Did you know that June 19 is the 60th anniversary of the Preservation Board’s creation? We’ll be celebrating this significant milestone all month by sharing more in-depth posts about the history of our collections and the people behind them. When the St. Augustine Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission was established by Governor Collins in June 1959, it had five founding members. Chosen for their expertise in business, finance, journalism, as well as their ties to St. Augustine and historic preservation, each of these members added a unique perspective to the commission’s early work and direction. Their service was instrumental in putting St. Augustine on the map in terms of historic preservation and heritage tourism, so we wanted to recognize them by illuminating the biographies and service of the “First Five”
Henrietta Malkiel was born in New York City to a family of political activists. Her parents, Russian Jewish immigrants, founded a socialist newspaper and were involved in early women’s rights and labor movements. She was a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and worked as a features editor for several magazines, culminating with her appointment as the Foreign Editor of Vogue in Paris from 1929-1931. She transitioned into a political journalism career and met her husband, Nelson Poynter, while working on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s re-election campaign in 1940. Together with her husband, she founded the Congressional Quarterly, which streamlined legislative reports for easier public access.
The Poynters resided primarily in St. Petersburg, where she served as an editor for the St. Petersburg Times. She was involved in several statewide organizations in Florida, including the Preservation Commission. She only served as a board member a very short time, resigning in early 1960. Her frequent travel between Florida and DC made it difficult for her to attend meetings, and she felt that the commission needed more members better acquainted with the city and its unique issues. J. Saxton Lloyd of Daytona Beach replaced her in May 1960. Poynter died suddenly in 1968, and the Florida Legislature honored her in 1969 for her service to the state.
William L. Sims II
William Sims was born in Birmingham, Alabama. After attending Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University today) and serving in the Army during World War II, he had a 33-year long career with Colgate-Palmolive Company. He served as the first president of its international operations, and later as the president of the whole company. After retirement, Sims and his family moved to Orlando, where he established Sims Groves, Inc., which primarily grew oranges. He served on the St. Augustine Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission from its creation in 1959 until 1969. He died at the age of 81 in 1977.
In addition to his service as a founding member, Sims notably donated $27,000 to the Commission in support of their silversmith shop reconstruction project. He coincidentally shared a name with the silversmith residing in St. Augustine during the British Period, which gave him a special interest in seeing the project completed. The Sims Silversmith Shop building still stands today on the corner of Cuna and Charlotte Streets.
William F. Rolleston
Bill Rolleston was born in 1912. He served as the Vice President and the first general manager of Marine Studios Marineland just south of St. Augustine. He worked at Marineland for over 30 years. Rolleston served as the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Commission. Rolleston’s most significant contribution to the Commission was his role in recruiting Earle Newton to be the first director of the Commission. Newton came to St. Augustine from Bridgeport, CT and led them through many of their restoration projects.
Like Poynter, Rolleston only served on the Commission for a short time. He resigned in September 1960. He later served on the board of the St. Augustine Restoration Foundation, Inc., a private foundation that was created by the Commission in support of their preservation efforts but later became a separate entity. Rolleston died in 1985 at the age of 73 and is buried here in St. Augustine.
Leonard Usina was born in St. Augustine in 1891. He had a long career in banking, starting in 1904 at a savings bank in St. Augustine. He moved to Miami to serve as the president of Florida National Bank and Trust Company, one of Edward Ball’s largest banks. He created his own bank, The Peoples Bank of Miami Shores, in 1950, which earned him Miami Shores Citizen of the Year in 1968.
Due to Usina’s childhood ties to St. Augustine, as well as his interest in history and service as a board member of the Florida Historical Society, Governor Collins appointed him as the vice-chairman of the Preservation Commission. He was only a member of the commission for a short time, resigning in 1962 due to conflicting schedules and inability to attend many of the meetings. However, he still remained involved and attended the dedication of the Arrivas House in 1963. Usina died in 1981 at the age of 89, and after his death his bank’s branches were purchased by Pan American Bank and North Carolina National Bank.
Herbert E. Wolfe was born in rural Tennessee and moved to the St. Augustine area as a teenager with his family. His business career was large and varied, beginning when he established the H.E. Wolfe Construction Company in 1923, which completed road projects in Florida and surrounding states. He was heavily involved in the organization of the Exchange Bank of St. Augustine, as well as banks in nearby Hastings and Palatka. He served as St. Augustine’s Mayor beginning in 1948 and also had a term on the City Commission. He and his family resided at Markland, Andrew Anderson’s home on King Street (now part of Flagler College). He was involved in many community and state organizations throughout his lifetime.
Wolfe’s deep ties to St. Augustine made him a great candidate to serve as the first chairman of the Preservation Commission, as well as the chairman of the National Quadricentennial Commission, appointed by President John F. Kennedy. He chaired the Preservation Commission from 1959-1969, when he resigned due to health problems. He died in 1981 at the age of 83. A collection of his papers are housed with our friends at the St. Augustine Historical Society Research Library.
Stay tuned for more profiles of Preservation Commission and Board members!