After the United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1821 the government built a series of forts and trading posts to attempt to get control of the new territory. The post at the mouth of the Hillsborough River where it spills into Tampa Bay was named Fort Brooke, constructed by Colonel George Mercer Brooke in 1824. Enough settlers came to live near the protection of the fort that in 1831 a post office called Tampa Bay was established.
Isolation was the hallmark for the small community for the next 50 years. With access only by sandy road the population in 1880 was still only 720. Things would change in a hurry, however. First, phosphate was discovered southeast of town and as large quantities of the mineral were being shipped out of the port Henry Plant’s railroad arrived in 1884. In 1886 when Key West cigar manufacturers began experiencing labor difficulties the Tampa Board of Trade enticed Vicente Martinez Ybor to move his cigar manufacturing operations to Tampa. With two industries and transportation to get them to market, Tampa boomed. By 1920 the population in “The Cigar Capital of the World” was over 50,000.
As Tampa has evolved into a modern city it has been an enthusiastic participant in urban renewal. In the downtown area seldom does any block contain more than a single historic property and scores of one-of-a-kind buildings have fallen before the wrecking ball. Our hunt for Tampa’s heritage will begin in a small downtown park, greenspace that was won, ironically, at the expense of two historic buildings...
Lykes Gaslight Park
410 North Franklin Street
This green oasis was a welcome addition to downtown in 1995 but it came at a price - two eclectic Mediterranean 1920 buildings by go-to Tampa architect M. Leo Elliott were sacrificed. Before that the office of the Lkyes Brothers stood here. In the 1870s Howell Tyson Lykes abandoned a medical career in Columbia, South Carolina, and took over a 500-acre family cattle ranch in rural Hernando County north of Tampa. Howell Lykes had seven sons and eventually the family operations would include interests in citrus groves, phosphate mining, timber harvesting, meat processing and sugarcane fields. Incorporated as Lykes Brothers in 1910, the family would become the largest landholders in Florida. Their shipping line, started in 1900 with a three-masted schooner shipping cattle to Cuba to replace herds wiped out during the Spanish-American War, became the largest in America.
EXIT LYKES PARK TO THE SOUTH ONTO KENNEDY BOULEVARD AND TURN LEFT.
Old Tampa City Hall
315 East John F. Kennedy Boulevard at Florida Avenue
M. Leo Elliott was born in Woodstock, New York in 1886 and came to Tampa at the age of 21 to form an architectural partnership with Bayard C. Bonfoey. He would practice almost 50 years in Florida but some of his best commissions came before the age of 30, including Tampa City Hall in 1915. Elliot’s eclectic design for the $235,000 building featured a seven-story tower encased in a square three-story Neoclassical base that led some wags to call the structure “Tampa’s City Hall Layer Cake.” The brick tower is decorated with terra cotta details including keystones above windows and ornamental heads. The top two stories contain the clock tower that contain Hortense the Clock; whenHortense Oppenheimer, the daughter of Tampa physician Louis Sims Oppenheimer, discovered that the town could not afford a clock for its new city hall she spearheaded a fundraising campaign that brought in $1,200 - close enough for the W. H. Beckwith Jewelry Company to donate the remainder for a 2,840-pound, four-faced clock.
TURN LEFT ON FLORIDA AVENUE.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Twiggs Street and Florida Avenue
In 1859 a small frame church was raised on this site and named St. Louis Parish in honor of King Louis IX of France. By century’s end St. Louis Parish stretched all the way to Key West and the little church had sprouted two wings. Ground was broken for the current sanctuary on February 16, 1898 and seven years and $300,000 later the new church was dedicated as Sacred Heart. A century later the Romanesque-flavored building of granite and white marble stands virtually unaltered. All of the church’s 70 stained glass windows were crafted in the late 1800s by Franz Mayer Co. of Munich, Germany, a going concern today.
U.S. Courthouse, Post Office, and Custom House
601 North Florida Avenue
The first federal presence in Tampa in 1899 with the purchase of a full city block here from William B. Henderson. The full block enabled James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, to design a U-shaped building with a rear-opening for a loading dock. It also permitted generous landscape areas around Knox’s Beaux Arts building that was completed in 1905.
905 North Florida Avenue at Cass Street
When the Floridan Hotel opened in 1926 it was the tallest building in Tampa and when it closed its doors as a hotel 40 years later it was still the tallest as the Franklin Exchange Building was about the usurp its title. Francis J. Kennard & Son gave the $1.9 million structure a stately Neoclassical look apropos of Tampa’s premier hotel. Through the years the Floridan guestbook included the names of Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Elvis Presley and Charlton Heston. After its days as a guest house ended the Floridan trundled on as a steadily deteriorating residence house. A recent four-year, multi-million dollar restoration has brought back the original woodwork and wrought iron to greet new hotel guests.
TURN LEFT ON CASS STREET IN FRONT OF THE FLORIDAN. TURN LEFT ON FRANKLIN STREET.
811 North Franklin Street
Samuel Kress began his chain of dime stores in 1896. An art lover and collector, Kress considered his stores to be works of public art on the streetscape. His architects embraced the Art Deco movement of the late 1920s and 1930s and here G.E. McKay used the style to enhance his facade dominated by three Renaissance Revival arched bays. Many of the artful former Kress stores have dodged the wrecking ball and been re-adapted; this one, abandoned in 2007, awaits its turn.
711 North Franklin Street
The Tampa Theatre joined the ranks of America’s top movie palaces in 1926, designed by renowned theater architect John Eberson. Eberson specialized in “atmospheric” interiors that transported patrons to exotic locales in the theater of the mind. For Tampa, Eberson created a Mediterranean courtyard festooned with old world statuary, flowers and gargoyles all under a ceiling painted as a nighttime sky. The Tampa Theatre followed the typical life arc of downtown theaters, rising to the an exalted position in the cultural landscape in the 1930s and 1940s and then slowly leaking customers to television and suburban malls in the 1960s to face extinction. Rather than demolition, however, involved Tampa citizens saved the theater in 1973. Today the city landmark hosts 600 events a year including concerts, classic films and special events.
601 North Franklin Street
Three of Tampa’s prime movers - banker John Trice, cigar king Edward Manrara and lawyer Peter O. Knight - organized the Exchange National Bank in 1894. The bank is still in operation and so are all the permutations of its buildings since 1923. They include the Neoclassical vault at the corner of Franklin and Twiggs streets; a seven-story annex designed by founder John Trice and a 22-story tower that was the tallest building in Tampa when it was completed in 1966.
Tampa Police Museum
411 North Franklin Street
For 104 years this block was the official site of executive and judicial government for Hillsborough County, Florida. The first courthouse, a log building burned by Seminole Indians in 1836, possibly stood here. Subsequent ones were built on this square in 1848, 1855 and 1891. The latter a unique red brick, silver domed building, designed by J.A. Wood, architect of H.B. Plant’s famed Tampa Bay Hotel, was demolished in 1952. The distinctive blue glass paneled ten-story building was constructed for the Marine Bank. The Tampa police department, created in 1886 with six men, moved here in 1997. The building also houses a police museum.
TURN RIGHT ON MADISON STREET, IN FRONT OF LYKES PARK.
C.W. Greene Building
110 East Madison Street at Tampa Street
This three-story, ten-bay brick warehouse is a lonely survivor of the railroad and dock structures that served Tampa’s port at the turn of the 20th century. Charles W. Greene operated apothecaries in Chicago before migrating to Tampa to manufacture and sell marine hardware, automotive supplies and sporting goods in the first decades of the 1900s. Although the street level has been compromised you can look up to see the fine brickwork around the second and third floor windows and along the cornice.
TURN LEFT ON TAMPA STREET.
400 North Tampa Street
Considered the first modern skyscraper in Tampa when it was constructed in 1972, the 458-foot Park Tower was 178 feet higher than any other building in the city. It reigned as Tampa’s sky king until 1981. When it was originally built, it was the new home of The First National Bank of Tampa. The office tower has had a parade of tenants through the year but one that has been here since the beginning has been Lykes Brothers Corporation, founded by Tampa’s wealthiest family in 1910.
TURN RIGHT ON KENNEDY BOULEVARD.
400 North Ashley Drive at Kennedy Boulevard
Known around town as the Beer Can Building for its cylindrical shape the Rivergate Tower is one of the tallest limestone buildings in the world. Harry Wolf’s design was intended to symbolize a lighthouse on the Tampa skyline. To promote the lighthouse experience the only exterior lighting on the 31-story tower are two skyward facing lights. The building opened in 1988.
CONTINUE ON KENNEDY BOULEVARD ACROSS THE HILLSBOROUGH RIVER.
Lafayette Street Bridge
John F. Kennedy Boulevard over Hillsborough River
This main roadway was originally known as Lafayette Street and later Grand Central Avenue west of the downtown area during the 19th century and early-to-mid-20th century. The road was renamed for President John F. Kennedy in 1964 by unanimous vote of Tampa City Council following his visit to Tampa on November 18, 1963. The Presidential motorcade made use of the roadway during that visit only four days before his assassination. This is the third bridge to span the river at this site; the first was a wooden bascule (draw) bridge constructed in 1889 thwt repaced a ferry at this location. The 323-foot Lafayette Street Bridge was constructed in 1913 at the cost of $250,000.
First Baptist Church
302 West Kennedy Boulevard at Plant Avenue
Tampa Baptists first met at the corner of Twiggs and Tampa streets in 1859. The congregation moved into this imposing Neoclassical sanctuary in 1923. The curved corner entrance is framed by a set of fluted Corinthian columns that rise to a balustraded roof. Corinthian pilasters set off the high arched windows down each facade. The classical confection is topped by a gilded dome. The Baptist facilities cover three city blocks here and include the intimate Culbreth Chapel, rendered in brick with engaged Ionic columns and wrapped in stone corner quoins.
AT UNIVERSITY DRIVE, TURN RIGHT AN WALK ONTO THE UNIVERSITY OF TAMPA CAMPUS.
Tampa Bay Hotel
University Drive at West Kennedy Boulevard
Henry Bradley Plant was born in Branford, Connecticut in 1819. He passed up a chance to go to Yale University, eager to begin his working life as a deck hand on a steamboat plying the waters of the Connecticut River. One of his responsibilities was handling express parcels which he did so efficiently that he landed as a manager for the Adams Express Company. By the age of 24 Plant was in charge of the territory south of the Potomac and Ohio rivers. With the Civil War brewing on the horizon the company’s directors. fearing confiscation of their properties, transfered them to Plant who organized the Southern Express Company in 1861. After the war Plant bought several ruined railroads at foreclosure sales and by 1882 he was ready to begin a push across Florida towards the prize of Tampa’s deepwater harbor. Tampa’s main port was inaccessible for the larger ships of the day so Plant continued his railroad line to Port Tampa, a new town he built several miles away. Plant would build eight hotels along his line, including the Port Tampa Inn on stilts in the bay. But his prized hotel would be the Tampa Bay Hotel, which Plant sunk almost three million dollars into in 1888. the 511-room guest house covered six acres by itself and another 21 buildings were scattered around the grounds. Plant had architect John Wood design the hotel in an exotic Moorish Revival style to appeal to globe-trotting Victorian travelers of the day. When they arrived visitors would find the first elevator, finished in polished Cuban mahogany, installed in Florida and the first guest rooms to have electric lights and telephones. Henry Plant died in 1899, and his heirs sold the facilities to the city of Tampa in 1904. The hotel closed in 1930 and has been leased to the University of Tampa since 1933. In the 1990s the main building received a meticulous restoration, including returning the hotel’s six minarets, four cupolas and three domes to their original stainless steel state.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE TAMPA BAY HOTEL WALK OUT INTO PLANT PARK.
West Kennedy Boulevard at Hillsborough River
Henry Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel was surrounded by 150 acres of grounds, landscaped by French architect Anton Fiehe. Plant Park is the remains of those grounds and is considered Tampa’s oldest park and its 4.5 acres were declared a local historic landmark in 2001. In its time the grounds featured such attractions as a golf course, a casino and a zoo. Local legend maintains that Babe Ruth hit the longest home run of his life on the baseball field located on the hotel grounds. The Sultan of Swat was a familiar guest in the hotel’s latter days. Today’s park is crossed by walking paths through manicured grounds dotted with sculptures, historical cannons and exotic plantings. The 112-foot flagpole is a recreation of the original that stood here - the flag has 45 stars to reflect the number of states in 1892. A typical flagpole stands about 30 feet tall, the tallest in the United States is a Sheboygan, Wisconsin pole that reaches 400 feet.
WHEN YOU ARE THROUGH ENJOYING PLANT PARK, MAKE YOUR WAY BACK TO KENNEDY BOULEVARD AND TURN LEFT TO RECROSS LAFAYETTE STREET BRIDGE. AS YOU CROSS THE BRIDGE, THE DOMINANT TOWER TO YOUR RIGHT IS....
100 North Tampa
At 579 feet and 42 stories, this is Tampa’s tallest building and the ninth tallest in Florida. Opened in 1992 at the cost of $108 million, the postmodern building designed by HKS Architects of Dallas, boast granite entrance arches that are 40 feet high. The exterior features polished Rosa Dante granite quarried in Spain and pewter tinted glass. After setbacks near the top the building peaks in gables surrounded by metal grillwork and is topped by a Gothic-style green standing seam metal roof.
CONTINUE ON KENNEDY BOULEVARD BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN LYKES GASLIGHT PARK.