Thursday, July 30, 2015

A glimpse of 1880s luxury

Current photo of the historic dining room at Flagler College
Just your average dining room .... Aristocratic guests dined
here in the late 19th century. Today, students attending
Flagler College take their meals here.
If you wonder how the 1 percent vacationed in the late 1880s, take the guided tour of Flagler College in St. Augustine. You won't be disappointed.

The college's main building is the former Ponce deLeon Hotel, built by oil magnate and Florida promoter Henry Flagler in the mid-1880s. It opened in 1888. He spared no expense, and the hotel launched high-class tourism in Florida. 

The luxury of the structure remains evident today, and must have awed visitors in its day. At least those visitors who gained access. Our tour guide said patrons had to be on the Social Register to be considered guest-worthy. Then they had to pay $4,000 to vacation there. I don't remember if that amount covered a month or the entire season - which was about three months. I do remember that Flagler demanded the fee be paid in cash. In advance. (That $4,000 in 1888 would have been $103,800 in 2014.) 

People did get what they paid for. Much has been written about the hotel's architecture and service, so I deem it best to cut my ramblings short and let photos and links tell the rest of the story. It's a feast for the eyes. In a future post, I'll take a look at the people behind the scenes - the servants who ran themselves ragged making sure the cocoon of perfection contained no jagged edges.

Enjoy a virtual tour, but make sure to see the real thing next time you're in St. Augustine.

  • Google Images offers multiple views of photos and illustrations. 
  • Flickr users have posted more than 1,800 images.
  • This short Flagler College video is about the summer restoration of the aluminum-, gold- and silver-leaf plated murals in the rotunda:

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