Showcase of the Gilded Age

Saturday, 27 February 1892 - St. Augustine, Florida

Perhaps the best way to beat the competition is to be your own competition! Right across the street from Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel is Flagler’s Alcazar Hotel. He construction on his second hotel as soon as the first was finished. I checked into the Alcazar yesterday so I could record the building as a guest.

The Alcazar Hotel as seen from the Ponce de Leon Hotel
I believe I told you last week of the Methodist Church Flagler built? That was to replace the one he bought and tore down to build this hotel. He gave the Methodists a much grander church for being such good sports.

Flagler also demolished a roller rink and filled in a creek. He bought a farm north of town so he could dig up dirt to fill in the Maria Sanchez Creek. The farm he dug up had been the site of the historic first Fort Mose, a community of free black settlers back in 1738. Flagler didn’t let expense, history or God get in his way of his schemes.

The Alcazar Hotel was opened in 1888, built with poured concrete and coquina stone just like the Ponce de Leon Hotel. It was designed by Carrère and Hastings, who also designed the Ponce de Leon. They will go on to design numerous other buildings including the New York Public Library. That famous building will not be as grand as this one.

Parlor of the Alcazar Hotel
The hotel has a three-story ballroom, steam room, massage parlor, sulfur baths, gymnasium, a casino and the world’s largest indoor pool. Just last year they added another 40 rooms as well as electricity. Edison installed two of his direct current dynamos to light the hotel.

Alcazar's indoor swimming pool
The Alcazar attracts many wealthy patrons, including former and future American president Grover Cleveland. He came here in 1889, between his two terms in office, to check out the casino. That same year Secretary of State Thomas Bayard took a few laps in the pool. At $3.50 a night, most people could never afford to stay here.

By 1932, those heady days will be gone. What with the Great Depression and the waning tourist trade moving further down the coast, the hotel had to be closed. In 1946 Chicago publisher Otto C. Lightner bought the Alcazar Hotel do house his vast collection of Victoriana. What better place than one of the former luxury hotels of the Gilded Age? The building itself would be part of his collection. He not only had art, furniture, and glassware from the period, but glass and polished wood museum cases full of stuffed animals, minerals and artifacts that Victorians loved to collect. Lightner would later donate his Museum to the City of St. Augustine.

Bridge across the fish pond in the courtyard
I will have to visit the museum when I get back to the future. For now I am enjoying the restaurant, the gardens, the swimming pool, the Turkish bath and a couple of massages. All in the name of historical research, of course.

The Lightner Museum

More photos of the Alcazar Hotel

The steam room - Turkish or Russian Bath

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful travelogue! I love the photo with the fountain in the foreground. Looks wonderfully majestic!


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