Lunch in the Deep End
The shallow end seen from our seat. The deep end seen from the first balcony.
Todays tourist thing is the Lightner Museum, after a late start, Steve, Maggie and Trooper met us in time for a bowl of soup in the café. The Café Alcazar is located on the ground floor of the former Alcazar Hotel. Built in 1887 by Henry Flagler, the hotel is now home to the Lightner Museum. It is built over a river bed that had to be filled, Henry bought a farm on the north of the city and had his workers bring the soil in to use to level the ground. That done, the hotel soon took shape using the poured concrete method, unique in the world at that time. The café occupies the deep end of the casino swimming pool which was constructed in 1889. The pool was the focal point of a health centre for wealthy hotel guests. It was four stories high with a glass ceiling that could be cranked open to view the stars. A 1,410 foot deep artesian well supplied a constant stream of fresh water to the 120 x 50 foot space from three to over twelve feet deep. It was considered at the time to be the world’s largest indoor pool. Dressing rooms were provided at each end, with a private pool available at the west end for women. A wide gallery on the first floor was graced with musicians and seating for guests who preferred to watch rather than swim. A ballroom recently restored to its original splendour on the second floor is now part of the museum. After lunch the gang went off to do their own thing as they had already been into the museum. Trooper was totally bemused when his ‘dad’ took the door handle off as he made his bid to leave the building.
The men’s bathroom, yes of course he did, and that way please.
Johnny Weissmuller (1904 – 1984) was a frequent guest at the hotel thrilling onlookers as he dived from the top balcony. He was the Austrian-Hungarian-born American swimmer and actor best known for playing Tarzan in movies. Johnny was one of the world's best swimmers in the 1920’s, winning five Olympic gold medals and a bronze. He won fifty-two US National Championships and set sixty-seven world records. After his swimming career, he became the sixth actor to portray Tarzan in films, a role he played in twelve motion pictures. Dozens of other actors have also played Tarzan, but Weissmuller is by far the best known. His character's distinctive, ululating Tarzan yell is still often used in films, he requested it be played three times at his funeral.
“Meet me at the pool”, century old words still seem to echo high over the now empty pool. In 1888 Henry Morrison Flagler, the wealthy partner of John D. Rockefeller, had recently completed his fabulous Ponce de Leon (now Flagler College) on the opposite side of the road. This magnificent hotel would cost his rich and bored friends and acquaintances 250,000 pounds (in todays money) for the January to March season, an escape from the harsh, cold storms of the north. Treated like royalty Flagler still felt something was missing for his guests well-being, something beyond the elegance and comfort of the palatial Ponce.
So he planned his “casino” where the very best exercise equipment was available. Pulleys, weights, punch bags, parallel and horizontal bars were installed. Russian and Turkish baths were advertised as the “finest in the south”, alcohol and cologne massages were available. Bowling alleys, billiard rooms, a bicycle riding academy and tennis courts were very popular with the guests wishing for a little physical challenge.
The inaugural opening of the Hotel Alcazar and Casino took place in march 1889. 1200 people jammed into the casino, the event was touted as the most extravagant affair of its kind ever given in the south. The hotel band performed from a Venetian gondola floating in the pool. Originally the pool had a clear glass sun roof that could be vented. In the evening 1000 electric lights illuminated the goings on.
The seventy degree pool water did have one drawback, (like that used for the plumbing in the hotel), the water was permeated with sulphur, and even aerating it did not completely remove the “rotten egg” smell. The water was constantly circulating, at 7,000 gallons per minute, entering through a flume from the south end of the pool and draining from below. For twenty five cents anyone from the town or neighbouring hotels could use the pool. It became very fashionable at noon, when the hotel band would present the first of two daytime concerts. In the evenings weekly “pool entertainments” were scheduled, which would include daring dives from the ballroom balcony, games of water polo, races, comic events as well as general swimming delighted one and all. The evening would be topped off with dancing and refreshments in the ballroom.
The Russian bath was a steam room, soon to be known as the “Senate,’ where patrons sat on marble tiers wrapped in “togas” enduring the 112-120 degree heat. Flagler had hired a Turkish attendant away from Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel to supervise the baths. Advertising for the baths touted them as “cure-alls for heart disease, as well as gout, rheumatism, liver and kidney disease, neurasthenia and obesity.” The logic of treatment, to the extent that treatment was explained, seems to have focused upon “relieving congestion in affected internal organs by drawing the patient’s blood away from the body’s core to the skin through induced sweating. A patron would enter the baths from the hotel or the casino and go to one of forty cubicle dressing rooms to disrobe. Then he would follow a path prescribed by his physician or by the staff which might involve being sprayed from a hose and given a shampoo, followed by a steam in the Russian bath, then a stint in the circular shower bath where a variety of jets of water would be sprayed on the patient – then back to the steam room and finally a quick dip in the cold plunge in the center of the bath area. Afterwards he might repair to the “resting room” for a massage and a glass of Clarendon Springs mineral water.”
Early visitors often described their bathing experience in ambivalent terms. “Crowds swarm in these baths,” the novelist Stephen Crane wrote. “A man becomes a creature of three conditions. He is about to take a bath – he is taking a bath – he has taken a bath.”
The 15th of March 1900. Alcazar Ball.
”The ballroom at the Casino never looked more beautiful than it did last night on the occasion of the Alcazar ball. The entrance was through a bower of aromatic cedar and palm branches and stately potted palms stood irregularly around the spacious room. The balusters were thickly trained with wild smilax, and the opening arches overlooking the pool were trellised with long fronds of the coconut palm brought from Miami. Wreaths and festoons of delicate greenery adorned the white walls and were massed in corners. Gigantic punch bowls were embowered in a grotto fashioned of gray Spanish moss, studied thickly with pink roses, and, embedded in festoons, wreaths and mossy grottoes, on the vine-robed balusters and in green recesses were thousands of miniature colored incandescent lights which shed a soft glow over the scene of enchantment. The cornices of the windows were draped in pink and green. One wing of the room was converted into a supper room where fifty little tables each accommodating from six to eight persons, were arranged on heavy rugs. Between four and five hundred invited guests were present among whom were many beautiful women robed in handsome gowns. An original order of dances consisting of twelve numbers was contained in a dainty program of blue and silver, and with exquisite music and the floor in perfect condition, no detail was lacking which goes to made an ideal ball”.
The 8th of April 1910
Dance at Alcazar. “The last of the pleasant informal hops to be danced this season in the parlors of the Hotel Alcazar was enjoyed last evening. This floor is perfect for dancing, the music, furnished by the Alcazar orchestra, is unexcelled, and these Thursday evening dances have been a delightful feature of social life at this hotel throughout the season. They have given pleasure not only to Mr. McAuliffs many guests in the hotel but to a number of young people of the city who were invited to attend the delightful affairs.”
The 11th of April 1910
”Alcazar Closes Tomorrow After Splendid Season. After one of the most successful seasons in many years the palatial Hotel Alcazar will close its doors for the winter of 1909 10 tomorrow morning after breakfast. Within a few days all of the members of the hotel staff will have left for the North and all will be quiet about the great building.”
1929. Single rooms with a bath were $75 a month, furnished suites with hotel service were $150 a month and up. Since liquor now was forbidden, the hotel had to advertise its availability for "weddings, receptions, afternoon teas, cards and dancing."
ALL IN A NOVEL LUNCH IN A NOVEL PLACE