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  • Writer's pictureJay Hicks

St. Augustine's' Magnificent Lightner Museum

A Trip to St. Augustine is not complete without a Visit to this Fantastic Piece of History!

Heading to St. Augustine? Don’t miss the Lightner Museum in the heart of the old city. The Museum is now situated in what was the Gilded Age resort Alcazar Hotel. Built in 1888 by railroad magnate Henry Flagler, with plans to remake the Ancient City a luxury winter resort for wealthy East Coast tourists. The Alcazar Hotel was the second grand hotel Henry Flagler built in the city of St. Augustine. The building is part of Flagler’s vision to transform St. Augustine.

During the 1890s thousands of guests passed through the doors of the Alcazar or Castle in Spanish. Every winter (air conditioning was not in use yet) the hotel was alive with grand balls, charity events, and parties. For visitors, a gymnasium, bowling alley, archery ranges, tennis courts and a bicycle academy were all available. However, as times changed, increased options for vacationing meant that the Alcazar Hotel began a decline in visitors. After the stock market crash in 1929 along with the depression, the Alcazar Hotel closed 1931.

Lightner Museum Court Yard

Otto Lightner, a dedicated collector, and hobbyist purchased the Alcazar Hotel in 1947. Following a stay in Florida at St. Augustine’s Ponce de Leon Hotel which is directly across King Street from the Alcazar, Lightner selected the closed Alcazar Hotel to serve as the permanent home for his collections. He purchased the grand hotel for just $150,000. Once renovated, Lightner moved his collections from a grand Romanesque mansion on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. His Museum of Hobbies was unlike anything in the world.

“You will rarely find a man who has a hobby getting into trouble.” ~ Otto Lightner

Crystal Collection

Upon entering the museum you realized there is numerous rooms, each with their own collections. You will find rooms of shells and rocks, a music room, glass, crystal, stained glass, porcelain and ceramic. Much of the museum consists of art and objects purchased from many of Chicago’s grandest Gilded Age mansions during the Great Depression. Otto himself often attended estate sales and purchased items.

Tortoise Shell Collection

As you travel from to room to room admiring the furnishings, paintings, and glass, you gain a greater understanding of the Gilded Age. While exploring the many venues of the magnificent old Alcazar Hotel, you will see the grand ballroom, old roman sulfur baths and steam room, massage parlor, and view the world’s largest indoor public swimming pool of the 1890s – now converted to a grand dining room for visitors. It is easy to get a true understanding for the elegance and opulence from the age of the Rockefellers, Mellons, Carnegies, and Vanderbilts. All are welcome and are invited to immerse themselves in the art, architecture, and design from America’s Gilded Age.

Located at conveniently downtown St Augustine at 75 King Street, you don’t want to miss this fantastic museum. If you are a North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) member, there is no cost to visit. Watch for free admission days, which occur occasionally for veterans and the public. Regardless, the visit is well worth admission.

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