The city of St. Augustine holds the distinction of being the oldest in the nation, at just 453 year young. Founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, this historic city is a rich and beautiful patchwork of worn cobblestones, imposing forts, lovely shops and majestic towers.
In the heart of the city is the site of the Alcazar Hotel, a luxury lodging built in 1888 by Henry Flagler. The hotel boasted the world’s largest indoor swimming pool of its day, a grand ballroom, steam room, sulfur baths, massage parlor, gymnasium, bowling alley, tennis courts, archery ranges and bicycle academy. The Alcazar welcomed over 25,000 guests during its years.
Today, the hotel is home to the Lightner Museum, which holds one of the top collection of 19th Century art, representative of those golden years.
This year, the Promenade the Alcazar event celebrated the 130th Anniversary of the Alcazar Hotel and the 70th Anniversary of the Lightner Museum. It proved to be a stunning showcase of the historic building, the collections and the local, art-loving community.
Prior to Promenade the Alcazar, the Museum opened its doors for a VIP Media Tour. This was my first visit to the Museum in all the years I’ve lived here, and I had no idea what to expect.
The staff was very excited about the upcoming gala, and was so thrilled to share some of their ideas with us.
The party would flow throughout the building, with food and wine stations in different rooms. There would also be small games in some of the different notable areas of the Museum, to encourage guests to engage a bit more with the art.
We also got a peek at the third floor, part of one of the guided tours. The first things visitors get to see is a preserved staff and guest room, both considered quite spacious for the day.
Collection pieces are also stored and sorted up here, and everyone was very pleased to discuss upgrades made to the storage system that would allow them to take on more exhibits as time passes. Guests wore white cotton gloves, and were treated to a gentle handle of some of the miniatures being catalogued.
The night of the gala arrived, and I was ready for a beautiful evening.
The evening started with music by The Raisin Cake Orchestra in the courtyard. These gardens are stunning on their own, but the addition of the instrumentals elevated them to the next level.
Upon entering the museum foyer, we were treated to flutes of champagne and offered a time for the Upstairs Tour.
I loved the opportunity for a second look, and was even able to get a closer peek at some of the stunning stained glass pieces that are waiting for their new exhibit area to be ready.
After the tour, we were free to wander through the rooms and take part in some of the games. Guests had a passport to fill in upon successful completion of each activity and I enjoyed chatting with the different staff members stationed around the party.
In the porcelain room, for example, we were invited us to find a statuette to fit the description on cards we selected from a deck.
In the steam room area, we spun a wheel and “won” an ailment. Mine was insomnia, and I was shown how such a case would be treated back in the day: it involved laying for hours at a time in a warm bath, wrapped in linens, with breaks for bathroom and eating. Not the worst remedy I can imagine.
Throughout were wine and hors d’oeuvres stations, so it was simple to sip and nibble while enjoying the exhibits.
The evening culminated in the Grand Ballroom, which had once been an indoor swimming pool.
It’s an incredible venue for parties and weddings, and we got to see it in full glory with the stylings of Michael Arenella And His Dreamland Orchestra.
One of the final treats of the evening was viewing the “People’s Choice” Award Winner: Elizabeth St. Hilaire’s Coquina Kiss, a collage of hand-painted papers with metallic leaf.
I didn’t want the evening to end.
If you haven’t visited the Lightner Museum, there’s no time like the present. You can even order your tickets online here, and remember St. Johns County residents and Flagler College students get free admission every Sunday with valid ID! With Nights of Lights now going on in Historic Downtown, you can’t ask for a better way to spend the day.