Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hidden Lightner @ Hidden Jewel

Last night we attended the Hidden Lightner, a fund raiser for Colonial St Augustine, and while we expected an attic full of old stuff, we couldn’t imagine how wonderful that ‘stuff’ truly is.

A while back we wrote of the Hidden Lightner fundraising event and how it sounded like a great idea and a great opportunity to see some of the museums inventory that is not on normally display. So we went on-line, bought tickets, and attended this year’s event.

We arrived at the south entrance to the Lightner Museum – which once upon-a-time was the finest lodging in America had to offer – around dusk. At this time of night the imagination is given all it need to transcend time. And as we ascended the grand staircase, to the vast terrace, we could only imagine being one of the grand hotel guests arriving to an invitation only event, which this was.

After checking in and receiving an appointed tour time, they plied us with a local playing acoustic guitar that filled the echoing chamber with delicate wafting notes, fine wine and canap├ęs in the form of a casual reception in the second story ballroom that overlooks the once world’s largest indoor swimming pool. It brought back so many memories for us; and for those who don’t know us, let me set the stage.
We’ve been coming here together for over 20 years, even before buying the Inn on Charlotte, and Rodney’s family had a summer place a mere 30 miles west of here all his life. So his memories go back further then mine. But together, we remember all the way back to the 80s when there were museum items stored around every nook and corner - literally. For instance, when we first came here there was a square grand-piano in each corner of this area we were standing in. And we remember the stained glass that use to be held in the window openings next to the doors we arrived at. And to now, when we will be able to see a part of the building that we had never seen before was really exciting. 

At the appointed time, they called for our group to enter by the side entrance and we all filed into an elevator where a gentleman, the Executive Director of the museum Bob Harper, pushed the button to the 4th floor, the 4th floor. So we had had been all over the Lightner building before. From the ground floor – the deep end of the old pool now void of water – that houses shops and a very fine Cafe Alcazar, to the second floor overlooking the pool in the reception area we were, and up to the 3rd floor that houses museum exhibits; but we had never been to the 4th floor before and had no idea what to expect. The excitment built.

Coming off the elevator we noticed the walls are painted in two-tone (Light over dark) and the lack of decoration and architectural detail was a stark contrast from the rest of the building’s floors below. We have been on many tours, pre-renovation, and behind the scene tours etc. so we know what we were looking at… the staff quarters. Mr. Harper interpreted the use of the floor in Flagler’s era and explained today’s use as well. 

He started us off with a typical maid’s room explaining how, back in the day, it would have been shared and while it had windows, it did not have a view to speak of. In this room we immediately recognized who – or what – was lying in the mail’s bed. It was Mercury, the bronze statue that was once in the east courtyard pool. He lost his footing – literally – when the building was undergoing renovation recently. In the next room we saw the square grand pianos that were missing from the 2nd story reception area we had just left. We were happy to see they survive. From there Bob walked backward down the hall telling stories and presenting room after room of stuff. Because of the vast variation and diversification of it all, stuff is the only way I can describe it all. But when we got to the furniture it all became treasure. 

At the halfway point, Bob passed the tour group to Berry Myers, the museum’s Chief curator who brought his personal passion for the collection the tour group. He described his vision for the Lightner and how he wanted to bring a new life to it through photography, and his plans to build period rooms somewhere within the museum. Something we are excited to hear. He was very knowledgeable of American furniture and enlightening when it came to the collection.

The corridors of rooms went on and on, stacked full of items from books, typewriters, glass collections, as well as parts and pieces of furniture. Mr. Myers told stories of some of the heartbreaking tails of museum guests damaging the furniture on display. It seemed nothing was off limits, from stolen decorative applied woods, metals, and medallions from priceless furniture, to a Severes bowl swiped off a table made specifically for the that bowl rendering the table practically useless and worthless now, heartbreaking.

The evening was an absolute delight and very enlightening. We offer our congratulations to the volunteers and those who donated services and goods to make the evening so pleasant. We learned more about the museum, its mission, and the dedication of its leadership. We made a connection and are proud of our neighbor, the Lightner. We are excited to attend more events like this again in the future and maybe even volunteering at one.

One other thing: the Lightner Museum needs your support. We read in the St Augustine Record  that The Lightner needs a new roof. After patching the 120+ year old roof, it’s time to replace it. Please do what you can to support this hidden jewel in our little town.

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