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Bringing history back to life

Apr 2, 2012
by Laura Smith

Partnership with University of Florida preserves Hotel Ponce de Leon’s original blueprints

In 2004, original architectural drawings, sketches and notes for the Hotel Ponce de Leon – now Ponce de Leon Hall – were rescued from a campus boiler room, saving them from high heat and the ravages of insects and rodents.

The blueprints, which include some of the earliest works of architects John Carrère and Thomas Hastings, were literally disintegrating on the shelf. Many of the rolled drawings could not be opened for fear of the historic artifacts crumbling to dust.

But now, thanks to a prestigious Save America’s Treasures Grant administered by the National Park Service and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a two-year effort to conserve and digitize the drawings is nearing completion.

The task has been undertaken by a team of conservationists working at The University of Florida in Special Collections, Conservation and the Digital Library Center.

The First Works of Architectural Giants

Carrère and Hastings rank as two of the most significant American architects of the
late-19th and early-20th centuries. Their firm designed more than 600 buildings, among them the famous New York Public Library and Washington, D.C.’s House and Senate office buildings. St. Augustine’s Hotel Ponce de Leon, Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church and Hotel Alcazar were among the firm’s earliest works. But tragically, most of the archives of Carrère and Hastings’ office in New York were destroyed in the 1920s.

Thus, the collection discovered on campus at Flagler College — some 267 original, fragile drawings on cloth, silk and paper, as well as blueprints and copies — is the largest known archive documenting the firm’s early work. The drawings date from 1896-1957.

After the drawings were discovered, Leslee Keys, director of corporate, foundation and government relations at Flagler, with John Nemmers and John Freund of the University of Florida, approached the National Endowment of Humanities and the National Park Service for support. Through their efforts, the NEH and NPS awarded the College nearly $50,000 to aid in the conservation of the collection. This grant was one of only five grants awarded nationally and the only one outside the northeastern United States.

Preservation and digitization efforts will stabilize the collection and make the materials available for study and use without further damage.

Partnership with UF Protects and Preserves

The drawings are housed at the UF Architecture Archives to ensure that they are protected and available for research. The team is in the process of cleaning, flattening, deacidifying and encapsulating the collection.

Once the conservation effort is complete, digital copies of the papers will be available online for viewing and downloading, thus making public the largest collection of early Carrère and Hastings drawings in the world. Some of the drawings will be featured at Flagler College as part of a special exhibit during the College’s celebration of the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Hotel Ponce de Leon in 2013.

To follow the progress of the conservation and digitization project, visit www.flaglerdrawings.wordpress.com.

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