For nearly five years, the former Hacienda Hotel in downtown New Port Richey has been vacant as city leaders negotiate the future of this historic landmark.
For more than 80 years, the Hacienda has been an intricate part of our community. Today, it stands as a symbolic reminder of the glitz, glamour, and fame that hotel planners worked diligently to establish long ago. While redevelopment of the hotel figures prominently into plans for the city’s future, it’s important to remember the Hacienda’s history, which should be revered.
Arriving to the city in 1925, visitors had few choices for nightly lodging. There was the magnificent Sass Hotel overlooking Orange Lake, Hotel Newport on North Boulevard and Hotel York on South Boulevard.
By August, 1925, residents were enthusiastic about the possibilities of a more modern, fire-resistant hotel. The St. Petersburg Times reported that plans emerged during a meeting where a site was selected in the exact center of town.
According to the Tarpon Springs Leader, the beautiful tract of land overlooking the Pithlachascotee River was donated by James E. Meighan, brother to silent movie star Thomas Meighan-- both land owners in New Port Richey.
In December, 1925, it was reported that the proposed hotel had been given its name, “The Hacienda”, and an operating company, Community Hotel Inc., was constituted to oversee construction and to operate the hotel. Historical documents show that among corporate officers was vice president James E. Meighan.
Local newspapers show that the Community Hotel Inc. approved plans by June 1926 and hoped that they could help attract other Hollywood celebrities to the city. Plans called for “a modern, fifty-room hotel of extreme Spanish design, equipped with a steam-heating plant and comfortably furnished throughout.”
August 11, 1926, the local company of Burns-Becker broke ground and construction was performed at a rapid pace. The Tampa Tribune reported that the building was erected, furnished, and received its first guest in 184 days from the day of ground breaking; a record itself in rapid high-grade construction-- total cost, including furnishings, was $130,000.
An informal opening of the hotel took place February 5, 1927 ,where there were 800 guests in attendance-- events included dinner. A more formal opening followed February 17, 1927 where more than 120 guests attended.
In 1930, in the midst of its heyday, Hacienda was the scene of many grand events that were attended by some of the most notable celebrities of stage and screen, including Thomas Meighan, Leon Errol, Madeline Cameron, Frances Ring, Flora Zabelle, and such noted writers as Bob Davis, George Ade, Ring Lardner, Hal W. Lanigan and others.
According to local newspapers, guests included actress Dorothy Dalton; songwriter Walter Donaldson; attorney Clarence Darrow; W. J. Wells, general manager of Macy’s and President of the Retail Managers Association of the U. S.; and Frank Case, writer and owner-operator of the Algonquin Hotel in New York. It seemed as though hotel planners had accomplished their goal of attracting Hollywood celebrities. But this all came crashing down during the Great Depression.
While the Hacienda survived the Depression, in 1935 the New Port Richey Press reported the Community Hotel Inc. sold its interest to Robert Holmes Sr., who previously operated hotels in Douglas, Georgia and Tampa, Florida. In the years that followed, the hotel never saw the number of guests it had in previous years. Over the next 50 years, there were nearly a dozen different proprietors.
In 1985, almost 60 years after opening, the Hacienda closed its doors after being sold to Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services for use as a 75-bed assisted living facility.
The former hotel was designated as a National Historic Place on October 24, 1996, one of ten such sites in Pasco County. After being purchased by the city for $2.2 million, Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services vacated the building in 2006.
The St. Petersburg Times reported in 2006 that the city’s intentions were making the former hotel an anchor for downtown redevelopment efforts, however redevelopment has yet to come to fruition and the historic Hacienda sits empty, which poses its own issues.
Sitting empty, each passing year now becomes vital to the future of this once prominent hotel as time and vandalism take their toll. But, as redevelopment plans move forward, extreme caution should be taken. Change too much, and we could affect this historic landmark’s status on the National Registry and integrity as a local historic resource.