Campus Attractions at the University of Tampa
By Florence Beth Snyder
First-time visitors to the University of Tampa are always startled by the sight of Plant Hall. UT's flagship building is a jaw-dropping mashup of ornate Victorian gingerbread topped by a thick icing of Moorish minarets, domes and cupolas. It took three years and $3 million — a staggering sum in those days — to open the doors in 1891 as the Tampa Bay Hotel.
Railroad magnate Henry B. Plant provided the vision and the cash for this pleasure palace. It was the first hotel in Florida outfitted with an elevator, electric lights, and a telephone in each room. Word spread quickly among the world's rich and famous, and people who could afford a five-star vacation flocked to the resort on the bank of the Hillsborough River.
The hotel did not survive the Great Depression, but found new life in the 20th Century as a community of scholars. Today, UT serves 8,000 students from all 50 states and 100 countries. The luxury hotel rooms were repurposed as classrooms and faculty offices. But you can still see the grand public rooms where luminaries like Teddy Roosevelt and Babe Ruth once dined and danced.
Plant Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and regularly hosts weddings and conventions for up to 10,000 guests, as well as field trips for area schoolchildren. A museum dedicated to Plant’s legacy occupies a corner of Plant Hall and offers visitors fascinating insight into the Gilded Age.
Top off your museum tour with a leisurely stroll around UT's 105 acres. Take in the views of the Hillsborough River and the distinctive skyline of Tampa's bustling downtown. Directly in front of the museum is Plant Park, which features cannons from Tampa's original harbor fort and the magnificent oak tree where 16th Century Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto is said to have bartered with Native Americans. Palm trees, rose bushes, azaleas, and many more oak trees round out the landscape.