Men arrived in tailcoats and top hats, while women wore flapper dresses embellished with beads, sequins and fringe — a sight that hasn’t been seen since the Hacienda Hotel’s glory days.
A couple hundred people, encouraged to dress in 1920s-style clothing, gathered in the parking lot of the hotel on Feb. 10 to witness the ceremonial signing of a development contract, said Rob Marlowe, mayor of New Port Richey.
The contract between the city and Florida Motel Inc. became official on Feb. 17 and aims to restore the historic building, which was once a place visited by silent movie stars such as Gloria Swanson, Thomas Meighan and Flora Zabelle Hitchcock.
Initial work on the hotel has already begun and will take two years using funds from the state grants, Marlowe said.
The Hacienda Hotel is one of 39 Florida restoration projects to receive a special category grant and one of 49 to receive a small matching grant during the 2014-2015 fiscal year, according to data received by the Florida Department of State. Special category and small matching grants are awarded annually for the rehabilitation and restoration of historic buildings.
During the fiscal year, special category grants totaled $13.86 million, with the Hacienda Hotel receiving $1 million of those funds. According to the Florida Department of State, the hotel received $50,000 out of the $1.84 million given in the form of small matching grants.
Mario Iezzoni, the economic developer of New Port Richey, said the historic architects are currently assessing the condition of the building and creating plans for its restoration. The grants will also be used to prevent further decay and to put a new roof on the building.
Florida Motel Inc. plans to invest $2 million to $3 million in the Hacienda Hotel to make it a functioning boutique hotel once the initial work is finished using the funds provided by state grants, Marlowe said.
Historic architects just completed designs that call for 31 guest rooms, Iezzoni said.
He said the most exciting part of the work currently underway are the secrets about the Hacienda that are being unlocked by the historic architects who are familiar with the 1920s era.
For example, Iezzoni recently learned that a narrow set of stairs in the back of the kitchen leads up to a set of rooms that were once used as a brothel.
“It just adds to the flare of the property,” Iezzoni said. “It reminds us a lot about who we are and how people behaved back in the 1920s.”
Restoring historical buildings is a major source of job creation for Florida and is considered significant to Florida’s history, said Mark Ard, the marketing and communications coordinator for the Florida Department of State. Between 60 and 70 percent of the budget for historic rehabilitation projects is expended on labor, benefiting local economies.
Sen. Wilton Simpson said he was privileged to work with his constituents as they pursued funding to restore the historic hotel.
“I know how much it means to the locals to turn this site into something they can be very proud of,” Simpson said. “The restoration of historic buildings is a job creator and a driver for tourism, and all of these activities bring positive change to our area.”
Marlowe said he encourages people around the state to look at their own communities to see what gems they have that could be restored and brought back into productive use.
“They’re part of our heritage, and that covers not just the Hacienda, but also the other historic buildings in the state of Florida,” Marlowe said. “They are something that we can’t easily replace and if we lose them, they’re gone forever.”