Old Hotel in a Florida Oyster Town!
This curious old hotel, sits in an equally curious Florida fishing town.
I've wanted to be a guest, for many years.
Lots of Porch
I'm drawn to all historic hotels, so that's nothing new. I'm also drawn to porches, so of course The Gibson would attract me.
But I was extra curious about this hotel, because of what my mom once told me. Mom said that long ago, her daddy stayed at The Gibson while doing some kind of work. My grandfather worked for the Public Transport Authority of St. Louis, so I can't imagine why he spent time at this Florida hotel, back before WWII.
I love staying at hotels with a personal twist.
Seafood Festival in the 1960's
This is how the inn looked in the late 1960's, which is about the time I remember visiting Apalachicola, with my family. By the sixties, the hotel had been vacant for decades, but we had come for the day, to experience the Seafood Festival.
It was 1967 and my family had just moved to Tallahassee from Iowa. Eager to jump into our new gulf culture, my parents ushered the 4 kids to the car and drove to the town with the funny name, for a little oyster fun. I was pretty disgusted by all the oyster hoopla. There were competitions for shucking and eating. I grimaced at my parents' enthusiasm. I was intrigued by the eerie mountain of oyster shells, near the shucking table. I was 10 and had no interest in eating the slimy things, but I proudly wore my blue seahorse pin.
Arriving in January
This past January, Don and I spent the last night of a 2+ week road trip in the little town known as, The Oyster Capital of Florida.
We drove on Gorrie Bridge, over the Apalachicola Bay and suddenly, there it was!
The hotel looked pretty well cared for when we pulled up and parked right in front. The business recently had changed hands and renovations were underway.
The renovations had nothing to do with Hurricane Michael, which caused devastation to parts of the town. Luckily the hotel was spared.
It was about 5, when we arrived and headed through the lobby to check in. I liked the wallpaper and logo, behind the desk. It made me wonder about the wallpaper back n 1907.
It also made me wonder about those Gibson Sisters, who bought the hotel in 1923. They must have felt "mighty grand" back then... which are words my grandmother would have used in 1923. The sisters were 2 women, with enough spunk to buy The Franklin Hotel and change the name to their own. "Pretty bold!" is what I say, in 2019!
Beams and Pillars
The lobby was welcoming with its dark polished pillars and ceiling beams. Our girl at the desk wasn't too chatty, so I wasted no time asking questions about the history.
Instead, I found a photo in the hall that let me glimpse back in time. I could see the same rounded desk and woodwork.
More Lobby Wood
Besides oysters, Apalachicola had an important history as a cotton and timber port.
The hotel itself was built with local cypress and heart pine, which was also shipped down the Apalachicola River.
Cats at the Hotel
I love a hotel with a resident cat or dog, since I sometimes I need a pet fix while on the road.
The Gibson used to have be a beloved, black cat, but I only saw this spotted cat... too high for patting.
Hall of History
The hall beside the stairs was filled with historic photos of the town and hotel. The back hall was dark (without my camera flash) and blocked by chairs, due to renovations.
The girl at the desk said she had no idea how to turn on the lights, so I studied a few pictures in the front.
I glanced around at some of the antiques... a clock here and interesting light holders there.
As I wandered, I became aware that most of the people we'd seen coming in and out of the lobby, were men. They weren't looking around like me and they didn't exactly look like tourists.
Up the Stairs
A few men wearing reflective vests, headed into the bar.
As we carried our bags up the stairs we followed two other men, carrying tools. Luckily our stay did not involve the sounds of saws or hammers!
Our room was on second floor.
Besides the workmen, we never saw another guest.
Old Door Old Room
We opened the door with its dented, brass knob and discovered a corner room, with windows looking out on the porch.
At a glance, the simple rustic decor nearly had a spiffed up Pottery Barn look.
It actually didn't take a close inspection at all, to see the age of the hotel in the woodwork near the bathroom.
There must have been a hundred coats of white and green paint over the wooden walls, ceilings and pipes.
The bed looked kind of cozy with the 2 sconces and farmhouse canopy bed. (Actually it looked more comfy than it was.)
The corner to the left of the bed, was oddly narrow. I do love a room with an unusual shape!
Layers of Paint
Some might have been put off by all those lumpy-layered walls. I liked them. And I liked the worn floor boards, a whole lot better than the worn carpet on the bed-side of the room. The painted wood made me feel like I was a character in a book. Tom Sawyer and Pollyanna, probably had walls like these.
I had my own, oddly painted walls in my childhood bedroom. As a kid, I loved staring up from my pillow at the drippy textures, searching for the familiar cartoonish faces and figures. My wall images never disappeared, like the moving cloud shapes, that I also adored.
The Parlor Bar
The Parlor Bar was fairly quiet, when we stopped in to grab some drinks at 6. The cozy bar had been a lot livelier at 5, when I popped in to get some ice. Shawn, the bartender handed me a bag, then requested 5 dollars. A couple men chuckled, nearby.
After a little playful teasing about the ice, (which was free) I was able to find out some local scoop about Hurricane Michael. It turns out that all the men I'd been seeing, were temporary residents, still involved in October's storm clean up.
Searching for a Spot
Every good hotel has a cozy spot for relaxing with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. If there's a porch, Don and I will make use.
The Gibson had so many choices, with porches on both levels, wrapping all around the hotel. We wandered with our drinks looking for the perfect spot. We even found an area in the center, with a view of the cupola, spotlighted by the evening's sun.
We chose Adirondack chairs over rockers. It was a hard choice, but those flat arms made good tables.
I had to wrap in my blanket poncho as the temps dropped with the sun. We faced the west, where the sun disappeared fast, behind houses.
We were a month too early to dine in The Franklin dining room. It was expected to reopen in February.
We headed back to the Parlor Bar and had a good chat with more locals about the hurricane recovery. I asked Shawn about the hotel's history and told him that my grandfather had stayed for a period, in the 1930's or '40's. He paused, then spoke. "Maybe you're sleeping in the same room where your grandfather slept." That could have been an eerie thought... but I liked it.
Morning in the Parlor Bar
No, we didn't suddenly wake up at the bar, it just looks that way.
The night before, we left the hotel bar and found some good shrimp and oysters on Main Street. After sleeping well in our cozy room, we came down in the morning, for complimentary breakfast.... back in the Parlor Bar. The atmosphere was odd. Liquor bottles were piled up on the bar and workmen were getting ready to paint. But the coffee smelled good and there were a few breads and yogurts to choose from.
Music in the Morning
Best of all there was live music. Cadillac Jack was not performing at the bar, he was just a guest who loves the hotel and loves to play his guitar. He was one of those people who can carry on a great conversation, while making some impressive sounds.
We 3, had the best time visiting and sipping coffee. Jack showed us his guitar skills with some Stevie Ray Vaughan and shared his vocal skills with some George Harrison. C Jack moved to the porch with his banjo, as we were packing up to leave.
The Gibson is still here. That is pretty notable, since the town has weathered some hurricanes and worrisome troubles, related to disappearing oysters. I'm just grateful that the community and recent owners have worked hard to keep it!
I'm so glad we stayed before more improvements. I'd rather have our thickly, painted walls and dented brass knob, than spas and fitness rooms. The cozy bar was welcoming and memorable. The porches were pleasant, even if I shivered a little. And I had the fun of wondering about my Grandpa Carl and his stay, years ago. Next time... we'll allow for more time to explore the town!
The Pink Palace of Florida
Coming up the long, brick drive towards this grand hotel, was pretty impressive.
It was also impressive seeing this green and pink image, when we crossed the bridge to the island. It made me wonder about all the travelers who were drawn to the hotel when it first opened, in the height of the Jazz Age.
I'm guessing, those high society guests came by boat and probably brought trunks of dressy clothes. Ahhh, the life!
Thomas Rowe's glamorous hotel, with its blend of Moorish and Mediterranean styles, has changed little since the Roaring Twenties.
The arches and red clay roofs, the balconies, pink stucco and towers, were all there when guests like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Clarence Darrow came to mingle with the elite.
The Not So Elite Guests Arrive
Don and I arrived, as the least elite guests of The Don Cesar. We had booked the cheapest room and we chose self-parking over valet.
While Don took the car, I stepped down the stairs and headed to the desk on the right. As I got checked in, I spotted a tray holding some champagne flutes and some kind of pink beverage. But, suddenly the eager bellman was ready to show me to the room. Rats. We missed out on the welcome cocktail. Or, were we not elite enough?
Even though we didn't valet park, the valet staff and those who handled our baggage were by far the friendliest in the whole hotel.
Our bellman proudly shared that he had been working the job for over 40 years. Another good humored fellow, happily posed for my camera at the top of the stairs.
Arches and Glass
Heading to the elevator I took in the hall decor. I loved the repeating arches and the modern glass light fixture.
This hallway with endless palms and glowing fixtures, made me feel like I was looking into a set of tricky dressing room mirrors... allowing me to see forever!
Blue and White Glass
When an historic hotel goes modern on me, I appreciate it when they at least fill the space with appealing decor.
The hotel's refreshingly cool salt blue and sand colors. definitely appealed to me. I especially loved the wall and ceiling lights with their dangling blue and white glass!
The elevator took us to the 4th floor. All was quiet, clean and modern.
The Halls Long Ago
Our hall was wide and well lit. It was pretty hard to tell that we were inside a 91-year-old hotel. That's not a bad thin, but I love being able to visualize the past.
I wish there had been photos of the hotel in its prime, or when it became a military hospital during WWII, or a Convalescent Center after the war. I would even like to have seen photos when it was abandoned and covered in graffiti.
Our Beach-y Room
We ended up with 2 beds and a view of the parking lot. But no complaints. The room was fresh with its sea-green and white decor.
There are worse views. We were able to look over the parking lot and see the bridge over the bay. We could also see the palace-pink stucco and spy into another room, if we were so inclined. Best of all, we saved about 50 bucks, by not needing an ocean view.
I liked the arched opening to the bath/dressing area.
The framed vintage photos gave us a few glimpses to the past. There showed guests on shuffleboard courts and others enjoying some lawn bowling entertainment. No Cornhole games, back then, but we saw some on the beach, later.
Before our bellman left, he showed us around the room. He seemed concerned that we had no robes. He said we should call the desk, so I did. The woman seemed terribly surprised. Were we sure? Had we checked the closet? She seemed a bit skeptical, but I assured her that the bellman had noticed... just in case she thought we (budget travelers that we are) were stashing some robes to take home.
She said 2 robes would be delivered. We left the room a while and returned to find a heap of white fabric dropped on the chair. We were perplexed and took a picture. A different woman at the desk, agreed that the delivery seemed odd... even a little passive aggressive. She promised to take care of it. Later, we found wrinkled robes hanging, properly in our closet. I found the whole robe thing creepy. It was easier to tolerate the thought of a hotel poltergeist, than a grumpy or drunk employee.
Enough About Robes!
Actually, Don and I didn't care a hoot about the robes. We cared about the sunshine and 80 degree temps that called to us from the beach and pool area!
On a weekday in January, there were plenty of chairs around the two pools.
We headed out to the beach, but we didn't get in the water like these fellows.
It was fun comparing the building in this old photo to the hotel today. Most of the towers and structures looked just the same. Today, there's an added tower on the back, hiding an open air stairwell.
Too bad Don didn't have a black tank suit, to match the age of the hotel. But we did feel pampered, like elite guests from long ago.
At check in, we were given passes for chair and umbrella setup. When we stepped on the sand, we were graciously ushered to find a good spot, where chairs and table were arranged and towels were laid out. We were offered an umbrella, but after 2 chilly weeks of traveling, we didn't want anything blocking our sun.
Don CeSar Umbrella
The beach staff checked back with us to see if we'd changed our minds about the umbrella.
It was tempting, since it had Don's name on it. But we declined. The sun felt wonderful in the late afternoon!
We kept an eye on the time and headed back, before the sun got too low. We were on the Florida gulf, after 2 weeks on the Atlantic. We were excited for sunset on a clear evening!
Up in the Tower
Before heading to the room, we climbed up in the tower to check out the view. We could see the garden area below and the Spa in the building across.
We found another good spot that no one seemed to be using. The nice little terrace had a vacant seat, just made for watching the sunset.
We looked out past the pool and sand and saw the sun sinking lower. We rushed back to the room to change clothes.
A Visit with The Dolphin
Dressed and ready, we headed out towards the beach. I paused to admire the smiling dolphin with his painted designs... all aglow with evening light.
The Rowe Bar
The Rowe Bar was raised just enough to offer a good view of the water and lowering sun.
Claiming a Spot
The higher deck area had cozy cushioned seats, with small fire pits. The winds were picking up, so that would have been nice.
The 2 unoccupied upper deck areas both had reserved signs, so we sat behind on the patio.
As we guessed, by the time the sun set, no one had come to claim those special spots. But we didn't care.
We sat back and enjoyed our cozy couch and toasted, with our sunset martinis. Just before the sun sunk into the gulf, we stood and snapped a photo or two.
Don's was better. I snapped a one-handed shot with my Nikon, because I was talking to our daughter on the phone. That makes me sound like the kind of tourist I hate. But, we answer when our grown kids call, wherever we are. They are busy and we travel a lot. Some of our best memories from trips, involve an answered call, in an odd place... learning fun or special news that ends up flavoring our trip. We have never traveled to get away from our kids!
The air got chillier and we took our drinks into the Lobby Bar. We chatted with a fabulous bartender and a somewhat interesting couple.
We thought about the 2 lovely hotel restaurants, but ended up taking a guest's suggestion. We ordered the hotel's pizza for the room. This decision was as much about laziness, as saving money. It was a good plan. The pizza was good!
A Quick Peek
Before heading up to the room, I took a quick dash outside to view the hotel's grand entrance, lit up at night.
I don't rate our Notable Nights, but I do take note of how hotels look after the sun goes down. This one would get an A+.
We finally stayed at the Don CeSar! I will remember the pastel hotel and how it stood almost arrogantly high, looking down on the beach and bay.
We stayed in a hotel where movies were filmed and presidents and stars have stayed. For 3 years, the NY Yankees actually lived here, during their spring training.
The history was fun, but the warm, sugary sand was really what I was craving on that January day.Besides the robe mystery, all was good! I felt like I was getting my cake and eating it too. A curious and grand historic hotel, along with a heavenly, pampering beach!
One Night at a Universal Orlando Hotel
On January 22, Don and I spent a night at one of Universal Orlando's, 8 resort/hotels.
We didn't have children with us and we weren't interested in the theme parks. But we were childishly giddy about staying in the Mid-Century Modern Hotel!
There it is!
Don and I learned about Cabana Bay, when searching the internet for hotels between St. Augustine and St. Petersburg.
When I saw pictures of the whimsically mod hotel, I got pretty excited. When I saw it on the map, I said, "Perfect!" When I saw it with my eyes from the exit off 1-4, I squealed. You would have thought I was a kid, spotting Cinderella's Castle!
Colorful Hotel on a Colorful Day
We arrived before noon, just as the clouds were breaking up. The blue sky and green palms fit in perfectly with the bright-tropical style... waiting just inside.
We entered the lobby and I felt as if I'd walked into my childhood television set. Of course the future-istic, world that I loved in The Jetsons, was all black and white. We didn't have color TV until I'd outgrown cartoons.
The crazy-mod lobby looked totally out of this world! When I used to watch episodes of The Jetsons, I assumed this is how my life would look when I grew up!
Don and I stepped up to the counter, just past the stack of vintage suitcases. A young man in a yellow, "bowling" shirt greeted us.
His color fit in nicely, with the 2-story, mosaic wall. He seemed a little surprised that we were staying only one night and that we had no plans to visit Universal's theme parks. "We're just excited about the hotel!" We told him.
Under the lobby's skylight, tall palms happily thrived. Sprawled out on couches surrounding the oasis, there seemed to be numerous families who were not happily thriving.
I spotted piles of luggage, snoozing teens, bickering sibs and one very fussy baby. I was glad to not be a part of that "Last day of Theme Park Vacay with Kids" Club! I was also glad it was not family travel season, or we would have seen a lot more this kind of scene.
I didn't spot any parents sneaking over to the nearby lounge for a bit of liquid relief.
Did George Jetson ever stop for a martini on his way home from work? I guess not, but I could picture him lounging beneath that starburst chandelier.
Our room was located in the Americana, one of 4 large hotel buildings. The retro colors and geometric shapes were a soothing throwback to the dreamy motels I adored as a kid.
Of course we never stayed at anything so large, but I saw them in movies... mostly Elvis or Las Vegas focused movies.
Even the halls were a hoot. Our elevator opened up to carpeting and light fixtures that delighted me.
Who needs a theme park? I could have just played on the elevator all day and checked out all the different retro posters.
Each elevator, on each floor had a circular window, that lured me over for a look. I didn't check out every one, but I liked this window on the pool side.
The view of the nearby Volcano Bay Waterpark, was a fun surprise. Guest rooms that overlooked the volcano, paid for that perk.
The hallway seemed to go on forever, but we didn't have to walk far.
We opened the door to our room and grinned at the nostalgic decor! We didn't fork out extra bucks for a pool view room, but our floor was high enough to avoid staring at the parking lot. In fact, the view of distant hotels and parks was pretty interesting.
What Year Is It?
Cabana Bay's moderate rates and kid friendly atmosphere, appeals to families.
But I felt like they had created this hotel specifically for me... and my Boomer peers, who grew up in the '60's and '70's. Oh how I loved sliding into those smooth plastic chairs when I was a kid!
Gotta Love the Bathroom
For most of my growing up years, my family of 6 shared one bath. It never looked as clean as this one!
No one had wall-mounted hairdryers back then, but many of us had Zest and VO5 Shampoo!
After finding our room, we headed for the Bayliner Diner, with its classic-curvy entrance.
The bus stop sign actually had a purpose... for shuttle buses. The purpose of the retro cars, was to confuse us about what year we were living in.
I was able to get a photo without people. If I'd taken this picture in busy March or June, my photo would have included 2019 tourists, snapping cellphone pics.
Retro Diner on Steroids
This was the main dining area for the hotel. Looking down at the huge space, made me think of the Tokyo Airport at 6 am... huge, modern and empty.
If the dining area had been filled with summer crowds, it would have looked just like I remember the 1964 New York World's Fair. The fair seemed overwhelmingly large, modern and crowded, when I was 6.
Cartoons and Lunch
Don and I grabbed lunch in a gigantic food court and carried our trays to the entertaining dining room.
The food court setup was obviously designed for crowds, but I would have loved a good old cafeteria better. I didn't get to slide my plastic tray past displays of jello and fruit salad and pieces of pie... but I carried my tray into a magical room where I could stare at cartoon tourists on the wall, or giant projection screens.
The dining room was practically empty at 1:00. I think every guest was at the theme park.
We chose a cozy round booth and sat on one side, so we could watch old TV commercials and sitcom clips on the big screen!
I loved the colorful plates and the squiggly design on the table.The hot dog was a hot dog, but at least it was something I would have chosen to eat in the 1960's.
Don's Cuban sandwich and pasta salad was not a bit retro, but his palm tree covered shirt, fit the scene.
After lunch we explored the second level, connecting the diner and lobby areas. The colorful bowling alley was calling to us with its neon.
Dining at the Alley
We could have eaten lunch at the bowling alley for a different kind of meal experience! There was bar and restaurant service, plus a choice of mod table options.
It was tempting to make use of the quiet lanes, with their neon bowling pins. But it wasn't free and there was so much more to explore.
If we'd had more than one day, we could have come back for bowling and then hung out with a deck of cards in one of the lounging areas... or ordered some kind of retro cocktail at the Galaxy Bar. Next time!
Jack La Lanne Phusical Fitness Stuido!
Instead of bowling, we headed next door to the fitness center with the neon sign!
Jack LaLanne! I know him!
Best Hotel Fitness Room!
I'm one of those people who actually uses hotel fitness rooms, so I was blown away by the size and quality of this space!
Me and My Buddy
I wasn't dressed for a workout, but I posed next to the fine Fitness Legend, Jack LaLanne.
The next morning, I came for a work out and noticed only a few thirtysomethings, working out with the equipment. I was tempted to ask, "Do you have any idea who Jack La Lanne is?"
Godfather of Modern Fitness!
A lot of gym space was devoted to the TV star, who once motivated housewives to grab chairs and exercise with him.
Oh how my siblings and I groaned, when cartoons went off and Jack La Lanne came on. But many a time we were bored enough, to roll our eyes and playfully follow his instructions. I spent some time looking over the little museum, which spotlighted Jack's fitness history. I'm no longer laughing at this guy and his 70+ year, fitness & nutrition career.
The weather was breezy and cool, but far too nice to stay inside. We took some time exploring both sides of the resort.
Thunderbird and Starlight
There are over 2,200 rooms and suites at Cabana Bay, in 4 colorful buildings. Thunderbird and Starlight buildings surrounded the larger pool area.
At first I was fooled by the faux diving platforms. Really, the intimidating tower was just the finale of a water slide.
Over by our building, a few guests made use of the heated pool. The meandering, lazy river only had one guest, who floated by in an inner tube.
You could tell the temps were cool, by looking at the quiet pools... or the overdressed lifeguards. At first I thought the pacing lifeguards were trying to keep warm. Eventually it seemed clear that the always moving guards, must have been following some kind of strict guidelines. Nobody was going to drown at Cabana Bay, where every swimmer had at least one rescue-tube-hugging lifeguard, staring at them. That was enough to keep me out of the pool.
Tropical Posing Time
Sometimes our Notable Nights are worthy of a costume. I made sure to pack my 11-dollar parrot and palm dress, for the trip. I also wore my cat-eye sunglasses for a little extra retro fun.
Don wore his palm tree shirt and we ordered drinks at the Hideaway bar, next to the pool. But after the photo op, I threw on my sweater and the sunglasses came off. The breeze picked up and the temps dropped some more...
Royal Pacific Hotel
Don and I took our tropical outfits & drinks, into the warmer lobby. We ended up chatting with a woman who encouraged us to explore the other nearby properties.
We grabbed jackets and left our hotel, following the lovely pathways that connect Universal hotel properties. It felt like we were sneaking away from summer camp, when we left our moderately priced, family hotel and ended up at Universal's upper end Royal Pacific Hotel. It was exciting to escape the cartoons and sparkles of CB for a bit and sip drinks in a classy lounge with quiet adults. Then happily headed back to our friendly hotel.
We managed to squeeze a theme park's worth of fun, out of our one night stay at Cabana Bay. It helped that we stayed on a weekday in winter. It helped that Don and I happen to love a little retro throwback time. It helped that the weather was pretty and we were able to check in early.
We loved our little escape to the adult world at Royal Pacific. That was an added treat. But our 1-night stay was still just the right amount of time. In the morning we saw buses and school groups... it was time to leave!
A Florida Hotel With a Past
This dreamy, Art Deco, mint green hotel, has been sitting right on State Road A1A since 1940.
Don and I finally got to spend a night, in January!
Off Season Daytona
Daytona Beach has never been my dream destination. But Don and I have visited a few times, when there were no beach crowds, or motorcycle rallies, or NASCAR happenings.
On our first visit, we took in a lot of the fun, retro flavor of the beach city. I was delighted when I spotted the curious Art Deco hotel. But its paint was peeling and we heard its reputation was a bit tarnished. Three years later, we noticed some renovation going on!
Then and Now
The black and white, mid-century photo, shows the sleek 4-story hotel when it had a few more signs and less landscaping.
The white and green image from our visit, shows little structural change... thank goodness!
Our Boat-like Hotel
When we arrived, we had a great view from the large parking lot.
The rounded corners and the rooftop railings made me think of a boat. There were even porthole windows on the north side.
A Riverboat Tangent...
Later, I figured out which boat the hotel reminded me of! It was my favorite riverboat in St. Louis! I have fond memories from the 1970's, dancing on the deck of The Admiral, an old steamer, turned excursion boat.
The Art Deco, Admiral (along with its powder rooms and big band ballrooms) started cruising the Mississippi in 1940. That was the same year the Streamline opened! The poor Admiral was eventually used for scrap metal, but the Streamline dodged the wrecking ball and made a strong comeback, in 2017.
White and Mint Green
The parking lot was empty when we parked and headed towards the white and green stucco hotel.
The pool area was empty too, but that was probably because it was January and chilly.
The flashy entrance was pretty fun, even for those of us who don't have much interest in the history of stock car racing.
How could I walk towards that sparkling, glass tile entrance and not want to learn why our hotel was The Birthplace of NASCAR?
The lobby desk was as shiny as the old Admiral riverboat!
The marble (or marble-like?) floor and columns were so clean and slick, they looked as wet as the Mississippi.
The huge race car image on the wall was there to remind me, we weren't all about boats and rivers. The decor and the welcoming woman at the desk greeted us with much enthusiasm. I'm afraid I can't remember her name, but she was very cheery. "The bars aren't open yet, but I can make you drinks anytime!" We said we were fine for the moment and took some time looking around.
The curvy ceilings were glowing, along with the triple ring light fixture, in the sitting area. I don't know all the decorator terms to describe the lobby space, but Modern and Fun are the words come to mind!
Dividing the lobby and the bar, was a giant fish tank with pristine glass and graceful fish.
Our host pointed out her favorite swimming friends. I was tempted to have her make us some tropical drinks and pull 2 bar stools up to the glass.
Again, I'm not a big fan of cars and racing, but I loved everything about the hotel and its spotlight on the theme.
I just love a theme, when it's done well.
Cars on the Wall
On the north side of the building, the original, garage-door-style-windows were cleverly renovated, to look as if we were looking down towards the stock car races.
A large TV on the east wall, played historic film footage, of interviews and racing clips.
After a little lobby time, we took our key and bags to the elevator.
Spiffy Elevator & Hall
The hotel's original elevator was decorated with old photos and news clippings.
While we traveled to the 4th floor, I learned that our hotel was the first fire proof building in the city. It was used as an air raid shelter in WWII. The fourth floor was glowing, when the doors opened.
We asked for a room with a view and got a nice corner room, facing the ocean. Some of the buildings across the street were not too lovely, but I just looked further out towards the Atlantic.
We could see the rollercoaster and a few of the boardwalk's more recent additions. I was glad we were in the area, without spring break crowds.
The room was a bit cramped with 2 beds, dresser and chair. But we pretty much had the whole hotel to ourselves and we were a block from the beach... and the newly renovated hotel was clean and classy... and the price was right!
The bathroom was small, but nicely updated and very clean. I didn't want to think about what the bathroom looked like, before 6 million dollars and 2.5 years went into the hotel's renovation.
In 2014, the hotel was featured on the TV show, Hotel Impossible. That means the building was in bad enough shape, to make the show.
Before the hotel was a TV star, locals told us it was a dive, with questionable reputation. But before that, The Streamline also spent time as a Youth Hostel and a Retirement Home. It was even owned by an evangelist, who claimed he ministered to Elvis. Hmmm?
To The Roof
At 5:00, the rooftop bar opened, so we made a trip.
It was too chilly for lounging on the deck, but the staff went ahead and made the space inviting, with seat cushions and pillows.
To the Top
There was an even higher level, that we visited for just a moment. The wind was whipping in every direction...
...but the evening colors were warm!
After wandering a bit, Don and I ducked inside the Sky Lounge. The cozy, enclosed space was surrounded by roof deck. Again, I felt like I was on a boat.
Our young bartender Nathan, couldn't have been more welcoming. He shared every bit of hotel history he knew.
The Birth of NASCAR
Nathan showed us the photo of Bill France Sr. and all the men who gathered on the hotel's rooftop bar in 1947... called Ebony Bar, then.
I wonder how windy it was on that December day, when the men created the association, that united all stock car racing under one set of rules.
Nathan told us a few more bits about Streamline's earlier years. Evidently there was a little bootlegging going on and a tunnel was discovered, that went from the hotel to the beach.
I wasn't clear about what the big black safe was for. "Al Capone" was written on the door. Funny, how just about every historic hotel claims to have a connection to Al Capone. ??
Sunset on Deck
I had to step out a couple times to catch the evening colors.
Pale pinks and greens and a blue and white sky!
It would have been so pleasant on a warm, tropical evening.
Low Key January
But, actually I was fine with our chilly January night.
I preferred enjoying the low key hotel on a night with few guests. I don't even want to imagine Daytona or this hotel, during spring break.
We stayed at a beautifully renovated hotel, that knows how to spotlight its unique history. I guess for the true experience, we need to book a night during NASCAR happenings.
But honestly, I liked our off season experience just fine. If we book again, maybe we could gear up for a little more action, by staying on a Sunday night. Sinatra Sunday! That's more my style!
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!