Ponce de Leon Hotel Now The Flagler College
The Ponce de León Hotel was an exclusive hotel, built by millionaire developer and Standard Oil co-founder Henry M. Flagler and completed in 1888. The Hotel Ponce de Leon was designed in the Spanish Renaissance style by the New York architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings, and was constructed entirely of poured concrete, one of the nations first. The hotel also was wired for electricity at the onset, with the power being supplied by D.C. generators supplied by Flagler's friend Thomas Edison again one of the first in the country. There was a man employed just to tend to the lights as it was widely seen as dangerous to touch the switch. The building and grounds of the hotel are today a part of Flagler College.
Design: The interior elements of the Hotel are credited to Louis Comfort Tiffany, with Pottier and Stymus responsible for the furnishings. Bernard Maybeck, whose later designs include the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, served as a draftsman on the project. Architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray who had recently arrived from Paris, would go on to supervise the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, created the watercolor elevation of the hotel. Murals in the Rotunda and Dining Room were completed by the well-known artist George W. Maynard, who a decade later did murals in the Treasures Gallery at the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Noted Italian artist Virgilio Tojetti prepared the ceiling murals in the Grand Parlor.
Originally, the twin towers of the hotel were water storage tanks which contained 8,000 gallons each, providing running water for hotel guests (during World War II, one of the towers served as a brig when the hotel was occupied by the U.S. Coast Guard as a training center).
Hotel operation: The headwaiter of the Hotel Ponce de Leon in the 1880’s and 1890’s was Frank Thompson, who was a pioneer civil rights advocate, and organiser of the professional black baseball team that became the Cuban Giants.
Noted personalities including Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Somerset Maugham, Babe Ruth and Babe Didrikson stayed there. The Artists' Studios portion of the building attracted many up-and-coming American artists, including Martin Johnson Heade, who painted, among other works, "Giant Magnolias on a Blue Cloth" in Studio No. 7. The painting is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and Heade has been honored on a U.S. postage stamp. Others of his works are in the White House and significant galleries. The Hotel Ponce de Leon was one of the few Flagler Hotels to survive the Great Depression.
The federal government had implemented several of its direct aid programs to revitalising the community's tourism economy. Authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, Robert Frost, John Dos Passos, and, most particularly, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, visited or lived in St. Augustine during this time, and there was an active community of artists (widely known, since the publication of Robert Torchia's 2001 book of that title, as "The Lost Colony") whose works are now highly collectible.
WW II Training Centre: During World War II the Hotel was used as a Coast Guard Training Centre. St. Augustine is considered by many to be the birthplace of the Coast Guard Reserve. One of the first classes to graduate from Reserve officer training did so at St. Augustine in May 1941 at the converted Hotel Ponce de Leon. From 1942-45, thousands of young recruits received their "boot" and advanced training at what was certainly one of the most unusual training stations of WWII. Members of the CGR returned to the former Hotel Ponce de Leon for their 50th Anniversary celebration.
One of the Coast Guardsmen was Jacob Lawrence, already a famous artist. According to the official USCG history, "In October 1943 Lawrence was drafted into the Coast Guard, then part of the Navy. As the armed services were still segregated, he, along with all African-American recruits, were automatically limited to the steward’s mate rate. After his basic training at Curtis Bay, Maryland he was assigned to the Ponce de Leon Hotel (commandeered by the Coast Guard) in St. Augustine. Despite his rate, Lawrence was urged to continue his artistic endeavors by his commanding officer, Captain J.S. Rosenthal. He was later transferred to USCGC Sea Cloud (1944), the first integrated ship in the naval services." He would go on to be the first black artist to have his works hung in both the Vatican and the White House. He never forgot the racism he encountered in St. Augustine.
Post-War hotel and college: In 1963 the Hotel was one of several St. Augustine sites involved in the civil rights movement. Then Vice President Lyndon Johnson was invited to attend a banquet to launch the celebration of St. Augustine's upcoming 400th birthday as the nation's oldest permanent European settlement. Dr. Robert Hayling and other civil rights activists protested the exclusion of blacks from the event, and after negotiations, two tables were set aside for local black residents.
In 1964 the city became a national stage for demonstrations that brought Martin Luther King to town. On the 31st of March 1964, more than a hundred students from all-black Richard J. Murray High School marched to downtown and sat-in at the elegant dining room of the Ponce de Leon Hotel. They were met by police with dogs and cattle prods and arrested. It was the first mass sit-in of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine, and it was reported the next day in the New York Times. Additional incidents took place at other segregated locations, including the Monson Motor Lodge and the Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge, all of which contributed to passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. A number of books recount the events of the civil rights movement that took place at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, including David Colburn's Racial Change and Community Crisis (1985), which received the 1986 Rembert Patrick Award as the best book on Florida history and Pulitzer Prize-winner Taylor Branch's Pillar of Fire (Simon & Schuster, 1998)
In 1968 the hotel became the centrepiece of the newly-established Flagler College. Beginning in 1976, with the nation's bicentennial anniversary, Flagler College embarked on an ambitious campaign to restore the Hotel and other Flagler-era campus buildings. This private college has been named in recent years by US News & World Report as one of the southeast region's best comprehensive liberal arts colleges (four year course), and is included on its list of "America's Best Colleges". Its 2010-2011 tuition was $13,860 (excluding room and board) and its acceptance rate is an average of 35 to 45 percent of its annual applications. The Princeton Review ranks Flagler in the top tier of southeastern colleges, and its campus as one of the most beautiful in the U.S. It is currently included in the Princeton Review's Best 366 Colleges Rankings. In 1988 the College celebrated the centennial of the Hotel and a decade later students created the Flagler's Legacy program which provides guided tours of the Hotel to thousands of visitors annually.
ALL IN ALL AN EXQUISITE BUILDING IN STUNNING GROUNDS