Closed from 2000-2008, the Villa Zorayda Museum has undergone an extensive renovation and is once again open to the public as a museum. On the National Register of Historic Places, the building was built in 1883 as the winter residence of Franklin Webster Smith utilizing his method of construction of poured concrete and crushed coquina shell. It is built 1/10th the scale of a section of the famous Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. This building set a precedence for St. Augustine and began the Moorish Spanish Revival style of architecture that is seen throughout the city today as well as the concrete and coquina construction that was used throughout the city. In 1904 the building was leased out and became the Zorayda Club. Dining, dancing, and gambling took place in the sophisticated Club, which was by invitation only. On display today for the first time ever is the custom made bone china made exclusively for the Zorayda Club.
In 1913 the building and part of Franklin Smith’s antiquity collection were purchased by Abraham S. Mussallem, an authority on Oriental rugs, fine arts and Egyptian artifacts. In 1922 it became one of the most fashionable places for casino gambling. Then, in the mid 1930s, it was opened as a museum featuring the priceless antique collections of both Franklin Smith and A.S. Mussallem which are still on display today. Today, the 45-60 minute tour gives an in depth look at the historical significance of the building to the City of St. Augustine, the magnificent architecture, as well as descriptions of the many exquisite pieces you will see. One of our most discussed pieces on display is the “Sacred Cat Rug” which is over 2400 years old and made from the hairs of ancient cats that roamed the Nile River.
It was Franklin Smith’s intention to bring part of Spain to Spanish St. Augustine and to educate his visitors about different cultures from around the world. The Villa Zorayda has been privately owned and operated by the Mussallem family for over 100 years. We are happy to share the history of the Villa Zorayda with you and to keep Franklin Smith’s masterpiece open for the public to enjoy.
Washington Irving wrote of the original Alhambra in Spain in his famous “Tales of the Alhambra“. The name “Zorayda” was chosen by Franklin Smith after the second of three princesses in the novel who was said to be the most beautiful. You can read the E-Book version here!
Recent restoration of the Villa Zorayda Museum