On April 30th, the National Park Service awarded $750,000 to the St. Johns Cultural Council for continuing the non-profit’s efforts in rehabilitating the Cultural Arts Center at the St. Augustine Beach Hotel. The government grant funding overall totals $23.4 million for 39 projects in 16 states and the District of Columbia as part of the Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grant program which focuses on the preservation of sites and stories directly associated with the struggle of African Americans to gain equal rights.

“Since 2016, the National Park Service has provided over $126 million through this program to document, preserve, and recognize the places and stories associated with the struggle for civil rights of African Americans,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams.

According to the National Park Service award statement, “This beachfront property is the only remaining structure at the site of the civil rights era wade-ins organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and local activists in 1964. A series of demonstrations that occurred on the site were widely covered by national media and contributed to the passage of the national Civil Rights Act immediately thereafter.”

According to Christina Parrish Stone, St. Johns Cultural Council’s Executive Director, the local non-profit and its partners have worked for more than 20 years to restore and preserve the historic St. Augustine Beach Hotel, which is recognized by the U.S. National Park Service for the property’s national civil rights significance and local historical and architectural importance. The hotel project is the only beneficiary of the recent grant funding in Florida.

“We are proud to have saved the structure from demolition and raised more than two million dollars in grants and private donations to restore and stabilize the building,” said Parrish Stone. “The Council is working closely with the City of St. Augustine Beach to continue the project and complete the second floor with additional plans for classroom space and artist studios,” she said.

Parrish Stone also credits Brenda Swann, the Cultural Council’s Director of Grants and Operations, for her efforts in securing this and a previous $500,000 grant to support the restoration of the historic hotel property.

“What an honor for the City of St. Augustine Beach to work with St. Johns Cultural Council. We greatly appreciate the organization’s tireless achievements in obtaining grants to refurbish the historic hotel and former City Hall building,” said Dylan Rumrell, Mayor of the City of St Augustine Beach. “We are so very fortunate to have great leadership at the Cultural Council as the team advocates for much-needed renovations of this significant building,” he said.

The St. Augustine Beach Hotel and Beachfront in the City of St. Augustine Beach is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for importance nationwide as part of the civil rights movement known as the St. Augustine Campaign. The building is located at 370 State Road A1A.

The historical and architectural significance of the building includes its design by prominent local architect Francis A. Hollingsworth as a wood building with coquina block veneer, and additional period materials to support commercial use. The Hotel, which opened on Labor Day in 1940, is the only building remaining from a “St. Augustine Auxiliary Pier Project” by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression. The Anastasia Island coquina quarry was reopened for the construction of WPA buildings, specifically twin beach hotels.

“Historic sites and historic preservation are critically important to our community and cultural tourism in St. Johns County. Raising awareness of these sites through recognition such as this and increasing access to funding for historic preservation are key components of our efforts to support, promote, and enhance the arts, culture, and heritage of the area,” said Parrish Stone.

“St. Johns Cultural Council and its supporters are thrilled to be recognized for our efforts to preserve a property that has been an important part of the work to sustain our vibrant cultural community. We are particularly energized by the recent government funding which further positions St. Augustine as the leader among top contenders for the Florida Museum of Black History,” she said.

For more information, visit the National Park Service website for a full list of recent recipients.