Henry B. Plant Museum
History and museums, Natural sights
The Henry B. Plant Museum is located in the south wing of Plant Hall on the University of Tampa’s campus, at 401 West Kennedy Boulevard. Plant Hall was formerly known as the Tampa Bay Hotel, which was a 500+ room resort hotel opened in 1891 by Henry B. Plant near the terminus of his rail line. The museum's exhibits focus on Gilded Age tourism, the elite lifestyle of the hotel's guests,and the building's use during the Spanish–American War. It was designed by architect J.A. Wood who also created the old Hillsborough County Courthouse and the Oglethorpe Hotel.
The museum is open to the public every day except Monday and major holidays. During the Christmas holiday season, the museum hosts the annual Victorian Christmas Stroll.
The entire building (under the title of Tampa Bay Hotel) is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, designated as such on December 5, 1972. On April 18, 2012, the AIA's Florida Chapter placed the building on its list of Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places.
The Tampa Bay Hotel was built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant in 1888. The construction cost over 3 million dollars. It was considered the premier hotel of the eight that Mr. Plant built to anchor his rail line. The hotel itself covers 6 acres (24,000 m2) and is a quarter-mile long. It was equipped with the first elevator ever installed in Florida. The elevator is still working today, making it one of the oldest continually operational elevators in the nation. The 511 rooms and suites were the first in Florida to have electric lights and telephones. Most rooms also included private bathrooms, complete with a full-size tub. The price for a room ranged from $5.00 to $15.00 a night at a time when the average hotel in Tampa charged $1.25 to $2.00. The poured-concrete, steel-reinforced structure of the building was advertised as fireproof.
The grounds of the hotel spanned 150 acres (0.61 km2) and included a golf course, bowling alley, racetrack, casino and an indoor heated swimming pool. In all, 21 buildings could be found on the hotel's campus. The Moorish Revival architectural theme was selected by Mr. Plant because of its exotic appeal to the widely traveled Victorians who would be his primary customers. The hotel has six minarets, four cupolas, and three domes. In the early 90's, all were restored to their original stainless steel state.
During its operating period from 1891 to 1930, the hotel housed thousands of guests, including hundreds of celebrities. When the Spanish–American War broke out, Plant convinced the United States military to use his hotel as a base of operations. Generals and high-ranking officers stayed in its rooms to plan invasion strategies, while enlisted men encamped on the hotel’s acreage. Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders also were at the hotel during this time. Roosevelt retained a suite, and during the day led his men in battle exercises on the property. Other visitors of note during the hotel’s heyday were Sarah Bernhardt, Clara Barton, Stephen Crane, the Prince of Wales. Babe Ruth was also a guest of the hotel during its latter days, and signed his first baseball contract in the Grand Dining Room. In 1919, Ruth hit his longest home run (and possibly the longest ever hit in official competition) during a spring training game at Plant Field, adjacent to the hotel.
The Tampa Bay Hotel closed in 1930 as the Great Depression severely curtailed tourism. It remained empty and unused for three years. In late 1933, the Tampa Bay Junior College was allowed to move into the hotel, using the old suites as classrooms and offices. Because of the large amount of space afforded by the hotel, the scope of the junior college was expanded, becoming the University of Tampa. The Tampa Municipal Museum was established by the city to preserve the hotel in its original form and co-exist with the newly established University. In 1941, the city of Tampa signed a 99-year lease with the University of Tampa for $1.00 a year. The lease excluded the southeast wing of the building to allow for the housing of the museum. In 1974, the Tampa Municipal Museum was renamed the Henry B. Plant Museum.
Today, besides serving as offices and classrooms for the University of Tampa, the entire south wing of the building is dedicated to preserving the glory days of the old Tampa Bay Hotel. Various rooms in the wing display authentic artifacts from the old hotel, many of which were purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Plant themselves on various European shopping trips. Guided tours and a self-guided tour that starts with a video entitled The Tampa Bay Hotel: Florida's First Magic Kingdom, showcase a life of leisure in old Florida.
The museum also hosts special exhibitions, in 2015 it is hosting Passionate Design: The American Arts & Crafts Movement, a special exhibition of material from the collection of the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, now under construction in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The hotel once featured many attractions, most located in what is now known as Plant Park. Today, as part of both the University of Tampa's campus and the museum's grounds, several can still be seen. At the entrance to the park is the "Henry Bradley Plant Memorial Fountain," commissioned by Margaret Plant in 1899 after her husband's death. The fountain title is Transportation, and reflects Mr. Plant's system of trains and ships with carved representations of each on the sculpture. The fountain was carved from solid stone by George Grey Barnard, and is the oldest public art in the city of Tampa. It was completely conserved in 1995.
Facing the Hillsborough River near the University of Tampa's library are two historic cannon from Fort Brooke, the early 19th century military post (established 1824) around which Tampa developed. The two guns are model 1819 iron 24-pounder seacoast guns, and were originally part of a three-gun Confederate battery guarding Tampa Bay during the Civil War. On May 6, 1864, a Union naval raiding party captured Fort Brooke and, before withdrawing the next day, disabled the three heavy cannon by blowing one trunnion off of each (trunnions are the side projections on which cannon pivot to elevate or depress). This damage is still evident on the two Plant Park guns today.
In the 1890s, Henry Plant moved two of the long-abandoned cannon from the site of the old fort to the grounds of his new Tampa Bay Hotel, placing them in a small earthwork revetment as a curiosity for the hotel's guests. Later the guns were placed on plinths made of coquina blocks. Recently Tampa's Rough Riders civic group remounted the Fort Brooke cannon on replica gun carriages in a new stone revetment in Plant Park. The lost third Fort Brooke cannon was for many years a lawn decoration at 901 Bayshore Boulevard, but was donated to a World War II scrap metal drive on October 9, 1942.
Facing Kennedy Boulevard in Plant Park is another historic cannon, this one an impressive turn-of-the-century coast defense gun. It memorializes the important part Tampa played in the 1898 Spanish American War, and symbolically points south towards Cuba. The inscription on the cannon's monumental base describes it as an eight-inch (203 mm) gun on a "disappearing carriage" taken from Fort Dade, an old coastal defense fort located on Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay. The true story is a bit more complicated.
The original Fort Dade gun described on the base was emplaced in Plant Park in November 1927, but was donated to a steel scrap drive during World War II. Following the war, an eight-inch (203 mm) cannon of similar vintage was obtained from Fort Morgan, Alabama and installed on the 1927 memorial's vacant plinth. The new gun is mounted on the top portion of a 1918 railway gun carriage dating from World War I rather than the "disappearing carriage" of the original Fort Dade cannon.
Plant Park once housed a small zoo located along Biology Creek, a stream that runs down part of the park. The creek is fed from an underground spring that comes up beneath the hotel and empties a few hundred yards away into the Hillsborough River. In its heyday, the zoo contained a bear and an alligator, plus many smaller animals. It was famous for its hundreds of squirrels and small lizards, which are still on campus. The bear and alligator were eventually moved up river and became the core attractions for what is now the Lowry Park Zoo. The creek's name derives from a later period in its history, when students from the university used its water to conduct various biology experiments.
Finally a statue called Au Coup de Fusil, meaning,The Shot (as in gunshot or rifle shot), can be found right outside the hotel. These two bronze hounds represent two fine pointers being alerted by the sound of a gunshot. They were sculpted by famed canine sculptor Eglantine Lemaître (French, 1852-1920) and were cast in France by Maurice Denonvilliers in 1890. Originally, they faced south rather than north, and their rapt attention was focused on a small bronze squirrel placed in a low hanging oak limb. However, this was a misinterpretation of the piece, as evidenced by the hounds' attention being diverted in different directions. The squirrel eventually was stolen and the dogs were moved to their current location. Supposedly the two dogs represent Mr. Plant's personal favorite hunting dogs, and the hotel itself had kennels stocked with hunting dogs for guests use on hunting expeditions.
The Friends of Plant Park (FoPP) is a Florida non-profit corporation with the mission to (a) assist with the restoration, preservation and maintenance of The Henry B. Plant Park, Tampa, Florida, as a botanical garden open to the general public, (b) research and publicize the Victorian history of The Henry B. Plant Park, and (c) educate the public and cultivate community interest in and support for the foregoing activities. This group was formed in 1993.
Since 1997 the FoPP has hosted the annual 'GreenFest' activities in Henry B. Plant Park to raise money. To date those funds, along with contributions from individuals, organizations, the City of Tampa, and Hillsborough County, have allowed for the restoration of and new exhibit of the cannons, the Victorian star-shaped garden bed, and a replica of the 112 foot flagpole with a 12X18-foot replica of the 45-star American flag (1891). The original flagpole was probably a ship's mast and a Florida state flag and a University of Tampa flag will fly from the replica's crossbars.