Staying at the Ormond

New Year’s Day is a holiday in itself, but New Year’s Day 1888 was especially sweet for
Ormond Beach. That’s because it was opening day for the grand Ormond Hotel, a grand resort
for wealthy Northerners looking to escape the chilly winters back home.

Hotel Ormond - Ormond Beach (1900).

Hotel Ormond – Ormond Beach (1900).

The name “Ormond” had been associated with the area since James and Emanuel Ormond had
settled a 2,000-acre plantation called “Damietta” in the area during the late Spanish
colonial era. In the 1870s, a group of men from New Britain, Connecticut arrived to seek a
place for establishing a colony of workers from their business, the Corbin Lock Company. At
first they named the area after their hometown, but they decided to change the name to
something more reminiscient of local history. The first post office named Ormond appeared
in 1880, and by 1886 the settlement was a stop along the new St. Johns & Halifax Railroad.

The hotel did not perform well in its first two years, but its location and potential lured
the interest (and money) of developer Henry Flagler. He bought the hotel in 1890 and began
a major expansion project that added three wings, a swimming pool, a casino, a pavilion and
a pier extending out over the Halifax River. The hotel quickly became one of the star
attractions along Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway.

Excerpt of a map of the Florida East Coast Railway system featuring Ormond and the Ormond Hotel (1917).

Excerpt of a map of the Florida East Coast Railway system featuring Ormond and the Ormond Hotel (1917).

Like Flagler’s other hotels, the Ormond was a playground for those with enough money to
enjoy it. Activities included horseback riding, wooded excursion paths, bicycling (which
was then still quite new), sailing and fishing. When the automobile arrived on the scene,
the Ormond gained a new favorite activity: driving and racing along the packed sands of the
nearby beach.

Ranson E. Olds in his Olds Pirate racecar on Ormond Beach (circa 1896).

Ranson E. Olds in his Olds Pirate race car on Ormond Beach (circa 1896).

The Ormond enjoyed considerable popularity during the heyday of the Flagler hotels, playing host at various times to the Rockefellers, the Astors, the Vanderbilts and a number of other famous personalities. John D. Rockefeller liked the place so much he bought the house across the street in 1917 and spent the winters there until his death in 1937.

The hotel changed hands several times in the second half of the twentieth century. On November 24, 1980 the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was destroyed in 1992 to make way for condominiums, but the original 21-foot wooden cupola is now displayed in Fortunato Park near the Halifax River.

The Ormond Hotel in 1982, surrounded by a growing Ormond Beach.

The Ormond Hotel in 1982, surrounded by a growing Ormond Beach community.

What historic structures are located in your Florida community? Search the Florida Photographic Collection to find images of them!

Flagler’s Royal Poinciana Hotel

Henry Flagler opened the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach on February 11, 1894 with only 17 guests. The paint was fresh, and the electric lighting was so new it was advertised as a unique amenity. Flagler had built this palace as a winter playground for America’s richest travelers, planting it right off the main line of his Florida East Coast Railway. If they so chose, his guests could conduct their private railway cars right up to the hotel’s entrance.

Royal Poinciana Hotel - Palm Beach (circa 1900).

Royal Poinciana Hotel – Palm Beach (circa 1900).

The 17 original guests must have had a good time, because Flagler expanded the hotel almost immediately after it was opened, increasing its capacity to 1,000 guests. The size of the structure was immense; the Royal Poinciana had over 3 miles of hallways. With the telephone still a rare luxury, hotel employees were obliged to carry messages between guest rooms and the front desk by bicycle. At one point the hotel was reputed to be the largest wooden structure in the world.

Porch of the Royal Poinciana (circa 1920s).

Porch of the Royal Poinciana (circa 1920s).

Flagler spared little if any expense entertaining his wealthy patrons. Guests could play golf, swim in the pool, or listen to the orchestra, which played every day in the hotel pavilion. Guides took those inclined to fish out into the Atlantic, sometimes bringing in dozens of mackerel in a single day’s catch.

Just in case some of the guests found all of this luxury a bit monotonous, the hotel staff occasionally planned special events. In one instance, pictured below, a parade of decorated boats was floated past the hotel for the amusement of its patrons.

A floating parade of decorated boats in front of the Royal Poinciana Hotel at Palm Beach (circa 1900).

A floating parade of decorated boats in front of the Royal Poinciana Hotel at Palm Beach (circa 1900).

To keep the sights, sounds, and smells of Palm Beach as clean as possible, the designers limited the presence of the railroad and automobiles. Also, hotel staff rarely used horses, mules, or other animals to transport supplies or people. The primary modes of transportation on Palm Beach for guests were bicycles and “wheelchairs,” pedi-cabs in our own parlance.

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A “wheelchair” or pedi-cab carrying guests in the vicinity of the Royal Poinciana Hotel (circa 1900).

Running such a complex operation as the Royal Poinciana Hotel naturally required a large and varied labor force. By the time the hotel was up and running Flagler had hired over a thousand workers. He built quarters for them across Lake Worth from the hotel in what is now called West Palm Beach. The employees used rowboats to get to and from work for each shift.

Plumbers and mechanics at the Royal Poinciana Hotel before it opened (1893).

Plumbers and mechanics at the Royal Poinciana Hotel before it opened (1893).

The Royal Poinciana commanded the high-end hospitality market in Palm Beach for a number of years, but even such a sprawling wilderness of luxury as this had its weaknesses. In 1925, the nearby Breakers Hotel burned and was rebuilt. Since it was newer and offered updated amenities, it drew many guests away from the Royal Poinciana. Furthermore, the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 badly damaged the north wing of the hotel, shifting part of it off its foundation. The arrival of the Great Depression in 1929 was the final blow. The Royal Poinciana Hotel closed in 1934, and was torn down within a year.

Aerial view of the Royal Poinciana Hotel during its final years (circa 1925).

Aerial view of the Royal Poinciana Hotel during its final years (circa 1925).

The Royal Poinciana Hotel is just one of Florida’s many historic hotels that have come and gone over the years. For more photos of the Royal Poinciana and other palatial buildings, search the Florida Photographic Collection.

 

 

Ghost Hotel: The Unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota

Many people think of the Florida Land Boom and the bust that followed in the 1920s as something that happened mostly on the Atlantic coast. Tales of land being sold “by the gallon” on the edges of the Everglades or lots changing hands three times in a single day tend to be associated with Miami or Palm Beach more often than they are with Tampa or Fort Myers.  The story of the unfinished John Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Sarasota’s Longboat Key is a reminder that the Florida land bubble had a much wider reach.

The cupola of the unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel is shown here (1959).

The cupola of the unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel is shown here (1959).

By the 1920s, Sarasota had become a major center of resort development on the Gulf Coast of Florida. New railroads, paved roads, and automobiles made it easier than ever for visitors to reach the southern tip of the peninsula from anywhere in the United States, and promoters beckoned them southward with promises of luxurious vacations, greater health, and easy living.  For investors, they promised unrivaled profits.

Bird's-eye view of a new tree-lined road heading toward the beach at Venice in Sarasota County. During the heady years of the Florida land boom, new developments popped up all along the Gulf Coast (1926).

Bird’s-eye view of a new tree-lined road heading toward the beach at Venice in Sarasota County. During the heady years of the Florida land boom, new developments popped up all along the Gulf Coast (1926).

John Ringling, who along with his brothers had made a fortune in the traveling circus industry, became a resident of Sarasota in 1912, and very soon he became closely involved with developing the resort city and the barrier islands just offshore. Along with developer Owen Burns, Ringling ventured into the hotel business, buying up the southern tip of Longboat Key with plans to erect a hotel to become part of the Ritz-Carlton franchise.

John Ringling is pictured in the center of this poster advertising the family's circus business (1897).

John Ringling is pictured in the center of this poster advertising the family’s circus business (1897).

Construction began in 1926 with great interest from locals and Florida enthusiasts farther north, but trouble was in the offing from the start. The feverish boom in land speculation and development that had fueled South Florida for years was beginning to wane. Sarasota continued as a resort city, but a large new hotel such as Burns and Ringling’s Ritz-Carlton proved too tall an order to fulfill. Construction stalled on the project, and the arrival of the Great Depression signaled its final doom. Ringling promised to finish it, but was never able to do so. Following a dispute with his business partner Burns, he settled for purchasing Burns’ lavish El Vernona Hotel in Sarasota and renaming it the John Ringling Hotel.

The El Vernona Hotel before it became the John Ringling Hotel following a dispute between John Ringling and his business partner Owen Burns (circa 1925).

The El Vernona Hotel before it became the John Ringling Hotel following a dispute between John Ringling and his business partner Owen Burns (circa 1925).

A postcard view of the John Ringling Hotel (circa 1953).

A postcard view of the John Ringling Hotel (circa 1953).

Meanwhile, the imposing skeleton of the hotel at the tip of Longboat Key continued to deteriorate under the hot Sarasota sun. Before long, trees and shrubs began reclaiming the site of the building, while bats and owls made their homes in its unfinished rooms. Vandals and curious trespassers prowled around the property at night, and at least one person died after falling from one of the upper floors.

An aerial view of the unfinished Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the southern end of Longboat Key (1952).

An aerial view of the unfinished Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the southern end of Longboat Key (1952).

The unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel fades slowly into the landscape (1959).

The unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel fades slowly into the landscape (1959).

The property eventually entered the holdings of the Arvida Corporation, which began making plans for building the Longboat Key Club that exists there today. Having no use for the crumbling hotel building, the company decided to tear it down in 1964. Joseph Steinmetz, a world-renowned commercial photographer whose work documented a wide variety of scenes from American life at all social levels, captured several shots of the hotel as it was being destroyed.

The unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel falls victim to the wrecking ball after years of neglect (1964).

The unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel falls victim to the wrecking ball after years of neglect (1964).

Clouds of dust fill the air as the cupola of the unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel collapses during demolition (1964).

Clouds of dust fill the air as the cupola of the unfinished Ringling Ritz-Carlton Hotel collapses during demolition (1964).

The legacy of John Ringling remains strong in Sarasota, which features the John Ringling Causeway linking Lido Key with the mainland, as well as the imposing John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

A view of the gardens and courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota (1961).

A view of the gardens and courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota (1961).