San Marco lions celebrate 21 years

San Marco lions celebrate 21 years
Party hats adorned the San Marco Lions as the landmark celebrated its 21st birthday Oct. 13.
Lions’ statute architects Angela Schifanella and her husband, Alan Wilson, stand with a bronze model donated by T. Wayne Davis. Schifanella and Wilson designed the San Marco landmark 21 years ago.

Lions’ statute architects Angela Schifanella and her husband, Alan Wilson, stand with a bronze model donated by T. Wayne Davis. Schifanella and Wilson designed the San Marco landmark 21 years ago.

There was music, adult beverages, free commemorative photos, and, of course, cake as San Marco residents celebrated the 21st anniversary of the installation of the Lions’ Fountain in Balis Park Oct. 13.

The fabulous felines, who dress up for every occasion, donned blue and white party hats with yellow tassels created by Karen McCombs, as residents sang “Happy Birthday” to them. The celebration was a collaborative effort between the San Marco Preservation Society and the San Marco Merchants Association.

Accompanying the crowd for the birthday song and party were four young jazz musicians – Lee Wolf of the University of North Florida on bass, Jaylin Green on alto saxophone, Alison Rhoads of the Southbank on tenor saxophone and Janae Yates on drums. Green, Rhoads and Yates are all students at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, and the foursome also take lessons from John Lumpkin, a San Marco resident, at the John Lumpkin Institute.

Present during the event were the lions’ “parents” – architects Angela Schifanella and her husband, Alan Wilson, of Avondale – who designed the landmark after winning a city-wide competition 21 years ago, which called for 20 to 30 contestants to come up with something new to replace a fountain that previously existed on the site. 

Inspired by the Café on the Square building, which is reminiscent of architecture found in an Italian piazza, the couple decided to design a piece of public art, said Schifanella. Lions were an obvious choice because they are the symbol for St. Mark and were thought by the couple to be a great emblem for San Marco Square, she said.

“The city did not have a lot of iconic places, and we wanted to make this a ‘place,’ and that seems to be what has happened,” Schifanella said, noting the lions were designed to overlook key points in San Marco – the Café on the Square building, Atlantic Boulevard, and the gazebo to the south.

Once the lions’ design was selected, Hugh Nicholson, a sculptor from Tallahassee, made full-size, high-density foam and clay models of them, said Wilson. Nicholson covered the models in plaster casts, cutting the casts into pieces before and shipping them to the Bryant Foundry in Hazel, Texas, he said. The final bronze lions were created individually at the foundry when the pieces were welded together. “They were brought back from Texas on a flatbed trailer. It was quite a ride and something to see – the lions riding down the interstate,” Schifanella recalled.

“It was a thrilling thing when the truck pulled up in San Marco with the lions,” remembered Wilson. He and his wife were asked to help situate the lions on their foundations, which had been made by Patroni’s Cast Stone Inc., a Jacksonville company. “Each lion points in a particular direction, and I remember standing in the doorway of the Café on the Square building and giving the thumbs up when the lion was looking straight on in my direction,” he recalled. “It was so fun for my wife and me to be part of the installation.”

Schifanella and Wilson’s original prize-winning sketch for the statutes was on display during the party for visitors to see. Also, on hand was the original poster advertising the festive Carnevale, which was held April 18, 1997 to celebrating the lions’ debut. Three small bronze models of the sculpture, which were recently donated by T. Wayne Davis to the San Marco Preservation Society, were also available at the party for the public to view.

The regal statues were individually donated to the community by Davis and his wife, Kitty, Lori Boyer in memory of her late husband, Ronald J. Nemeyer, and Bonita Boyd and James (Jimmy) Boyd in honor of their parents.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to contribute to this gift to the city,” said Schifanella. “San Marco is a special place, and these statues belong to everybody.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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