Great American Hoteliers
Great American Hoteliers
Pioneers of the Hotel Industry
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During the thirty years prior to the Civil War, Americans built hotels larger and more ostentatious than any in the rest of the world. These hotels were inextricably intertwined with American culture and customs but were accessible to average citizens. As Jefferson Williamson wrote in "The American Hotel" ( Knopf 1930), hotels were perhaps "the most distinctively American of all our institutions  for they were nourished and brought to flower solely in American soil and borrowed practically nothing from abroad".  Development of hotels was stimulated by the confluence of travel, tourism and transportation. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad engendered hotels by Henry  Flagler, Fred Harvey, George Pullman and Henry Plant. The Lincoln Highway  and the Interstate Highway System triggered hotel development by Carl Fisher, Ellsworth Statler, Kemmons Wilson and Howard Johnson. The airplane stimulated Juan Trippe, John Bowman, Conrad Hilton, Ernest Henderson, A.M. Sonnabend and John Hammons.. My research into the lives of these great hoteliers reveals that none of them grew up in the hospitality business but became successful through their intense on-the- job experiences. My investigation has uncovered remarkable and startling true stories about these pioneers, some of whom are well-known and others who are lost in the dustbin of history.

Several figures stand out in the development of Florida into a world-class tourist destination, including Walt Disney and his predecessors, Addison Mizner, Carl Graham Fisher and Henry Bradley Plant.  The earliest and arguably the most influential of Florida’s early developers, however, was Henry Morrison Flagler, who invented the concept of the Florida vacation as we know it today...When Flagler relocated to New York City in 1877, he gradually separated himself from the management of Standard Oil...


. By the time Standard Oil was dissolved in 1911, Henry Flagler was an extraordinarily wealthy former founder and stockholder.  His various interests in Florida had completely replaced his attachments to the Standard Oil Company...


One event that might have heightened his interest was the celebration of the landing of Ponce de Leon in March, 1885.   He later recalled the difficulty of deciding on the design of the Hotel Ponce de Leon, “Here was St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States.  How to build a hotel to meet the requirements of nineteenth century America and have it in keeping with the character of the place - that was my hardest problem.” 



Flagler went to McKim, Mead and White of New York, the leading architectural firm in the United States and hired two young architects:  John M. Carrere and Thomas Hastings.    The 540-room Ponce de Leon Hotel opened on January 10, 1888 on a five-acre lot with Spanish Renaissance architecture.  On opening day, Flagler’s invited guests arrived on the first plush vestibule train ever to arrive in St. Augustine.  That evening, Mr. and Mrs. Flagler entertained the hotel’s architects, builders, artists and railroad executives.  The first impression of the Ponce de Leon was of size, since the mammoth structure covered most of its five acre lot.  The building was only four stories high but it was large and extensive.  Inside the front gate was the beautifully landscaped 10,000 square foot interior court containing a large fountain with a grand entrance to the rotunda.  The building’s design and ornamentation embodied the style of Spanish Renaissance architecture...


The success of the design of the Ponce de Leon is recorded by the noted Gilded Age author, Henry James in his 1907 book, The American Scene.  James writes,  “The Ponce de Leon, for that matter, comes as close as near producing, all by itself, the illusion of romance as a highly modern, a most cleverly-constructed and smoothly-administered great modern caravansery can come…and is, in all sorts of ways and in the highest sense of the word, the most ‘amusing’ of hotels.”


Stanley Turkel is a recognized authority and consultant in the hotel industry. He specializes in asset management,  hotel franchising and litigation support services. Prior to forming his consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for Hotel and Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Corp. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Earlier, he was the General Manager of the Summit Hotel and the Drake Hotel and Resident Manager of the Americana of New York. Turkel serves on the Board of Advisors and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. He brings many talents and accomplishments including his broad-based experience, his informed knowledge, his frequent appearances as guest speaker and his sterling reputation for integrity and honesty.

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