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The Hugo Ohlms mural that graced the wall of the Ponce Room at the Ponce Motor Lodge for decades is re-displayed at the St. Augustine and St. Johns County Visitor Information Center.
Mural by Hugo Ohlms displayed permanently at Visitor Information Center
Four and a half years ago, city carpenters drove up to the emptied and deserted Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge to rescue a piece of art. Carl Brilliant and Jim Berube carefully removed the nearly dozen parts of a mural, like pieces of a puzzle, and placed it in a city warehouse for safe keeping until a new home could be found. That home was recently found when those same two carpenters carefully mounted the mural on the wall in the St. Augustine & St. Johns County Visitor Information Center.
The mural, a seven foot by 14 foot depiction of the 1513 landing of Juan Ponce de Leon somewhere along the shores of northeast Florida, was painted by Hugo Ohlms and had been a familiar fixture in the hotel until it closed in 2002.
In its lifetime, the Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge, served as St. Augustine’s social hub offering spacious banquet facilities, a variety of meeting rooms and golf course complete with a separate club house. The facility played host to hundreds of conventions, thousands of wedding receptions and countless civic club luncheons and award banquets.
The meeting room with the best view of the courtyard and pool was The Ponce Room and fittingly included the mural which dominated one wall of the room and undoubtedly was included, intentionally or not, in generations of photos of special events held in the room.
Above, a photographer records the removal of the Hugo Ohlms’ mural from the Ponce Motor Lodge by city carpenters Carl Brilliant and Jim Berube in July 2003. Below, Brilliant and Berube work to re-mount the mural in the St. Augustine & St. Johns County Visitor Information Center earlier this week.
When the Stokes Land Group purchased the Ponce property with plans to develop the site, the resort’s buildings were slated for demolition. City staff inquired of the fate of the mural, primarily because of the notoriety of the artist, and the Stokes Land Group graciously donated the mural to the city.
Ohlms came to the U.S. from his native Germany in 1928 after having studied art in Italy. He earned doctorates in divinity and psychology at Yale University and created a mural for the 300th anniversary of the City of New Haven, CT. He headed the mural department of the Rambusch Company for 20 years and is credited with the work on some 1,500 church interiors.
After retiring to St. Augustine in the early 1960s Ohlms was commissioned by the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine to paint murals there in commemoration of the city’s 400th anniversary in 1965. It is for that work that Ohlms is best known locally, but many recall the large mural in the lobby of the St. Johns County Courthouse when it was located at the corner of Cordova and King Streets. That mural depicted a trial in early St. Augustine and was commissioned specifically for the courthouse when it opened at that location in 1968. The location, currently the site of the Casa Monica Hotel, served as the St. Johns County Courthouse until 1997. Ohlms died in St. Augustine in 1990.
To read the St. Augustine Record’s account of the mural’s rescue, click here.
Mural by Hugo Ohlms, “An Early Trial Held in St. Augustine in 1578,” was displayed in the lobby of the St. Johns County Courthouse, now the Casa Monica Hotel. The courthouse was housed there for nearly 30 years starting in 1968.