Monday, August 22, 2011

Lightner Museum Moves to Florida, Keeps Ties to Chicago

In 1946, Otto Lightner moved to St. Augustine from Chicago on account of his health.  On an earlier visit, Lightner had noticed the long vacant Alcazar Hotel, the second of the great hotels in St. Augustine constructed by Henry Flagler in his attempt to create a southern resort city.  The hotel, completed in 1888, had been designed by the nationally prominent architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings.  Designed in the Moorish Revival style, the massive structure with a central courtyard was constructed of poured concrete with elaborate terra cotta ornamentation decorating the walls and roofline.  The hotel contained a huge indoor swimming pool, the first such facility in Florida, and also featured elaborate spa facilities, massage rooms, and much more. 

The Alcazar Hotel closed its doors in 1931, and was purchased by Lightner for just $150,000.  He, in turn, donated the complex to the city of St. Augustine with the understanding that it would forever house his museum of collectibles.  Since the early 1970s, the building has housed both the museum and city offices.

The Lightner Museum opened in 1948, the huge spaces providing ample room for Lightner’s collections including furniture, architectural fragments, mechanical musical instruments, natural history, fine arts, ceramics, glass, toys and much more.  Lightner died in 1950 and was buried in the courtyard just outside the entrance to the museum.

Although located in Florida for more than 60 years, the Lightner Museum continues to hold a fascination for those with an interest in Chicago history. A number of objects from the Potter Palmer castle on Lake Shore Drive may be found there including a stunning pair of Carrera marble columns and a throne chair, both shown below.

Items from Prairie Avenue homes include the dining room furniture from the Blackstone mansion (1912 S. Prairie Avenue) and a beautiful gilt Aesthetic movement chandelier from the home of Kate Buckingham (2036 S. Prairie Avenue), see below. 

Even the infamous Everleigh Club, located at 2131-2133 S. Dearborn Street
in the heart of Chicago’s Levee district, is represented with a flamboyant Venetian glass chandelier.

The collections at the museum are vast and varied from player pianos to buttons, and from an Egyptian mummy to brilliant cut glass.  Devotees of Chicago history owe a debt of gratitude to Otto Lightner for his efforts to preserve Chicago as it grew and thrived from the late 1800s past the turn of the 20th century.

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