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The Belleview Inn Story: Part 2

While Henry Plant’s Victorian hotel has seen a lot of change in her 120 years, one thing that has always remained consistent: her glamour and grace.

As Henry Plant was expanding his rail lines into the wilderness on the western side of Tampa in the 1880s and ’90s in the area now known as Clearwater, he knew his passengers would need somewhere to stay, somewhere to retreat. The result was a grand Queen Anne–style Victorian hotel that was a thing of true Gilded Age grandeur: The Hotel Belleview.


The Beginning of the Hotel Belleview

Premiering in 1897, the 400,000-square-foot Hotel Belleview, constructed of heart pine wood imported from Plant’s Georgia estate, sat on a 35-foot-high bluff overlooking what is now Clearwater Bay. While purposely intended to be less elegant than Plant’s other nearby luxury hotel, the Tampa Bay Hotel, The Hotel Belleview was still undeniably resplendent, with ornate gingerbread-like details such as peaked gables, overhanging roofs, and wide verandas. It was also equipped with the latest in amenities, such as steam-generated electricity, at least three electric lights in each of its 145 guest rooms (unheard of at the time), a lobby-based telegraph, and even entertainment from a resident orchestra.

And as the years went on, The Hotel Belleview only became grander. Plant’s son, Morton Plant, who took over operations after the death of his father in 1899, painted it white and changed the roof titles to green, earning the hotel the nickname of the “White Queen on the Gulf.” He also added an Olympic-sized swimming pool adorned in Italian tile and two 18-hole golf courses designed by the legendary Donald Ross, which are still in operation today. It was the kind of Florida Gulf resort hotel the Tampa and Clearwater area had never seen.

A Luxury Retreat For The Dimaggios And Duponts Of America

Despite Morton Plant’s death in 1918, the property thrived in the coming years. The 1920s saw such guests as the Studebakers, the DuPonts, and the Vanderbilts retreating here, while the golf courses hosted some of the most famous athletes in the country, including Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, and Joe DiMaggio. It was the place for laid-back leisure in a high-class setting and continued to be, even throughout The Great Depression, until World War II, when the hotel was requisitioned by the US Army Air Corps to house troops training at nearby airfields.

After being released from the grip of World War II, the property was completely restored and reopened once again as a hotel in 1947 – this time, operating under the name of The Belleview-Biltmore Hotel, which would remain its title until 1991. While the hotel always managed to maintain its original Gilded Age grandeur throughout the decades, adaptations occurred to keep up with the changing times, like the inclusion of air conditioning in the 1970s, as well as aluminum siding covering up the exterior’s white paint.

New wings and extra levels also caused its original 400,000-square-foot stature to balloon to a massive 820,000 – so much so, it was said to be the largest occupied wooden structure in the world at one point. During all the changes, however, notable guests continued to frequent the grand halls, including past presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, as well as musicians Tony Bennet and Bob Dylan.

The Fall – And The Recent Rise – Of The Grand Hotel

After celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1997, the property went through a series of ownership changes that eventually led to its closing in 2009 – a result of failed plans for renovations. The economic downturn didn’t help either, and for years the hotel sat empty, the signs of deterioration growing and the threat of the wrecking ball looming. That is, until 2016, when JMC Communities, a St. Petersburg-based property developer stepped in, submitting a plan that would ensure that the historic hotel lives on. This time, in the form of the Belleview Inn.

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