Like many of the buildings in St. Augustine, the Lightner Museum has a prominent place in history. Built in 1888 by Henry Flagler, it was once a concrete building known as the Alcazar Hotel.
Unfortunately over the years, the hotel’s business was extremely unstable until it finally closed down in 1932.
Seven years later, the city leased the building with an option to buy. In 1946, newspaperman Otto Lightner visited Alcazar and decided to relocate his Chicago-based museum to St. Augustine. After purchasing the building from Flagler in 1947, he immediately turned it over to the city in trust.
When Lightner died three years later, the building once again fell into a sad state of deterioration.
Once again the city stepped in in 1968 and began renovating the building into a new city hall. A dining room building in 1902 was demolished along with a utility building and enclosed walkway between the hotel and casino.
The new city hall opened in 1973 and the following year, the Lightner Museum was opened on the second floor.
Today, the Alcazar, along with the Lightner Museum, has been revitalized. The grandeur of the Flagler Era has been completely restored. And with it’s most recent restoration project, a $600,000 upgrade to the lobby, the museum now features an entry way befitting it’s massive structure.
The museum features a huge collection of more than 20,000 individual items — linking centuries past with the present.
There’s glass, both cut and press. Other exhibits include toys, salt shakers, large-scale figurines, miniatures, marbles, bottles, musical instruments, sea shells, animal trophies, lamps, paintings, large pieces of furniture, watches and candleholders.
The great mansions of the 19th and early 20th centuries were the white elephants of the 1930s and ’40s. Difficult to maintain, the rich were either forced to sell their homes and possessions or their heirs did so, sometimes indifferent to the value of the contents.
This is where Lightner came in, buying whatever he could at these estate sales, gradually adding to his collection of collections.