City of Five Flags

Founded by the Spanish in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida was later captured by the British, only to be returned to Spain in 1784. Then in the 1800’s the rebel “Stars and Bars” flew over the city for a brief period during the American Civil War. Since then, the U.S. Union flag has dominated the rooftops.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

“Jump on – jump off” privileges make this tourist train the preferred mode of transport, in a town with virtually no parking!

Those bright colors just jump out of the frame, in the flat lighting of a rainy day. We were pleased to be able to include the “five flags” in the background, to make this image a “destination-specific” photograph, while working to exclude as much “bald sky” as possible.

Allison and I are enjoying our discovery voyage of St. Augustine, America’s oldest city. Our ‘Spanish galleon’ is a red and blue tour train, in the shape of a locomotive, that pulls cars full of Yankee tourists through the ancient alleys of the Old Town. The driver provides interesting historic insights and local gossip, while inviting us to “jump off” and “jump back on the train”, whenever we please. In fact, our tickets allow “jump on” privileges for the next three days, and there are more than twenty stops where we can pick it up.

Our “tour train” winds by a live oak tree that seems to take up an entire city block. When Ponce de León waded ashore here in 1513, on his quest for the fountain of youth, this tree (known as“the Senator”), was already vigourous. Perhaps these massive branches shaded intrepid Spanish explorers, as they snoozed away the mid-day heat.

Our train winds past the Mission of Nombre de Dios, then “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”. We are then deposited at the old city gate of the restored Spanish Quarter, where the last remnants of the town walls may still be seen. The Spanish Quarter is strictly walking country, with dozens of interesting ships, galleries, nooks and crannies to explore.

After lunch, with renewed vigour, we launch ourselves on to Saint George Street, the Quarter’s main thoroughfare. On weekends, this street is jammed with visitors and ‘walking attractions’. Frank Suddeth, who runs “Ancient City Tours”, is dressed as a militiaman of the eighteenth century.

A small crowd has gathered to listen as he describes the heavy musket he carries. Around the corner, a couple in peasant costume work their way through a large repertoire of medieval songs. Several artists, oblivious of the people around them, are sketching street scenes. A talented busker is swallowing fire, juggling, and turning circles on a unicycle.

We stop for photographs at Hippoleta Street, where the fountain of the Columbia Restaurant bubbles in an attractive garden of pink petunias. The interior of this establishment looks as interesting as the outside, and we make reservations at the “gem of Spanish restaurants” for a late supper. There are advertisements for a narrated candlelight tour of the Spanish Quarter, that is held each Friday and Saturday night, starting at 7 p.m. from 33 Saint George Street.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

Encounters with the past are a common occurrence, in the historic town of St. Augustine. Employing the modern technique of fill flash, filling the backlit subjects with flash adjusted for -1 f-stop of compensation, rescued this image from being too contrasty.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

The Columbia Restaurant, on Hippoleta Street, has a menu as interesting as its interior decoration. If there isn’t a good photo to be had from the ground floor, taking the high ground to the balcony above will produce a good “bird’s eye view” of the proceedings below.

Later, we find ourselves on the ramparts of the Castillo de San Marcos, a fortress, overlooking Matanzas Bay that rivals the Spanish Quarter as St. Augustine’s primary attraction. Never defeated or abandoned, it has seen more than three hundred years of service. The oldest masonry fortress in the continental U.S.A., the Castillo is built of “coquina”.

This unique stone, a form of cement made up of millions of compacted seashells, was quarried locally on Anastasia Island. The fortress walls are intact and are still guarded by cannons, cast in Spain, which bear the royal Spanish coat of arms.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

Bicycling in St. Augustine is a popular mode of transport for exploring the Castillo de San Marco, as well as the other attractions of this historic city. 

This image features a compositional ploy called “repetition of pattern”. The artistic of eye will detect a triple “vee -shape” … the corner of the fortress wall, the corner of the outer wall, (of which just the footings seem to remain), and the bicycle and its shadow. When you travel with an artist, wonderful things happen!

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

Tourists admire an old Spanish cannon, at the Castillo de San Marco. Fill flash was used to lighten shadows in the foreground, on the sidelit subjects. “People pictures” such as these are excellent for photo essays and magazine articles, as they show interest and participation in the area attractions.

One of the interesting displays to be found at the fortress is a three hundred pound bower anchor, from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha. The Atocha was a galleon of five hundred and fifty tons, built in Havana in 1620, as a guard galleon for the Spanish silver fleet. She sank in 1622 while enroute to Spain, taking down with her a quantity of gold and silver ingots, and other treasure. She was salvaged in 1971, after being found west of Marquesas Key.

The period of the Castillo spans much of American history. For example, more than seventy warriors were incarcerated here after the Indian Wars on the central plains. This includes the band of Geronimo, confined at the fortress after his surrender in 1886.

We’ve “jumped” back on the train. From the harbour defences, it now takes us along Matanzas Bay to the Bridge of Lions, that crosses to Anastasia Island, St. Augustine Beach, and southwards on Highway A1A. There is a statue of Ponce de León here, in Cathedral Square.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

Stone lions guard the entrance to the Bridge of Lions, in St. Augustine, which crosses the Intracoastal Waterway (part of the Matanzas River), allowing access to Anastasia Island.

Using a wide-angle lens and the ’worm’s eye view’, I was able to place the statue and its base above the horizon, breaking the line of palms, and filling in some of the sky. One of my objectives in making this shot was to have available a good photo for a possible magazine cover, hence the blank space at the top of the composition.

The bridge is typical of the Spanish Renaissance architecture that dominates most of St. Augustine’s major buildings. It is constructed of poured concrete, with terra cotta trim and roofing, and exactly matches city buildings of the same period.

The driving force behind this construction was Henry Flagler, co-founder with John Rockefeller of the Standard Oil Company. Flagler pushed his Florida East Coast Railway all the way to Key West, building hotels along the route for wealthy passengers. The Ponce de León Hotel in St. Augustine opened in 1888, and operated until 1967. This luxury hotel was the first major structure in the U.S. to be built of poured concrete, using the same coquina shell gravel that is found in the Castillo de San Marcos. The hotel’s electrical system was designed by Thomas Edison.

The hotel now houses Flagler College, a wonderful campus of fountains, arched walkways, and gleaming hardwood floors. Royal palms are tall sentinels that lend elegance to the grounds. The once grand Ponce de León Hotel has become a coveted place of learning.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

Flagler College, of St. Augustine, is perhaps the most attractive college campus in the United States of America. Originally the “Hotel Ponce de León”, it was built in 1887 by Henry Morrison Flagler, an oil and railroad magnate credited with developing Florida’s east coast.

This was the first major structure in the U.S. constructed of poured concrete. The extraordinary Spanish Renaissance style helped propel its designers, John Carrere and Thomas Hastings, to the forefront of American architecture design. Their unique style is reflected in many of the large buildings found throughout the city.

The College is a photographer’s dream, full of repeating patterns, arches large and small, and those wonderful tile decorations … a great place to take a degree!

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

You would think, looking at this image of Flagler College, that I am standing in the grounds, where this wonderful fountain is situated. However, the fountain is located across the street, and I’ve positioned myself very low, to remove the intervening street (and its traffic!) from view.

Leaving the train, we make our way back to the fortress, to shoot more photos. Later, we find a number of elegant carriages on Avenida Menendez, close to the entrance to the fort. Clip-clopping down narrow streets which can’t accommodate the larger tour trains, Allison and I see the old Spanish town in a historically appropriate fashion.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

One of the more delightful methods of exploring St. Augustine is in your own horse-drawn carriage, with a knowledgeable driver. It makes a great mobile “gun platform” for those grab shots of street scenes, and allows you to cover a lot of ground in a short time.

Allison and I often look for such a tour as soon as we arrive in a strange city, to obtain a quick overview, and to orient ourselves as to the city’s layout. Besides, it’s such a romantic way to get around!

Next morning we are up early, and out with our cameras. Across the Bridge of Lions, the St. Augustine Lighthouse rears above the horizon, glowing softly in the dawn light.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

The St. Augustine Light Station, found just across the Matanzas River on Anastasia Island, is 165 feet high, and was built in 1874. The two-story brick duplex keeper’s dwelling was built in 1875 atop a coquina (tabby) foundation. These lighthouse structures are the oldest brick structures in St. Augustine.

We arrived at the Light Station just after dawn, and while I photographed, Allison dozed in the car. I shot most of a roll of film here, and when I was down to my last frame (does anyone run out of “film” anymore?), Al emerged in time to suggest the vertical shot from in front of the main entrance. I used a 24mm lens, and the shot turned out so good that I discarded most of the others I had made.

No visit here is complete without a trip to the Alligator Farm and Zoological Park. Alligators galore, of course, but twenty-two species of crocodiles as well (can you tell the difference?), from around the world. You can also view monkeys, snakes and other reptiles, and a host of attractive birds such as parrots and toucans.

We follow a wide boardwalk through a variety of different natural environments. A grove of huge live oak trees, set in a small lake, is a nesting grounds for egrets, ibis, and herons. Alligators patrol the dark waters, ensuring a predator-free environment.

In contrast to their lethargic and disinterested neighbours below, the egrets are in a frenzy of courting and nest-building activity. These elegant birds, in white plumage, perform a graceful ballet. Perched precariously, they stretch their long necks to its full length skyward, then drop into a curtsey, fluffing a delicately feathered skirt about themselves.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

The Alligator Farm and Zoological Park, outside St. Augustine, runs a breeding farm for alligators. The ‘bird’s eye view’, looking down on the little critters from on high, makes a dandy pattern shot. 

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

An egret displays its nesting plumage, in the Alligator Farm and Zoological Park, where birds roost in live oak trees above a small lake, in which alligators frolic. It takes a brave predator to attempt an attack, with a defence force like this!

To preserve detail on those bright white feathers, I spot-metered on the green foliage directly in front of the egret.

Part of the joy of travel is exploring new restaurants, and trying new dishes. The Matanzas Innlet Restaurant is just a short drive south of the Alligator Farm, on Highway A1A. From their patio, right on the water, we watch the pelicans diving for fish in Matanzas Inlet, and the boat traffic moving up and down the channel. A brisk wind offsets the heat of the mid-day sun, and we spend an enjoyable hour with a grilled seafood platter and some chilled beer.

Later, we find our way down Cordova Street, enroute to the Old City House Restaurant, for supper. The Old City House is a refurnished home of the last century, with a number of attractive small rooms. We start out with alligator fritters, blended with onions and smoked sausage, and served on spinach. We move on to rack of lamb in a dijon mustard sauce, and finish with a huge ginger-flavoured frozen soufflé.

Enjoying the sights of a world centuries old is a unique experience, and we’re sorry to leave America’s city of five flags.

by Mike & Allison Goldstein

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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