Making the Dream a Reality

Earle Newton with Plans of Pan American Center

Earle Newton was the first director/ curator of the Pan American Center and oversaw its construction. He played a key role in acquiring a large number of items for the exhibits during his time as curator from 1965 to around 1970.

Though it would seem that the opening of the Pan American Center happened rather quickly, it is important to understand that this dream was made possible by the efforts and donations of prominent economic powerhouses and local leaders. 

Earle Newton, pictured above, was one of these men who saw the Pan American Dream become a reality. Newton functioned as the Director-General of  the Quadricentinneal Commission in St. Augustine, and at times had to respond to the harsh criticism that St. Augustine was experiencing, as it played a crucial part in the Civil Rights Movement. 

At times, Newton was forced to defend the integrity of the community to ensure that the Pan American Center (also referred to as the Inter American Center) would be built. In a letter he wrote to D. Eugenio Anzorena (the Minister to the Mexican Embassy) on May 2, 1964, Newton stated that "we see no reason there-fore why this celebration should be impeded in any way because a founder of the city settled in an area which has since become "hot" area of racial problems", continuing, "we cannot discontinue all our intellectual social and cultural activity."[1]

Weighing carefully this balance ensuring the economic security of his objectives, Newton brushed aside the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine in order to pave the way for his Pan American Dream. 

National Quadricentinneal Commission

Members of National Quadricentinneal Commission gather together for a photo in March of 1963, as the project starts to take off.

Under the directive of the Quadricentinnial Commission, a national commission set up by the United States Congress to prepare for the 400th Anniversary of St. Augustine, the Commission partnered with the Pan American Union (PAU) and Organization of American States (OAS), but they soon realized that they needed more funding in order to open the Pan American Center and acquire all of the items they needed for the exhibits.[2]

In 1963, when the project had just began to gain traction, they already had $200,000 in funding from over 200 American corporations, ultimately being backed by figures such as “‘Ford, General Motors, Humble-Esso, Texaco, Gulf, Dupont [sic], American Tel. & Tel., W. R. Grace, American and Foreign Power, Johnson and Johnson, and others.’”[3]

These investors insured that The Pan American Center was able to open its doors, and on “April 21, 1964, in ceremonies at the Pan American [Center], Senator George Smathers presented to Ambassador Juan Bautista Lavelle, Chairman of the Council of the Organization of American States, and to Dr. Jose Antonio Mora, Secretary General, the official engrossed and illuminated invitation of the President’s National Quadricentennial Commission, for cooperative action.”[4]

[1] Earle W. Newton, letter to D. Eugenio Anzorena, May 5, 1964. St. Augustine, FL: St. Augustine Quadricentennial Commission. St. Augustine Historical Society. 

[2] National Quadricentennial Commission, letter to George B. Hartzog Jr., December 31, 1963.

[3] Keys, Leslee. Hotel Ponce de Leon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Flagler’s Gilded Age Palace (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2015), 122.

[4] “The Inter American Center of St. Augustine, Florida”, The St. Augustine Quadricentennial Commission, 1964.

Making the Dream a Reality