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Memorial Presbyterian Church

St. Augustine, FL

2014 Q4

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This issue’s limited edition print of a sketch by Ladd P. Ehlinger, AIA is of the Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Florida. This church was built by Henry Morrison Flagler in 1889 in dedication to the memory of his daughter Jennie Louise Benedict who had died in childbirth that year. Flagler was John D. Rockefeller’s partner in Standard Oil, and had branched out on his own as a developer of St. Augustine as a resort town for his rich east coast friends. He originally came to St. Augustine in search of a better climate for his terminally ill wife and was so impressed that he decided to stay and make a go of it after she died. Not only did he build several hotels and other resort type businesses in St. Augustine, he built and operated the railroad that would bring you there. Flagler was one of the original “Robber Barons” of the U.S. in the late 19th century.

Flagler retained the New York architectural firm, Carrère & Hastings to design the Memorial Presbyterian Church. These were the same architects that he had also retained to design two hotels, several other churches, and numerous homes and businesses in St. Augustine.

The church is an interesting design that was both eclectic and pioneering. The style is Byzantine and is reputed to have been inspired by St. Mark’s in Venice, Italy, but the structure, materials and detailing were as contemporary as one could get at that time. The basic structure was bearing reinforced concrete walls composed of Portland cement mixed with crushed coquina stone as aggregate, with structural steel spanning members. The dome was roofed in copper. Doors and other appointments were of Santo Domino mahogany. Decoration was in applied Terra Cotta ornament that was ubiquitous at that time, especially in New York and Chicago, but this Terra Cotta was fashioned by Italian artists. No expense was spared.

On the church property is also a mausoleum where Flagler, his first wife, his daughter and granddaughter are all buried. Like all of Flagler’s projects, this one is aesthetically consistent and complete, and is a tribute both to Flagler and his architects.

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