walk, Lessons of a Little St. Augustine Street,” about the history and architecture of St. Andreu’s Court highlighting the history, culture and personalities in urban living.
For an architect’s project to work well in St. Augustine, it must be carefully woven into the fabric of this special place, and that takes an architect who knows what makes this place special. When an architect receives the inspiration from a place that is special to him, then the place is enhanced by the architect’s inspired work, both place and architect are beneficiaries. Such is the case with Les Thomas and St. Augustine, and why he is the 2019 recipient of the Adelaide Sanchez Award for Historic Restoration and Preservation.