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Unique Spanish-Style Architecture and Antiquities for Events or Viewing at Villa Zorayda's Museum

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Not your typical museum, Villa Zorayda Museum was the winter home of Franklin W. Smith from Boston. Smith built this magnificent St. Augustine home in 1883 after seeing the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. The architecture here is from another world and was instrumental in bringing the European look to America's oldest city. Villa Zorayda, with its recent historical renovations, is architectural art at its finest.

Aside from its architecture, the construction was new for its time using poured Portland cement and crushed coquina stone leaving walls about 1-foot thick. Co-owner Marcia Mussallem Byles (owned alongside James Byles) describes the method, "They actually made wooden forms about 12 inches in height and would pour this mixture into the forms, let it set for two days, then raise the forms to the next level and repeat the process." Co-founder of Standard Oil and Florida real estate developer Henry Flagler thought so highly of this building method that he used it in his portfolio of St. Augustine real estate construction giving the city its current look.

Villa Zorayda is first and foremost a museum highlighting Spanish-style architecture and period antiquities and tickets can easily be purchased online. "During the Christmas Holidays we do our ever popular evening Candlelight Tour of the Museum," Byles notes. "Right now we have an art exhibit by Steven Dean Anderson, a visually impaired artist who has been stricken with retinitis pigmentosa and glaucoma, featuring his artwork of St. Augustine's historic buildings on display among the Museum's permanent collection." Anderson's exhibit runs through mid-May.

While the architecture is key here, the wall art is nothing to scoff at. Byles tells us, "Inside the Villa Zorayda are beautiful arabesque traceries on the walls made of alabaster and plaster and constructed in the same molds that were carved by the Moors in the 13th Century for the walls of the Alhambra, which you could certainly refer to as art."

Harking back to its heyday when the Smith's would have extravagant evening parties and afternoon teas in the home for patrons of area hotels, such as the nearby Ponce de Leon and Casa Monica hotels, the Museum, including many of its priceless antiquities, can also be rented as an event space for groups of less than 100.

"We have had all types of events at the Villa Zorayda from a concert by a college choir to wedding ceremonies, intimate sit down dinner parties, rehearsal dinners and cocktail parties," says Byles. The exclusive use of the Museum during any event makes it all the more special. "It is such a unique setting that you would have to travel to Spain to find anything like it," Byles exclaims!

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