Classy Hotel in Historic City
Don and I had Casa Monica on our "Someday, when we're rich list..."
We found a good deal for a Sunday night in January and now the list has another check!
On the Corner
Three years ago, Don and I spotted this immaculate, Spanish style hotel, on the corner of Cordova and King Streets.
The hotel was so large, I couldn't get it all in one picture.
131 years ago, Casa Monica opened on that same busy corner.
Just 4 months later, Henry Flagler bought the grand structure and named it Hotel Cordova.
Flagler hardly needed another hotel. Across Cordova Street, he already owned Hotel Alcazar, which now holds the courthouse, a restaurant and museum.
Adjacent to Casa Monica, Flagler was finishing up the Hotel Ponce de Leon, which is now Flagler College. How could the city possibly need 3 grand hotels on one corner, in 1888?
On January 20, were took advantage of a good rate. It was still a splurge for us. We moaned for a moment when we found no street parking options.
But, if you're going to fork out for valet parking, you need to enjoy it. We did. We pulled the car in through the doors, past a statue and stopped in front of the staircase. Even the door handles were pretty ritzy.
Actually someone did find street parking. This car was parked on Cordova Street, right at the entrance to CM's, Costa Brava Restaurant.
It would have been more fun for us, if we'd been driving this little beauty when we pulled up to the valet guys!
When we checked in, the lobby was actually much more crowded than my photo.
Our room wasn't ready, so we joined lots of others guests who were killing time... with complimentary glasses of champagne.
There was lots to take in, while we stood at the counter. A glowing red lamp with fringe, was hanging just above Don's head.
A curious nearby chair attracted quite a few guests, who posed for photos while seated between the lion heads. I thought about asking Don to pose, but I didn't want to waste one of my photo requests, just yet.
I'm pretty sure this cushioned seat was not around during the hotel's first run, from 1888 to 1932.
But it might have been in the lobby in 2001, when the Kind and Queen of Spain were guests.
The painted beams, ornate chandeliers, tapestries and fountain, made me feel like I'd stepped back in time. While waiting on our room, I did a little wandering and researching.
The hotel's exterior today, still reflects the Moorish Revival and Spanish Baroque Revival style, from when it was built. However the original construction material was poured concrete.
Today you can still see all the details from iron balconies to the twisted, corner pillar.
There are still shopping options on the corner. But instead of carts and stands on the sidewalk, there are lovely shops like Grand Bohemian Gallery... and Starbucks. I should have cropped that logo out of the photo!
In the 1960's the natural look of the concrete, was covered by stucco. The hotel that had been empty since its closing in 1932, reopened as a courthouse in 1968.
I'm not sure how long the hotel has had this ritzy, second floor, courtyard & pool area. It was empty on a chilly January day, but I had fun looking around.
I read that at one time, Henry Flagler decided to build a bridge between Casa Monica and Hotel Alcazar. It was later torn down and I could find no hints of it.
After waiting on our room for over an hour, I went to the desk and told them we no longer cared to wait for a 5th floor room to be cleaned. Our hall on the third floor was lit by sconces and decorated with lovely beams.
All the halls had interesting artwork, related to some of St. Augustine's most interesting people.
I had to chuckle a bit at the style of our room. The red-cushy headboard looked like something from a Dean Martin movie.
The Spanish style dresser and wardrobes (with "antiqued" mirrors) felt a little '70's to me... for a hotel that reopened in 1999. But the TV was up with the times. Football isn't usually a part of our hotel adventuring, but we caught the end of the Saints and Rams game... and it wasn't pretty.
Bath and View
The room had decent space, with a couch, desk, and an extra sink and coffee area. The bathroom was not photo worthy. I had hoped for a fancy tub, but probably wouldn't have used it, since there was an odd smell in the room. I should have complained, but I chose to ignore.
Our view of King Street would have been better had we waited for the 5th floor. St. Augustine was still lit with lots of holiday lights in January and a higher floor would have offered a festive view.
The hotel's website mentioned classical music and Flamenco guitar, in the lounge beside the lobby. However, the bar TVs had been tuned into football on that Sunday afternoon. By the time we arrived, the crowds were just leaving.
To lift the gloom over the Saint's loss, Don ordered a Sazerac... the drink of New Orleans. My choice was less unusual, but I enjoyed my Cosmo. I made use of our kind bartender and asked the question that Don dreads. "Would you mind taking our photo?"
Don doesn't look annoyed, because our bartender was very good humored. He snapped from a few angles and laughed about how staff training included tips for taking guest photos.
Admiring the Details
We enjoyed our drinks before bundling up and heading off to enjoy more of St. Augustine on foot.
It was a 3-day weekend, so there was a festive feel in the historic city. We returned later and ordered a pretty scrumptious sandwich dinner in the quieter part of the lounge. Perfect.
Surprise at the Pool
Before we turned in, I made one more quick exploring dash around the hotel. I came back and reported to Don that there was a small gathering at the pool courtyard, with all eyes looking upward to catch a glimpse of the Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse!
I could see just a small bite, out of the moon when I zoomed in. Don attempted to catch it later, but the clouds had moved in.
Martin Luther King Junior's Birthday
The hotel was quiet early the next morning, on MLK Day. I took some time to look at the lobby space and imagine it in the summer of 1964, when the vacant hotel played a dark role.
I learned a few things when I woke earlier and searched the internet for info about MLK Day happenings in St. Augustine. I was surprised to learn of MLK's connection to the historic city. There is a disturbing history that ended up leading to the signing of the Civil Rights Act. In 1964, the hotel's empty lobby was used to house police dogs, which were used against peaceful demonstrators.
I learned that the city would be honoring Dr. King with their 34th annual Silent March, that day. We decided to join in.
The hotel offered to keep our bags after we checked out. We joined others near St. John's AME Church, where we lined up in rows of 5. The route followed the same one that Dr. King and other peaceful protesters marched, over 50 years ago. The march ended at noon in Plaza de la Constitucion, while the church bells rang. Just before reaching the pavilion, we had followed the Andrew Young Pathway, with bronze footprints and the words Justice, Peace, Equality and Freedom. After a program with music, prayers and speakers we returned for our bags and headed off on the road with a headful of memories.
We stayed in a beautiful, historic hotel in the oldest city in the U.S. I expected to absorb some of the city's Colonial history, while staying in our Victorian era hotel. But I didn't expect to end up learning about the city's history with the Civil Rights Movement.
I will always remember the magical night we spent, surrounded with Moorish columns and Moroccan frescoes... and a lunar eclipse to top it off. But mostly I'll remember the morning, with all the discoveries and the honor of being able to join in the Silent March.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!