History of the Villa Zorayda
Closed for the past eight years 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 it was built in 1883 as the winter residence of Franklin 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 Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. This building set a precedence for St. Augustine and began the Moorish Spanish revival of architecture that is seen throughout the city today. In 1904 it became the Zorayda Club. On display for the first time ever is the custom made bone china made exclusively for the Zorayda Club. In 1913 it was 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. In the mid 1930's 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. 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. On display is the "Sacred Cat Rug" over 2400 years old and made from the hairs of ancient cats that roamed the Nile River. Taken from a pyramid in Egypt it is said to possess a curse for anyone that walks on it! Washington Irving wrote of the original Alhambra in Spain in his famous "Tales of the Alhambra". You can read the E-Book version here!
If you are interested in more information on the most interesting Franklin W. Smith you can read more details on his life here.
L Zorayda Castle as it was known in the 1960s
R Zorayda Castle is now Villa Zorayda, renovated and open for visitors!
L Owner James Byles points out ceiling work early in the reconstruction
R Some original architectural drawings circa 1880s discovered behind walls
During reconstruction the greatest attention was paid to
even the smallest details. Here each window
was restored and painted in the original colors.
Villa Zorayda Time Line
1883-Franklin Smith builds his winter home, Villa Zorayda, the first poured
concrete and crushed coquina building in St. Augustine
1903-Franklin Smith leases the Villa Zorayda. It soon becomes the "Zorayda Club"
1913-Abraham S. Mussallem purchases the Villa Zorayda
1922-Gambling becomes fashionable at the Zorayda Club
1930s-Villa Zorayda becomes private residence of Mr. and Mrs. A.S.Mussallem and family and a show case of oriental rugs, furniture and fine arts.
1934-Opens to the public as Villa Zorayda Museum
1941-October 21, 1941 death of Abraham S. Mussallem
1942-Museum closes during World War II
1940s (late)-Villa Zorayda reopens as a museum
1954-With the death of Mrs. Olga Mussallem, museum closes
1964-Eddy and Wally Mussallem reopen the museum, rename it Zorayda Castle
1965-Wally Mussallem oversees daily operations of Zorayda Castle
2000-Zorayda Castle closes
2003-Major renovations begin and continue through present time
2005-Eddy Mussallem's daughter Marcia, and son-in-law, James Byles take over overseeing of renovations and the future operations of the museum
2007-December 15th Grand Reopening Celebration
2008-Villa Zorayda Museum reopens to the public.
2009-Villa Zorayda introduces audio tours and opens for wedding ceremonies.
June Hall, former tour guide and gift shop manager, visited the Villa Zorayda on September 27, 2008, with her family. In 1991 she retired after having worked at the Zorayda Castle (as it was called then) for over 25 years. She also donated her tour guide costume to the museum which we hope to put on display in the near future. Thank you Ms. Hall.