Sunday, August 17, 2014

Echo House brings preservation questions to surface

Echo House brings preservation questions to surface
Posted: August 16, 2014 - 11:37pm

Echo House sits at the heart of Lincolnville and has become the center of a community struggle.

The now dilapidated, boarded-up building on the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and DeHaven Street used to house a nursing home and community center, but it has been an eyesore for decades, left to decay with its roof tiles removed.

Members of St. Paul AME Church across the street want to have the building demolished because they need parking, the Rev. Ron Rawls said. Others don’t want the piece of community history to go under.

The debate over the future of Echo House has centered on whether the building’s poor condition and the church’s need outweigh the preservation value of a piece of Lincolnville’s history, which no one seems to be in a position to renovate.

And it’s not an easy answer.

“It’s clearly in horrible condition,” said Sue Agresta, a Lincolnville resident and Lift Up Linolnville president. “ ... It hasn’t been used in half of its existence.”

But the building also is part of black history, and was a gift of Dr. Andrew Anderson, one of Henry Flagler’s friends, said historian David Nolan. It also belonged to Rosalie Gordon-Mills, the first black woman to seek public office in St. Augustine. Her desire was for it to be fixed, he said.

A building’s preservation value has many facets, and one is about heart.

“If it embodies part of the soul of the community, which that does,” Nolan said.

Members of the Historical Architectural Review Board face making the final decision.

The issue has been tabled a few times, and the next time the certificate of demolition is up for vote is on Thursday. HARB can continue the decision again, but Rawls could demand a yes-or-no answer.

Several people who live in the community provided their take on the building. A few said Echo House is an eyesore now, but they would like to see it fixed up.

Nykol Smith, co-owner of a food store and boutique at the Corner Market in Lincolnville, said if she had to choose between the building and the church, she’d pick the church. She would like some of the building saved if feasible.

Al Greco, who also lives in Lincolnville, said he would like to see it fixed up because it fits in with the neighborhood.

“Now, it’s kind of an eyesore,” he said.

But for Rawls and his church, about $1 million is too much to pay to revive the structure. That’s about the estimate given by a contractor who assessed the building.

When St. Paul AME got control of the property, they planned to renovate the building and use it for the St. Paul School of Excellence, which operates on the church property.

That proved to be too costly, and a change in the church’s parking situation prompted Rawls’ decision to seek a full demolition instead of a partial demolition. Members of the congregation aren’t able to park across the street as much as they used to, and other opportunities for parking have not surfaced.

After concerns were raised, Rawls offered a compromise that would keep one section of the building. The property will have a playground either way, he said. He is still willing to make the compromise.

Rawls said preserving the building was not his primary goals. His eyes were on the school.

But the decision is not in his hands.

What makes integrity

One part of the process is a report by Jenny Wolfe, St. Augustine’s historic preservation and special projects planner. She reports to HARB on her findings.

Wolfe, who was still preparing her latest report on the issue, said Echo House is one of the only Mediterranean Revival-style buildings remaining in the area.

The building’s history also makes it valuable. It’s associated with Dr. Anderson, who donated money for the purpose of having it built.

The building also operated at one time for segregated African-American services, which tells of social history.

The criteria when evaluating a building’s value are established by the National Park Service, Wolfe said. The “Seven Aspects of Integrity” are materials, workmanship, location, setting, association to historical events or people, design and feeling (the sense of place that a building contributes).

“I think that all of those aspects … are in place with this building. I think it still is able to effectively express all of those items,” she said.

Beyond that, the foundation and walls are intact, and the cost of renovation is not out of the ordinary. Grant programs could help pay for it, but a match would still be needed, she said.

Historic buildings in Lincolnville need to be preserved, and Echo House is one of them, Nolan said.

Trinity United Methodist Church on Bridge Street is another example of a historic building that is in need of repair.

“We really need to focus on these Lincolnville buildings before they’re lost,” Nolan said.

But Judith Seraphin, a Lincolnville resident and St. Paul AME Church member, has watched the building sit and decay for years. She said that preservationists and community members who want to cry for its repair should have done something before it was on the verge of ruin.

“Where have you been?” she said.

If the church is not allowed to move forward with its plans, Echo House will probably continue to decay, she said.

“That kind of derelict building holds the whole neighborhood down,” she said.

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Clara Waldhari 08/17/14 - 08:28 am 00We Have Been HERE,
Ms. Seraphin, watching your pastor contribute to the demise of that building because it doesn't fit into his plans. It is "inconvenient" for him, so he wants it down -- to Hell with history!

The building was deeded to your church to be used exclusively for the public good, NOT as parking to enable him to overcome a bad situation of his own making. He alienated those who could have helped him with parking, even to the extent of calling Mr. Otis Mason "malicious" during an open meeting of HARB!

Where there is right, there is might. You and your Pastor Rawls should look at the situation objectively: There is tremendous push-back on your desire to demolish Echo House, Right is NOT on your side.

Buildings in the same repair -- or worse -- as Echo House are pulled back from the brink every single day in this nation. It is done so by creative, hard-working people who wish to save and then maintain actual pieces of our history.

Echo House is one such structure: It needs saving. And we will do our best to save it from the wrecking ball and your pastor.

Floyd Boatwright 08/17/14 - 09:24 am 00Save the History of St. Augustine
Save the history and buildings of the "Oldest City".

We are all about Tourism and preserving History to keep our economy going.

Echo House sits at the heart of Lincolnville.

Save "Echo House".

1 comment:

Clara Waldhari said...

On Sue Agresta's guest column of 8-16-2014:

Sue, Stick to PZB

and leave HARB for others.

You are DEAD WRONG on every point.

As much as I have admired you and your work in the past, you have erred BIG TIME on this one.


Sorry to shout, but if there were a roof remaining on Echo House, I'd shout it from there! Rev. Rawls made sure the tiles were removed and WITHOUT ANY APPROVAL BY THE CITY.

The church needs a solution, not a demolition.

Find that solution another way. No one, not ONE, has fully explored the possibilities for PARKING.

This is St. Augustine. Echo House occupies the CENTER of LINCOLNVILLE. The building MATTERS. It is an anchor.

Pulling out the Race Card is an absurdity. It's beneath you.

Rev. Rawls has you brain-washed. HE is the one threatening to take his congregation elsewhere if he does not get HIS WAY. That's extortion. He isn't guaranteed a permanent position at St. Paul's. Hubris abounds in that man. It is time he was removed to another location.

I question the appropriateness of you writing your column as chair of PZB. I think you are out of order to represent another City volunteer board in this way. You should do so as a private citizen. You are not speaking for PZB. ARE YOU???

Please reconsider your position. And while you are at it, please re-open the Farmer's Market. I believe you and Judith Seraphin closed it on a whim. How is THAT helping the neighborhood?