The Floridan Palace, formerly known as the Floridan Hotel, or to locals, simply the “Floridan,” symbolizes Tampa’s growth as the epicenter of business on the West Coast of Florida. At approximately 240 feet tall the hotel was Florida’s first skyscraper and remained the State’s tallest building until 1966. It is the only historic skyscraper remaining in Tampa of the six constructed downtown between 1910 and 1930.
Indeed, the Floridan Hotel is also Tampa’s only historic grand hotel. Three other grand hotels sit within the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Those hotels are the Renaissance Vinoy (1925) in St. Petersburg, Florida, The Don CeSar Beach Resort (a Loews Hotel – 1921), within St. Pete Beach, Florida and the Belleview Biltmore Resort (1897) in Bellair, Florida. However, all of these hotels are located within Pinellas County and are primarily resort hotels. The University of Tampa and the H.R. Plant Museum occupy the railroad baron, Henry B. Plant’s former signature structure on the Hillsborough River, which was originally built as a hotel in the late 1800’s but does not currently house a hotel. Accordingly, the only existing grand historic hotel within Hillsborough County and the only historic business hotel within the MSA is the Floridan.
During the early 1920’s after World War I, Florida’s population expanded rapidly, culminating in a vigorous land boom. Between 1920 and 1930 Tampa’s population doubled and was ranked third in the State. This was the “Roaring 20’s”. Several forces converged to boost the state’s popularity. The automobile had been invented, and road building was in full swing. People were increasingly mobile and sought new experiences and business opportunities. The State of Florida consolidated local road-building efforts to create a large and organized network of paved roads. The United States was experiencing a period of material prosperity that provided time and money for travel and financial speculation.
Additionally, people were attracted to Florida’s “tropical paradise” by assurances that the State would not levy inheritance or income tax.
Shortly after the turn of the century, in 1906, the eventual developer of the Floridan Hotel, Allen J. Simms of New Brunswick, Canada, moved to Florida and worked as a stenographer for the Tampa Bay Land Company. He then sold lots in Palma Ceia Park, Keystone Park and Suburb Beautiful. In 1908, he began his own venture, Simms Realty Company, but joined the Royal Canadian Dragoons in 1917 during World War I. In 1919, Simms returned to Tampa where he launched his development career by creating the sophisticated neighborhoods of New Suburb Beautiful and Parkland Estates, and constructing apartment and office buildings, among other projects.
In summer of 1925, Tampa was bustling with land speculators and would-be orange juice barons.
It occurred to Simms that a hotel catering to business travelers would thrive, so he and a group of local investors established the Tampa Commercial Hotel Company, Inc., for which Simms worked as General Manager and Secretary.
The Company bought the site where the Floridan sits today. They hired Francis Joseph Kennard, a Tampa architect, to design the hotel. Contractor, G.A. Miller Construction Co., constructed it
The heyday of the Floridan extended from its opening in the late 1920’s into the 1960’s. After the 1960’s, the hotel declined as Tampa’s downtown core experienced the flight of residents to the suburbs beginning in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.
During the 1940’s, the hotel enjoyed particular prominence as a gathering spot for local business leaders and the military. Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker, the highest ranking officer of Native-American ancestry and the first general lost in action during WWII, was having a drink at the Floridan’s Sapphire Room bar when he received word of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Another Tampa hotel built within the same era, the Tampa Terrace, which no longer exists, was located nearby and was considered a better quality hotel, but the Floridan’s “Sapphire Room” was favored for entertainment. It was called the “sure-fire room” because GI’s would always have a good time there. At 98 years old, Gus Arencibia, the Floridan’s former bartender, was still full of Floridan memories. He recalled that, during the war, “you couldn’t get a room.”
Both Gus and Mary Jim remembered numerous movie stars and public figures who stayed at the hotel over the years, such as James Stewart, Charlton Heston, Gary Cooper, Constance Bennett, Esther Williams, Sherman Hayes, and Elvis Presley. Theories also link the hotel to a supposed retaliatory Mafia plot by Tampa Mafia boss, Santo Trafficante, Jr., to assassinate President John F. Kennedy while his motorcade took a left turn in front of a corner guest room only 4 days before the President was killed in Dallas, Texas. The plot was allegedly planned to dissuade Robert Kennedy, then attorney general, from furthering certain Mafia prosecutions. Clarence Darrow, the attorney famous for defending John T. Scopes in the 1925 Tennessee “Scopes Monkey Trial” for teaching evolutionary theory also stayed at the hotel. He was in Tampa to participate in a biblical debate with local religious leaders.
The hotel acted as home base for the Cincinnati Reds baseball players during Spring Training and hosted numerous corporate events for the Lance Crackers, the Jaycees, the Optimist Club and others, as well as school graduations, receptions, proms, and other activities that still connect the hotel to Tampa’s local community through fond memories of Tampa’s residents. For that reason, many have passed by the hotel over the many years since its closure and hoped that it would be saved. It is not only a national landmark; it is a local treasure.
By 1989, the hotel had gone from rooming house to homeless shelter and was ultimately closed by Tampa’s Fire Marshall due to safety concerns. Since then, several ownership groups have controlled the hotel, but none was successful in renovating the property until now. In March 2005, The Hunter Group reported to Downtown Partnership that the Floridan Hotel, as a dilapidated structure was a looming symbol of urban blight within the northern portion of Tampa’s downtown. Its revitalization was critical to economic development of downtown as a whole.
In 2005, the hotel was under demolition order due to its poor condition. City estimates topped $18 million for the hotel’s renovation, and nobody seemed interested in investing the money. That April, an internationally successful hotelier, restaurateur, and developer, saw the Floridan as a diamond in the rough. The owner bought it and began the restoration process. Teams of craftsmen spent thousands of man-hours to re-create the grand sense of place the Floridan formerly offered its guests. Most of the architectural detail was restored or hand-crafted on-site. The owner worked at the hotel all day every day, passionately supervising every aspect of the work. He believed that, after its restoration, the hotel deserved a new and more fitting identity, so he named it the “Floridan Palace.” On July 30, 2012, the Floridan Palace opened to the public, just in time to host guests attending Tampa’s first Republican National Convention in August 2012.
Today the Floridan Palace enjoys broad support. Individuals with memories of the hotel and those who have hoped for years for its restoration have supported its revitalization. Local and international business leaders are now busily booking events at the hotel. The Floridan Palace promises to delight the local community and its visitors for decades to come. Its staff looks forward to happily serving you in grand hotel style and thanks you for your patronage.