A treasury of history, art, and architecture lies within the gates of Flagler College. This campus was formerly a grand hotel built by oil tycoon Henry M. Flagler. During the Gilded Age of the late 1800’s, the hotel served wealthy guests who were eager to trade their snow covered homes for the tropical climate of St. Augustine, Florida.
Originally named the Hotel Ponce de Leon, the building is a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture. Today students of Flagler College conduct tours to teach the public about this National Historic Landmark.
My husband and I visited the college in December. We met our guide in the foyer shown above. The hotel is decorated around three themes: Spanish, nautical, and religious. I was most impressed with the ceilings in each room.
These murals were painted with twenty-four carot gold paint.
The windows of the dining room were created by Louis Tiffany. The Edison Electric Company powered the building with steam heat and 4,000 electric lights. When it opened in 1888, the hotel was one of the first electrified buildings in the country.
Both sides of the dining room feature balconies where musicians played. Since the guests disliked any pause in the entertainment, one band would play while the other rested.
Our guide told us Mr. Flagler cared so much about his appearance, he installed a leather staircase between his suite and the dining room so he wouldn’t scuff his shoes on the way to dinner.
After our tour I wondered if Henry Flagler really supported the arts, or did he simply want to impress his guests with his wealth and decadence?
Internet research enlightened me on the subject. The Hotel Ponce de Leon accommodated visiting artists who hosted weekly receptions in seven on-site studios. Most Friday evenings, guests admired each artist’s work and often purchased a painting or two. In addition, a gallery ran along the north side of the building.
The first of the hotel artists to receive national acclaim was Martin Johnson Heade. One of Heade’s most famous paintings is “Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth,” gifted to the National Gallery of Art in 1986. Flagler was Heade’s most loyal patron and commissioned two of his large paintings for the rotunda of the hotel. Henry Flagler’s legacy as a patron of the arts lives on at Flagler College.
In 2007 the artist studios became part of the Molly Wiley Art Building. Flagler College offers an exceptional visual art program for undergraduates.
Some people think of art as a luxury, consumed by those with large amounts of leisure time and money. It’s true that Henry Flagler had both but I believe he valued art as a human need. He realized art is a vehicle whereby humans reach their full potential.
Art helps stretch your mind as much as exercise stretches your body. This year why not visit an art museum, gallery, or festival? Decorate your home with an original piece of art.
Leave a comment and share how art has enriched your life.