Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Henry Flagler Buildings of St.Augustine

John and I have walked the streets of St. Augustine, toured four museums, and still feel as though we have not made much headway in seeing all of this town.That is not a complaint, for it has all been most interesting. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Florida became a winter retreat for northern visitors. Henry Flagler, a self-made millionaire, who with John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company, was the man who turned  St. Augustine into a winter vacation spot.  He started building a great Gilded Age empire of hotels and railroads that extended from the city south to Key West. There are three of his hotels still in St. Augustine today, one of them, the Cordova, still functions as a hotel today. Another one, the the Alcazar, is a museum today as well as the city hall for St.Augustine. Otto Lightner bought the hotel in 1947 to house his 40 to 50 thousand antiques and collectibles. The hotel rooms surrounding the courtyard are now the city hall offices, the museum part is located where there once were steam rooms, the bowling alley,casino and ballroom. The hotel once had the largest swimming pool in the world, now it is a cafe for the museum. The picture below was taken from the ballroom looking down at the cafe.
The courtyard outside is quite beautiful with plants and a fish pond. When we were there it was quite decked out both for Christmas and a wedding, which occurred just as we were leaving the museum.
 While the Alcazar was built in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style, the Ponce de Leon (the third hotel which Flagler built) was created to look like a Moorish-style palace with tall spires and turrets. It is now Flagler University, a liberal arts college. Below is a statue of Henry Flagler, which stands at the entrance to the college. The hotel is the main hall of the college, and is quite luxurious with Tiffany stained glass, imported marble and carved oak The picture below captures some of the beauty of the rotunda.  At the end of the rotunda is the student dining hall  and I am fairly certain that no other college has their dining hall in such a beautiful setting! Five past presidents stayed at this place when it was a hotel.
The last ornate Henry Flagler building, pictured here, is the Memorial Presbyterian Church. Flagler's daughter died tragically in childbirth in 1890. St. Augustine already had a Presbyterian church, St.George, but Flagler wanted a new one built in memory of his daughter. It was built in less than a year, although the stained-glass windows took 11 years to complete. It is a Venetian Renaissance structure, the size of which to me seemed quite over-whelming. It is still an active congregation with a preschool. In the church is a mausoleum where Henry Flagler, his first wife, daughter and her baby are buried.

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