While trying to decide what my inaugural blog entry would be, some bittersweet news came to my attention about one of my favorite hotels here in the Tampa Bay area . The fate of the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa has been decided this week by the Belleair 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”. Sadly, this once beautiful turn of the century historic hotel has become a crumbling ruin.
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 being lost to the modern world fueled by the desire for newer, more modern things and experiences and the drive for increasing tourism profits.
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 was blessed to have 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 one afternoon made me wonder how many fashionable ladies had also done the same for the many decades the hotel was the place to come to for relaxation.
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 spiraled out of control and wreaked havoc on the interior. 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.