Royal Poinciana Hotel

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The Royal Poinciana in 1900

The Royal Poinciana Hotel was a Gilded Age hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, United States. Enlarged twice and doubling in size each time, it became the largest wooden structure in the world,[citation needed] with 1,700 employees and accommodations for 2,000 guests. It closed and was razed during the Great Depression.

History of the hotel[edit]

The six-story, Georgian-style hotel was built as a winter retreat for the elite by Henry Flagler, an oil, real estate and railroad tycoon. When he began buying tracts of land here "at any price," Palm Beach was a desolate barrier island on Florida's Atlantic coast. That began changing, however, when Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railway to West Palm Beach. The Royal Poinciana Hotel, built beside the Lake Worth Lagoon, was intended to accommodate his railroad's passengers escaping cold northern winters. Ground was broken May 1, 1893, and the hotel opened on February 11, 1894—welcoming 17 guests.

Dining room in c. 1920

Flagler built a spur line across Lake Worth to Palm Beach, allowing the wealthy to arrive directly at the hotel's entrance in their own private railway cars. Palm Beach quickly developed into a popular tourist destination for parties, golf, tennis, boating, bathing and fishing. The social season originally ran between mid-December and February 23 (the day after Flagler's annual George Washington Ball held at Whitehall, his 1902 mansion). Enlarged to handle the crowds, the hotel stretched 1,800 feet (549 meters) along Lake Worth. Its hallways totaled more than three miles (5 kilometers) in length. Bellhops delivered messages and packages from the front desk to guests' rooms by bicycle. On the beachside portion of the property, Flagler erected in 1896 The Palm Beach Inn, renamed The Breakers Hotel in 1901 because guests often requested rooms "over by the breakers." Patrons were shuttled between the two hotels along a pine trail in wheeled chairs powered by employees, with a separate palm trail reserved for pedestrians.

Pre-Negro Leagues, Winter League baseball team[edit]

In the winter of 1915/1916, the Royal Poinciana Hotel hired the services of C.I. Taylor and many members of his Indianapolis ABCs pre-Negro League baseball team to take on another pre-Negro League baseball team hosted by the Breakers. The games hosted Negro League baseball stars of the day, including Ben Taylor, C.I. Taylor, Candy Jim Taylor, John Donaldson, Ashby Dunbar, Jim Jeffries, Jimmie Lyons, and Spot Poles.[1]

The 1920s and 1930s[edit]

In the 1920s, however, tourists began to consider Victorian hotels as relics, and attendance at the Royal Poinciana declined. In 1925, the Breakers burned and was rebuilt, reopening in 1926 with new luxuries which attracted guests away from the Royal Poinciana. The 1928 Okeechobee hurricane hit the old hotel hard, especially the north wing, which shifted off its foundation. It was repaired, but then the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression dealt fatal blows. The sprawling structure closed in 1934, and was torn down by Labor Day of 1935. In 1960, a marker was placed at the redeveloped site of the grand hotel which had helped establish Palm Beach.

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