Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
September 25, 2010
"No gentleman whose clothing or breath is tainted with the fumes of strong drink or tobacco should ever enter the presence of ladies."
And so my education in Gilded Age etiquette begins. That's one of the many pearls of wisdom that accompany the sculptures, Oriental floor vases, French clocks and ornamental furniture on display at the Henry B. Plant Museum, a tribute to Victorian splendor nestled in the former Tampa Bay Hotel at the University of Tampa.
Plant, a steamship and railroad magnate, started construction on the hotel in 1888 as a destination for passengers making connections on his transportation lines. The distinctive steel-plated minarets remain one of the city's most eye-catching images.
It takes about two hours to take a leisurely tour of the long hallway that encompasses the museum. That includes some time allotted for sitting in one of the big chairs on the inviting front porch. There's a good view of the garden on the university campus, which is bustling with students in the fall.
Inside, attractions include a three-room suite equipped with a private entrance to the hotel gardens. The room is furnished with the authentic period pieces that are abundant throughout. Make sure to look up at the ceilings, especially in the original dining hall, still in use as a meeting area by the university.
The dining room is in Plant Hall, next to the formal museum. The entrance to that building is the original hotel lobby, and there are historic photos lining the walls. There also are free tours that leave from the lobby at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The Plant Museum (plantmuseum.com) is convenient to downtown Tampa, on West Kennedy Boulevard. There are a few lunch and dinner options within strolling distance for hearty walkers. On my visit, I opted for a short drive on Kennedy to MacDill Avenue to Pipo's, a reasonable, not-too-fancy Cuban restaurant that has been a fixture since 1979.
From MacDill, it's easy to make a circular loop along Bayshore Boulevard, where the waterfront view competes for attention with an impressive row of old Florida mansions. Just don't try this at rush hour.
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