San Carlos Hotel

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San Carlos Hotel
The San Carlos Hotel in the 1910s
Building Information
Location 1 North Palafox Street
Architect William Lee Stoddart
Client James Muldon & F.F. Bingham
Engineer C. H. Turner
Construction Start Date April 1909
Completion Date 1910
Cost $500,000
Renovations c. 1924 (expansion)
Date Demolished 1993
Style Mediterranean Revival
Size Seven stories
<googlemap lat="30.413363" lon="-87.215567" zoom="16" type="map" width="300" height="180">

30.413289, -87.216017, Site of the San Carlos Hotel </googlemap>

The San Carlos Hotel, sometimes called the Hotel San Carlos and affectionately dubbed the Gray Lady of Palafox, was a grand and revered hotel in Pensacola for much of the 20th century.

The San Carlos Hotel was the project of local businessmen James Muldon and F. F. Bingham, who saw the need for the kind of upscale hotel being erected in larger cities and issued stock in the project under the name Pensacola Hotel Company. Regarding the site, their original choice was the northeast corner of Palafox and Garden Streets, which had no significant structures at the time (but would soon be occupied by the Isis Theatre). However, they instead purchased the northwest corner from the First Methodist Church, which was relocating to Wright Street, at a cost of $75,000. (The Methodists had purchased the property from Colonel C. C. Yonge in 1882 for an old Tarragona Street church building valued at $1,500 plus $100 "to boot."[1])

The hotel was designed by New York architect William Lee Stoddart and erected by local firm C. H. Turner Construction Co. at a cost of $500,000. A sturdy beam-and-girder structural system, designed to withstand hurricane winds, was covered by ceramic tile and stucco. The name "San Carlos" was selected on January 15, 1909, and site clearing began thereafter. As the Pensacola Journal explained:

The name "San Carlos" is typical of Pensacola and of Florida. It suggests at once the romance and chivalry of the early Spanish days and it is distinctive in that there is probably no other hotel of similar name in the United States. Fort San Carlos, the little, ancient Spanish fort at the entrance to Pensacola harbor, and Hotel San Carlos, the magnificent hotel in the center of Pensacola's business section, will help combine to make the city itself one of the greatest tourist resorts of the south."[2]

Ground was broken in April 1909, and construction was completed in 1910. It opened its doors on the first day of Mardi Gras celebrations. The hotel had its own well, with a rooftop cistern and purification system, and the original 157 rooms each had an exterior window and modern furnishings.

Muldon and Bingham leased operation of the hotel to George Charles Harvey until 1919, and then to the Newcomb Hotel Company until 1922, when it was sold to lumber magnate William B. Harbeson and managed by his son-in-law. The new owners soon announced a massive expansion on the north and west sides of the hotel that maintained a consistent facade and added 246 rooms, a ballroom, a new lobby, and space for offices and shops.

The hotel fared well through the Depression years; the seventh floor was retrofitted in 1931 to accommodate the WCOA radio studio, which began broadcasting there in 1932. In 1934 artist Joy Apostle painted murals in the main lobby and dining room, and it was the headquarters for the New York Giants spring training at Legion Field. The future of the hotel seemed assured, and when ownership passed to the Hagler family after Harbeson's death, new expansion plans were announced. However, with the advent of roadside motels in the 1950s — conveniently spaced every few miles along the highway, offering air-conditioned rooms at inexpensive rates — the San Carlos could not compete. It entered a period of decline and neglect from which it would not recover.

The San Carlos Hotel ceased operations in 1982 and lay vacant for more than a decade. After a proposal by Baptist Health Care to convert it to retirement apartments failed to materialize, the hotel was demolished in 1993. A new United States Courthouse was built on the site in 1998.

Celebrity guests[edit]

  • The Duchess of Windsor
  • Jeff Chandler
  • Rocky Marciano
  • Artie Shaw
  • Harry James
  • Liberace
  • Mary Ann Mobley
  • Roger Williams
  • Johnny Weissmuller
  • Hugh Downs
  • Col. Tom Parker
  • Charlton Heston
  • Robert Stack
  • Adlai Stevenson
  • George Wallace
  • Glenn Miller
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • New York Giants

Other images[edit]


  1. "Purchased For $1,600, Sold 26 Years Later For $75,000." Pensacola Journal, January 29, 1909.
  2. "Hotel San Carlos The Name Selected." Pensacola Journal, January 16, 1909.