Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Civil Rights Landmark May Be Razed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Civil Rights Landmark May Be Razed

Article excerpt

Fifteen-year-old Edwina Russell was cleaning a room at the Monson Bayfront Resort in St. Augustine when she saw demonstrators marching toward the inn's pool.

As dozens of irate spectators gathered to watch, they jumped in the water to protest its whites-only status. When the inn's owner was informed, he poured muriatic acid in the water.

"I saw him go get something and I just knew that something terrible was going to happen," recalled Russell, who is now principal of Otis Mason Elementary School in St. Augustine. "I thought, 'Let me get out of here.'"

That was her last day at the Monson.

Thirty-six years later, the Monson -- and most likely its pool -- are in their last days.

The inn could be demolished by September to make way for a $4.5 million resort.

That disturbs St. Augustine historian David Nolan, who would like to see the Monson preserved for its ties to the civil rights movement. A week before the pool incident, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested at the entrance after asking to be served.

However, the Monson's new owner, hotelier Kanti Patel, has said he plans to install several plaques marking those events of June 1964. Another possibility is a photographic essay in the lobby, said Jerry Dixon, principal architect of the new resort.

The design plans for the new inn, which will be a Hilton franchise, have yet to be approved by St. Augustine's Historic Architectural Review Board. For the past year, the preliminary plans have undergone a series of revisions during the process of seeking approval from various city agencies.

"There have been substantial changes in the design," Dixon said. "Because it's in the historic section of the city, we have to deal with historic guidelines."

Patel, who paid $2.5 million for the Monson, wants to build a new resort with 78 rooms, 32 more than at present. Patel could not be reached last week for comment.

The design calls for a mostly two-story series of buildings in the styles of two colonial Spanish periods between 1565 and 1821, and an underground parking garage.

Saving the historic portions of the Monson could be difficult in any event, Dixon said, because the pool may not meet state codes. …

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