Historic Structures

Ormond Hotel, Ormond Beach Florida

Date added: September 26, 2016 Categories: Florida Hotel

The Ormond Hotel was constructed in 1887, is significant for its historical relationship with Henry Flagler and the growth of tourism and autoracing in Florida. Situated on a thin peninsula between the Halifax River and the Atlantic Ocean, the hotel is a huge, sprawling frame structure, the last remaining frame hotel once a part of Flagler's chain of great luxury hotels.

The impetus to build a hotel at Ormond came only after the construction of a railroad from East Palatka to the banks of the Halifax River in 1886. A wooden bridge was then constructed across the river in 1887 making access between the mainland and the peninsula permanent. The narrow gauge railroad had been constructed with financing from Wall Street millionaire Stephen Van Cullen White, who had been staying at Ormond with his sister-in-law recuperating from an illness. White quickly recognized the financial opportunities created by the completion of the railroad, as did John Anderson and Joseph Price. Anderson and Price approached White with their plans to construct a hotel on the peninsula. Against the judgement of many people who looked skeptically upon the chances for success of a hotel in the wilderness, White agreed to finance the hotel. Thought to have been designed by a fourteen year-old boy, George Panfield, construction of what was to become one of the most famous hotels on the east coast of Florida soon began.

The Ormond Hotel opened its doors on a seasonal basis on January 1, 1888, with each of its 75 rooms renting for $4.00 a night.4 The season usually ran from the first week in January to the first week in April. However, the resort was so remotely located that it was financially unsuccessful the first two seasons it was open. Henry Flagler had watched the building of the Ormond Hotel closely, fearing it as a competitor to his newly constructed Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine. In 1890, he purchased the fledgling Ormond Hotel and railroad for $112,000, forging the second link in his East Coast Hotel Company. Allowing Anderson and Price to remain as managers, Flagler increased the hotel's size from 75 to 150 rooms in 1890, and to 300 in 1899. By 1905, Flagler had expanded the hotel to its largest size, adding three wings, to the north, south, and west, and painting the hotel the traditional "Flagler Yellow". Flagler had also built a railroad bridge parallel to the wooden bridge which allowed trains to deliver the private cars of the Ormond Hotel's wealthy guests to the hotel door. The Ormond Hotel operated as a self-contained community, housing facilities for all of the resort's activities. The grounds and support facilities at this time included a separate kitchen, power house, laundry, lumber shed, green house and garden, rose-garden, stables, two servants barracks, saltwater swimming pool, casino, putting green, croquet and tennis courts, stores, motion picture theatre, garage and grandstand. The hotel itself had over 400 rooms.

After Flagler acquired the hotel, it became a very popular seasonal gathering place for the nation's wealthy and elite. As socialites seasonally migrated north and south, so did the staff of the hotel. The Ormond Hotel maintained working agreements with several northern hotels, bringing their entire staff south for the season. Advertising brochures proclaimed the cuisine at the Ormond "New England's best, with cooks, waitresses, maids, and all from the finest of New England Resorts". At various times the Ormond Hotel was associated with the 0-te-sa-ga Hotel in Cooperstown, New York, the Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretonwoods, New Hampshire, and the Mt. Pleasant Hotel in New Hampshire.

Prior to his purchase of the nearby "Casements" in 1918, John D. Rockefeller, Flagler's partner in the Standard Oil Company, for several seasons rented the entire second floor of the west wing, later known as the Rockefeller Wing. Rockefeller played daily on the Ormond Hotel's golf course, presided over the annual charity ball at the hotel, and frequently gave automobile rides to young employees on the hotel staff. Rockefeller's presence provided great publicity for the hotel.

The Ormond Hotel found itself at the center of excitement during the early days of autoracing, a situation providing national prominence to the hotel. James Hathaway, a wealthy Massachusetts manufacturer vactioning at the Ormond Hotel in 1902, observed that the long stretches of the firm sand surface of Ormond Beach would be suitable testing site for the newly invented automobile. He consulted with the hotel managers, John Anderson and Joseph Price, about the possibility of conducting races on the beach. Anderson and Price agreed, hoping to garner national publicity from the venture. Before the March event was realized however, Ransom E. Olds and Alexander Winton held their own race on the beach, setting a one mile speed record of 57 miles-per-hour. The news was flashed to the nation by journalists from the Ormond Hotel's telegraph office.

Flagler sought to capture the momentum of this exciting new sport for the benefit of the hotel. In 1903, he constructed the Ormond garage, capable of housing 100 automobiles. It subsequently became known as "America's Original Gasoline Alley". Yearly races were held and new speed records were continually set on the Ormond Beach course, lending the title to Ormond Beach as the "Birthplace of Speed".

After World War I, patronage of the hotel began to decline. Tourists were lured further south by newer hotels in Miami and Palm Beach. A new type of tourist developed, no longer able to afford seasonal or expensive vacations. The Ormond Hotel was slowly converted to convention use, and then expanded from seasonal to year round operation. By 1949, the hotel was operating at a loss, so the East Coast Hotel System sold the hotel to Robert Woodward who converted it into an unsuccessful hotel management school. Woodward in turn sold the hotel and golf course separately: the golf course to Ellinor Village and the hotel to Reverend C.A. Maddy for $175,000. Maddy converted the hotel into a retirement home, selling lifetime care contracts to the elderly who found security in being cared for in their final years. However, the retirement home was managed poorly and placed into receivership. In 1955, management was undertaken by Edward Cook, a wealthy retired candy manufacturer and resident of the hotel, who modified the care contract instituted by Maddy, and began to put the hotel on a sound financial basis. The hotel changed ownership twice since 1955. In 1965, Thomas Weatherall purchased the hotel, and under his ownership the south wing was shortened to allow for the widening of Granada Boulevard. Paul and Peter Francis, purchased the hotel in 1978.