The 450-room, Spanish Renaissance‒style Ponce de Leon Hotel was spread across five acres and went way beyond being an architectural marvel. It was (and still is) an enormous and magnificent piece of sculpture. It was designed with fountains, statues, towers, domes, balconies, stained-glass windows, a 700-person, oval-shaped dining hall, and detailed artisans’ handwork that no one would even consider incorporating into a hotel project today.
From the start, the process took longer than anticipated. Part of the problem was transporting materials to the site. The narrow-gauge Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Halifax River Railroad, which ran from Jacksonville to St. Augustine, was woefully inadequate, so Flagler simply bought it and immediately instituted improvements. The fifty-five-year-old, recently retired Standard Oil tycoon had begun the second half of his life with two new avocations: hotelier and railroad baron.