Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
February 9, 2013
If ever a room was aptly named, it's the Grand Hall of the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in Palm Beach.
The 5,000 square-foot reception hall is adorned with almost every conceivable trapping of Gilded Age splendor: A bust of Caesar Augustus atop a massive, deep-green marble table; paintings on the ceiling that depict the Oracle of Delphi offering the Greek god Apollo's message of divine inspiration through arts and literature; a 19th century rococo-style clock that still chimes on the quarter hour.
Flagler's name, of course, is well-known to Floridians, who can drive along streets that bear his name from South Florida to St. Augustine. A founding partner of Standard Oil Co., Flagler became one of the state's industrial pioneers, building his Florida East Coast Railway in the early years of the 20th century, a line that stretched from Jacksonville to Key West by 1912.
He built luxury hotels along the way, helped to establish agriculture and tourism as leading industries and turned Palm Beach into one of the world's finest winter resorts. Today, tourists still can experience his elegant design touches at stops such as the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, housed in what was once Flagler's Spanish Renaissance-style Hotel Alcazar.
That's impressive, but the museum tour of Flagler's Palm Beach residence, Whitehall, offers a more personal glimpse of his lifestyle. I'd recommend the docent tour (offered at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through May), with narrated stops in the Grand Hall, library, music room, grand ballroom, dining areas and drawing room.
Self-guided tours also are available of many of the upstairs rooms and Flagler's elegant private rail car. The latter now is showcased in the Flagler Kenan Pavilion, built in 2005 in the style of a 19th century Beaux Arts railway palace. Visit flaglermuseum.us for hours and admission details.
Just over the bridge in West Palm Beach, the Norton Museum of Art (norton.org) features an impressive collection of works by Picasso, Renoir, Jackson Pollock, Edward Hopper and others. Through June 9, the museum is hosting an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz portraits, ranging from actor Tom Cruise to playwright Tennessee Williams.
It makes a lovely day of art and history.
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