St. Augustine’s former Hotel Ponce de Leon was once set in Brazil, dunes on Anastasia Island stood in for the Sahara Desert and the Castillo de San Marcos was a Roman ruin — once upon a time in silent films.
In the early 20th century, silent filmmakers used St. Augustine and some of its historic places as settings for films, said local historian Thomas Graham.
About 80 silent films were at least partially made in the area, and local officials at the time hoped for a booming industry, he said.
St. Augustine offered filmmakers a range of old Spanish houses, a warmer climate — which was better for the film at the time — and sunshine, Graham said. Most filming at the time, including indoor scenes, was done outside because electric lighting was poor, according to Graham. St. Augustine also offered an array of scenery.
“If you needed the Sahara Desert, then the sand dunes of Anastasia (Island) would serve well,” Graham said.
And they did serve that purpose.
While many of the silent films have been destroyed by time, some can still be seen today, including “A Fool There Was” and “A Florida Enchantment.” The Norman Studios group occasionally hosts silent film showings in Jacksonville.