Plant Hall—University of Tampa
401 West Kennedy Boulevard
It’s truly an incredible sight, silver-roofed minarets out of a Moorish fantasy rising above the oaks and palms of downtown Tampa. As I was researching something else, photographs of this fantasy palace called for a further look. I’m glad I did.
It does not, in any way, resemble an academic building, though that is its current use. It was constructed by Henry Plant as the Tampa Bay Hotel between 1888 and 1891. Plant—who had already constructed a rail line to this sleepy hamlet in 1884 and later a steamship line running to Havana—had dreams, like those of Henry Flagler, of turning Florida into a vacation paradise. Their pioneering ideas did succeed—look at Florida now—though it took quite a bit of time. Plant’s investments in this fine hotel were never recouped, though he did succeed in building Tampa into an exciting and cosmopolitan city.
Over the more than forty years the hotel operated it barely turned a profit while still attracting some of the best and brightest celebrities. The great French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, lounged in the hotel’s opulence while the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, danced in the corridors. The voice of William Jennings Bryan echoed through its rooms while Babe Ruth signed his first baseball contract here.
The highlight of the hotel’s illustrious, though impecunious, early history came in 1898 when the hotel served as the stateside command post for the American invasion of Cuba. The ladies and gentlemen who usually promenaded through the elegant hallways of the hotel were replaced with generals, troops and newspaper reporters. With Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and his Rough Riders stationed nearby, Mrs. Roosevelt was booked into the 511 room hotel alongside the famous nurse, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, who came to oversee the nursing of soldiers.
After Plant’s death, the grand hotel passed to his heirs who sold it to the city of Tampa in 1905. The hotel saw a series of lease holders until 1933, when the building was leased to the fledgling University of Tampa. Much of the hotel was converted into classrooms and offices while a small portion remained as a museum, preserving the hotel as it was in its heyday. In addition to appearing as part of the university’s logo, the unique building now serves as administrative offices for the school.
As midnight’s darkness descends on the minarets of Plant Hall—the building’s current designation—the memories from the great building’s heyday are relived. Legend says that students still occasionally encounter servants from the Victorian era still going about their duties. Students have noted that certain parts of the building have an eerie chill and they get the feeling of being watched. A theatre professor in the building’s Fletcher Ballroom encountered an oddly shaped mist. “This cloud of mist…fog, and it was obvious there was some kind of physical shape to it. And as soon as I saw it, it literally sucked into the wall.”
A curious student one morning had a frightening experience. As she explored the labyrinthine structure, the student encountered a man in an old-fashioned three piece suit. When she called out to ask if she could help him he did not respond, though he began to walk towards her. At that point she realized his eyes were glowing red and she fled. As she descended a staircase, she encountered the same man calmly drinking tea. There’s no telling what else one might encounter around midnight under the minarets.
- Dickens, Dorothy K. and Ralph Christian. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Tampa Bay Hotel. October 1975.
- “The Ghosts of Plant Hall.” The Minaret. 1 November 2007.
- Henry B. Plant Museum. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 April 2013.
- University of Tampa. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 April 2013.