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Award recognizes Thomas’ extensive work in historic restoration and preservation

On June 10, the City of St. Augustine will recognize one of the community’s most successful architects whose extensive and wide ranging career has contributed to maintaining St. Augustine’s authenticity when the Adelaide Sanchez Award for Historic Restoration and Preservation is presented to Les Thomas.

The award nomination was made by City Commissioner John Valdes and supported unanimously by the entire City Commission.

The award presentation of the will be Monday, June 10 at 4:00pm, just prior to the regular meeting of the St. Augustine City Commission. The presentation, which is open to the public, will be held in the The Alcazar Room, City Hall, 75 King St., and may be viewed live via Government TV/Comcast channel 3 and online at www.CityStAugTV.com where is will be available for on-demand viewing the following day.

Nominations for the Adelaide Sanchez Award are made by a member of the St. Augustine City Commission and approved by the full commission. The award may have two recipients annually, one recognizing work in historic education and interpretation and the other for work in historic preservation and restoration.

Usually presented in May each year to coincide with Historic Preservation Month, this year in order to accommodate the schedules of the recipients, the award for Historic Education and Interpretation Award was presented to Historian David Nolan on April 22 and the Historic Preservation and Restoration Award will be presented on June 10.

Les Thomas

2019LesThomas - Copy

For architects to work, they must have a sense of place. Whether the project is residential, commercial or public, an architect takes into consideration not just the individual project but also all that surrounds it. Its place.

From the time he opened his practice in his hometown of St. Augustine 1982, Les Thomas has known where he is, recognizes the uniqueness of the place where he lives and works and continues his dedication to historic St. Augustine and its cultural heritage, a heritage that is shared by his own family.

Thomas is of Minorcan heritage and was born and raised in St. Augustine. He attended Cathedral Parish School, St. Joseph Academy, and St. Johns River Community College. After earning his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Florida, he attended that university’s graduate program in Venice, Italy studying architecture. He returned to St. Augustine by way of Boston where he served as a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) volunteer and met his wife, Cathi Oakes.

Thomas settled on Cordova Street at the corner of St. Andreu’s Court where he was born and raised on land purchased in 1840 by his great, great-grandfather, Frank Andreu.

Over the past 37 years, Thomas has assembled an extensive portfolio of public and private sector work that includes a wide range of projects varying in size and style. Restoration, preservation, and new projects designed by Thomas are scattered throughout St. Augustine and include places of worship, campuses, residences, restaurants, retail space and historic sites.

Many new structures designed by Thomas in the city’s historic district include characteristics of architectural styles that span the city’s colonial periods. The Florida Cracker Café and Collage Restaurant are in the style of the First Spanish Period, the Fraser City Gates Plaza’s three buildings are in the style of the Second Spanish Period, and the city’s Historic Downtown Parking Facility incorporates many of the features common throughout the city’s earlier periods. 

Churches are among his clients whose projects include the Bishop Baker Parish Center and Trinity Episcopal Church Parish Hall. Educational institutions in Thomas’ portfolio include the Ketterlinus Gymnasium and the Fullerwood School rehabilitation project which provided new life for an old elementary school with future phases to add recreation and community space. 

Thomas designed the addition to the St. Augustine Art Association’s office and gallery, and the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum. Commercial projects include the Old City Jail complex and welcome centers, St. Augustine Amphitheatre, City Gates Plaza Retail Complex and restaurants Gypsy Cab Company Restaurant, Mojo Old City BBQ, Scarlett O’Hara’s Bar and Restaurant and Rhett’s Piano Bar, and the Old City House Inn and Restaurant and A1A Ale Works, and the extensive adaptation and restoration of the 1886 Carr Cottage/Drysdale House into Harry’s Restaurant.

Thomas has been a part of many historic restoration projects often working through Florida State Historic Preservation Grants including The Ice Plant and St. Augustine Distillery, St. Augustine & St. Johns County Visitor Information Center, Hamblen House, A1A Ale Works and the former McCrory’s Building on St. George Street.

Thomas has received awards for his architectural design work for the restoration of the historic Lamont House at 36 Carrera Street with contractor Jim Alligood, the Colonial Quarter of St. Augustine, St. Augustine’s Historic Downtown Parking Facility, and the St. Augustine Amphitheatre.

Sometimes Thomas’ work has been to recreate a structure that no longer exists. Two such projects are the Santo Domingo Redoubt, an eighteenth century fortification located in downtown St. Augustine and Native American re-constructions at the Fountain of Youth Archeology Park.  Both projects offer the public the chance to experience an accurate recreation based on extensive research.

For Thomas, being a part of St. Augustine means giving back through community and public service.  As a founding member of the Friends of St. Augustine Architecture and the Save Our Bridge Committee, Thomas worked to save the Bridge of Lions and other historic structures in the community. He served as President and is a life member of the St. Augustine Art Association and is a founding and longtime board member of the St. Johns County Cultural Council. Along with Mike Davis and Philip McDaniel, Thomas was instrumental in the creation of Project SWING, the community-built playground at Francis Field.

Thomas served the city as a two-term member of the Historic Architectural Review Board and as a member of the Planning and Zoning Board for an extended period. He helped to develop the guidelines for lot, yard and height requirements for new construction reflecting the Colonial Periods in the Historic Preservation Districts. Along with author Natalie Lucas and landscape architect James Turner, Thomas coauthored the book, “Tight Walk, Lessons of a Little St. Augustine Street,” about the history and architecture of St. Andreu’s Court highlighting the history, culture and personalities in urban living.

For an architect’s project to work well in St. Augustine, it must be carefully woven into the fabric of this special place, and that takes an architect who knows what makes this place special. When an architect receives the inspiration from a place that is special to him, then the place is enhanced by the architect’s inspired work, both place and architect are beneficiaries. Such is the case with Les Thomas and St. Augustine, and why he is the 2019 recipient of the Adelaide Sanchez Award for Historic Restoration and Preservation.

Adelaide Sanchez Award

Adelaide Sanchez AwardThe award’s namesake, Adelaide Sanchez, was a native of St. Augustine and worked at the St. Augustine Record from 1930 through 1943 where she was a reporter, features writer, society editor and the Associated Press correspondent. She joined the staff of The Miami Herald where she worked for 30 years serving as Assistant Woman’s Editor covering numerous society events during that city’s very formative three decades. After her retirement in 1973, she returned to St. Augustine and continued writing until her death in 1994 through newsletters for the Flagler Hospital Auxiliary and Trinity Episcopal Church and biographical sketches that were included in the program for Cross and Sword.

But it is her appreciation and love of the city’s historic properties, and her active promotion to ensure the preservation of those resources, that garnered this award being named in her honor. Indeed, her support of historic resources is a classic example of one who “walked the walk.”

In accordance with her wishes, her home on Marine St. was bequeathed to the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board. After the board’s abolishment, the property was transferred to the City of St. Augustine and sold with the proceeds being held in trust, as per her wishes, with the interest earned being designated for awards, programs and stipends with the goal of advancing the interests of historic restoration, preservation, education and interpretation.

Recipients of the Adelaide Sanchez Award for Historic Preservation, Restoration, Education and Interpretation receive a statuette of the lions that grace the western side of the Bridge of Lions. The molds for the replicas were crafted by St. Augustine sculptor Enzo Torcoletti, and each statuette is inscribed with his signature.

Previous recipients of the Adelaide Sanchez Award

In 2014, Shelia Greenleaf for her work that preserved the 110 year old Albert Lewis Trough, and Philip McDaniel and Ryan Dettra were recognized for their work that preserved the Ice Plant.

In 2016, the St. Augustine Garrison, received the award for its living history programs, and the Woman’s Exchange of St. Augustine for its preservation and care of the Peña-Peck House.

In 2017, City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline received the award for her staunch and passionate advocacy for historic preservation.

In 2018, Allen and Delores Lastinger and the Lastinger Family Foundation, for their support of a broad range of historic properties throughout St. Augustine.

In April 2019, historian and author David Nolan received the award for his extensive work in historic preservation interpretation and education.