As one of the oldest hotels in the United States and a member of Historic Hotels of America, Casa Monica Resort & Spa has stories to uncover. It was first opened on New Year’s Day in 1888 by architect Franklin W. Smith. The original architectural style of the hotel was Moorish Revival and Spanish Baroque Revival with 138 rooms, including 14 duplex suites with up to three bedrooms. Four months later, Smith ran into financial struggles and sold the hotel to Henry Flagler, a railroad executive and co-founder of the Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller. Flagler changed the name of the property to Cordova Hotel and eventually built a bridge to connect it to his newly renovated Alcazar Annex. The Ponce de Leon Hotel belonged to him as well, which later became Flagler College. The hotel closed down after The Great Depression and was acquired in 1962 by the St. John’s County Commission and remodeled into a county courthouse.
Many years later in February 1997, Richard Kessler purchased the building from St. John’s County, expanding The Kessler Collection. The hotel went through two years of renovations but preserved the historic Moorish Revival style of the original building and kept its original name, the Casa Monica Hotel. Today it includes 138 rooms and five suites that have attracted many remarkable guests over the years, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and civil rights leader Rev. C. T. Vivian, who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. However, the most noteworthy visit came from King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain in 2001, the first time a ruling royal couple has visited the city since the Spanish founded St. Augustine. They dined at Casa Monica Hotel with 175 guests, including area dignitaries and members of the city’s oldest families.
Today, the hotel is known as Casa Monica Resort & Spa and is renowned for its majestic balconies, ornate chandeliers, and hand-painted Italian tile and red-tile roof. Due to its prime location in the historic district of downtown St. Augustine, there are secrets of the hotel’s past just waiting to be discovered.