Instagram-Worthy Architecture in St. Augustine
St. Augustine is every architecture-lover’s dream (and every Instagrammer's).
In an age where most cities are dominated by high-rise apartments and skyscrapers, St. Augustine manages to remain the classic and picturesque coastal town that it’s been for centuries. This makes it ideal for a destination wedding, a photographer's portfolio, or a colorful and enviable Instagram gallery.
Although the city’s building code has restricted the extent of new projects, St. Augustine is still a haven for diverse exterior designs and unique innovations in building. In contrast to suppressing the city's growth, the city's codes preserve the periods of architecture that dot the region and make St. Augustine what it is today. With revolutionary engineering feats that mark architectural history like the imposing Castillo de San Marcos and Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College) St. Augustine can impress anyone with an appetite for fine structural design.
Whether you’re an expert in the field or you just want to impress your friends on vacation, we’ll walk you through some of St. Augustine, Florida’s finest architectural styles and some of the buildings that define them. This simple guide takes into account the descriptions used by the Architecture Guidelines for Historical Preservation used by the city, but it also incorporates the perspectives of individuals.
Before We Begin
An important thing to know is that architecture is more fluid than concrete—no pun intended. A building may represent one style, but be built in a different time period. It may be mostly characterized by one segment, with prominent elements belonging to another. The architecture types below aren't set in stone—okay, maybe pun intended—but this guide will give more insight in what to look for when checking out a building.
GIVEAWAY: simple, stony, flat roof, exposed beams
EXAMPLES: Avero House, Castillo de San Marcos
If it looks really simple and old, it probably is. Spanish Colonial is the roots of St. Augustine and represents the earliest attempts of settlers to make a stable home out the bayside town using the resources available. The problem is that the simplicity of the design made it susceptible to, well, total annihilation. Pirates, storms, time, fire—any of these would be responsible for the loss of St. Augustine’s original Spanish colonial houses.
Despite the conquest though, several renovated and restored examples of this style remain. One being the Avero House that now contains the St. Photios Greek Orthodox Shrine on St. George Street. The straight lines, flat coquina with lime mortar, the 4 partially exposed roof beams on the front, and the barred windows are characteristic of the Spanish Colonial style, and visitors may notice a few more houses in this style along St. George Street.
Check out the plaques on buildings for more information on their restorations.
Spanish Renaissance Revival
The Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine.
GIVEAWAY: smooth and light stucco walls, red terra cotta, clay tiles, iron décor, ornate trimmings.
As if Spanish Colonial style wasn’t awesome enough; Henry Flagler and all his fancy-shmancy architects had to come in and make it even more amazing in the late 1800s by bringing about the Gilded Age of Spanish Colonial Revival (also sometimes referred to as Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Renaissance Revival). This more extravagant version inspired by Spanish Colonial style can be seen all over St. Augustine and is the defining architecture of the city. If you see the red clay terra cotta, ornate trimmings, and even the really incredible murals like the ones covering the rotunda of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, you’re seeing Spanish Colonial Revival.
The Villa Zorayda.
GIVEAWAY: horseshoe arches, curved ogee arches, ornamented vaulting, courtyards
Moorish is a form of Arab Islamic architecture that became very popular in Spain, especially with the construction of the Alhambra. Not to be confused with “Moreish,” the British slang term meant to mean that something is addictively appetizing and you can’t help but want ‘more.’ However, just like the British slang term, Moorish architecture is very ‘moreish.’ Its geometric intricacies make it a mesmerizing style to sit and take in. The attention to detail is fascinating on Moorish buildings.
Architect Franklin W. Smith designed one example of Moorish architecture, the Villa Zorayda, to be his winter home. He was known for his reproductions of renowned buildings, and his take on the Alhambra was no different. From its interior tile work to the engraved Arabic lettering over the door identical to the lettering at the Alhambra that translates to “God is the only Victor." Moorish architecture can also be seen in the mosaic arches accenting Memorial Presbyterian and Grace United Methodist.
Detail on Wiley Hall at Flagler College.
GIVEAWAY: huge Greek or Roman style pillars, large balcony, wide entrances, geometric.
EXAMPLES: Markland House, Kirkside Apartments
When we picture beautiful Southern plantation style homes, we’re typically looking at Neoclassical influence. You can almost picture Southern belles in big hoop skirts walking around these wide porches fanning themselves. The Markland House is an example, being built in 1839. It belonged to Dr. Andrew Anderson, and today belongs to Flagler College. The architecture is so striking that it serves as a venue for special occasions like weddings and receptions.
Queen Anne Style
Side Tower of The Social Lounge on Cuna Street.
GIVEAWAY: corner towers, protruding oriel windows, asymmetrical facade
EXAMPLES: Xavier Lopez House, The Social Lounge
Queen Anne style homes were popular towards the end of the Victorian period well into the 1920s in America. They’re the kind of homes we see in movies like Hello Dolly and the Music Man. The style became very popular in Australia and America, with its unique towers, asymmetrical appearance. The style is described as being a softer, warmer version of Victorian architecture which tends to be more baroque and dominant. The Xavier Lopez House in St. Augustine has an iconic tower, as does the Social Lounge.
Second Renaissance Revival Style
Dome of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Florida.
GIVEAWAY: looks like it belongs in Europe, big and imposing, highly ornate, Baroque and flowery
EXAMPLE: Memorial Presbyterian Church
Only one building in town really represents this style, but it’s a style worth mentioning because the church that defines it is considered one of the most beautiful in the United States. Memorial Presbyterian was built by Henry Flagler as a monument to his daughter and grandchild who both died during childbirth. Its exterior is one of the most European-like visuals around St. Augustine--a key characteristic of anything that is Renaissance revival.
The building is inspired by St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, and was built by Carrere and Hastings, the masterminds behind the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Check out the magnificent copper dome and wood carved walls and doors.
Timucua hut at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.
GIVEAWAY: local tradition, available resources, functional,
Vernacular architecture is more about function than design. Similar to Spanish colonial, it represents buildings created with what was available including local vegetation like palms and timber, and stone like coquina. Around the world, vernacular is often used to describe the architecture of native inhabitants, but it can also be used to describe the buildings of settlers and colonists.
One of the best showcases of Vernacular would come from the buildings constructed by the Timucua, a Native American tribe who first occupied the region. Centuries of knowledge regarding the local geography, climate patterns, and horticulture gave them a unique insight when it came to building in a way that was sustainable and strong. A replica of a Timucua village can be viewed at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. You can also see this technique of weaving in the thatched roofs of the Conch House Marina Resort outdoor decks. Another vernacular practice was using coquina, a naturally found cement made from shells. Coquina is a building material used for Fort Matanzas, the Castillo, and other dwellings in St. Augustine.
Note: While some of these works of architecture are accessible to the public, some are private buildings that can only be appreciated from the outside. Thanks and enjoy!
This article was written in October 2017 and has been updated with current information in November 2019.