On Tuesday, I borrow the phrase Travel Tuesday from Twitter, put down my books and talk about my own travels.
Destination: Tampa, Florida
Attraction: The Tampa Bay Hotel
I have a very bad habit of accumulating stuff. I don’t just accumulate it–I have to have it where I can see it–preferably reach it at a moment’s notice–because if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have it, now would I?
But I don’t come within a mile-long, terrazzo-tiled , gilded woodwork hallway packed with furniture of those dudes in the Gilded Age. Not only did they stuff their places with stuff, but the stuff was all curlicues and fringes, and inlays and embroidery and painted scenes, and plaques made of woven hair.
I tend to wander around establishments of that era with my mouth hanging open, wanting to ask the original owners, “What WERE you thinking?”
That was my experience at The Tampa Bay Hotel, a railroad resort that Henry Plant, the “King of Florida” built. If it weren’t for Plant, Florida might never have become the tourist magnet that it is today. Plant made his money from the railroads and steamships, but had to create somewhere for people to GO on those trains and boats, so he built hotels. The rail line runs right by the back door of the Tampa Bay Hotel and the steamships could pull up close by.
Outside, the hotel stretches for a city block along the water front, corners adorned with minarets and a casino* topped by a dome with the same pointy top as the minarets. The Ottoman look reflects people’s image of Florida in the late 19th century–exotic.
*Casino was a place for performances, kind of a cross between the Roman Coliseum and a theater. It was not a gambling establishment.
Incidentally, before you get any ideas, you cannot stay there any more. Part of it is restored and furnished as it was during the golden days, so that you can ooh and ahh your way through a guided tour of the Henry B. Plant Museum. The rest is used by a college. Good, practical arrangement. One suspects that Henry would approve.
Inside, the style is kind of a “you name it” basketful of French, Egyptian, Greek, Renaissance–41 trainloads of decor, according to the brochure. I was with a group of travel writers, and we were hustled through the rooms before we could get explanations. Yes, I can recognize a chair and a table, but the designers of the day spent their time dreaming up unique visual gems that take some explaining 100 years later.
Still, I can see myself swishing into the Writing and Reading Room in my long white gauzy cotton skirt, to sit at the tables in a room flooded with light, and writing “Wish you were here,” to all my envious friends who could not be in this exotic place. And perhaps I would be fortunate enough to be ensconced in one of the tower rooms with cross ventilation of ocean breezes, where I could hear the clacking of the leaves of palm trees outside. I might not have been able to afford it, though. This luxury suite cost $15 a night!
You can get visitor information at the Henry Plant museum’s web site.
Do you like the style of the gilded age, with its trainloads of tchotchkes?