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Dr. Leslee Keys releases book on historic Hotel Ponce de Leon

August 21, 2015 11:20 AM
Keys book cover

On Sept. 4, St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary inaugural celebration day, Flagler ‘s Legacy Tours will host a book signing featuring Dr. Leslee Keys, for her newly-released book “Hotel Ponce de Leon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Flagler’s Gilded Age Palace.” The event will take place in the Rotunda of the former Hotel Ponce de Leon, now Ponce de Leon Hall, 74 King Street, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The book is a detailed account of the historic building’s transformation — from opulent luxury hotel in the late 1800s to its current state as a private, liberal arts college. Built in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style, the architectural and engineering marvel featured the talents of a team of renowned artisans, including the designs of architects John Carrère, Thomas Hastings and Bernard Maybeck, electricity by Thomas Edison and interior decoration and stained glass windows by Louis Tiffany.

Keys, who is the college’s director of historic preservation and Assistant Professor of History, has been working on the book since 2012, when the hotel was the topic of her doctoral dissertation.

“I first saw the building in 1981 after I had finished grad school,” she said. “I was working in preservation up north and took a vacation to Florida, including the colonial downtown of St. Augustine. The building amazed me then, and after all of the research, when I learned so much more about its history and construction — it continues to impress and amaze me. It would have been so interesting to have been in the little town of St. Augustine in the 1880s with this colossal structure rising out of the ground to forever change the skyline.”

“Hotel Ponce de Leon” has received rave reviews from experts in the field of Florida history, including that of Les Standiford, author of “Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean.”

“Keys deftly traces the metamorphosis of Hotel Ponce de Leon from exclusive hostelry to community icon to symbol of the grandest designs of a gilded age,” he said in one of the book’s comments. “Here is the last word on the first resort.”

Florida public history has kept Keys busy. In June, the book "St. Augustine: America’s First City, A Story of Unbroken History & Enduring Spirit" was released, and Keys was an associate editor on that publication.

In May, she was awarded the “Roy E. Graham Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation Education” by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation for her long-term contribution to the field of historic preservation education in a formal academic framework.

Sept. 4 will be an opportunity for visitors to witness first-hand the building’s architectural beauty, purchase and have Keys sign “Hotel Ponce de Leon” and attend the Legacy Shop’s Gilded Age Fashion Show, which will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the the Rotunda, located at 74 King St. Keys’ book will also be available for purchase on the University Press site, as well as in Legacy’s web store.