A Birds’ Eye View of History: The Balconies of St. Augustine

If you’re following along with our ABC’s of St. Augustine Architecture on Instagram (@govhouselibrary), you’ll already know that “B” is for Balcony!

As you walk down St. George Street, or most any street in the historic downtown, the overhanging balconies automatically stick out, literally and metaphorically, as a recurring feature in our city’s architecture. These covered balconies over the street were a fairly common feature in the First Spanish Period (1565-1763), and balconies were added to many of the homes that didn’t have them during the British occupation of St. Augustine (1763-1783).

When the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board began their work of restoring and reconstructing homes, many of these balconies breathed new life. The balconies of St. Augustine have borne witness to all sorts of historical moments in the Ancient City, but none so much as the balconies of Government House and the Arrivas House.

A color photograph of Government House's eastern side featuring balconies draped in banners in Spain's colors.
A view of Government House decorated in the colors of Spain.

Government House sits at the top of the Plaza de la Constitución and provides us an overlook of the daily activities of tourists and locals. But the grandest view from the building is the east balcony, pictured above. In its earliest days, it was the residence for the Royal Governor of East Florida. A balcony located in the same spot gave him the opportunity to check in on his constituents and make addresses to crowds gathered below.

The building was reconstructed to reflect its Spanish Colonial appearance in 1937, and the east balcony returned. This balcony has gotten quite the royal treatment in its 83 years; During their tour of St. Augustine on April 1, 2001, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía of Spain made a public appearance on the east balcony, and in September 2015, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain also made an appearance to celebrate and commemorate St. Augustine’s 450th birthday! We’re hoping for another royal visit soon!

A black and white photograph of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson speaks from balcony to a crowd of people on St. George Street.
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson speaks from Arrivas House’s balcony in 1963.

Another seminal moment in St. Augustine’s history also involves a balcony; this time at the Arrivas House on St. George Street. It was the first restoration project completed by the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board and one of the Spanish colonial homes that had an overhanging balcony. The Arrivas House served all sorts of purposes, including a brief stint as a grocery store, and had fallen into great disrepair in the 19th and 20th centuries. The balcony, like the rest of the home, required extensive repair, but it was all worth it when its first guest was then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson! He visited our city in March 1963 to congratulate the Preservation Board on the work they were doing to celebrate the Spanish heritage of St. Augustine.

A black and white house photograph people on St. George Street looking at Arrivas House during its restoration. A horse drawn carriage can be seen driving nearby.
Arrivas House on St. George Street during its restoration in the early 1960s.

If only we could hear the stories the balconies of St. Augustine could tell us! Next time you’re taking a stroll in the city, look around and see if you notice any and the effect they have on the landscape of our beautiful city.

One thought on “A Birds’ Eye View of History: The Balconies of St. Augustine

  1. Pingback: Dating . . . Historic Buildings with Governor’s House Library – Governor's House Library

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