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BUILDING A DAY: October 19, 2014

Hotel Ponce de León (now Flagler College)
St. Augustine, Florida

Architects: John Carrère And Thomas Hastings
Photos: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, University of Florida Digital Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries

?The grand hotel launched the careers of young architects John Carrére and Thomas Hastings who are noted most for the New York Public Library and The House and Senate Office Buildings adjacent to the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Interestingly, Carrère and Hastings, were young men right out of college when they designed the hotel.?
Flagler College History
Flagler College

The Hotel Ponce de León was built by Henry Morrison Flagler, a Gilded Age industrialist, railroad pioneer and entrepreneur who partnered with John D. Rockefeller to found the Standard Oil Company. In 1888, Flagler built the Hotel Ponce de León, his first in a series of luxury resorts along Florida’s east coast. This palatial Spanish Renaissance Revival hotel is nationally significant as it was the first commission for Carrère & Hastings and is America’s first large cast-in-place concrete building. Carrère and Hastings also designed the Memorial Presbyterian Church (1889) and the Hotel Alcazar (1888).

Construction for the resort hotel began in 1885 by contractors and former New England shipbuilders James McGuire and Joseph McDonald; the building was completed in 1887.

Flagler’s friend, Thomas Edison, supplied the hotel with a direct current power generator, which provided electricity for lights and other modern conveniences. More than 80 paintings were hung, about half of which are still on display. Artist George W. Maynard painted many of the murals throughout the hotel, including murals in the main lobby’s rotunda to depict the stages of exploration: Adventure, Discovery, Conquest and Civilization. Maynard replicated these images in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Italian painter Virgilio Tojetti was responsible for the Flagler Room’s 25-by-15-foot ceiling. Louis Comfort Tiffany provided more than 70 stained glass windows for the hotel.

The Hotel Ponce de León formally opened to the public on January 10, 1888. The hotel cost two and a half million dollars and in its time it was reputed to be one of the finest hotels in the world. In 1968, after 11 million dollars worth of restoration, the Hotel Ponce de León reopened as Flagler College.

The University of Florida Smathers Libraries in collaboration with Flagler College have worked to save the original drawings and prints of Hotel Ponce de León, the Memorial Presbyterian Church and other historical structures built at the time.

?The Carrère & Hastings Digital Collection is a collaborative project with Flagler College. The collection was created through a Saving St. Augustine’s Architectural Treasures project grant to conserve and digitally preserve an irreplaceable collection of the earliest architectural drawings of John Carrère (1858-1911) and Thomas Hastings (1860-1929). Created for Henry Flagler in St. Augustine, Florida, these drawings had been ?lost? for decades. The few people who knew of their existence were unaware of their historical significance. Stored in a basement boiler room under high Florida temperatures and humidity, and exposed to insects and rodents, this treasure trove remained unknown and endangered until its rediscovery in 2004.

Carrère and Hastings were two of the most significant American architects of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Their firm designed more than 600 buildings, including the New York Public Library (1902-11) and the House and Senate Office Buildings in D.C. (1908-09). According to Charles D. Warren, co-author of Carrère & Hastings Architects, they were “innovators in both technology and aesthetics.” Regrettably, as Janet Parks, Curator of Drawings & Archives, Columbia University, states: “Most of the archive of [their] office was destroyed in the 1920s.” The newly discovered St. Augustine collection offers significant potential to yield unique information with enduring value. Comprised of 267 original, fragile drawings on cloth, silk and paper, as well as blueprints and copies, the collection is the largest known archives documenting the firm’s earliest work.?

More information on Carrère & Hastings Digital Collection can be found at the UF Smathers Libraries Digital Collections website: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/caha

 


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