Commemorative holidays such as yesterday's Martin Luther King, Jr. day, promote awareness and remembrance of past events. It was not until many years after I moved to Florida, when I began studying history, that I learned that in the summer of 1964, St. Augustine was the site of heated civil rights protests, and that Martin Luther King Jr. had been jailed there. A sense of the summer's events can be found in the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee's 1965 report, Racial and Civil Disorders in St. Augustine, and 26 minutes of original footage of wade-ins, speeches, and Florida troopers, available through the Florida Memory Project.
One of the summer's focal points became the Monson Lodge, a whites-only motel. First, Rev. King was arrested for "trespassing" at the motel. Then, when some white and black civil rights supporters went for a swim together at the Monson, the motel's owner sought to intimidate the swimmers by pouring muriatic acid into the pool.
Forty years later, the Monson Motor Lodge was an aging establishment on the Avenida Menendez, which had become a trendy street in St. Augustine. In 2003, the Monson was demolished to make way for a new Hilton Garden Inn. The concrete steps where Rev. King was standing when arrested were preserved, but the rest of the building and swimming pool are gone.
St. Augustine is a very old city, with literally layers of history. Underneath the Monson, where the Hilton hotel's underground garage is now, were the "the remains of 25 or so historic buildings and hundreds of archaeological features." The archaeologists actually started their excavations before the motel was torn down, chipping through the guest room floors.
So, should the Monson have been preserved in place, kept as it was in the 1960s, or is the Hilton simply the latest in a long chain of events in America's oldest city?