Friday, February 18, 2011

Florida History:The Royal Poinciana Hotel, Palm Beach's first grande dame

By Jane Feehan   

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All that remains of the Royal Poinciana, the grand hotel that Henry M. Flagler built, is a marker on Palm Beach’s Cocoanut Row. At one time it was deemed the largest wooden structure in the world. For several decades it hosted well-heeled, cold-weather exiles from the north.

The hotel opened February 11, 1894 to 17 guests, just a month ahead of the first train that Flagler brought south from St. Augustine. The Royal Poinciana, with its three miles of corridors, offered rooms for 2,000 guests and employed about 1,600.

It remained queen of the Palm Beach hotels until Flagler built the Palm Beach Inn in 1896 on the ocean near what people referred to as “the breakers,” or waves. (That hotel, renamed The Breakers, burned down in 1903. It was rebuilt in 1904, only to burn down again in 1925. The third iteration of the Breakers opened in 1926.) The Royal Poinciana probably lost some of its luster to The Breakers but competition wasn’t the only cause of its demise.

The Hurricane of 1928 took a swipe at the large wooden structure, shifting some of it off its foundation. The following year, the stock market crash took a bite. The ensuing Great Depression closed the Royal Poinciana’s doors at the end of the 1930 winter season. It was demolished by 1935.

Mustaine, Beverly. On Lake Worth.  Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 1999.
Palm Beach Daily News, March 6, 1962

Tags: Palm Beach hotels, Florida tourism, Henry M. Flagler’s hotels

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