In 1876, tycoon Henry Flagler took his ailing wife to St. Augustine to get her away from Cleveland's cold winters. Although he was delighted by the magnificent orange groves, lodging was primitive, and the pace was too leisurely for his taste.
Flagler returned in 1885 bringing visionary progress and innovations to the sleepy city. He believed St. Augustine had the potential to become the country's "Winter Newport."
To transport visitors, Flagler built the Florida East Coast Railway, buying existing railroads and reconstructing tracks. He advertised all over the Eastern Seaboard for customers, extolling the warm, sunny Florida climate.
The Hotel Ponce de Leon, at a cost of $2.5 million dollars, with 540 deluxe rooms, elaborate ceiling art, electric lighting, Tiffany mosaics and stained-glass windows, was his masterpiece. It was the largest concrete structure in the world. It opened in 1888, and was an immediate success.
The Alcazar, Arabic for "royal castle" opened in 1889. It was a beautiful structure with indoor salt water pools as well as a large casino.