Vintage St Barths Photos from 1989 by Sue Auclair

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Our favorite tiny, eight-square-mile island has been around for awhile, yet depending on who you ask, you will find that everything has changed or nothing has. The roads have certainly seen a lot of improvement, as many paths to beaches turn from dirt to road. There are phones in villas now, which I have recently discovered to my own shock and awe, wasn’t always the case.

Our community of St Barths Insiders on Facebook and on Instagram is as diverse as it gets. It is because of this community that includes everyone from first-time visitors to those who have traveled to the island enough to be recognized as honorary residents that we get to truly bridge the distance between the past and the present. These St Barth insiders their memories, experiences, and recommendations to create spaces that help you navigate St Barth better. Join us!

Let’s travel back in time with Sue Auclair, a St Barts insider and a community member, who was generous enough to share images of St Barth from the year 1989, a time before SUVs, the internet, and cell phones, with us. You will find that Sue has some great advice if you are contemplating travel to St Barth, whether it is for the first time or not.

Gustavia St Barts 1989 Sue Auclair
Gustavia in 1989, Photo by Sue Auclair

Please tell our readers a little bit about your connection to St Barth.

I first visited St. Barths in the late 1980s after reading about it in a magazine.  Probably it was Vogue!  I rented a small apartment in St. Jean above a little restaurant in the St. Jean shopping mall for $500 for a week!  There was a huge Amazon parrot in a cage outside the restaurant.  But I can’t remember the restaurant’s name!  I was able to walk to Pelican Beach from there and I was truly in heaven immediately.

 I was the Public Relations Director for The Newport Jazz Festival and The Newport Folk Festival for 21 years and almost every year I would go to St. Barths to recover from the intense load of work

Sue Auclair

When was the first time your visited St Barth? What was the experience like?

I was young, blond and vivacious and I spoke pretty good French.  This was a huge asset since there were almost no Americans on the island in that time.  And no phones! I met lots of interesting local men at the bar at that restaurant and fell in love with one of them—the bartender in fact–who was a handsome, tanned blond windsurfer who spoke no English!

I went back to the island every summer and a few times in the fall and spring, making perhaps more than 20 trips overall.  I was the Public Relations Director for The Newport Jazz Festival and The Newport Folk Festival for 21 years and almost every year I would go to St. Barths to recover from the intense load of work involved in those amazing festivals as well as other entertainment projects that I handled—a nightclub in Boston, two or three other jazz festivals and major concerts in venues like Boston Symphony Hall, The Opera House, The Wang and many others.

Saline Beach St Barths, 1989. Photo by Sue Auclair
Saline Beach, nudist segment, 1989. Photo by Sue Auclair

I will also say that now there are too many boats docked on Pelican Beach.  That beach was more idyllic without all those parked boats and the beautiful pelicans I loved were also not there in 2018.  

Sue Auclair

How would you say the island has changed since you first visited?

The last time I was there was about 6 months after hurricane Irma and the island was still recovering but it was beautiful and wonderful to be there again after several years.  

I have to say though that the island was even more exquisite BEFORE SUVs, the internet and cell phones.  

I will also say that now there are too many boats docked on Pelican Beach.  That beach was more idyllic without all those parked boats and the beautiful pelicans I loved were also not there in 2018.  

Perhaps they were dispersed by the hurricane, I am not sure.

I miss the days of a quiet paradise with nothing to do except swim, eat fabulous French food and meet interesting people but the island still has a great deal of magic!

View of St Barth airport, 1989. Photo by Sue Auclair
View of St Barth airport, 1989. Photo by Sue Auclair

What is your most cherished St Barth memory?

Landing in paradise for the very first time is my most cherished memory….and also introducing my Swedish stepson to the island in the 1990s.  His excitement and enthusiasm for the beaches and the cuisine were priceless.

What advice would you give to someone visiting St Barth for the very first time?

Stay in a cottage or villa!  Get to know the residents!  Drink a “Ti’ Punch” (or two) on the beach!  

Be sure to visit Saline Beach at 7 AM in the morning when it’s empty and cool . . . there is no shade there . . . !

Sue Auclair

What are your top St Barth recommendations?

Be sure to visit Saline Beach at 7 AM in the morning when it’s empty and cool . . . there is no shade there . . . !

Saline beach, St Barths, 1989. Photo by Sue Auclair
Saline beach, St Barths, 1989. Photo by Sue Auclair

Looking back at St Barth through these pictures and Sue’s point of view sure puts its evolution in perspective. If you would like to share St Barth memories of your own, or interact with a community that knows the island well, join us in our Facebook Group or on Instagram.

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