In the very first Harry Potter movie a wizard named Hagrid introduces young Harry to Diagon Alley, an alternate world that muggles or non-wizards are not even aware of. In St. Augustine, tucked behind shops selling souvenir trinkets, the sizeable Spanish Quarter is similar to Diagon Alley, because the tourists don’t know it’s there. We hideaway our identity and heritage when it should be showcased for all to see, and it’s going to take more than a larger-than-life wizard to reveal the richness of our Spanish Quarter or a magic spell to save it.
Instead of closing the Spanish Quarter Museum entirely, compromise and scale back its hours of operation. Have the museum closed for one or two days a week, when less foot traffic is downtown, on Mondays and Tuesdays for instance. Or close it for weeks at a time during the slower weeks of the year.
Look for ideas from other historic locations. Look to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown in Virginia, look to Boston and Salem in Massachusetts, but whatever happens don’t go looking for more retail space. To save an interactive picturesque educational component on St. George Street more creativity is needed.
Open up the Quarter visually by removing a few walls and replacing them with see-through fences, so that visitors can actually see, from a distance, what the Spanish Quarter is all about. Have talented, well trained, 18th century costumed actors perform impromptu skits on the Streets and the Plaza and actually interact with tourists. Get a costumed town crier go out into the Plaza and shout out the news of the day or personal messages from recent Spanish Quarter visitors. Create a buzz; make it entertaining in the streets, while keeping it educational and authentic inside the Quarter.
Is it even possible to entertain in the streets of St. Augustine anymore? The local merchants put an end to street entertainment because the human interaction of musicians or costumed street performers could possibly interfere with the sale of everything from t-shirts to shot glasses. Why have visitors actually experience St. Augustine, when it can be sold to them?
In a few hundred years, perhaps there will be an American Quarter Museum that will attempt to explain the current belief that our history, heritage and culture is somehow dependent on profit, as education at all levels continues to get shoved aside. But for now the mannequin in the attic (from the previous post) says a lot.
Save the Spanish Quarter.