Exploring Lightner’s Passageways

by Nicholas Cruz

unknownWhen looking for internships, I wanted a position that would provide me with archival research experience in a museum. Therefore, I was lucky enough to receive an internship at the Lightner Museum, and the experience is particularly amazing. For many, the Lightner offers a unique look at objects that are simultaneously disjointed from one another and cohesive around a central history. This being an unguided museum, my task was not to learn about the objects themselves, but rather what they meant in relation to the other objects with which they were displayed. This interesting perspective made me realize something truly amazing about the museum: the Lightner is a museum of museum history. It represents all the evolutions of the American museum in that each successive floor represents the next evolution of exhibition style. This realization helped me focus my research on the significance and the culture of the museum.

historyAdditionally, while doing this research my superiors asked me to look deeper into the museum building itself, which of course was not a history of the museum but of Henry Flagler’s Alcazar Hotel, and to research the culture of that time to visualize and bring to life the forgotten hotel. This was unexpected and daunting at first, but the research has offered many insights into a history that is otherwise forgotten behind the façade of the Saint Augustine City Hall. To continue this search for information, my research led me out of archives and into an unorthodox search through the physical building to gather information. While I have much more to learn, one major discovery was that, while the Alcazar changed many hands after its closing in 1931, it also underwent several changes as a hotel, and was never actually completed to plan. While all the guest rooms have since been destroyed by City Hall, I still have access to the servant’s quarters, the health complex, and vast passageways throughout the structure. It has been a slow, steady search to uncover the Alcazar, but the experience has been more than rewarding, teaching me that sometimes the best historical research can simply be looking through an old building.

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