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Bathing in the Casino: 1889

Circa 1889. "Bathing pool in the Casino. (Probably the Ponce de Leon Hotel, St. Augustine, Florida.)" UPDATE: This was actually the nearby Hotel Alcazar (thanks to Amphalon). Photograph by William Henry Jackson. View full size.

Circa 1889. "Bathing pool in the Casino. (Probably the Ponce de Leon Hotel, St. Augustine, Florida.)" UPDATE: This was actually the nearby Hotel Alcazar (thanks to Amphalon). Photograph by William Henry Jackson. View full size.


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Lady Swimmers

I read that there were ladies' hours, and there was a special private pool behind the main wall. Probably in a book by Thomas Graham, who has written several about the Flagler properties.

And dancing too

If you get a chance to visit this landmark it's very important to look at everything to see what it was like during its many iterations. Try to tell what it used to be like from what it is now.

Some of the things I noticed: The acoustics. The sound echoing up to the rafters of every little activity in the pool area would have made for an interesting stay in the rooms on the upper floors.

The upper floors seem to be guest rooms surrounding the huge atrium above the pool/casino area. You see people standing near the edge. The open deck from where the people are to the rooms is very wide. Not just a walkway but more a dance hall. I can picture guests dancing in this spacious area with music wafting up from below.

The pool had "canals" off to the sides that one may swim in to the massage and sauna.

Windows opened like awnings all around the top of the building above the pool providing powerful ventilation with the seabreeze.

Where's Esther?

I pool this beautiful needs a queen. I think I see a sign: Esther Williams swam here. Or maybe it's just a mirage.

A small touch of Japanese style

Note the Japanese chochin (paper lanterns) hanging from the ceiling and arches. Is Japan even considered exotic anymore?

Washed out.

I saw the band Explosions in the Sky perform in this very room a few years ago. Very strange space.

Speaking of Tarzan and swinging...

That was something the younger kids would always get to wondering about. Tarzan seeming to having a very convenient vine perfectly located in each tree ready to go. We convinced them that Cheetah and his pals did all his vine re-setting in return for Tarzan's protection services.

Those movies gave us plenty of ideas of how to hang some various size ropes (actually anything we could find) and tie them on sturdy tree branches. Hint: mama's clothesline was good for about 3 or 4 swings before someone took the plunge. Unfortunately, there wasn't any water under us. We quickly discovered the swinging part is not big deal, but the landing was way sketchy. Eventually we designed a contest of how far a kid could swing out and land. Lots of sprained extremities and bruised butts. Not being absolute idiots we moved over to playing soldier where you only got dirty. Still cracks me thinking of all the silly noises we made for our weapons. Most oft heard phrase..."No way, it was just a flesh wound."


Amazing, I just ate lunch in the deep end of the Saturday!

I was quite fascinated by that room, the floor slopes down to the cafe end, with antique shops underneath the sides, they said it was fed by a sulfur spring and kept at 86 degrees.

The shallow end was reserved for the men so they could smoke their cigars and relax, and the other end was for the women.

The Ponce de Leon across the street had its own powerhouse with two early Edison generators. (Apparently one is in the Smithsonian now.) They may have powered the lights here.

Tarzan practiced here

Looks to me that those ropes are hung in such a manner as to allow one to grab the first one from the shower, and swing from one to another until you've reached the pair closest to the camera.

And from the markings, I'd say these swimmers are near the shallow end of the pool. It's only 3 1/2 feet at the far end, and 4 1/2 feet near the man with the life preserver, then 6 feet at the column on the near left. Could be a diving board at the near end, judging from the size of the room in the Panorama.

The flags on the railing

above the clock have 39 stars. That would be the "flag that never was," anticipating the two Dakotas would be admitted as one state in 1889.

[Dingdingding. We have a winner! - Dave]

Casinos, then and now

Given that our modern understanding of the term "Casino" that is almost exclusively synonymous with "Gambling Hall" I was surprised that I didn't see any comments about how hard it would be to put all your money on Black (that's a Roulette joke).

Of course the 19th century mind would have understood "Casino" as meaning "a public building where pleasurable activities, including gambling, and sports took place."

Must have been dangerous

I wonder how many folks were seriously hurt climbing the stairs there to get to those showers. Without guardrails of any sort to hold onto.... one slip on the slippery steps and CONK! Busted skull.....

Dave, since there aren't any nubile ladies in swim atire in the picture (all of the females are barely seen, and fully clothed in circa 1889 high fashion), I don't see what you're pointing to about the thing everyone's missed... unless it's "How the heck would you safely change a lightbulb from that chandelier while it's over the pool without getting electrocuted?" Or are you referring to the gymnastic stuff over on the left side of the picture?

Virtual Tour

Nice 360 degree panorama of the current space here.

Pointed, pointed...

..nope, not getting the hint. A little vexillology, perhaps? Alas, not the flag of Bermuda. The two identifiable flags I could make out are the Canadian Red Ensign and the Irish Flag of Leinster. The Canadian Red Ensign is the UK colonal flag with the Canadian crest (crest, crown, and a maple leaf wreath), though it was technically "unofficial", because they kept changing the crest every time a province was added and not standardized until the 1920s. The Irish flag to its left served as the "unoffical flag of Ireland" until 1922.

[You are so very close to the forest. With various inconsequential trees getting in the way. A "pointed" question. What could that mean? - Dave]

Oh yes

And those trapezes look like they'd be lots of fun to swing from and fly into the water.

Hmmm . . . let's see

I'm wondering if this pool is filled with sea water. I would assume it's not chlorinated. There are showers in the corners for rinsing off. The niches now have potted plants.

But what topic could you be referring to, Dave?

Let's see. There are only men in the pool. I suppose in those days there were no ladies' hours at all. They all have fine mustaches. It's cute to see the ladies demurely watching them. Maybe it's the baggy wool swimsuits? But they don't seem to be . . . er . . . revealing anything inappropriate. Maybe I need to enlarge the picture?

Top Man's Crotch

That's not the name of a town in the Rockies. It's my answer to the Pointed Question.

No bathtub rings, please!

Here's a nice touch: Note the showers (with hot and cold faucets) in little alcoves at the top of the stairs leading to the pool.

No handrails on the stairs, though, even though everyone using them had wet, slippery feet!

Without the caption...

Agree with "Going Under." If the caption hadn't said it was a pool, I would have thought it was a flooded opera house or theater, with young folks taking advantage of the disaster as they often will.

The architecture is all wrong for a pool; it's much easier to get trapped under a balcony than to climb out onto a tiled floor.

In the swing of things

On the left side of the photo, notice the ropes with handholds hanging from the ceiling. I'm guessing that these were used by people wanting to swing from the balcony and drop into the pool, sort of like an old fashioned tire swing.

Since the water only appears to be a few feet deep, I don't thing I'd be first in line to try this stunt!

A shocking detail

Somehow the idea of having electric lighting fixtures dangling directly above the swimming pool gives me the willies.

Drowned city

Going Under's comment on the spooky quality of this pool is well made, especially given the "today" photo of the Cafe Alcazar. As the polar caps continue to recede, the dining room might regain its historical appearance in time for its bicentennial.

Boys night out

Where are the women swimmers?

Swing baby

Well, I don't know if this is what your are alluding to, but are those swing type apparatus on the left for hanging onto and doing???


Heavens, there are no handrails or guard rails anywhere!! Someone might fall in. People should be protected against harming themselves.

Going Under

I'm not sure I could bring myself to get in this pool on a dare. Underwater nooks and crannies terrify me. I have nightmares that look just like this, except the pool's at least three (flooded) stories deep. *shudder*

Pointed Question

There's something here that no one's commented on yet. A topic of seemingly endless discussion in other posts. What could it be?

My first thought

after viewing all these wonderful photos from this period something is missing. They didn't have fashionable headwear for the swimmer.

International House of Splashing

The architecture is quite innovative for its day, and combines the usual eclectic mix of details: inspired by a classical Roman bath, the cast concrete structure combines Roman arches and corner vaults with Greek Doric columns, Venetian Renaissance balustrades, and Spanish corbels and roof trusses. Add to these the electric chandeliers (early enough to have been installed by Edison), the Japanese paper lanterns, and the flags of many nations. The paper lanterns over the shower stalls are in the shape of Japanese carp, a pretty amusing touch in this context.

Miss Teschmacher!

I second the Lex Luthor assessment. A fantastic pool. More hotel pools need to be like this!


Is that the flag of Bermuda on the rafter? I'd LOVE to swim in this room today ... that's just an incredible pool!

Hotel Alcazar Casino

Along with the Ponce de Leon, the Alcazar was one of Henry Flagler's grand hotels. Today it houses St. Augustine City Hall and the Lightner Museum. The pool is now the Cafe Alcazar:


Wow! This would make a great set for one of those MGM Musicals of the late 40s or early 50s! Dynamite!


Is there such a word to describe that team of athletes in the pool? It just came to me, a silly word that some Victorian sideshow pitchman would come up with to describe them.

Is this pool still around? Bears an eerie resemblance to Lex Luthor's swimming pool in the movie Superman.

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