Flagler College, Ponce Hall

photo by: Scott Smith

Preservation Magazine, Spring 2024

Behind the Revival of Ponce Hall, a St. Augustine, Florida, Landmark

In July 2022, a water pipe burst in freshly upgraded Ponce de Leon Hall, the Spanish Renaissance Revival–style heart of St. Augustine, Florida’s Flagler College. Few people were in the building at the time, and no one was hurt, but the incident caused significant damage.

It catalyzed a $100-million-plus renovation and restoration that included structural repairs as well as electrical, plumbing, and HVAC modernization. But it also shed new light on the National Historic Landmark. Built by industrialist Henry Flagler as a hotel in the late 1880s, the U-shaped building served as a World War II–era United States Coast Guard outpost before its current life as a residence hall that also contains a rotunda, dining hall, and administrative offices.

“What it did was let us see [inside] the walls,” says John Delaney, president of the college. The Ponce was electrified even before the White House was, and it still had some cloth electrical wiring as of 2022. During the renovation, workers uncovered a signature believed to be that of the original electrical engineer: Thomas Edison.

“You had so many of these visionaries come in and work on the Ponce at the beginning of their careers,” says Laura Stevenson Dumas, the college’s vice president and chief of staff. “You had Edison; you had [George Willoughby] Maynard as the muralist, who went on to do the Library of Congress.” The young architects, John Carrère and Thomas Hastings, later designed the New York Public Library, and the group of Tiffany windows in the dining hall and other spaces was one of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s early glass commissions.

With most of the East Wing work complete by August 2023, restoration continues this spring on original trim and tiling in the central rotunda. Work on Ponce Hall’s West Wing is slated for completion by August 2025.

By: Alison Van Houten

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