Flagler’s Royal Poinciana Hotel

Henry Flagler opened the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach on February 11, 1894 with only 17 guests. The paint was fresh, and the electric lighting was so new it was advertised as a unique amenity. Flagler had built this palace as a winter playground for America’s richest travelers, planting it right off the main line of his Florida East Coast Railway. If they so chose, his guests could conduct their private railway cars right up to the hotel’s entrance.

Royal Poinciana Hotel - Palm Beach (circa 1900).

Royal Poinciana Hotel – Palm Beach (circa 1900).

The 17 original guests must have had a good time, because Flagler expanded the hotel almost immediately after it was opened, increasing its capacity to 1,000 guests. The size of the structure was immense; the Royal Poinciana had over 3 miles of hallways. With the telephone still a rare luxury, hotel employees were obliged to carry messages between guest rooms and the front desk by bicycle. At one point the hotel was reputed to be the largest wooden structure in the world.

Porch of the Royal Poinciana (circa 1920s).

Porch of the Royal Poinciana (circa 1920s).

Flagler spared little if any expense entertaining his wealthy patrons. Guests could play golf, swim in the pool, or listen to the orchestra, which played every day in the hotel pavilion. Guides took those inclined to fish out into the Atlantic, sometimes bringing in dozens of mackerel in a single day’s catch.

Just in case some of the guests found all of this luxury a bit monotonous, the hotel staff occasionally planned special events. In one instance, pictured below, a parade of decorated boats was floated past the hotel for the amusement of its patrons.

A floating parade of decorated boats in front of the Royal Poinciana Hotel at Palm Beach (circa 1900).

A floating parade of decorated boats in front of the Royal Poinciana Hotel at Palm Beach (circa 1900).

To keep the sights, sounds, and smells of Palm Beach as clean as possible, the designers limited the presence of the railroad and automobiles. Also, hotel staff rarely used horses, mules, or other animals to transport supplies or people. The primary modes of transportation on Palm Beach for guests were bicycles and “wheelchairs,” pedi-cabs in our own parlance.

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A “wheelchair” or pedi-cab carrying guests in the vicinity of the Royal Poinciana Hotel (circa 1900).

Running such a complex operation as the Royal Poinciana Hotel naturally required a large and varied labor force. By the time the hotel was up and running Flagler had hired over a thousand workers. He built quarters for them across Lake Worth from the hotel in what is now called West Palm Beach. The employees used rowboats to get to and from work for each shift.

Plumbers and mechanics at the Royal Poinciana Hotel before it opened (1893).

Plumbers and mechanics at the Royal Poinciana Hotel before it opened (1893).

The Royal Poinciana commanded the high-end hospitality market in Palm Beach for a number of years, but even such a sprawling wilderness of luxury as this had its weaknesses. In 1925, the nearby Breakers Hotel burned and was rebuilt. Since it was newer and offered updated amenities, it drew many guests away from the Royal Poinciana. Furthermore, the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 badly damaged the north wing of the hotel, shifting part of it off its foundation. The arrival of the Great Depression in 1929 was the final blow. The Royal Poinciana Hotel closed in 1934, and was torn down within a year.

Aerial view of the Royal Poinciana Hotel during its final years (circa 1925).

Aerial view of the Royal Poinciana Hotel during its final years (circa 1925).

The Royal Poinciana Hotel is just one of Florida’s many historic hotels that have come and gone over the years. For more photos of the Royal Poinciana and other palatial buildings, search the Florida Photographic Collection.

 

 

Then and Now: The Breakers

Open for more than 100 years, The Breakers is one of the landmarks of Palm Beach. Henry Flagler built The Palm Beach Inn in 1896. When Flagler expanded the hotel, he renamed it “The Breakers.”

Now” photos courtesy of VISIT FLORIDA

Entrance to The Breakers hotel

Entrance to The Breakers hotel (1920s)

 

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

 

Breakers Hotel and golf links

The Breakers hotel and golf links (1920s)

 

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

 

Fountain in the courtyard at the Breakers hotel - Palm Beach, Florida

Fountain in the courtyard at the Breakers hotel – Palm Beach, Florida (1920s)

 

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

 

Swimming pool at the Breakers hotel - Palm Beach, Florida

Swimming pool at the Breakers hotel – Palm Beach, Florida (1920s)

 

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

 

North loggia at the Breakers hotel - Palm Beach, Florida

North loggia at the Breakers hotel – Palm Beach, Florida (1920s)

 

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

 

Main dining room of the Breakers hotel - Palm Beach, Florida (1920s)

Main dining room of the Breakers hotel – Palm Beach, Florida (1920s)

 

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013

The Breakers (Pete Cross for VISIT FLORIDA), 2013