Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Midnight with Minarets—Old Tampa Bay Hotel (Photos)


Plant Hall—University of Tampa
401 West Kennedy Boulevard
Tampa, Florida

It’s truly an incredible sight, silver-roofed minarets out of a Moorish fantasy rising above the oaks and palms of downtown Tampa. As I was researching something else, photographs of this fantasy palace called for a further look. I’m glad I did.

It does not, in any way, resemble an academic building, though that is its current use. It was constructed by Henry Plant as the Tampa Bay Hotel between 1888 and 1891. Plant—who had already constructed a rail line to this sleepy hamlet in 1884 and later a steamship line running to Havana—had dreams, like those of Henry Flagler, of turning Florida into a vacation paradise. Their pioneering ideas did succeed—look at Florida now—though it took quite a bit of time. Plant’s investments in this fine hotel were never recouped, though he did succeed in building Tampa into an exciting and cosmopolitan city.

Some of Plant Hall's minarets. Photo 2012 by WalterPro4755.
Released under a Creative Commons License.
Over the more than forty years the hotel operated it barely turned a profit while still attracting some of the best and brightest celebrities. The great French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, lounged in the hotel’s opulence while the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, danced in the corridors. The voice of William Jennings Bryan echoed through its rooms while Babe Ruth signed his first baseball contract here.

The highlight of the hotel’s illustrious, though impecunious, early history came in 1898 when the hotel served as the stateside command post for the American invasion of Cuba. The ladies and gentlemen who usually promenaded through the elegant hallways of the hotel were replaced with generals, troops and newspaper reporters. With Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and his Rough Riders stationed nearby, Mrs. Roosevelt was booked into the 511 room hotel alongside the famous nurse, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, who came to oversee the nursing of soldiers.

After Plant’s death, the grand hotel passed to his heirs who sold it to the city of Tampa in 1905. The hotel saw a series of lease holders until 1933, when the building was leased to the fledgling University of Tampa. Much of the hotel was converted into classrooms and offices while a small portion remained as a museum, preserving the hotel as it was in its heyday. In addition to appearing as part of the university’s logo, the unique building now serves as administrative offices for the school.

A grand staircase inside Plant Hall. Photo 2009 by Gordon Tarpley.
Released under a Creative Commons License.
As midnight’s darkness descends on the minarets of Plant Hall—the building’s current designation—the memories from the great building’s heyday are relived. Legend says that students still occasionally encounter servants from the Victorian era still going about their duties. Students have noted that certain parts of the building have an eerie chill and they get the feeling of being watched. A theatre professor in the building’s Fletcher Ballroom encountered an oddly shaped mist. “This cloud of mist…fog, and it was obvious there was some kind of physical shape to it. And as soon as I saw it, it literally sucked into the wall.”

A curving corridor. Photo 2009 by Gordon Tarpley.
Released under a Creative Commons License.
A curious student one morning had a frightening experience. As she explored the labyrinthine structure, the student encountered a man in an old-fashioned three piece suit. When she called out to ask if she could help him he did not respond, though he began to walk towards her. At that point she realized his eyes were glowing red and she fled. As she descended a staircase, she encountered the same man calmly drinking tea. There’s no telling what else one might encounter around midnight under the minarets.

Sources
Dickens, Dorothy K. and Ralph Christian. National Register of Historic Places 
     nomination form for the Tampa Bay Hotel. October 1975.
“The Ghosts of Plant Hall.” The Minaret. 1 November 2007.
Henry B. Plant Museum. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 April 2013.
University ofTampa. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 April 2013.

The facade of the grand hotel. Photo 2007 by Ebyabe.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

3 comments:

  1. This post totally inspired me to check this place out and my boyfriend and I LOVED it!!! It was gorgeous! The tour was fun and the architectural beauty was just amazing! I'd love to go back and tour it again!

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  2. I am a student at the University of Tampa and it is definitely creepy- although for some reason I just keep creeping myself out more by reading these scary stories before my classes in Plant Hall. It feels like the Haunted Mansion at Disney World in there.

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  3. Several years ago, my husband and I were vacationing and visiting my sister in Florida. On one afternoon we were looking for something to do and my sister suggested we check out the Plant Museum in Tampa. My husband knew I loved architecture and especially grand, old, buildings. I was very excited. We went in and began walking around. I could just imagine what it must have been like in its heyday. I saw the grand staircase and couldn't help but walk up several flights ahead of my husband. Then I came to the other picture printed on this website; a strange hallway that seemed out of place and as I started walking down the hallway, I felt uncomfortable and I felt just a little bit cold (I thought probably because of all the windows) . I felt I had gone to a part off the building that was off-limits to the public and decided to turn back. My husband was still on the first floor. As I headed toward the top of the stairway of the third floor landing, I felt that there was a young girl in a long, white dress nearby. I think I sensed her on the way up too, but I thought I must have quite a vivid imagination and tossed it aside. Then I reached the top of the stairway and looked down the 3 flights and I heard a man whisper, "Go ahead, why don't you just jump?" I ignored it and heard it again. "Why don't you just jump?" This scared the hell out of me. The railing I was clutching now seemed so flimsy and low to my body that I could easily fall right over. I felt dizzy and very frightened. I held the railing deliberately and I kept my grip all the way down until I made my way back to my husband. I told him, "I want to leave this place, now!" In the car, on the way back to my sister's house, I explained what happened. This experience has stayed with me for years even though I have put it out of my mind. Recently I saw something on TV today that reminded me of it again. That's when I decided to look up the history of the Plant Museum and found this web site with the two things I remembered most; the grand stairway and that cold corridor . Does anyone know if, in he history of the hotel, did a young girl, maybe 12-14 years old, fall to her death there? Or commit suicide?

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