From its humble beginnings as an Indian fishing village to its rapidly growing skyline, Tampa’s history is best told through some of its iconic buildings. Tampa’s history is dotted with interesting anecdotes and colorful characters, interestingly tied to beautifully crafted buildings that still stand.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought on what it takes to revitalize landmarks. What it takes to honor a building’s history by respecting its architecture and craftsmanship. So, in my quest to celebrate craftsmanship and honor history of Tampa Bay through the complex and at times divergent architecture that lines its street, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite Tampa Bay buildings and what makes them so special.
Tampa Bay Hotel
Of course, I have to start with the Tampa Bay Hotel…
Henry B. Plant, the transportation magnate that extended the railroad to Tampa in 1884 and started a steamship line from Tampa to Key West to Havana, Cuba, opened the Tampa Bay Hotel in 1891. The 511-room resort hotel cost $3 million to build and furnish and was the place to see and be seen in Tampa until 1930 when it closed due to the Great Depression.
Plant chose the Moorish Revival architectural style, adopted by architects of Europe and the Americas in the wake of the Romanticist fascination with all things oriental. The hotel has six minarets, four cupolas, and three domes, which were restored in the 1990’s to their original stainless steel state. To this day, the Tampa Bay hotel is one of the most extravagant examples of Moorish Revival architecture in the United States.
Tampa Bay Hotel’s Notable History
Some of the most notable celebrities that visited the Tampa Bay hotel were Sarah Bernhardt, Clara Barton, Stephen Crane, the Prince of Wales, Winston Churchill and Ignacy Paderewski. But it is its role during the Spanish-American War and in baseball history that makes it such an interesting landmark.
When the Spanish–American War broke out, Plant convinced the United States military to use his hotel as a base of operations. Generals and high-ranking officers stayed in its rooms to plan invasion strategies, and enlisted men encamped on the hotel’s acreage. Most notably, Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders stayed at the hotel during this time.
Babe Ruth signed his first baseball contract in the hotel’s Grand Dining Room. Even more impressive, in 1919, Ruth hit his longest home run during a spring training game at Plant Field, adjacent to the hotel.
From Hotel to Hall
Nowadays, the former hotel is known as Plant Hall, part of the University of Tampa. You can stroll by Plant Hall any day and visit its minarets and Moorish domes. To learn about Gilded Age tourism, the elite lifestyle of the hotel’s guests, and the building’s use during the Spanish–American War, you can visit the Henry B. Plant Museum, located in the south wing of Plant Hall (401 West Kennedy Boulevard). The building was completely renovated and restored, and the original furnishings, architecture and artifacts still adorn the walls.
The entire building (Tampa Bay Hotel) is one of 46 U.S. National Historic Landmarks in Florida since the 1970’s.