Historic Structures

Alcazar Hotel, St Augustine Florida

Date added: October 4, 2016 Categories: Florida Hotel

The Alcazar Hotel was constructed in 1887-1889 Henjry Flakier as a part of a complex of three buildings of Moorish-Spanish Architecture, in his quest to create a "Riviera" on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

The Alcazar Hotel, the name being Arabic(Al-kasr) for "royal castle", was the second of the luxurious hostelries erected in St. Augustine by Henry M. Flagler, known first in the nation's financial marts as an associate of John D. Rockefeller in the creation of the parent Standard Oil Company

The Alcazar Hotel building is an original architectural style composite of Spanish Renaissance mingled with adaptations borrowed from Moorish buildings in Spain. The castles of Seville were copied in some of the decorative design? and the facade bears great resemblance to Seville's famed Alcazar, royal palace of kings.

The building was completed in 1889 after two years of construction at a cost in excess of $1,000,000. It was first used, in its then unfinished stage, in 1888 to accomodate the overflow patronage of her famed "sister", the illustrious Ponce de Leon, Henry Flagler's first hotel project which had just attained completion. The Alcazar formally came into "her own" the following year.

This distinct and impressive structure, four stories in height, standing on filled-in land, occupies a ground area of 250' by 450'. The over-all property size can best be visualized in terms of city blocks - one in width, three in depth.

The construction of the outer walls was a shell rock formation indigenous to the St. Augustine area. It is known as coquina. The present building is one of the first constructed in the United States of poured concrete.

The Alcazar in its original interior design had 300 guest rooms, in an age when private-bath-in-every-room was not accepted requirement. As the pattern changed in hotel accomodations this conversion in the Alcazar left 170 guest rooms. There were, of course, elaborate and expansive writing and lounge rooms, spacious lobbies and two la: dining rooms with comparable allowances for kitchen, and refrigeration facilities.

In the south section of the building were located Turkish and Russian baths, Swedish massage services and kindred activities. The natural artesian water used here was presumed to have medicinal benefits. It was obtained from a free-flowing well located on the property.

Adjoining the baths was and still is the magnificent Casino, the then recreation and social center of the Alcazar, Ponce de Leon, and the community as well. Here was in all probability the largest indoor swimming pool in the nation. On the upper balcony of the Casino were staged dances, entertainments, and other social functions.

The Casino pool, which has since been floored over, was the scene of many memorable sports occasions. The national AAU swimming championship meets were held in this pool, an old program dated February, 1925, listing such nationally famous feminine entries as Gertrude Ederle, Helen Wainwright, Aileen Riggin, Helen Meany, Adelaide Lambert, Sybil Bauer, champions all.

Along with the other events the Casino is became the setting for the annual St. Augustine Antiques Show, established by Mr. Lightner and presented in January of each year.

Tennis courts were at the rear of the building and on them trod the feet of champions, Tilden, Richards, Doeg, and others of that era.

The Alcazar was closed in 1930 due to the national economic depression. It remained closed and uninhabited until purchased by Otto C. Lightner, in 1947.

The interior of the building had suffered quite some deterioration during the 17 years it had been uncared for. An expensive program of rehabilitation was necessary before the property would be habitable. Mr. Lightner allotted $150,000 of his personal funds for this purpose; and work in the area of the first two floors and the Casino was commenced and completed to its present appearance. In the latter part of 1947 the facility was in condition to receive the exhibits from the Chicago Museum of Mr. Lightner.