(adapted from the St. Augustine Record April 25, 1943)
In World War II the Coast Guard took over the Ponce de Leon Hotel and created a Coast Guard Training School. It was one of five in the nation. The regular induction school and the gunnery school was at the hotel. The men berthed in the rooms where Presidents and societies upper crust used to live. The old hotel now in her 50s had never seen so much use.
At the entrance the portcullis was no longer lifed with the start of a new season. Instead an armed sentry of the United States Coast Guard was located there to check identification cards and passes. The archway was not its old spacious self but was now subdivided into various sections. Next you would walk into the courtyard to the old beautiful fountain to be greated by a sign: "Do Not Thow Things into the Pond."
Inside the rotunda and the corridors were open space. Gone were the furnishings and carpets. No shades on the windows. The pictures and the palms were gone.
It was a man's world except for the occasional SPAR on duty. The old clerk's desk on the right was now the home of the officer of the day. Administrative offices located the Grand Parlor area and the small ballroom was simply a hallway between the offices.
The medical unit, supply and dispensary departments occupied the entire east wing on the first floor. Identification tag machinery filled the telephone booth and the pharmacy was in the area of the library and souvenir stand. Rooms off the corridor were consulting rooms for the medical and dental staffs.
The dinning room had unshaded, curtain-less windows and carpetless floors. Dark marble-topped narrow tables that held ten or twelve "boots" had replaced the smaller linen-toped dinning tables. Church services were held in the Venido Room. Movies were shown in the room five nights a week. It was also the place where I.Q. testing was given the new recruits.
In the kitchen modern gas ranges finally replaced the oldtime coal-burning stoves. Electric potato-peelers were installed. The massive charcoal-burning brick ovens (bearing the date of 1887) were still in place. The meat refrigeration and storage units were enlarged.
Downstairs the old Gentleman's Lounge (on the dinning room side of the motor entrance) men were outfitted for the new clothing they'd wear. The old bar was now a shoe shop.
On the other side of the motor entrance down into the basement were row upon row of maintenance supplies and work tables for the men to stencil his name on each article of clothing issued to him.
The Housekeeper Lieut-Comdr J. P. Crowley was the "housekeeper" for the Naval Training Station. He was a veteran of the Coast Guard starting with a commission in 1924. His offical title was Maintenance and Security Officer. His family has a house on Tremerton Street. He was in charge of maintenance for all three hotels and also security for the property. This meant that he had control over the Ponce de Leon Hotel, the Monson and the Benett plus all the equipment including the boats. He also was the head of the SPs or Shore Patrol the MP wing of the Coast Guard.
The Ponce de Leon had its own particular set of problems as an older building. The refrigeration was actually doubled under his watch. Remembering the problem with the private bathrooms from the beginning (more were added each year.) The new problem was lack of showers. There were very few showers in the building. The solution was to build showers outside. Many of the original gardners and several of the hotel employees were still at the Ponce de Leon in their former capacities.
The property guards were called the Security Watch. Their job was to watch for fire, smoke or disorder. The Shore Patrol was directly under Commander Crowley and worked with the MPs under Major Max S. Edelstein who was the commander of the St. Augustine Army Recreational Area. This effort was coordinated with Captain Virgil Stuart of the St. Augustine Police department.
The members of the SP unit were former State and local police. The Security Watch consisted of former firemen. The engineering officer was Lieutenant J. L. Wattengel and Lieutent J. G. Alligood was Commander Crowley's assistant. Warrant Machinist N. Matheson was the construction man.