The Palm Beach Post, Tuesday, November 27, 1934
TOWN COUNCIL TAKES NO ACTION RELATIVE
TO HALTING ACTIVITY
Razing Work on Hotel Must be Completed By Dec. 1, 1935
While ghosts of former days haunt the half demolished rooms, once the scene of their gaieties, and souvenir hunters seek frantically for mementoes of the past, wreckers of the famous Royal Poinciana hotel are grappling with the problems of town ordinances and fire hazards.
Gauntly the half razed timbers tower above the once noted ballrooms and Palm room, in which thousands once danced year after year at George Washington' balls... Kitchens where meals were once prepared for the hundreds of guests gathering winter after winter at the hotel, are now in shambles... Porticoes under which notables strolled to enjoy the tropical mid-winter season are now toppling... Within the week the entire south wing , first part of the famous structure to be built more than 40 years ago, will be down.
Pile after pile of Florida pine lumber, unharmed by termites, virtually as good as when it was nailed in place back in 1894, are now all that remains of many of the countless rooms that went into making the Poinciana the largest frame building in the world....
One hundred and two men, largely assembled from the rolls of the county unem-ployed are engaged during the week in the gigantic task of razing the hotel. But on Sundays, when work is at a standstill, the half destroyed corridors again resound with the tramp of many feet. Despite the efforts of the watchmen, always on guard, sightseers pour through the building, hopping over debris , some merely out of curiosity, many trying to carry away some souvenir. Nails,,, bed slats...planks... even part of an old rubber stamp found in a trash pile... are carted off to be proudly exhibited as coming from the Poinciana.
The work on razing the Poinciana , which must be completed by December 1, 1935, is one-third finished , it was learned Monday from the office of Scott & Whittaker contractors.
Originally, it had been planned that the labor should be stopped Dec-ember 1, to be resumed i the early spring. However, in view of the problems involved in police and fire protection, there was some discussion of expediting the work or of lengthening the time of work.
It is understood that the contracting firm is now preparing to undertake inside work during the winter months, if possible, cleaning up the exterior to make the half razed building as unobjectionable as possible from an aesthetic standpoint.
No action has been taken to date from the Palm Beach town council on the question of allowing work to continue this winter. James M. Owens Jr., president of the coun-cil, questioned last night, stated that he was of the opinion that as the contractors had not found it possible or advisable to double the crew and accelerate the rate of speed , the town would expect them to abide by the original agreement to stop work during the winter season. He added that he did not believe there would be any objection to a continuance of work until Whitehall opened in early January, but, that if any protests were made about the noise, the work would have to cease. The problem of fire and police protection for the property during the winter months would be up to those in charge of the razing the councilman indicated.
The town council is to have a meeting Friday afternoon and it is possible that the question of work on the Poinciana may be discussed at that time. It has never come before the council except in an informal discussion some weeks ago, when the members took it under advisement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Royal Poinciana Hotel is just one of Florida’s many historic hotels that have come and gone over the years.