Belleview Inn

The story of the Belleview Inn begins with Henry Plant, a railroad and steamship entrepreneur in the 19th century. As Henry Plant was expanding his rail lines into the wilderness on the western side of Florida in the 1880s and 1890s, he realized that his passengers would need somewhere to stay, as Florida lacked decent hotels at the time. Indeed, Tampa, the city that he chose as a hub for the railways of west Florida, was just a small town of a few thousand people at this time, and didn’t have the capacity to hold a large number of travelers. To fill this gap, Plant built a grand, Queen Anne-style Victorian hotel that exuded Gilded Age grandeur, known then as 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 Clearwater Bay. While this new structure was 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. Henry 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.

A Luxury Retreat for the DiMaggios and DuPonts of America
Despite Morton Plant’s death in 1918, the property thrived in the coming years. It was purchased by Bowman-Biltmore Hotels in 1920, which lead to it being renamed to the “Belleview Biltmore.” The 1920s also saw such distinguished 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, even throughout The Great Depression.

During World War II, the hotel was requisitioned by the US Army Air Corps to house troops stationed at the nearby Macdill Air Force Base in Tampa. After being released from the grip of World War II, the property was completely restored and reopened as a hotel in 1947. While the hotel had always managed to maintain its original Gilded Age grandeur throughout the decades, there were adaptations and renovations to keep the hotel up with the changing times, like the inclusion of air conditioning in the 1970s and aluminum siding that covered up the exterior’s white paint.

New wings and extra levels also caused its original, 400,000-square-foot size to balloon to a massive 820,000 square feet. It got to be so big that 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 Recent Rise, of the Grand Hotel
The hotel began a slow decline starting around the 1980s, with the roof suffering in particular. After celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1997, the property went through a series of ownership changes. Plans to restore the hotel were put in motion in 2001, however hurricane damage in 2004 put an end to the attempt. Eventually, the hotel closed in 2009. The economic downturn didn’t help either, and for years the hotel sat empty with its future uncertain. Several plans to demolish the hotel were proposed around this time, but all were rejected by the community, who wanted to preserve the historic hotel. Finally, in 2016, a St. Petersburg-based property developer, JMC Communities, stepped in and submitted a plan that would ensure the historic hotel’s survival as the Belleview Inn. Now newly renovated and restored, the future of the Belleview Inn is bright.

Belleview Inn, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2018, dates back to 1897.