Sunday, February 14, 2010

Plant Hall at the University of Tampa

The domes and minarets of Plant Hall are the iconic architectural symbol of Tampa.  The building was completed in 1891 as The Tampa Bay Hotel.   I've only gotten glimpses of the place when driving by, and wanted to visit. 

The hotel was built by railroad tycoon Henry Plant when there wasn't much else in Tampa.  It was at the terminus of the western Florida railroad line.  There weren't many passable roads through the swamps of Florida in the 1880's.  The railroads would have been the first Dixie Highway in Florida.

The Victorian facade and portico are awe inspiring.  The Tampa Bay Hotel was open seasonally from December - April.  Famous people such as Sandra Berhardt, Clara Barton, Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, and Babe Ruth visited the hotel.  It was the beginning of Florida's tourism industry.

The railroads created not only new winter retreats for the rich, but also created opportunities for the orange farmers to reach new markets.  The Port of Tampa grew from the connection of steamship to rail transport.  Local businesses flourished.

This fountain inscribed with the name Henry Bradley Plant is across the street from the main entrance facade.  You can see downtown Tampa in the background.

Henry Plant made his fortune in the North when as a railroad employee he saw an opportunity for express parcel service, which was nonexistent at the time.  He worked his way up to becoming a high profile executive.  After the Civil War he purchased bankrupt Southern railroads that were devastated by the war.  The restored railroad lines went to major cities of the South and connected them to the Northeast.  Florida was still a new frontier.

Fletcher Lounge is a large space used today by the University of Tampa as an auditorium.

Here's a detail of the dome inside Fletcher Lounge.

The large Victorian windows of Fletcher Lounge.

I climbed a narrow spiral staircase to explore the area above Fletcher Lounge and felt a little like Alice in Wonderland.   I wasn't sure what I might find around the corner.  This curved hallway on the second floor runs along a rooftop.  It connects the offices near Fletcher Lounge to the classrooms of the Science Department.

Grandiose staircases can be found throughout the building.

There's a lot to see here, including the Henry B. Plant Museum on the first floor, and a park along the Hillsborough River. Parking is a challenge, as it is on most college campuses.  If you visit give a little extra time to find parking.  It's a great place to photograph.

More photos of Plant Hall in Tampa

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