Thursday, May 30, 2013

St. Augustine, Where East Met West!


Last week my Florida family met the California family. The California family has a young son who will be 3 years old this summer and the Florida family has a young son (my grandson) who will be 4 this summer. The Florida family wanted to show off St. Augustine. My husband and I live South of the Oldest City in Palm Coast and my son and his family live North of St. Augustine in Jacksonville. The California family were staying in Jacksonville and were happy to meet us and take the Red Train Tour of St. Augustine. In honor of the train tour, I machine embroidered a train on a couple of shirts for the little boys.

As were rode on the Red Train we experience the unique setting and absorbed some history as we made our way along the charmingly narrow streets of the city. The 1  hour and 20 minute long tour circles the historic downtown district and takes in most major attractions.You can step off and visit attractions that interest you and re-join the tour at any stage since the distinctive trains circle every 15-20 minutes. You can tour the city at your own pace, which is great because with 2 little boys on a very hot day, it was the easiest way for our  guests to experience the old city. We got off the train a few times and one of those times was at the Columbia Restaurant on St. George Street.
The Columbia Restaurant serves authentic Spanish cuisine in a beautifully decorated Spanish atmosphere which set the stage for our memorable lunch. The Columbia's menu offers a wide variety of selections, but my favorite is their specialty signature "1905" Salad. I also love their eggplant dish. The boy's did really well with the children's menu of American-style children's choices. Everyone left full and happy...taking our time to get better acquainted.

If you have not been to St. Augustine, you should plan a trip. Here's a glimpse of St. Augustine's history:
 Narrow cobblestone roads and horse drawn carriages are part of the charm of a city with a distinct local atmosphere and character stemming from its Spanish heritage. Special events are scheduled throughout the year. Volunteers and local residents have been portraying St. Augustine’s living history for years, making the oldest city a very special place.  This concept has gone through some development and become a viable contributor to the success of the city.
St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, was founded in 1565 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles and has been inhabited ever since.  The city’s architecture, which includes private homes, bed and breakfasts, hotels, the Lightner Museum and Flagler College, is a window into the past.   During its first 250 years the city changed ownership several times and during these times its earliest houses of wood and palm thatching did not survive the many raids, wars and burnings which are part of St. Augustine’s history.
The Castillo de San Marcos rises on the shore of the Matanzas Bay and was built between 1672 and 1695 to serve primarily as an outpost of the Spanish Empire and to guard St. Augustine and to protect the sea route for treasure ships returning to Spain.  The fort has served a number of nations throughout its history, but has never been taken by military force.  In the 18th century the fort went from Spanish control to British and back to the Spanish, who remained in power until the area was purchased by the United States in 1821.  The fort, renamed Fort Marion, was made a National Monument in 1924 and in 1933 became part of the National Park System.  The park grounds encompass some 25 total acres.
Tourists and well-to-do winter residents arrived in the 1880’s on the railroad provided by St. Augustine’s 
patron Henry Flagler.  Along with the railroads, Flagler built resorts in St. Augustine and in cities further south.  Flagler, who was a partner of John D. Rockfeller in the Standard Oil Company, financed the economic development of St. Augustine and created a luxury resort.  Flagler’s giant structures, the grand Ponce de Leon Hotel, now functioning as Flagler College, and the Alcazar Hotel, now the Lightner Museum, encompass the “Spanish Renaissance Revival” architectural form.  This style features clay-tile roofs, towers, rounded arches, red terra cotta ornamentation and poured concrete building supports and walls.
Flagler designed the Hotel Ponce de Leon to meet the requirements of a nineteenth century America, but insisted on keeping with the city’s’ Spanish character and historic surroundings.  He retained Louis C. Tiffany to decorate the interior of the hotel.  Tiffany used stained glass, mosaics and terra cotta relief on the walls and ceiling and commissioned several grand murals.  The magnificence of the Ponce de Leon windows made Tiffany’s name synonymous with excellence in glass.  Mural paintings by George W. Maynard decorated the great rotunda and dining hall. 
The Ponce de Leon was the first major structure in the United States constructed entirely of poured concrete.  The hotel’s popularity and style strongly influenced the architecture of southern Florida for the next fifty years.  The success of the hotel was short, as a number of weather related disasters struck Florida’s coast in the 1890s.  The Great Depression and WWII forced its closing.  Flagler College bought the hotel in 1967 and although it has been renovated, the hotel retains much of its original integrity.
 The Alcazar Hotel was the second luxury hotel constructed by Flagler in 1889.  The royal palace in Seville, Spain inspired its Spanish Renaissance Revival design.  The Alcazar lives up to its Arabic name “royal castle” with its two towers, many spires and red title roofs.  Flagler originally planned to build the Alcazar in order to provide entertainment and places of amusement for guests of the Hotel Ponce De Leon.  The Alcazar proved to be an extremely popular establishment and not too long after was converted into a full-fledged hotel.  A reason given for the Alcazar’s popularity was its less stuffy atmosphere. From 1888 to 1902, the hotel featured parties, balls, fairs and charity events. The “high tone” Ponce de Leon required formal dress at evening meals. The Hotel Alcazar currently houses the City Hall and the Lightner Museum. 

City Hall and the Lightner Museum

City Hall and the Lightner Museum
 The Casa Monica Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in the United States.  Franklin Smith a Victorian architecture enthusiast and social reformer opened the Casa Monica in 1888. The original construction material was poured concrete in the Moorish Revival and Spanish Revival styles. Smith ran into financial difficulties and was forced to sell the hotel soon after its completion. Railroad tycoon Henry Flagler bought it. The Casa Monica was restored in 1999 and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America National Trust.
With the advent of the automobile, the symbol of American prosperity, tourists drove down U.S. 1, the “Sunshine Highway,” by passing the sedate resorts of the by gone era and stopped at low-cost motor courts on their way further south.  The depression o f the 1930s crushed many Florida hotels and the Alcazar closed after the 1931 season.
Casa Monica
Casa Monica and  City Hall and the Lightner Museum
 After 1900 wealthy tourists flocked to St. Augustine and Florida to enjoy the hotel empire established by Flagler and his competitors.  Later, many Northerners discovered the sunshine state and settled either seasonally or permanently.  After World War I the middle class visitors arrived on vacations and many made their permanent home in Florida.  The story of St. Augustine chronicles four centuries of life in the New World.


R howard said...

Great story and pictures.. i want to see all that when I come and visit.. R Howard

Mamal Diane said...

Love the pictures :) Thanks for joining us at the Let's Get Social Sunday blog hop. Have a wonderful week :) Diane @MamalDiane

Lindsay Weirich said...

looks like you all had a nice visit;) said...

YOu did an awesome job on St.Augustine! I live 45 minutes from there, we visit all the time.. I am so glad to have come across your blog! I am new from southern charm! I would love for you to check out my blog and hopefully follow me back. Nicole