By Meaghan Alvarado
Photos by Matthew Gane
From the sidewalk, 43 Cordova Street doesn’t look like anything out of the ordinary for downtown St. Augustine. However, stepping along the private driveway reveals an expansive open space with a garden, courtyard, another large grassy area, two homes, and plenty of parking — a luxury in this part of town.
David and Libby Powell of Powell Heating and Air Conditioning own the property. The previous owner, the late James Banta, Jr., was an avid traveler and many of the treasures he found on his adventures still decorate the home today. Libby says Mr. Banta wanted the house to look the same. So, some of the items stayed, while others were passed onto his surviving family members.
The home, now used as a vacation rental, was built in 1939, forty years before the Powells’ primary residence. Tile steps lead up to the second-story living space. The gracefully arched doorways are common in Spanish Revival architecture and add to the sense that you’re somewhere on another continent. Among the worldly items that decorate the converted duplex are plates from Portugal, Egyptian statues, African art, and much more.
The base of the living room sofa is made from room dividers James Banta, Jr. brought back from a trip to Indonesia. Along with many classics, the bookshelf is lined with travel books, and David Powell mentions that “these are only a small selection of the travel guides he [Banta] owned.” The living room leads out to a small porch area with a bench and two chairs. “Perfect for morning coffee,” says Libby. Halfway through the home, the original hardwood floors reveal where a wall once separated the two apartments which now make up the two-bedroom house.
Walking down the steps to take a closer look at the courtyard and gardens, Libby quips, “Hold on to the handrail.” Instructions she often heard from Banta. It’s not steep, but she insists it’s best to hang on.
Many of the exterior architectural features are from Palm Beach. Columns, a balustrade, and other clean white accents are visible throughout the garden area. The garden was Mr. Banta’s pride and joy, say the Powells. They made him a promise to be diligent with the upkeep but were wholly tested by last year’s hurricane. The saltwater from flooding was damaging to many flowers, yet the greenery and statues still make it a tranquil place to relax.
The Powell’s are happy to give their guests space and allow them to explore the oldest city on their own. Or, to have a glass of wine and provide some recommendations on their favorite spots for food and drinks. There are so many unique options nearby that they admit their kitchen is rarely used.
It’s surprisingly quiet for how close it is to the downtown activity. As a vacation rental, the home makes the perfect escape for visitors to get away from the hustle and bustle, but still be downtown and in walking distance of everything.