TWO FAMOUS NARROW STREETS WHISPER THEIR SECRETS
Two Famous Narrow Streets Whisper Their Secrets
From brick-paved Aviles Street to Hypolita Street, two of St. Augustine’s most scenic historic ‘thoroughfares’ dating back to the 1500’s, the past 440+ years have brought the mystery and history of both avenues together. The people and their stories have all but disappeared but many of the architectural legacies have remained – intertwined together by diaries and historical documents of the families that settled America’s Ancient City. Like a string of pearls that follow the link to the next in line, one can almost visualize how Aviles Street could have connected to Hypolita during the Spanish or British occupation.
Today there is an air of Spanish and British Colonial mystery dotted throughout both of these fascinating narrow ‘lanes’. Although vehicles do traverse both of them, only one car, trolley or horse & carriage passes at a time. Here one can cross the threshold to a sanctuary of times past.
A defining central landmark in St. Augustine is The Plaza de Constitucion. Used throughout the centuries as a ‘mercado’ adjacent to the Government House (circa 1598 residence built by Governor Gonzalo Mendez de Canzo), the laying out of the town conformed to a royal decree which stipulated that all Spanish towns must have a central plaza. AVILES Street is directly south of the Plaza….
On Aviles, there is only one bed & breakfast inn – the stunning Casa de Solana. The Inn is one of the oldest residences (circa 1821) with nearly a block of tranquil gardens surrounding it. Aviles Street was known as ‘Hospital Street’ during the British occupation and the inn was built by Don Manuel Solana, a native to St. Augustine born in 1740. The original part of the house (constructed between 1803-1821) is recorded in the Historical House of America listing in the Library of Congress.
CASA DE SOLANA
The Don Manuel Lorenzo Solana House is a fine example of Spanish Colonial architecture…with an ‘English twist’. High ceilings and doors that open onto the street are elements of English style; the beamed ceilings, balconies and doors that open into the often photographed courtyard are Spanish in style. From the Minorcan Suite to the Segui Room, each of the 10 accommodations have been lovingly restored and majestically appointed – uniquely spacious and authentically connected to the city’s Minorcan heritage. It’s a distinctive landmark that prides itself on relaxed elegance, gourmet breakfast and very personalized pampering by owners Jeffrey Sonia and Luis Castro.
Jeffrey Sonia (L) and Luis Castro
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Continuing north of the Plaza two blocks, narrow Hypolita Street took its place in history during the founding of St. Augustine in the early 1600’s. Historically and culturally significant Casa del Hildalgo was constructed by the Spanish Government to celebrate the city’s 400th anniversary – and is distinguished by the flag of the Kingdom of Spain – built at the crossroads of St. Augustine’s restoration district.
CASA DEL HILDALGO
Nestled inside the Casa del Hildalgo is St. Augustine’s newest art gallery created by noted international architect Conrad vanWyk. The vanWyk Gallery reflects an exhilarating point of view with large monochromatic black and white acrylic paintings adorning the walls…a handsome uncluttered studio where visitors can find Conrad painting daily…his jaunty beret and dashing accent a great addition to the burgeoning art community of ‘America’s Oldest City’.
Born and raised in Namibia, van Wyk was one of England’s premiere architects specializing in global airport design – from Malaysia and Greece to Ireland and the U.K. His mentor, Sir Hugh Maxwell Casson, was one of the most influential 20th century British artists/architects who ignited vanWyk’s artistic imagination in the early London years. A ‘leading light in the fine arts’, and a close friend of the British royal family that taught Charles, Prince of Wales to paint in watercolors, he taught van Wyk how to draw.
“I was keen on art and loved to draw. My absolute passion has always been painting, so when I retired, I moved to Venice just to draw” admits van Wyk with a smile. “The freedom of being an artist kept me in Venice for nearly seven years until I decided to do my art in America”.
The art form of the van Wyk Gallery is not typical Florida art of seascapes or landscapes. Each canvas reflects life as it is, things that exist day to day. Simple things like men working, a woman gazing into a window, an ordinary day of drinking coffee in a café…van Wyk is a realist who never knows what a painting will look like until it’s done. Now his inspiration comes from the ‘street scenes’ of St. Augustine – a city with which he instantly connected.
van Wyk’s spirit of adventure is evident in the distinctive artistic perspective he brings to St. Augustine’s thriving art scene. From artists who gathered on the beach of Ft. Matanzas in 1888, setting up studios behind the lavishly glamorous Hotel Ponce de Leon, planting their easels inside a brick courtyard to simply sitting motionless on a stone wall sketching a coquina cottage, the van Wyk Gallery brings old world technique and contemporary style together for a new and exciting point of view.
Today the essential theme of St. Augustine is experiencing the history and legends – woven together by an exploration of the celebrated historic district. It’s chronicled through memoirs and photographs where the people are as colorful as the flags that have flown from the steeples for more than 443 years. From horse-drawn carriages to historical markers dotting the town – it’s postmodern pastiche sprinkled with a dash of extraordinary dining, moonlight shining on the schooners and clippers, dazzling galleries and historians telling stories under swaying palm trees. It will captivate you forever!
Visit: www.CasadeSolana.com and find the vanWyk Gallery at 904-315-7797
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