Last week, I had the honor of spending time with our partners at the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida. I was on-site to train new staff as they prepared for their opening of the Dressing Downton exhibition in October, but I was also thrilled to spend an hour or so walking in the museum and seeing some of the amazing artifacts and decorative items accumulated by Otto Lightner.
Lightner Museum is housed in the former Alcazar Hotel, built in 1888 by Henry Flagler. Amazing spaces greet you around every corner, with my favorite being the old hotel pool that’s now empty of water and operating as Café Alcazar. At the time of its construction, it was the world’s largest indoor swimming pool and was neighbored by the grand ballroom, sulfur baths, a steam room, a massage parlor, a gymnasium, a bowling alley, archery ranges, tennis courts, and a bicycle academy. After purchasing the building to house his extensive collection of Victorian Era pieces in 1947, Chicago publisher Otto C. Lightner turned it over to the city of St. Augustine. It opened in 1948 as “St. Augustine’s Museum of Hobbies,” and boasted an assortment of Gilded Age artwork, antiques, and curios.
Words can’t even describe the space and the treasures held within. I was fascinated by the Tiffany glass, the collection of coral, shells, and geodes in a room full of natural wonders, and I was blown away by the exterior and its gorgeous garden space, where egrets often roost and bathe in the koi pond. Dressing Downton, an exhibit of jewelry and costumes from the beloved television show, Downton Abbey, will be shown in the third floor ballroom among pieces of furniture and other decorative items of the period.
If you plan on visiting St. Augustine, the Lightner Museum is a must see. Watch for costumed tour guides and docents to help you along the way, and definitely buy your tickets in advance! Dressing Downton can sell out months in advance at museums around the country, and the Lightner is no exception.