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Xanadu: 1897

Xanadu: 1897

St. Augustine, Florida, circa 1897. "The Ponce de Leon, Alcazar and Cordova hotels." Glass negative by William Henry Jackson. View full size.


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Ponce De Leon is now Flagler College

The Ponce De Leon hotel today is Flagler College. It still looks remarkably the same.

Judging by the photo angle, it was taken from the open-air arches outside the 4th or 5th story circular ballroom. I graduated from Flagler College in 1981, and my dorm was was on the third floor, about the same place as where the photo was taken. One day while exploring, several of us tried to make our way up to the ballroom (it was closed off those years, rumor had it that the floor was full of zodiac signs), but we couldn't get past a locked metal gate at the top of the elevator shaft.

The once opulent hotel rooms were our dorms. At the time I was in school, each room still had a fireplace with carved cherubs on the mantle, but all the fireplaces were closed off. (would you trust a college student with a fireplace?) Our dining hall was the hotel's dining room, with hand-carved chairs (more cherubs), a gilded ceiling (since restored) and Tiffany glass windows. It's quite a place. It also has (had?) what we were told was the first poured concrete in-ground pool in the country. We students used it between classes and on weekends.

Yes, those are gargoyles on the drain pipes, that was the name of our college newspaper. The fountain in the court yard doubled as a way to aerate the water, which otherwise smelled of sulfur.

The Ponce was quite the place for the swells to stay during winter until Flagler built his railroad farther south and built other hotels.

Two Major Reasons for Florida's Population Increase after WWII

-Mosquito Control
-Air Conditioning

In the last year, though, Florida's population has decreased slightly, presumably due to the recession.

(Orange County--Orlando--was originally Mosquito County.)

Long tentacles of the rail octopus

Many of the streets in my city were named for railroad barons, including Flagler.

Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway

The Ponce de Leon and Alcazar Hotels were built by Henry M. Flagler, the founder of the Florida East Coast Railway, the first rail line to reach Palm Beach, Miami, and eventually Key West. He employed the fledgling architecture firm of Carrere and Hastings (designers of the New York Public Library) to design both hotels, as well as two churches and Flagler's house in St. Augustine. The Cordova Hotel was not built by Flagler, but he bought it a few years after it opened.


I like the decorative spouts which I think were used to drain rainwater from the open second floor veranda. They also came in handy for pouring molten lead upon attacking Seminoles.

Interesting to me for a

Interesting to me for a couple of reasons. I'm from the West and we usually associate Jackson with Western Landscapes. So it's interesting to see pix from the East. Also, I understand that these were hotels built by th Atlantic Coast Line Rail in order to build up the area and hence business for rail. I remember when I was a child in the fifties dreaming of exotic places that Florida was one of the LEAST populated states in America!

Check out the lightning rods on the left

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In Xanadu

"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree, where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea."

I stayed here last summer and my room was right over there (pointing at an unseen window on the back of the current Casa Monica Hotel). St. Augustine is an amazing little place with the most fascinating history and architecture, but these three gigantic buildings command the attention of the whole town.

You just have to see it for yourself to know what I mean.

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