A promotional guide from the Florida East Coast Hotel Company spotlighting their hotels in Florida, Havana and Nassau. Courtesy of the State Library and Archives of Florida via the Internet Archive.
Once one of Henry Flagler’s grand hotels, the Casa Monica is the only one in St. Augustine operating as a hotel today. It’s restoration in 1999 returned it to a luxury hotel reminiscent of St. Augustine’s gilded age.
The Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge was part of the Flagler hotel system that included the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine and The Breakers in Palm Beach. When the Ponce Hotel closed in 1968, the Motor Lodge was the only luxury hotel in St. Augustine for many years. It was actually located just north of town on US1 and included the golf course, country club, tennis courts and swimming pool. It was known for its Saturday buffet dinner dances and was the scene for many wedding receptions, class reunions and other large functions.
Today the lodge, country club and golf course are gone. The buildings were torn down and the landscaping left to its own while developers slowly develop the property. It still lives on in the memories of many local residents.
Casa Monica opened in 1888 as one of three grand hotels which turned St. Augustine into a winter resort. The hotel was built by Franklin Smith, but quickly sold to Henry Flagler who owned the other two hotels. He renamed it the Hotel Cordova.
In 1932 the Hotel Cordova closed. Shops remained in the building at street level, but it was mostly empty until the county bought it in 1962 and remodeled it to serve as the courthouse. By the 1990s the county had outgrown this courthouse and a new facility was built north of town. In 1997 the hotel was sold to The Kessler Collection which restored the building and its original name. The Casa Monica hotel reopened just in time to usher in a new century.
It is a beautiful jewel offering visitors an opportunity to taste a bit of the grandeur that was St. Augustine’s gilded age.
Two of Flagler’s magnificent hotels appear in this postcard postmarked 1911. On the left is the Cordova Hotel with the Alcazar on the right. The Cordova was originally called the Casa Monica hotel until Henry Flagler bought it. Today it has been restored as a luxury hotel and once again is known as the Casa Monica. The Alcazar is now home to St. Augustine’s city government and the Lightner Museum. Some of the spaces have been restored to show their original purpose and can be seen as part of the museum.
Photo courtesy The Florida Memory Project.