St. Augustine’s Visitor Information Center – at 10 West Castillo Drive – greets thousands of tourists every year. As they enter the one-story structure’s arcaded porch, the visitors step back in time – not into the 1500s, but rather the 1930s. Originally known as the Civic Center, the building began welcoming guests to St. Augustine – just as it does today – from its start in 1935. Join us as we construct the story behind this iconic piece of St. Augustine architecture.
The Center sits just north of the colonial city in a land division known as the San Marco Tract. For centuries the land served as part of the city’s defensive line as well as land grants until General Isaac Crofts acquired the property in 1882. He constructed a five-story San Marco Hotel for the city’s booming tourist industry. Unfortunately, the hotel burned in 1897. It then became a part of the St. Augustine Golf Club’s course before finally being conveyed to the City of St. Augustine in 1928 by philanthropist Elizabeth Ketterlinus.
In 1931, the St. Augustine Junior Chamber of Commerce conceived of the idea for a civic center. They hired architect Frederick Henderich to draft plans for such a building and began applying for funding from federal programs made available through the New Deal. Finally in October 1933, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) approved their request. With additional help from the City of St. Augustine and St. Johns County, the project came to completion in March 1935 – costing a total of $68,000 at the time. The building featured a large main hall with a stage for hosting entertainment and meetings. The grounds included shuffle board, tennis, and croquet courts – as well as an area for baseball and football.
Over 1,000 residents from across the county attended the dedication on March 14, 1935. In an elaborate ceremony, Julius Stone, Jr., Florida’s FERA administrator, presented the building to the city. Among those recognized at the event for their support for this project was Walter B. Fraser, a founder of St. Augustine’s historic preservation movement. Fraser played a key role in helping procure the coquina for the Center, in order to reflect the city’s construction heritage.
In 2005, this property joined the National Register of Historic Places for its exemplary Mission Revival architecture. This style became popular in the United States from the 1890s until 1920s, predominately in the Southwest and Florida. Today, you can still see a number of other examples around St. Augustine – many of which Henderich designed himself.
The St. Augustine Visitor Information Center is open every day from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. For more information, visit www.citystaug.com.