I'm pretty sure these ceramic garden stools are wondering what they are doing sharing an antique settee in what had been, many years ago, a hotel room. The frog is sporting an Alice in Wonderland-look in his scrunched top hat, while his primate companion is proudly wearing what appears to be a bellhop's cap. Both are perfectly attired for their original roles. They served as sturdy, yet low, stools for the walkways and gardens which filled 150 acres of land around the original Tampa Bay Hotel on the banks of the Hillsborough River.
If you've followed my Tampa blogs, read my posts and seen some of my photos of the city, you've noticed that I am a great fan of our marvelous Tampa Bay Hotel. I have featured shots of the incredible Moorish-style minarets that sit atop the building silhouetted against a Tampa sunset. And closeups of them in black and white. The photographic possibilities of the outside of the huge building are endless. From Victorian filigree to massive, leaded-glass doors, an entire class in photographing architectural and historic subjects could be based here. I especially like some of the ceramic garden stools, the ones that are as fun and elaborate of these two creatures. They were placed all throughout the grounds and I understand they provided a place for proper ladies of the Victorian era to stop and rest as they wandered the garden paths.
The hotel was built and furnished for roughly $3 million dollars in 1891, and ceased operating as a hotel altogether in 1932. But in the intervening years it has come to have a life that the first owner could never have imagined. Today, it is restored and expertly maintained and operates as both a museum and as part of the University of Tampa. The Henry B. Plant Museum, named for the man who had the vision, and the wealth from his railroad empire, to build the lavish resort hotel, first opened as the Tampa Municipal Museum in 1933. Today, the original hotel building, a quarter mile long and sitting on just a part of the hotel's original 150 acres of tropical landscaping, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The museum, which became the Henry B. Plant Museum in 1974, is accredited by the American Association of Museums.
When it opened over a century ago, the hotel and grounds included 21 buildings incorporating a golf course, bowling alley, casino and an indoor heated swimming pool. Photographs of the casino show a large, Oriental-style building right on the riverfront. Sadly, it is long gone. There were even tennis courts. During its operating period, the hotel housed hundreds of well known celebrities. When the Spanish American War broke out with Spain, the United States Army used the hotel as its headquarters. Colonel Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, now so closely associated with Tampa's history, had a suite of rooms and trained his men on the hotel property. (Soldiers preparing to embark for Cuba lived in tents nearby and were transported by train to Port Tampa where they boarded ships. The history of the city and the hotel during the war is extremely interesting and is well documented. Writers and newspapermen of the day came from all over the country and even some foreign countries to cover the war. (Visit the University of South Florida's Special Collections for digitized copies of The Sunland Tribune, HERE. A good article from the journal about how the media of the day covered the military and the war can be found in the 1998 edition.) Other hotel guests included Sarah Bernhardt, Clara Barton, Stephen Crane and the Prince of Wales. Babe Ruth even stayed here and signed his first baseball contract in the main dining room, Fletcher Lounge. The Writing and Reading Room, click on it at left, is the most historic and authentic of the rooms in the museum. It looks almost exactly at it did in the 1890s. Gentlemen would gather here to smoke Tampa's fine handrolled cigars, read newspapers and complete their correspondence home or to offices in Northern cities. During the Spanish American War, I imagine generals and their staffs would meet here to discuss plans and strategy. While the military minds enjoyed their privacy, ladies could have been out in the gardens trying to decide upon which of the stools, the frog or the monkey, to rest upon. Wow, times have really changed. But, the hotel looks just the same.
Click HERE to visit the Henry B. Plant Museum website.