Scores of young professionals had a chance to learn the history behind one of Jacksonville Beach’s local landmarks last week, when the Beaches Museum hosted a “History Happy Hour” at the Casa Marina Hotel.
Held Aug. 25 as part of the museum’s “Beach Cruisers” Young Professionals group, the event was true to its name, combining equal parts history and happy hour, as guests enjoyed a brief historical presentation and guided tour of the historic hotel followed by refreshments in the rooftop bar.
Beaches Museum Executive Director Christine Hoffman kicked off the after-work event with a historical slide show recounting the 19th century birth of tourism at Jacksonville Beach, then known as Pablo Beach. Henry Flagler’s development of the railroad played a part in bringing northerners to Florida.
“The Yankees realized Jacksonville wasn’t as hot as other parts of Florida,” Hoffman quipped.
Unfortunately, she noted, many of the grand oceanfront resorts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries burned to the ground after only a few short years.
In 1925, however, the Casa Marina held its grand opening.
“The Casa Marina opened the same day that Pablo Beach was renamed Jacksonville Beach,” Hoffman noted.
But unlike its predecessors, the Casa Marina was made of stucco and featured an automatic sprinkler system, preventing it from suffering the same fate as the area’s other oceanfront resorts.
Following Hoffman’s presentation, longtime Casa Marina Maitre d’ Sterling Joyce offered guests a tour of the historic hotel, tracing its early days as a Jazz Age hotspot frequented by silent movie stars through the 1930s, when gangsters Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly were rumored to have been among its guests.
Pointing to a vintage 1940s postcard showing hotel guests splashing in the surf, Joyce asked, “What’s missing?”
“Men!” someone shouted.
“That’s right!” Joyce replied. “During World War II the Army took over the hotel for housing.”
They war also took all the men. “The women took over the whole beach!” Joyce said.
The boardwalk atmosphere of Jacksonville Beach began to change after 1964, Joyce noted, when Hurricane Dora hit Jacksonville, demolishing the Ferris wheel, and other beachfront amusements were replaced by condos. But still, the Casa Marina endured.
“During hurricane season, the safest place at the beach is right here,” Joyce said. “This gal has been through it all!”
After tours of some of the hotel’s remaining 23 guest rooms – there were originally more than 60 – Joyce led tour members up to the rooftop bar, where guests enjoyed food, drinks and live entertainment.
While many of those present were already members of the Beach Cruisers Young Professionals group, others like Heath Hodges learned of the event on social media.
“I’m not a member yet, but I’m joining after tonight,” Hodges said. “I’m trying to get more involved in Jacksonville Beach.”
Amy O’Grady, who attended the event with her husband, Patrick, said she was intrigued by the opportunity to learn more about a local landmark.
“I like it when you have a chance to learn more about a place you’ve seen and been to for years,” she said.