Tampa's Minarets Bridge Past and Present
Visitors may be surprised to find minarets in downtown Tampa. They soar over the former Tampa Bay Hotel - now owned by the University of Tampa -- and contrast with Tampa's modern structures.*
By Susan J. Young
Cruising from Tampa or on a port call perhaps? One surprising and inexpensive attraction for adults is the Victorian-styled The Henry B. Plant Museum in downtown Tampa. It's housed within the 1891-era Tampa Bay Hotel that prospered during the city's early 20th-century Rough Rider days.
In fact, the museum is one of the best-kept secrets in Tampa. It's not on the typical tourist path for those headed to the cruise port, Busch Gardens or the nearby beaches, but perhaps it should be. It's just a short cab ride from the cruise terminal.
The hotel has been closed for decades, but was taken over by the University of Tampa as its headquarters decades ago, thus preserving the building for future generations. The museum is on one end of the building. Take lots of film for photographing the outside. It's a restored jewel.
The 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel, one of Florida's great railway hotels, has found a new place in Tampa's history as a university building and museum dedicated to its founder, Henry B. Plant.*
The old hotel building is highly distinctive with soaring Moorish revival archecture including minarets. Plant's goal was to build an exotic hotel, one that would set itself apart from other magnificent railroad-owned properties in Florida. He wanted to attract the "in crowd" of the day, wealthy northerners with money.
They'd tell their friends, more people would come on his train to visit the hotel, and so on. For example, Gloria Swanson was a visitor as a young girl.
Anna Pavlova, the famed Russian ballerina, danced on the stage at the hotel (after guests waited two hours for a local ship to transport her to the site). She danced barefoot on the hotel's stage until 12:50 a.m. The Tampa Tribune reported at the time: "She came, she danced, she conquered."
The hotel is perhaps best known, though, as the military operating base for Teddy Roosevelt's U.S. Army "Rough Riders" in the days leading up to and during the Spanish-American War. More than 20,000 horses and 30,000 troops camped around the hotel and the area that today is downtown Tampa.
Roosevelt insisted in camping with his troops but he visited his wife Edith frequently; she was staying at the hotel, as were most other Army officers.
Vacationing photo buffs will love visiting the old Tampa Bay Hotel building for its angles, lines and Moorish arches.*
Today, the design still creates a buzz. It's a jewel of Victorian architectural style amid a city of soaring skycrapers -- an endearing bridge between the city's past and present.
For a nominal $5 entry contribution (except during December's Christmas stroll when pricing is higher), visitors may enter a portion of the building set aside as a museum. Definitely, view the 10-minute film which puts the building, its history and the Plants' vision in perspective.
Then stroll the galleries on your own. You'll feel you've stepped back in time. You'll peruse magnificent furniture and priceless artifacts, mirrors and art collected by the Plants from all over the world, much from Italy and France. One corner suite with its bedroom area, sitting room and library is set up exactly the way it was in the heyday of the grand hotel.
From a gentleman's library to a collection of period clothing, from military artifacts to Victorian furniture, the museum has a bit of everything. It's a 60-90 minute experience, depending on how much time you want to spend at the magnificent gift shop with one-of-a-kind items you won't find at other shops around town.
Moorish design features dominate doorways and window treatments at the old Tampa Bay Hotel, now owned by the University of Tampa and housing the Henry B. Plant Museum.*
The Henry B. Plant Museum and the Museum Store are open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m. The museum and store are closed on Monday (January through November), Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For more information visit www.plantmuseum.org.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Deborah L. Hummel. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.