Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature were quite stingy in many regards this year (tax cuts for business aside), particularly toward higher education, whose state budget was slashed $300 million. And Scott just finished slashing some $142 million more out of the state budget, much of it in health and education and research spending, with his veto pen. But it pays to have one’s own man in the Legislature: Bill Proctor, the Florida House Republican who represents St. Johns and Flagler County, is also Flagler College’s chancellor. He must’ve put in a good word for the place, which got a state grant of $350,000 to benefit the college campus’ architectural centerpiece, the stately former Hotel Ponce de Leon, now known as Ponce de Leon Hall, a National Historical Landmark.
The grant will help defray a $2 million project the college calls “A Crowning Achievement: The Campaign for Restoration of the Solarium.”
“Flagler College is grateful for the recognition and is pleased to be the recipient of these funds, which will assist in completing the restoration of the building for the 125th Anniversary celebration of the opening of the former resort hotel in 1888,” Flagler President William Abare, Jr. said. “The celebration and dedication of the solarium are scheduled to take place in 2013.”
The renovation of the solarium and the fourth floor of Ponce de Leon Hall will complete the building’s full return to active use.
Ponce de Leon Hall is readily identified by its twin towers and central dome. Under the dome, the solarium or sun room and adjoining roof terraces, afford unparalleled views of the city and beyond. Historically, the solarium served as an area where guests could gather for conversation, enjoy entertainment, or watch activities taking place in town or along the bay front. Rehabilitation of this room and the fourth floor will permit similar activities and provide for an event venue. The solarium is the last significant space to be restored in the former Hotel Ponce de Leon, and the room is quite different than any other.
The fundraising campaign began in 2009. Since then the college secured more than $1.5 million from private sources for the project. In honor of their lead gift, the solarium will be renamed to recognize historic preservation supporters and philanthropists Allen and Delores Lastinger. Allen is a former Barnett Bank executive. Delores is a member of the college’s Board of Trustees. In March last year, the Lastingers made a $500,000 challenge gift toward the project.
The Solarium project was selected from a recommended list of ranked Special Category projects in the Department of State budget. In addition, Flagler received first place rankings for a $50,000 small matching grant for the Solarium and a $25,000 exhibition grant as part of the 125th Anniversary program. Restoration work is expected to begin this summer with an anticipated completion date in January or February of 2013.
The Ponce de Leon Hotel was built by Henry M. Flagler in 1888. Flagler was the founding partner with John D. Rockefeller, Sr., in Standard Oil. Both men were rather rapacious and ruthless businessmen whose more distasteful characteristics have been smoothed out by time, romance and, of course, the need by local governments and institutions to bank on the names’ legacies without troubling too much with the skeletons beneath the names.
The building at the heart of Flagler College is the only one in the world that features the combined talents of some of the nation’s foremost artisans and innovators, including Louis Comfort Tiffany and Thomas Edison. During its 80 years as a hotel, the building hosted many distinguished visitors, including some of the nartion’s somewhat lesser presidential lights–McKinley, Cleveland and Harding among them. Lyndon Johnson visited in 1963, when he was, not for much longer, an unhappy and rueful vice president (to JFK). In 2006, the Ponce de Leon Hotel was designated as a National Historic Landmark, the highest recognition a property can receive in the United States.
The hotel was rededicated as Ponce de Leon Hall upon the founding of Flagler College in 1968 and is one of the most highly visible and visited of the region’s historic sites. In 2010, Flagler College received a prestigious Save America’s Treasures grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities to conserve the blueprints for the building.