Entirely paid for out of his own pocket (with no outside investors), the hotel took two years to complete. It was a quarter-mile long, covered six acres, and had 511 rooms. Each of the rooms were all electric (a first for Florida) and each had its own telephone (most had a private bath).
Opened in February of 1891, the Moorish Revival styled building contained six minarets, four cupolas, three domes and was considered to be fireproof. In addition, to having the first elevator in Florida, Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel boasted a barbershop, beauty salon, telegraph office, flower shop, a formal dining room and a music room with a full orchestra. The grounds of the hotel spanned 150 acres and included an 18 hole golf course, race track, boat house, tennis courts, hunting and fishing areas, and a casino. In all, there were 21 buildings throughout the complex.
When the Spanish-American War occurred in 1898, Plant was able to convince the U.S. Military to use his hotel as a base of operations. Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were among the military personnel that stayed here, holding battle exercises on the grounds., prior to invading Cuba.
Many famous personalities enjoyed the luxurious hospitality of Plant’s wonderful establishment. Among these were Clara Barton, the Prince of Wales, Sarah Bernhardt, Winston Churchill, and Babe Ruth.
When the Great Depression hit in 1930, the hotel suffered along with the rest of the country, eventually closing. It remained empty and unused until 1932 when the Tampa Bay Junior College moved in and transformed the rooms into offices and classrooms. Eventually, this college became the University of Tampa. While most of the upper floors of the hotel continue to function as part of the University, the South Wing of the ground floor has been transformed into a museum focusing on the Golden Age of Tourism (circa 1870 to 1900). Today, the building is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.