Renovation of the Pacetti Hotel in Ponce Inlet to begin in early 2022


PONCE INLET – Aside from the rustling of trees and the occasional boat motor on the creek, it’s quiet these days on the grounds of the historic Pacetti Hotel, nestled among the trees across from the Ponce Lighthouse and Museum by Leon Inlet.

Still, Felipe De Paula, the Lighthouse Museum’s registrar and deputy curator, may already consider the changes underway following a $ 1.5million renovation project set to begin early this year. next.

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As he walks through the 3.2-acre property, he points to the future location of parking lots, entrance roads and visitor walkways to the entrance to the historic building originally built in 1881, the oldest in Ponce Inlet. Above, an occasional osprey, kingfisher or red-shouldered hawk soars from one of the towering living oak trees.

“We are preparing to start the meat and bone restoration early next year,” said De Paula. “The building itself is an artefact that we want to preserve as long as we can. “

In 2019, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association purchased the historic building in the shadow of the lighthouse and the 3.2 acres it sits on for $ 1.7 million. At the end of 2020, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.

The historic Pacetti Hotel, built in 1881, will soon be restored and renovated into a public museum as part of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum.  The building is the oldest structure in Ponce Inlet and was once the hub of the region's bustling tourist industry.

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The association is now in the final planning stages of a construction project initially budgeted at $ 1.5 million to restore and renovate the old hotel into a museum.

As a result of supply chain issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, that number is now expected to be higher, said Ed Gunn, executive director of the association.

“With the effects of COVID on the supply chain and material costs, we expect significantly higher development costs,” Gunn said. “All of our consulting engineers report rising costs for materials and equipment. We don’t have that final number yet, but we know it will increase dramatically. “

For this reason, as plans for the revival of the Pacetti Hotel become clearer, the association is also in the midst of a final fundraising campaign to help fund the project.

In addition to a generous grant that funded most of the purchase price of the property, the Paul B. Hunter and Constance D. Hunter Charitable Foundation pledged to match all third party donations in support of hotel renovations to a combined value of $ 250,000.

All donations made to the Preservation Association to support the hotel’s renovation will be matched dollar for dollar by the Foundation, said De Paula.

Donations can be made by phone at 386-761-1821. Online donations can be made at or checks payable to Ponce Inlet Lighthouse can also be mailed to the association at 4931 S. Peninsula Drive, Ponce Inlet, FL 32127. Donations can also be made in person at the Lighthouse Gift Shop.

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The association contracted with Bender & Associates, a longtime historic preservation architecture firm in Key West, to execute the renovation of the Pacetti Hotel, Gunn said. Company founder Bert Bender has been a familiar presence for decades at museum conferences across the state, Gunn said.

“We ran into Bender and looked at his historic preservation plans for a few decades and he seemed like a good fit for our project,” Gunn said. “There are only a handful of historic preservation architects in the state of Florida and he was our go-to choice.”

The work on the hotel aims to strike a balance between adding modern touches in safety and design, such as fire systems and air conditioning, without disrupting historically important aspects of the building, said De Paula .

“It’s a delicate balance between making it a functional museum open to the public while retaining the historic integrity of the building,” said De Paula. “We don’t want to get rid of walls or move anything. We want to do as little as possible to change the building.

Felipe De Paula, Registrar and Assistant Curator at Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, walks through the porch to the front door of the historic Pacetti Hotel in Ponce Inlet.  A $ 1.5 million restoration and renovation project is expected to begin construction early next year.  It aims to modernize the building, but to maintain its historical integrity, said De Paula. "We want to do as little as possible in terms of building change," he said.

History of the Pacetti hotel

The Pacetti Hotel was named in honor of Bartola Clemente Pacetti, a descendant of 18th-century Menorcan New Smyrna settlers. He arrived in the 1840s and worked in a variety of professions, including riverboat pilot, fisherman, hunting and fishing guide, and hotelier.

In 1884, Pacetti sold part of his land to the federal government for $ 400 as a site for the construction of a new lighthouse on the north side of Mosquito Inlet, as Ponce de Leon Inlet was then called.

Pacetti’s wife, Martha, ran the house as a hotel after her husband’s death in 1898. After his death in 1917, the family closed the hotel and sold it in 1920.

A photo shows the appearance of the Pacetti Hotel as it was circa 1907. The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association is in the process of acquiring and cataloging a treasure trove of historical artifacts, including a piano made in 1906, which will be on display when the hotel opens as a museum.  The renovation project is tentatively scheduled for completion in 2023, but supply chain issues related to COVID could affect that timeline.

In 1936, the hotel was purchased by Olivia Gamble, daughter of James Gamble of Procter and Gamble. It bounced back among Gamble’s heirs until 2009, when it was acquired by the Greenacres Foundation. The Lighthouse Association bought the property from the foundation.

These heirs included Olivia Gamble’s nephew Louis Nippert, a Cincinnati socialite and owner of the Cincinnati Reds during the team’s glory years in the 1970s. Nippert and his wife, Louise, would host team parties. , fishing events and hotel barbecues during the team’s spring training tours to Florida, De Paula said.

“We have pictures of (Reds catcher) Johnny Bench fishing on the dock at the Pacetti Hotel,” De Paula said. “We also have pictures of Pete Rose.”

Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench catches a fish off the dock at the Pacetti Hotel in the 1970s.

These images are part of a treasure trove of artifacts that the association is acquiring and cataloging in preparation for the new museum, De Paula said.

“We have lots of photographs from different eras of the hotel,” he said, “lots of fishing supplies, old fishing rods and bamboo poles.”

One historic acquisition was a 1906 piano added to the building as a nod to an instrument the Pacettis purchased for the hotel in 1905, according to records kept in the building over the years.

“This piano will be very similar to the one they would have had,” said DePaula.

In addition to the acquisition of historic artifacts, the renovation also requires an assortment of significant safety and design changes, including the addition of air conditioning, fire safety systems as well as air conditioning. interior painting and structural repairs, said De Paula.

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Felipe De Paula, Registrar and Deputy Curator of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, stands in the dining room of the Pacetti Hotel on a tour of the historic property.  Renovation work is expected to begin early next year to transform the hotel, built in 1881, into a public museum in Ponce Inlet.

The tentative schedule for the completion of the project is set for 2023, he said. Supply chain issues linked to the coronavirus pandemic could affect the progress of work.

“We would like to open as soon as possible, but it is difficult to give an accurate prediction,” he said. “We plan to start work early next year.”

When the hotel museum opens, it will be a significant addition to the Lighthouse educational experience, Gunn said.

“This gives us an additional opportunity to interpret not only the lighthouse and its history, but also the history of the Ponce Inlet area as it relates to Florida tourism and river trade,” Gunn said. “This will give us additional space and opportunities to broaden our educational experiences. “

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