When people used to ask me what my house looked like on the inside, I used to say “early crazy.” Because the people we bought the house from were a little…eccentric.
A few details: our living room had one paneled wall, one stucco’d wall, and fake beams on the ceiling. There was white Z-brick in the dining room. If you’re not familiar with Z-brick, it’s the “easy to install, brick veneer system for the amateur decorator”.
If you are familiar with it, you know it’s short for craZY-brick.
Anyway, I’ve seen some crazy crap in houses. But nothing in suburban Baltimore prepared me for the Town Hall of Crazytown in St. Augustine this past weekend. Villa Zorayda (https://villazorayda.com/).
I’ve been to villas before: the Morning Star Villa in Cape May (www.vrbo.com/52705), Villa de la Roca in Zihautenajo. I think there’s a difference between the ones that are a villa (said like “bridezilla”) or a villa (rhymes with “be-a”, as in the southern “be-a de-ah and pass the be-er”). Based on my limited experience, the difference seems to be about two grand a week and a trip through customs.
The villa was built as a winter getaway in 1883 by Frank Smith. It’s a sturdy structure, to be sure. Frank figured out a way to combine crushed coquina shell (it’s the heavy, non-porous rocks found on the east coast of Florida) and poured concrete to create a fortress of a house. (His frenemy Henry Flagler used the same method when he built the Ponce de Leon hotel across the street).
Frank modeled the building after the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. And by model, I mean like scale model, because the whole place is built to 1/10th the scale of the original.
St. Augustine has a lot of Moorish/Spanish influences. Frank helped start that design bent. In addition to the Villa Zorayda, Frank built the Casa Monica (now a great hotel run by the Kessler Group, https://www.kesslercollection.com/casa-monica/), which is just up the street. It’s a whole little Spanish enclave in that area, with the Ponce and the Lightner Museum (https://lightnermuseum.org/..