If you ever get to St Augustine you owe it to yourself to take a tour of the of Hotel Ponce De Leon, named after the Spanish explorer who put St Augustine on the map, making it the oldest city in America. The National Park Service has a nice write-up on the hotel that’s worth reading.
The hotel was built in 1887 and completed in just two years, is a really remarkable building and set the stage for the high end tourist industry in Florida with luxury hotel furniture. Flagler, then one of the wealthiest men in the world, was the guy behind the project and “spared no expense” when that really meant something. This place is totally over the top.
The hotel was massively successful when it opened and lead to Flagler building other properties in Florida, including another across the street. Ultimately the hotel fell on hard times and was turned into the Flagler college in the 70s. They receive funding as a national monument and clearly from other sources as tuition isn’t very high for a private college and the facility maintenance alone must be a massive expense. While the hotel is a key part of the college, they make portions of it available for tours.
Brenda and I enjoyed a visit yesterday and while it’s safe to say that “you had to be there” when it comes to appreciating the grandeur of it all, perhaps some of these detail shots will give you an idea of what it is all about.
This shot, which I used before in a prior post, is a small portion of the front of the building. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a shot of the main entrance. What an amazing structure. It’s hard to believe that something this grand could have been built in only two years. The exterior details are just exquisite like this piece above a window. These “spouts” are actually for decoration only and serve no practical function. They are just great. You know what they say…”it’s better to look good than to feel good” In this case, it’s better to look good than to be functional. I’d have to agree.Lovely tile work around the main entrance. Intricate detail everywhere. I wouldn’t expect that this would have survived the northern winters, or the pollution of a city like New York.
Once you enter the lobby the detail is even more remarkable. Louis Comfort Tiffany handled all of the interior decorations and windows. “Nice job Louis. I just love your handiwork…” There is a big dome over the grand entrance lobby and you can’t believe that all of this detail is in a single room. Nearly all of the wood is oak and is wonderfully carved. It seems that Flagler employed shifts around the clock to make his two year timeline. Bigger than life size, there are intricate motifs everywhere, and all with their own meaning. It’s hard to believe that this sort of craftsmanship ever existed, much less all in one place. And, it’s still in great shape thanks to a big restoration project a few years ago.
The higher up you look, and it’s a long way up, the detail just continues.
We were shown other rooms, including the main dining room, still used for that purpose by the students of the college. This building has more Tiffany glass in it than in any other building, anywhere. I believe it. The windows in the dining room are just fabulous. And, there are just so many in every pattern imaginable. I expect, in the presence of such a grand room that food fights are not common among the students. What do you think? “now be good, ladies and gentleman, and keep your elbows off of the table. And, I mean now…” The ladies lounge was just exquisite with so many fine details. It looked, to me, like a (really big) piece of fine china instead of a room. What a fireplace and the clock, like all of the rest of the, then rare, electrical system, was crafted by Thomas Edison himself. “Hey Tom, I am going to build this really nice hotel in St. Augustine and was wondering if you’d be available to put a few of those new fangled electric light thingies into it? The timetable? Now is a good time.” The chandeliers, nine in this room alone, were also from Tiffany and in perfect shape. Someone spent big dollars restoring this room, for sure.
Sure, the lighting in my shots aren’t museum quality but this place surely is. You should visit. This town, St Augustine, may be the best stop yet for the crew of Pandora. Saturday we leave to continue south.
Oh yea, did I say that the sun is out today and it’s going to be in the mid 70s. Not perfect but… Me, I’ll take it.