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Have Historic Preservation Laws Failed to Preserve Florida History?

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Top of 1879 Cenotaph being removed overnight on August 25, 2020 in St. Augustine National Register Historic District

Inspired by the centennial of the “Civil War” and the Bicentennial of the American Revolution, America has implemented an extensive historic preservation infrastructure at every level of government.

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 created National Register Historic Districts and a multi-layer infrastructure of protection laws. States established historic preservation laws and offices and municipalities and counties enacted ordinances and could apply to become "Certified Local Governments".

All of this massive bureaucracy had one supposed goal: to protect and preserve the Nation’s history for future generations.

Over the years, Florida has utilized Federal preservation laws, recommending areas around

the State as National Register Historic Districts, supposedly for perpetual preservation of historic structures in historic areas and the peoples and culture that created and lived in and around them.

But Charleston, Charlottesville and George Floyd changed all that. It seems laws no longer apply. These incidents stimulated knee-jerk reactions from politicians at all levels creating an utter disregard of the historic preservation infrastructure and public policies they enable with one goal – elimination of history branded as ‘offensive’ - leaving Floridians defenseless against the merciless attacks in their historical resources.

Florida's bi-partisan purge led by Democrats like Debbie Wassermann -Schultz and history-erasing Republicans like Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry marching in lock step barreling ahead with the current communist-Marxist agenda of purging the civic landscape of any unique historical aspects of the "South".

In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center targeted multiple historic sites, many in National Register Historic Preservation Districts for elimination in Florida. A Twitter account named @destroystatue encouraged vandalism of the sites nationwide and in Florida, and indeed, a rash of vandalizations occurred.

Since that time, in Florida, 5 cities and counties have disregarded their own National Register Historic District preservation ordinances to pluck historical memorials and monuments out of the Districts they own and administer.

One particularly egregious incident was the removal of a War Memorial at the Historic Manatee County Courthouse. The Republican dominated County Commission directed its removal under cover of darkness, resulting in the granite structure being dropped and broken in three places. The historical memorial is believed to still be "in storage" at an unknown location.

Downtown Bradenton Historic District

In the most recent assault, the University of Florida exhumed the grave and headstone monument of an American War Hero, William Wing Loring, doing “whatever it took” to remove any trace from their jurisdiction in St. Augustine Historic District.

In the Munn Park case, the City of Lakeland did follow its preservation laws, but a Federal lawsuit alleges, and we have confirmed, that the application presented to the Historic Preservation Board from City Manager Tony Delgado stated the historic resource, a Cenotaph to Confederate soldiers, was being “relocated”, when in fact; it was being altogether removed from the Historic District.

At the time of application for National Register status, the State Historic Preservation Office praised Lakeland for having the 'most intact' historic downtown in the State. It seems historic preservation is out of fashion in Lakeland now.

Constitution Plaza War Memorial Source: Library of Congress

In St. Augustine, Pensacola and Manatee County, no pretense of even considering the municipality’s preservation laws was made in decisions to remove massive and prominent historic resources from their Historic Districts.

The City of Madison, Florida maintains a 6 block historic district, though not a National Register District, which is designated in its Comprehensive Land Use Plan, with accompanying ordinances. Again, these historic protections were bypassed in a recent decision to purge a historic war memorial from the public square in the district.

Appeals to the State of Florida and the Federal government for intervention have been ignored. The State of Florida Historic Preservation Office has been utterly useless. State Legislators and Senators have shrugged, and proved impotent. The response to a recent plea for help to Florida Governor Ron Desantis resulted in a male individual claiming to be Governor Desantis retorting “the statue (in St. Augustine) is racist and so it has to go”.

Despite their legal mandate in the the Florida Antiquities Act, the State Historic Preservation Office under direction of Secretary of State Laurel Lee, disavows responsibility for or power to prevent the destruction and literal evisceration of the span of Florida history they are charged to protect. And they have made no pretense of any effort to prevent the historical destruction occurring around the State under their watch.

One representative at the Department of State, in response to please for help, suggested residents guard their historic sites with "men with guns".

Even Florida courts have been useless in forcing adherence to historic preservation laws. When family members whose ancestor’s name was honored on a historic 1879 Cenotaph, along with veterans groups, filed suit asking that the City of St. Augustine be ordered to follow its own laws and protect St. Augustine military history, Seventh Judicial District Court Judge R. Lee Smith, denied a motion for a temporary restraining order, based on lack of “standing”.

Sadly, it seems to many that the laws on the books are simply meant to ‘make little old ladies cry over the wrong color of awnings’ rather than to actually protect Florida history.

Districts affected include:

  1. St. Augustine Historic District (NR) – City of St. Augustine, Florida – Certified Local Government

  2. Lake City Historic Commercial District (NR) - City of Lake City, Florida (Endangered)

  3. Downtown Bradenton Historic District (NR) – Manatee County, Florida - Certified Local Government

  4. Munn Park Historic District (NR) – City of Lakeland, Florida – Certified Local Government

  5. Downtown Bradenton Historic District (NR) – Manatee County, Florida – Certified Local Government

  6. Quincy Historic District (NR) - Gadsden County, Florida – Certified Local Government (Quincy)

  7. North Hill Historic Preservation District (NR) – City of Pensacola, Florida (2021 update)

  8. Lake Eola Historic District (NR) - City of Orlando, Florida

  9. Madison Historic District - City of Madison, FL (Endangered)

  10. Bartow Historic Courthouse Historic District - City of Bartow (2022 Update)

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