Hotel Ponce de Leon, St Augustine Florida
The Hotel Ponce de Leon, a Gilded Age resort hotel, was constructed in 1885-1887 just west of the Plaza de la Constitution, the heart of Spanish colonial St. Augustine. The large hotel complex and its grounds occupy an entire city block (7.5 acres) on the north side of King Street, approximately a half mile west of the Matanzas River and Anastasia Island. The Atlantic Ocean lies east of Anastasia Island. The block is bounded by King Street on the south (main entrance), Valencia (north), Cordova (east), and Sevilla (west) Streets. King Street has been a primary east-west route in St. Augustine since colonial times, and the historic hotel site is a central location in the modern city. In 1967, the Hotel Ponce de Leon closed its doors, reopening in 1968 as Flagler College, a small, private liberal arts institution.
When construction of the hotel began in 1885, St. Augustine was still an isolated town with sand and shell-covered roads. Hotel builder and Florida east coast developer Henry M. Flagler and his architects, Carrere and Hastings, carefully considered the architectural style of their new hotel in the "ancient city." During a 1909 interview with a newspaper reporter, Flagler was asked what he considered to be the hardest thing he had done in Florida. He replied: "Building the Ponce de Leon. Here was St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States. How to build a hotel to meet the requirements of nineteenth century America and have it in keeping with the character of the place - that was my hardest problem."
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Henry M. Flagler was the predominant influence in St. Augustine, as well as Florida's entire east coast. In addition to the Hotel Ponce de Leon, in this vicinity Flagler built the Hotel Alcazar, the Alameda (gardens in front of the Alcazar), Memorial Presbyterian Church, Grace Methodist Church, a winter "cottage" residence, Kirkside (demolished 1950), and a railroad station, "transforming St. Augustine from a seedy southern Saratoga into a glamorous winter Newport." "At a time when most American hotels displayed predictably rectangular ground plans and Stick or Queen Anne detailing, [Flagler's] resort hotels boldly and evocatively referenced Florida's Mediterranean-like setting and St. Augustine's Spanish colonial past."