Friday, June 08, 2007

Gilded Age Resort Hotels

The Belleview Biltmore is just one of Florida's great Gilded Age resort hotels still standing today.

In St. Augustine, Henry Flagler's Hotel Ponce de Leon is now part of the Flagler College campus.

His Alcazar Hotel is the Lightner Musuem.

The Casa Monica is a hotel again, after years of service as the St. Johns County Courthouse.

The Breakers in Palm Beach is still in business, although the original hotel building burned, and the current structure dates to the 1920s rather than the Gilded Age.

Henry Plant's Tampa Bay Hotel, like the Ponce de Leon, is part of a college campus (University of Tampa), although part of one wing is the Henry B. Plant Museum.

In The Architecture of Leisure, Susan Braden traces the role of the two Henry's, Flagler and Plant, in creating Florida's winter luxury resorts: "These two wealthy New York businessmen ... effectively transported urban cultural ideas to Florida, transforming a sparsely inhabited, scraggily beautiful near-wilderness into what they promoted as the 'American Riveria.'" Braden's thought-provoking book explores not only why Flagler and Plant built the hotels, but the thinking behind the exotic architecture, and what this all said about the society and culture of the time.

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