Tampa Bay Hotel held their grand opening on February 5, 1891. Two-thousand people attended the grand opening in their fine attire. They arrived on Mr. Plant’s trains in their private Pullman cars and traveled on his steamships. Mr. & Mrs. Plant traveled extensively in Europe to buy furnishings, statutes and paintings for the hotel. The hotel, which is Moorish Revival architecture, took three years to build at a cost of $3M dollars. It was the tallest building in town. Built on six acres the hotel had 500 rooms. An orchestra played music in the veranda at breakfast and throughout the hotel during the day. The dining room served 800 people for lunch and dinner. Children ate their meals in another dining room with their nannies.
Henry B. Plant was born in Connecticut. As a young man, he worked as a cabin boy on a steamship for Cornelius Vanderbilt. He made millions in railroads, steamships and hotels. Of the eight hotels originally built The Tampa Bay Hotel and The Belleview Biltmore in Clearwater were the only two hotels that remained. Servants numbered between 275 and 300 at the height of the season. Pauline “Polly” Smith (telegraph operator), Pauline Briand and Julie Cotton (hotel maids), Solomon Jackson (hotel gardener), Willie Fred Ferman (bellboy), Maggie Stroud (hotel personal laundress), José Bosce (hotel porter) were some of the people who worked in the hotel.
Performed most Sundays is Upstairs/Downstairs, a Live Theater that is an award-winning program. Six different actors portray some of the hotel employees. During our visit, an actor portrayed Henry Plant so realistically. Imagine for a time you are a guest at the hotel in the late 19th century and meeting Mr. Plant. The best part of our visit was the Live Theater. Don’t forget to check out the Gift Shop before you leave. They have a wide variety of books, cookbooks, magnets, dishtowels, teas and china for sale.
The hotel sold in 1905 to the City of Tampa for $125,000. In 1933, the hotel became Henry B. Plant Museum and listed as a National Historic Landmark. The museum offers self-guided tours and the hours and prices are on the website.