Art Historian and author Susan R. Braden says she
doesn’t think of herself as an author, despite her book, “Architecture
of Leisure: The Florida Resort Hotels of Henry Flagler and Henry Plant.”
First, she notes, she has a full-time job as assistant professor of
art history at Auburn University, which doesn’t allow for a
lot of writing time during the school year.
“It’s difficult to teach and to write at the same time—it’s
one or the other for me,” Braden says. “I look forward
to the summer because it’s the only time I have to clear my
head and devote it to something.”
Second, while some writers can turn their writing brain on and off,
Braden says that she does not have that knack for time management.
“I have a writer friend who writes in the morning and reads
in the afternoon. I can’t be that disciplined. For me, it’s
more like starting at eight and finishing way too late.”
Braden says she did not even set out to write a book. “Architecture
of Leisure,” which traces the history of Florida’s resort
hotels created by Flagler and Plant during the 19th century, began
its life as a dissertation while Braden was working on her Ph.D. at
Florida State University.
“I was taking art history classes—19th and 20th century—and
I had a very influential professor who was an architectural historian,”
which led to her specific interest in 19th century architecture, says
the Illinois-born Braden.
After creating a list of hotels built by railroad tycoons Flagler
and Plant, Braden set out to visit the resorts to get a feel for the
hotels as well as the towns where they were built and that sometimes
grew around the resorts.
Her trips across Florida brought her to St. Augustine, where she fell
in love with the history-rich buildings and architecture.
“Many people lose their hearts to St. Augustine,” Braden
Braden’s travels also took her to the University of Tampa, site
of the former Tampa Bay Hotel, now a museum. While on campus, she
conducted much of her research at the Henry B. Plant Museum with the
help of museum curator/registrar Susan Carter.
Carter says Braden’s work was as much use to the museum as it
was to the author. “We still refer to her dissertation all the
time when folks call us and want more information,” Carter says.
“She did a fabulous job and found some rare materials hidden
in archives throughout the state at historical societies and so forth.
“She’s been a tremendous resource for our museum with
history and facts about not only the Tampa Bay Hotel, but Plant’s
seven other hotels he built in the Florida area.”
Braden says her time spent in the museums and historical societies
as well as in the local libraries paid off in knowledge that she could
not have found without an insider’s knowledge.
“Local libraries depend upon having experts in charge,”
“You couldn’t do your research without skilled experienced
staff behind the library desk.
“People doing that [kind of] research now have a lot online
– but not everything.”
While working on her dissertation, Braden discovered “a whole
genre” dealing with the process of turning a dissertation into
a book, which piqued her interest. After numerous rewrites, she submitted
her book on architectural history to the University Press of Florida.
“It was my press of choice. It was the only place I sent a query
letter to,” Braden says.
The response from University Press was positive, but it raised questions
about gender, class and race at the resorts. Braden says the feedback
encouraged and inspired her, so she returned to rewrite once again.
“It was a good point. I wanted to make the resorts more than
brick-and-mortar decorations,” Braden says. “Now, even
in presentations, I make sure when I have slides [of the resorts],
they have people in them. It’s more personable.”
“Architecture of Leisure” is divided into two sections:
The first half describes the history and social impact of the hotels,
and the second half includes a catalog of the hotels. Braden says
the setup was as much for her benefit as the readers’.
“It was easier to organize; I could see the pieces,” she
explains. “There are people out there who are much better at
integrating than I am.”
Braden says that while she enjoyed her work on the book, her next
subject, Western tourism may not even end up as a book. It’s
more of a chance to explore new territory.
“It started out as Western hotels, but it’s turned into
how the West has been presented to the American public over the years,”
Braden says. “But it’s time to start something new.”
Braden was featured at WordSmitten's Writing
Workshop at the St. Petersburg College downtown campus in St.