A Year In Review

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on Florida’s journey in historic preservation throughout 2023. From monumental wins to poignant losses, 2023 has been a pivotal chapter in the ongoing saga of protecting the Sunshine State’s rich history and heritage.

The Wins: Celebrating Milestones

History Saved

The historic Hacienda Hotel in New Port Richey, built in 1927. Photo: The Hacienda

Florida shone brightly this year with numerous legacies preserved and rescued from demolition. Among these rescued treasures were:

  • a historic home in the Hillcrest Neighborhood of West Palm Beach that was moved to the city’s historic district
  • Jacksonville’s Old Arlington Federal Savings & Loan building, which was designated as a historic landmark
  • the historic Hacienda Hotel in New Port Richey, which was preserved and restored; Melbourne’s Green Gables estate (twice listed in Florida’s 11 to Save), which now belongs to the Green Gables at Historic Riverview Village Inc.
  • Jacksonville’s Eastside neighborhood, which was finally listed on the National Register
  • Preservation in our state was also recognized on a national level, with Miami’s Little Santo Domingo, nestled in the cultural heart of Allapattah, being recognized on the National Trust for Historic Preservation America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2023 list. In their recognition and preservation, these sites stand as testaments to our history, ensuring their stories endure for generations well into the future.
Green Gables, twice listed in Florida’s 11 to Save. Photo: Green Gables at Historic Riverview Village Inc.

Legislative Progress

Legislative strides were made to bolster preservation efforts, included fully funding the Special Category grants for fiscal year 2024 and the signing of the Abandoned and Historic Cemeteries bill into law.

The Florida Division of Historical Resources Historic Preservation Grant program is one of the most significant ways the state helps fund the preservation of our irreplaceable historic places. Grants strengthen communities and supports local economies.

The Florida Historical Commission reviews and ranks Special Category grants to create the annual list, which is then approved by the Florida Secretary of State before being sent to the legislature to determine funding. This year’s grant list, which included 33 projects with a price tag of nearly $8.5 million, was fully funded.

Representatives from the Florida Trust and Miami Design Preservation League visit Sen. Rodriguez during Advocacy Day 2023.

The Abandoned and Historic Cemeteries bill creates guidelines for state agencies, local governments and developers to identify, locate and maintain abandoned and historic cemeteries, with emphasis towards African American cemeteries throughout our state. The enactment of this bill signifies a pivotal step forward in honoring our history and ensuring the respectful upkeep of these sacred sites for generations to come.

The legislation was one of the recommendations from the African American Cemetery Taskforce, and one of the Florida Trust’s four strategic advocacy initiatives this legislative session.

Grants and Funding Successes

Zion Missionary Baptist Church in St. Augustine. Photo: St. Johns Cultural Council

Amidst challenges, securing grants and funding emerged as a significant win. The allocation of substantial grants to key preservation projects underscored a growing recognition of the value of historical conservation.

These include the oldest African American church in St. Augustine, the Zion Missionary Baptist Church, receiving funding from the Florida African-American Cultural Grant Program for repairs and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s grant funding for historic sites representing African American history, including St. Johns County’s African American Heritage Trail.

The Florida Trust’s 11 to Save Grant Fund, which provides funding for 11 to Save sites, entered its second year, awarding $5,000 to Mt. Olive AME Church of Jacksonville for emergency roof repairs.

Preservationists have generously bolstered the fund through Giving Tuesday and year-end donations, ensuring tangible support for additional historic sites next year.

These victories mark a significant step in preserving Florida’s historical landmarks. 

Mt. Olive AME Church in Jacksonville, one of the 2023 Florida’s 11 to Save.

The Losses: Lessons Learned

Demolition Debacles

Regrettably, Florida witnessed the demolition of numerous historic buildings and sites despite concerted efforts to save them. Some of these losses include: two century-old buildings in downtown Tampa, razed to make way for a 42-story condominium tower; Dade County’s 1957 Deauville Hotel, which hosted esteemed guests such as President John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and The Beatles, demolished to pave the way for residential condos; LaVilla’s 109-year-old Capt. Sandy

Al Capone’s mansion in Miami Beach, now demolished. Photo: Alan Diaz/AP
Demolition of downtown Tampa’s former Tarr Furniture building. Photo: Chip Weiner via Tampa Bay Times

Yawn’s building, demolished to create space for a new restaurant;

and Miami Beach’s 1922 home of Al Capone, demolished to create two luxury development lots. These losses serve as a poignant reminder of the challenges faced in preserving historical landmarks amid development pressures and reinforce the imperative of early intervention and advocacy.

Funding Shortfalls

Funding constraints presented significant hurdles, leading to delays and cancellations of preservation projects. Insufficient funding has also impacted critical restoration efforts, leaving sites vulnerable to deterioration. Such was the case with the Punta Gorda City Council’s decision not to allocate funds for emergency repairs at the historic Freeman House. It is crucial to address these financial gaps to sustain the momentum of preservation endeavors moving forward.

Looking Forward

A flower blooms in Pensacola’s AME Zion Cemetery.

Amid the victories and setbacks, the path forward beckons with promise and purpose. Florida’s historic preservation movement stands at a crossroads where collective action is pivotal. Embracing a proactive approach that integrates community involvement, education, stewardship and robust advocacy will be instrumental in safeguarding our heritage.

The year 2023 has been a mosaic of triumphs and challenges for Florida’s historic preservation. Each win celebrated and every loss mourned has contributed to an evolving narrative—one that underscores the significance of our past in shaping the future. As we bid adieu to this year, let us carry forward the lessons learned, united in our commitment to safeguard the timeless treasures that define Florida’s rich heritage.

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