So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:8 (ESV)
There are some days in the life of a historian when you want to beat your head against the wall. When people allow their children to run rampant through a carefully prepared museum exhibit. When government agencies through neglect and mismanagement encourage owners of historic buildings to allow their buildings to become so rundown that there is no choice but to tear them down. When developers preach newer is better and strip away a community’s history as fast as they can. But, then, there are the days when you stand a little taller, smile a little broader and secretly think to yourself, I helped to save that. Today is one of the good days. Today, is the long awaited reopening of what was formerly known as the Manatee River Hotel. Built in 1925, during the Florida land boom, the Manatee River Hotel added panache to Bradenton’s skyline. With tile insets, cupolas covered in red clay, and ironwork supporting the overhangs protecting its sidewalk, the hotel was the epitome of the Mediterranean Revival style of architecture so popular in Florida during the 1920s. At a price tag of $850,000 and boasting of 285 rooms, each with a bath, local newspapers included pages of photographs and stories both as the building was under construction and at its grand opening. Legends surround the building telling told of the famous people and lavish parties that were held at the hotel. The rooftop garden with strings of electric lights was a popular social scene. The lights could be seen throughout the City, and music played on the rooftop drifted throughout the downtown making it a magical place. The hotel was usually only open during “Winter Season” from December 15 until April 15. On the first floor were shops where residents and visitors could buy clothing and gifts. The exterior of the hotel and its beautifully paneled lobby managed to survive years of neglect as the hotel closed in the 1960s and was converted first to a retirement residence and then, underwent a failed effort to turn it into condominiums. The City of Bradenton and our Downtown Development Authority worked very hard to find an investor for the building. I helped where I could providing statistics that showed that heritage travelers, visitors who chose to stay in a historic hotel and visit historic sites and museums, often spend more money and stay longer than the average tourist. Two years ago, a group affiliated with Hampton Inn stepped up and took the challenge. For the last few months, I, along with thousands of other Manatee County residents have watched the old hotel take on new life. The 1960s pink paint was replaced with its original beige. The wooden windows were all restored or replaced. The lobby’s walls and tile floor were refininished as well as the grand stairwell. Today, the hotel reopened to the public. I am proud of my community for preserving its heritage and showing that the past can lead us into a new future.