Lightner Museum

Entertainment & Arts

North America, United States, St. Johns County

The Lightner Museum is a museum of antiquities, mostly American Victorian, housed within a historic hotel building in downtown St. Augustine, Florida, USA. The building, in a Spanish Renaissance Revival style, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum occupies three floors of the former Hotel Alcazar, commissioned by Henry M. Flagler to appeal to wealthy tourists who traveled there on his railroad, and built in 1887 in the Spanish Renaissance style. It was designed by architects Carrère and Hastings, who also designed the Ponce de León Hotel across the street (now part of Flagler College). Both buildings are notable as being among the earliest examples of poured concrete buildings in the world. These architects later designed the New York Public Library and the U.S. Senate office building. The Alcazar Hotel site had previously been the bed of Maria Sanchez Creek, and to provide fill dirt to raise the creek bed, Flagler purchased a farm north of town and had his crews dig it up and move the earth downtown. The farm was the site of the first Fort Mose, the pioneer free black settlement dating back to 1738 that was the northern defense of St. Augustine and that is today recognized as a National Historic Landmark. Many of the archaeological remains of this first Fort Mose (which had been destroyed in 1740) are located underneath what is today the Lightner Museum and St. Augustine City Hall. The hotel boasted a steam room, massage parlor, gymnasium, and sulfur baths, as well as the world's largest indoor swimming pool. However, after years as an elegant winter resort for wealthy patrons, the hotel closed in 1932. In 1946, Chicago publisher Otto C. Lightner purchased the building to house his extensive collection of Victoriana. He opened the museum two years later, and later donated it to the city of St. Augustine. The building is an attraction in itself, centering on an open palm courtyard with an arched stone bridge spanning a fishpond. The Museum is housed in the former health facilities of the hotel, i.e, the spa and Turkish bath, as well as its three-storey ballroom. The museum's first floor houses a Victorian village, with shop fronts representing emporia selling period wares; a Victorian Science and Industry Room displays shells, rocks, minerals, and Native American artifacts in beautiful turn-of-the-20th-century cases, as well as stuffed birds, a small Egyptian mummy, model steam engines, elaborate examples of Victorian glassblowing, golden elephant bearing the world on its back, and a shrunken head; and a Music Room, filled with mechanized musical instruments—including player pianos, reproducing pianos, orchestrions, and others—dating from the 1870s through the 1920s. The second floor contains examples of cut glass, Victorian art glass and stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany's studio. The third floor, in the ballroom's upper balcony, exhibits paintings, sculpture, and furniture, include a grande escritoire created for Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland, in the period 1806-1810.