Sunday, August 04, 2019

St. Augustine architect Dixon remembered as great talent, loyal friend. (SAR)

St. Augustine architect Jerry Dixon has died. I already miss him.

Longtime member of the St. Augustine Planning and Zoning Board (PZB), Mr. Dixon was adept at asking applicants critical questions. He had no fondness for misguided prospective tree-killers who do not share the vision of our Tree City USA.

He took the time to ask questions, demand answers and expect democracy.

Result: Mr. Dixon saved countless trees in our Nation's Oldest City from the wrecking crews of devious developers.

PZB member Jerry Dixon would often suggest redrawing plans to save trees, with PZB member John Carl Blow working closely in lengthy open meetings, thinking creatively in tandem to produce synoptic engineering solutions to gnarly environmental and land use planning problems presented by growth in St. Augustine.

Countless trees survive.

You can see then result in building projects all over our town thanks to Mr. Dixon's energy and intellect.

Like any good diplomat, Mr. Dixon knew not to take "no" for an answer.

(As with former Mayor Nancy Shaver, sometimes you could hear on City TV the nonverbal response to one of his questions, as someone's knee(s) would hit the wooden cabinet doors beneath our City Commission podium, as they began to bob and weave in response to the inevitable unanswerable questions. Clunk!

Jerry did not suffer perceived fools gladly, and that sometimes applied to me, until we both grew to respect each other greatly. (He once told me after a code enforcement hearing on illegal demolition of 62A Spanish Street, "Get a life!")

Jerry mentored current PZB Vice Chair Karen Zander, whose dedication to correct code interpretation lives on in his honor. He and I agreed that Karen will make a great Mayor one day.

Jerry designed many structures in our town, including St. Augustine Beach City Hall and the Bayfront Hilton.

Bayfront Hilton's underground parking garage suervived two hurricanes, with a system that will help inform future preparedness for ocean level rise.

Nice news obituary in St. Augustine Record by Stuart Korfhage:

St. Augustine architect Dixon remembered as great talent, loyal friend

Jerry Dixon, fourth from left, takes part in a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for Culinary Outfitters. Dixon died Wednesday at 77. [Contributed]
Architect Jerry Dixon worked in and around St. Augustine for about 35 years. [Contributed]
Jerry Dixon
Jerry Dixon, fourth from left, takes part in a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for Culinary Outfitters. Dixon died Wednesday at 77. [Contributed]
Architect Jerry Dixon worked in and around St. Augustine for about 35 years. [Contributed]
Jerry Dixon
Jerry Dixon, fourth from left, takes part in a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for Culinary Outfitters. Dixon died Wednesday at 77. [Contributed]

By Stuart Korfhage
Posted Aug 3, 2019 at 3:34 PM
Updated Aug 3, 2019 at 5:58 PM

Anyone who wants to see Jerry Dixon’s legacy can simply look up as they travel through the St. Augustine bayfront. His influence is all over it.

The architect of the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront hotel and many other significant buildings in the city, Dixon was one of the most significant architects in this community of his generation.

He died Wednesday at the age of 77 while still at the height of creative abilities. He was at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the new restaurant for Culinary Outfitters, and he was scheduled to meet with hotelier Kanti Patel on Thursday.

Patel described Dixon as an architect who had a vision like none other. He was planning to have Dixon design the project at Cathedral Place, which Patel’s company purchased in 2018.

“He designed the skyline of our bayfront,” said Patel, who developed the Hilton on the site of the former Monson Motor Lodge. “He was amazing.”

Professionally, Dixon will probably always be best known for his work on the Hilton. And the effort went well beyond the drafting table. He had to go through dozens of approval stages with local government boards and with Hilton as well.

Patel said it was a project where he mostly ceded control to Dixon.

“I didn’t even tell him what I wanted,” Patel said. “I had no choice really. With the planning and zoning people, historical people, neighborhood people, I was the last person to say a word. But I’m happy.”

Dixon, who lived in St. Augustine for about 35 years after starting his career in Denver, was busy with many other projects in and around St. Augustine.

Among his other projects were the Council on Aging River House, St. Augustine Beach City Hall and Police Department headquarters and the renovation of the Marker 8 Hotel and Marina at the foot of the Bridge of Lions.

While there are many more projects he designed, that wasn’t his only contribution to the city. Dixon spend almost two decades on the Planning and Zoning Board and also served on other boards like the St. Augustine Port, Waterway and Beach District. He was an avid sailor, so that fit into his interests.

Local real estate agent and close friend of Dixon, Karen Zander said he was a huge influence on her — including her time as a PZB member herself.

“Jerry was able to look at projects that came before Planning and Zoning ... he was so talented as an architect that he could look at things in a way nobody else has been able to do,” she said. “He taught me how to be a Planning and Zoning member: how to look at applications, how to think about them, how to approach them.”

Zander said Dixon was known for being “rough around the edges” because he had a habit of being very direct. Yet there was definitely a softer side.

“He had a very big heart, and he was really loyal to people who were his friends,” Zander said.

Dixon had no shortage of contacts who were grateful for the time they had with him.

Among those is Nico Stearley. She was an intern for Dixon as a student at St. Augustine High School and eventually came back almost 20 years later to join his firm. She said that time with Dixon as an impressionable young woman shaped her career and left her in awe of his abilities.

“The wealth of knowledge that he had is a huge loss not just for this community but really for the preservation of St. Augustine and the history of St. Augustine,” Stearley said. “He was able to honor what we have here.

“A lot of people that are architects can’t come here and even begin to navigate what it takes to get something done in this city.”

One of Dixon’s best friends is local contractor and former mayor Len Weeks. As a builder, Weeks was certainly impressed with what Dixon could do as an architect.

Yet he’ll miss the camaraderie the most. Weeks and other friends regularly had breakfast with Dixon at Schmagel’s Bagels. He also joined Dixon for an uncountable number of other social occasions and took a lot of trips with Dixon.

“Other than my wife, he and I have taken more trips together than anybody,” Weeks said.

They worked together in the Sister Cities International chapter here, making several trips to Spain (to visit Aviles and Menorca) and Cuba (to visit Baracoa).

Weeks remembers Dixon being involved in the student exchange program as well, often taking groups out on the water to enhance their experience here.

Although he had no children of his own, Weeks said Dixon was always kind to youngsters. He was also a devoted dog lover and was usually seen with Doodles and Peaches wherever he went.

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