Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Capt. Lee Geanuleas Urges HARB to Save 1880 Victorian Home at 32 Granada Street

HARB Members, I respectfully ask that you designate the house at 32 Granada Street a "local historic landmark." I apologize in advance for this long and detailed email, but since I will be unable to speak at your September 15th meeting, I wanted to ensure you had the information below.
The case for the designation is based on meeting both "B" and "C" of the criteria below.
Criteria for Evaluation
The quality of significance in local history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:
A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
B. That are associated with the lives of significant persons in our past; or
C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
D. That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory. The case for meeting criterion "B" is as follows:
Antonio M. Vedovelli
32 Granada ST was the home of the painter Antonio M. Vedovelli, an Italian immigrant who settled in St Augustine, started painting late in life and became of part of the "Lost Colony" artists group documented in the book, Lost Colony, The Artists of St Augustine 1930-1950 by Robert Torchia (St Augustine, The Lightner Museum, 2001).
Disproving the claim by some that Vedovelli's work was "not significant," are the following facts:
• In January 1945 twenty-one of his paintings were exhibited at the prestigious Perls Gallery in New York City. The importance of the Perls Gallery to the New York art scene is demonstrated by the large obituary of the owner, Klaus Perls, The New York Times published in its Arts & Design section on June 5, 2008.
• Vedovelli was given a one page feature in the January 8, 1945 issue of Newsweek that included pictures of two of his paintings (article attached).
• Art Digest commented that Vedovelli "has done for the streets of this ancient city what Utrillo did for Paris." ("Florida Primitive," Art Digest, January 1, 1945, p.11)
• Vedovelli exhibited at the 1947 Corcoran Gallery of Art Biennial in Washington, D.C. (Gary Libby, Reflections-Paintings of Florida 1835-2000)
Vedovelli exhibited at the the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts ( aspx)
• Norman MacLeish, an artist, founder of the St Augustine Art Center, Director of the WPA art program in Chicago during the 1930's, and brother of the poet Archibald MacLeish, praised Vedovelli's "The Cathedral" as an "exciting combination of architectural form rich in decorative quality, with a spiritual content which carries one right up to the Pearly Gates." ("Current Exhibit of Local Arts Club Is Reviewed," St Augustine Record, April 11, 1945)
• In August of 2015 The Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art in Daytona listed three Vedovelli paintings as "on display:"
o “Houses and Architecture of St. Augustine” o “Lighthouse”
o “PoncedeLeonHotel”
• Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art Chief Curator, Cynthia Duval, said this about Vedovelli's Ponce de Leon Hotel painting, "With its flat simplistic forms and singing color perhaps represents the Florida dream of late 19th Century better than any other painting of St Augustine in the exhibition." ("The Florida Dream: The Ponce de Leon Hotel 1880-1967," Arts and Sciences, Fall 2009, p.25)

(Vedovelli: Ponce de Leon Hotel)

From the above it is clear that Antonio M. Vedovelli is among the most the most acclaimed artists produced by the City of St Augustine. While some may criticize his primitive style or minimize his humble life, none can refute the significance of the evidence provided above. A true American and St Augustine original, Vedovelli was an immigrant laborer who expressed himself through painting. Much like another American original, Grandma Moses, Vedovelli turned to painting very late in life and achieved national prominence.

(Vedovelli: Lighthouse)
Louise "Rose" Melville
In 1905 the house at 32 Granada Street was purchased by Mrs. Frank Melville, a retired circus high-wire performer and bareback rider who was the wife of the internationally known bareback rider, ringmaster of Barnum & Bailey Circus and equestrian director of the New York Hippodrome, Frank Melville. Frank
Melville was a member of the renowned Melville family of circus riders and when he unexpectedly died in 1908 his obituary appeared on the front page of the New York Times (New York Times, Nov 24, 1908, pg. 1). For context and a better appreciation for the extent of Melville's fame, when Henry Flagler died in 1913, his obituary appeared on page 11 of the Times. Mrs. Melville owned the house until her death in 1934.
Perhaps it is entirely appropriate that a house with such whimsical charm and architectural grace, even today despite years of neglect, was connected to a famous family of performers who delighted people all over the world with their feats of skill, grace and daring.
Thirty-two Granada Street was the home of an artist who, although in recent times obscure, was once acclaimed nationally. It was also the home of a well know circus performer who was married for thirty years to a world famous equestrian who's obituary was page one news in the nation's paper of record. When determining if a person is "significant to our past," you must answer these questions:
• How many St Augustinians have been featured in a national news weekly?
• How many St Augustine artists have been exhibited at the Corcoran and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts?
• How many St Augustine artists have had their work featured in a show at a prestigious New York City art gallery?
• If an artist accomplishes all of the above, is she/he "significant" in our history?
How many St Augustinians have had their obituary on page one of the New York Times?
• How important are the visual and performing arts to the history and culture of St Augustine?
• How important are the contributions of immigrants to the history and culture of St Augustine?
• Who gets to determine "significance," lawyers for a developer or members of the community with a knowledge history, the arts, and architecture?
Honest answers to these questions make it clear that certainly Mr. Antonio M. Vedovelli and (most likely) Mrs. Frank Melville were significant to St Augustine's past.
The case for meeting criterion "C" is as follows:
• Based on the 1899 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, the structure appears to have retained its original form and likely contains many original materials and finishes. Portions of the existing cedar shingle siding may be the original siding documented on the 1899 map. Through perhaps a combination of chance, good fortune and benign neglect, 32 Granada St has, amazingly, retained its original appearance. This, alone, makes it worth saving.
• Because of the above, it is likely that 32 Granada ST is one of the most authentic structures in the City of St Augustine. If we value "authenticity" as we say in our city's Vision Document, then it follows that we must save that which is authentic.

Front door at 32 Granada Street
While some may point to the area surrounding 32 Granada as evidence that it does not possess "integrity of location" or "setting," it is an inaccurate argument for the following reasons:
  •   The current applicant demolished the old taxi building on the corner lot immediately to the north of 32 Granada to create a parking lot. Other than the creation of Mr. Arbizzani's parking lot, the setting around 32 Granada is the same as it has been for over one hundred years.
  •   The building to the south is part of the "Alcazar Cottage" that has been there for over 100 years.
  •   The Corazon Cinema & Cafe is the old garage and bicycle repair shop shown on the 1910
    Sanborn Map
  •   The house on Cedar ST immediately behind 32 Granada still stands as it did in 1910.
  •   The Alcazar Hotel directly across Granada ST still stands.
    The only thing not original in the "setting" around 32 Granada is the parking lot created by Mr. Arbizzani. And while he should not be retroactively criticized for this legally permitted action, neither should he be rewarded by using the "setting" he created with a wrecking ball as the justification for demolishing a lovely old Victorian survivor that still stands where it was built.
    A fair reading of the facts shows that you are most justified in designating 32 Granada as a local historic landmark. St Augustine's roots are humble and very blue collar and this elegant Victorian survivor perfectly represents the true history of our city. Serving as the home of a famous circus rider who gave so much joy to crowds around the world and an artist who led a humble life but experienced an unlikely rise to national acclaim, 32 Granada Street is authentic and uniquely St Augustine. While Mrs. Melville and Mr. Vedovelli have passed, their lovely home should be preserved as a landmark to highlight the importance of the performing and visual arts in St Augustine.
    Again, I apologize for the lengthy email, but knowing I would be out of town on Sept 15th, wanted to ensure you the relevant facts on this issue. Thank you for your consideration and your volunteer service to our city.
    Lee Geanuleas 

1 comment:

Warren Celli said...

While I do not normally subscribe to appeals to a hijacked government for fear of validating and legitimizing their usurped authority this is a great effort here by Lee Geanuleas that needs to be applauded!

Compliments to Lee on a job well done!