Alena Pirok


After four years of construction and fanfare, the Tampa Bay Hotel opened its doors to northern tourists on February 11, 1891. Journalists on the scene reported that the hotel's builder, interior designer, owner, and all around mastermind, Henry B. Plant, had invited the people of Tampa, prospective hotel guests, and even rival businessmen to view his wondrous new resort.1 At its surface the building was a marvel to behold and quite a contrast to the collection of meager structures and rail lines that made up the "arid desert of sand" that was Tampa.2 Its fine red brick walls and wide shaded piazzas towered over the modest wooden homes of the city's seven-hundred residents on the opposite bank of the narrow Hillsborough River. But it was not the walls that most dazzled nor which would in time become the symbols of first the hotel, and later the city itself. That honor went to the set of gleaming silver onion domes, the out-of-place oddities, which shot skyward in pseudo oriental splendor. Once inside, the cavernous ballrooms, lofted guest rooms, and long windowed halls did not fail to delight. The opening night partygoers enjoyed dancing, socializing, and the "brilliant assemblage" offurniture and art works.3 Outside, the lush gardens, electric lights, and distinctive silver minarets contrasted with the rough sandy landscape surrounding the hotel, creating an unforgettable scene.