2018 Florida Road Trip Part 11(Continued – 3)

27 Mar

A slice of Life

Bill Lites


Note to our readersI uploaded part 12 last week in error, so this week, we back up a day. My apologies-Onisha


Day 11 Monday 10/29/2018


The Hotel Alcazar lay unoccupied until 1947, when it was purchased by Otto C. Lightner to house his extensive collection of Victorian Era pieces.  The museum was opened in 1948, and consists of Gilded Age displays of the Lightner collection on three floors of the original hotel, including the three-story Ballroom (capable of holding 350 wedding guests).  The first floor houses a Victorian village and a music room filled with all types of musical instruments, including player pianos and orchestrions dating from the 1870s.  On the second floor visitors will find a large collection of Victorian glass items displayed, including stained glass works by Louis Comfort Tiffany.  On the third floor (Ballroom) there are displays of Victorian furniture, fine art paintings, and sculptures by famous Victorian artists dating from the early 1800s.



Across Cordova street from the Lightner Museum is the Casa Monica Hotel.  The hotel was built in 1888 by Franklin W. Smith, who also designed the Hotel Alcazar for Henry Flagler.  In fact, Smith was instrumental in convincing Flagler that the St. Augustine area was the perfect location to begin building the “American Rivera” down the east coast of Florida that Flagler dreamt of.  Not to be outdone by Flagler, Smith decorated and operated the Casa Monica Hotel as a showplace for the rich and famous.  However, soon after the hotel opened, Smith began to run into financial trouble that became so bad that he finally had to sell the hotel.   In 1902 Smith sold the hotel to his friend/competitor Henry Flagler. By the time of the sale, Henry Flagler had already completed two hotels there in St. Augustine (the Hotel Alcazar (1887) now the Lightner Museum and the Ponce de Leon Hotel (1888) now part of Flagler Collage).  This put Henry Flagler at the top of the heap as having a monopoly of the luxury hotels in the city of St. Augustine.

Trivia note: Did you know that Saint Monica (322-387) was the North African mother of St. Augustine (354-430), who was Bishop of Hippo Regius (395-430), in North Africa, and who the city of St. Augustine was named for.






Across King Street from the Lightner Museum is the Flagler Museum. Originally built in 1888 by Henry Flagler as the Ponce de Leon Hotel, this elegant hotel was another tribute to the entrepreneurial character of Henry Flagler.  At the time the luxury hotel business, in the St. Augustine area, was at an all-time high. It’s hard for me to imagine the opulence that adorned these luxury hotels.   They were so far ahead of their time that, for instance, Flagler had to hire additional staff to turn the electric lights on and off for the guests, because they were afraid to touch the switches.  As a part of Flagler’s dream to build the “American Rivera” in Florida, over the next several years, he began expanding what would become, the Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC), south to eventually reach Key West.  But, Flagler overlooked the fact that this new railroad would allow some northern tourists to by-pass St. Augustine for the warmer climates of places like Fort Lauderdale and Miami.




The Ponce de Leon Hotel survived the depression and WWII, but after a long downturn period, the hotel finally closed in 1967.  Then in 1968 Flagler College was founded on 19 acres behind the hotel and the Ponce de Leon Hotel became the centerpiece of the newly established college.  (Check out interior photos on the internet of this luxury hotel that students are surrounded by on a daily basis – e.g. Dining Room with its stained glass windows by Tiffany).  Also go to Wikipedia and click on Henry Flagler (1830-1913) for many more interesting facts about the man and his adventures.



While Franklin Smith was in his architectural prime designing and building luxury hotels, he also designed and built his own winter home there in St. Augustine (1883) just one block west of the current location of the Casa Monica hotel.  Smith built his home in the Moorish Revival style and named it Villa Zorayda.  It has sometimes been called the first example of “fantasy” architecture in Florida.   Henry Flagler visited St. Augustine in 1883 and was so impressed with Smith’s Villa Zorayda that he tried to buy it for his wife, but Smith wouldn’t sell.  Smith finally did sell the Villa Zorayda to Abraham Mussallem in 1913. After having been used for several different businesses, over the years, Villa Zorayda was finally opened to the public, as a museum, in 1936.



As I mentioned at the first of this day’s blog (Monday 10/29/2018), there was so much to see there in St. Augustine that I ran out of time to see it all, up close and personal.  Some of those places I saw from the trolley, but didn’t have time to go thru were:


“Gonzalez-Alvarez House” (1723) or “The Oldest House”

     The Ximenez House (1798)


             The Oldest Drugstore (1886)


                                                                                                   Potters Wax Museum (1949)


            Black Raven Pirate Ship (1720 replica)

              Colonial Corner (1740)


With the help of Greta (my Garmin) I finally found my way to the motel, just outside St. Augustine, and got checked in.  Once I got unpacked, I warmed up those wonderful Fish Tacos from the Sandollar Restaurant, and enjoy them anew.  Yummm!



To Be Continued



Bill is a retired Mechanical engineer living with his wonderful artist/writer wife, DiVoran, of 61 years in Titusville, Florida. He was born and raised in the Southwest, did a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy, attended Northrop University in Southern California and ended up working on America’s Manned Space Program for 35 years. He currently is retired and spends most of his time building and flying R/C model airplanes, traveling, writing blogs about his travels for Word Press and supporting his wife’s hobbies with framing, editing and marketing.  He also volunteers with a local church Car Care Ministry and as a tour guide at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum there in Titusville.  Bill has two wonderful children, two outstanding grandchildren, and a loving sister and her husband, all of whom also live in Central Florida, so he and DiVoran are rewarded by having family close to spend lots of quality time with.




One of Bill’s favorite Scriptures is:  John 10:10

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