The Tampa Bay Hotel was created in a world still in wonder of foreign and exotic lands. The leftover exoticism of Spanish and Moorish architecture was amply used to create this marvel of Victorian inventiveness and whimsy. Built by Henry B. Plant, of Connecticut, who made his fortune consolidating business, railroad and shipping interest after the fall of the South as a consequence of the Civil War. He brought the railroad to Tampa in 1884 in an effort to capitalize on the future of Florida. The Hotel opened in 1891 and was initially conceived as a seasonal resort open from December to April. Even then, they knew to stay away when the Florida heat and humidity kicked in! The hotel cost two and half million dollars with another fortune in furnishings and was one of the early destination resorts for those Yankees wanting to escape the northern winters. Now, the NY Yankees are in regularly in residence in Tampa for Spring Training (not at the hotel, of course). The hotel had 511 rooms. The building itself had a building foot print of six acres on 150 acres of gardens and other amenities that even included a racetrack.
Yes, it must have been magnificent to take a train from NY in a blizzard arrive in Tampa and take in the sunshine and relax in the balmy tropical breezes. Once relaxed you could continue your journey by steamship to Havana, Bermuda, New Orleans or any other destination. Alas, it was not to last long; the hotel ceased functioning by the 1930's, no doubt a victim of another recession.
Today it serves as the administrative building for Tampa College and as the Plant Museum. The public rooms now receive visiting guests, or serve for conferences and classrooms. The guest rooms have been converted into offices from the grand main floor all the way into the onion turrets where I tried to get access to the balconies just below the silver domes. In all, a magnificent structure that has been adapted to our modern, if sometimes, drab existence. I would rather it still be a hotel and enjoy it like its same vintage cousin the Belleview Biltmore in neighboring Clearwater also built by Plant said to be the country's largest wood hotel. That said I am glad it still with us and we can enjoy its dazzling architecture even if most of the gardens have been plowed into campus structures. The images that follow give you a sense of what it was and the detail that went into creating it.
entry fountain with its overlooking onion domes
miles of verandas
the snaking stairways rise to domes
corridors connecting half-mile long hotel
One of the many silver domes
under the domes: casino room, dining room, and entertainment venue
fountain commissioned by Plant's wife to honor his accomplishments in 1898