While trying to decide what my inaugural blog entry would be, some bittersweet news about one of my favorite hotels here in the Tampa Bay area came to my attention. The fate of the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa has been decided this week by the Bellair town council. In a unanimous vote, the aging resort will be demolished, ending an era for the vintage hotel once known as the “White Queen of the Gulf”.
Why would I be sad about the demise of a turn of the century hotel that is now a crumbling ruin and that people will never visit? Because I have had the pleasure of staying twice in this historic hotel and loved its charm. I am also a big fan of historic hotels and inns and have a interest in these architectural treasures. They are gems of a time in American history now sadly being lost to the modern world.
The Belleview Hotel, as it was originally known, was opened in 1897 and built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, who developed Florida’s early rail system. Plant built several hotels in Florida to attract the wealthy society of the day who sought to escape the cold North and visit the exotic tropical climate of Florida. His trains would deliver guests right to the hotel’s doorstep. The largest wooden structure in the state, it was host to many celebrities and dignitaries. For locals, it was a great location for weddings, balls and other social events.
I stayed at the Belleview twice in the early 1990’s as part of Christian singles church retreats. I was wowed by the Victorian charm, the grand wood staircases, the decor. It was a step back in time to a bygone era. The ballroom had a ceiling is made up of panels of beautiful Tiffany glass. The glass had been painted over (with green paint!) during World War II, when military personnel were housed there. Thank God, someone discovered and restored it. Each room was different in it’s design and decor, some with fireplaces and balconies. There were many nooks and crannies to explore. The modern pools are nice to cool off in, but I liked being able to swim in the Gulf at the resort’s private section of beach that was part of the beach cabana a short drive from the hotel. Soaking in the warm mineral water of the spa’s tranquil indoor pool was very relaxing.
When the Japanese company Mido acquired the hotel, they erected a modern looking entry that did not match the Victorian style of the hotel. A few years later when the hotel came under new ownership, it seemed to start to decline. The tropical storms that passed through Tampa Bay caused extensive damage to the roof. The resulting Water damage the interior of the structure spiraled out of control. Last time I visited before it closed in 2009, I was disappointed to see how much it had deteriorated into a crumbling, moldy mess.
Part of the plan for redevelopment includes building a boutique inn using part of the west wing to preserve some of this hotel’s charm and history. Boutique inns seem to be all the rage right now, so it can work. I just hope they remember to save the Tiffany glass.