Celebrating a Grand Hotel

Flagler College's Crisp-Ellert Art Museum on Sevilla Street.

Flagler College’s Crisp-Ellert Art Museum on Sevilla Street.

Yesterday we spent a delightful morning visiting an exhibit celebrating the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Ponce de Leon Hotel. In its heyday it attracted the cream of society to Florida to enjoy a luxurious visit in the nation’s Oldest City. Since 1968, it’s been the home of Flagler College, a private liberal arts college. They take their heritage seriously. Not only have they maintained the original hotel, they have made an effort to design new buildings – such as the library, student center and auditorium – in a similar architectural style. The campus now sprawls across a significant part of St. Augustine’s downtown.

The Flagler College campus.

The Flagler College campus.

The exhibit is small, but quite fascinating. There are architectural drawings and photographs of the hotel’s construction as well as early photographs of the dining room, lobby and parlors.

Construction photo of the hotel.

Hotel construction photo.

Although the museum did not prohibit taking pictures of the exhibit, the lighting and reflective glass used to frame many of the drawings often made them impossible to photograph.

In addition to the photographs and drawings of the hotel itself, the exhibit included a number of paintings created by artists who had studios in the hotel. The story of these studios, their artists and the paintings they created are a fascinating part of the hotel’s history.

Ink sketch of a hotel doorway. Click to view details.

Ink sketch of a hotel doorway.

The museum is open from 10:00am to 4:00pm, Monday through Friday. There is no charge for admission. This exhibit – Planning and Painting in Paradise: The Art and Architecture of the Hotel Ponce de Leon – will continue until February 22, 2013.

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St. Augustine’s Gilded Age

Beth Rogero Bowen’s St. Augustine in the Gilded Age takes a look at the city during its heyday as a tourist destination. Using her collection of postcards from the late 19th and early 20th century, Beth provides a remarkable tour of our town. Many of the postcards are familiar, but there are many more I’ve never seen – including photos of the flames and aftermath of the 1914 fire that destroyed several blocks of the downtown area.

PonceOrnamentAnother juicy tidbit from those days is the Hotel Ponce de Leon and Alcazar sketchbook available online at Florida State University’s Digital Library Center. This booklet was used to announce the opening of these grand hotels and provides a tantalizing look at the hotels and some local attractions. This little watercolor sketch comes from the back cover.