Photography by Jim Raycroft
A modern hotel and marina with a rich history enticing cruisers to come visit Florida’s west coast.
The west coast of Florida offers boaters an overwhelming variety of locations to visit for a day, a week, or even a lifetime. From Key West to Apalachicola and beyond, there are hundreds of choice coastal destinations waiting to be explored and enjoyed.
Perched on the southwestern shore of Tampa Bay, The Vinoy hotel is the brainchild of businessman Aymer Vinoy Laughner, and is an architectural gem that beckons seafarers. Begun as a bet on a St. Petersburg beach, the Vinoy was destined to become one of the ﬁnest waterfront hotels and marinas in the country.
As the legend goes, it all started at a party in 1923at the St. Petersburg Beach Drive home of Laughner, a wealthy Pennsylvania businessman. Famed golfer Walter Hagen drove several balls off the face of his host’s prized pocket watch. Of course, the wager was whether the watch’s crystal would survive Hagen’s powerful drive. It did, and the golf balls landed across Beach Drive on a waterfront property. At least one of Laughner’s party guests suggested he purchase that property and build a grand resort. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Tapping the talents of architect Henry Taylor and the construction skill of George Miller, Laughner saw his majestic 375-room hotel completed in less than a year. Celebrating the grand opening on New Year’s Eve in 1925, the Vinoy was quickly recognized as the anchor of the city’s waterfront, and an elegant playground for the rich and famous.
During its golden years—the 1920s and ’30s—the Vinoy’s opulent comfort, lavish appointments, and spectacular architectural detail attracted a growing stream of wealthy visitors that included movie stars, sports legends, writers, titans of industry, and presidents.
Even as the Great Depression gripped the nation, the world-class Vinoy deﬁed a declining economy and continued playing the ever-elegant host to its high-ﬂying clientele.
The Vinoy Goes to War
In 1942, with the country entrenched in the Second World War, the Vinoy answered the call of duty serving the U.S. military as a housing and training facility for badly needed cooks and bakers, and eventually playing host to more than 100,000 GIs over the course of the war.
After being repaired and reopened under new ownership in 1945, the Vinoy once more experienced a healthy cash ﬂow from its afﬂuent guests until the invention of air conditioning; the Vinoy’s reluctance to embrace this new luxury turned patrons toward other cooler establishments. A quick decline of the property followed; the ﬁne china, silverware, and elegant furnishings were all sold at auction. By 1970 the once-palatial Vinoy Park Hotel had deteriorated into a low-rent ﬂeabag in dire need of repair. By the 1980s, the decaying hulk that had hosted grand events had been reduced to a crumbling haven for vagrants and a training site for police SWAT teams.
Down, But Not Out
Fortunately the citizens of St. Petersburg were insightful enough to appreciate this faded beauty for the shining star it could be for their community. They banded together and signed a petition to add The Vinoy to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1984 voted for a referendum saving the landmark building from the wrecking ball.
In 1990, after 18 years of abandonment, The Vinoy was poised to undergo a 2-year restoration and expansion program that would once again place it at the center of a well-planned waterfront district that today features several parks, a world-renowned museum, a vibrant downtown scene, and some charming historical neighborhoods. Celebrating its 90th anniversary, The Vinoy Renaissance remains true to its historic roots yet has been upgraded it makes signiﬁcant contributions to the quality of life for the community at large. The original architectural details, such as the vaulted ceilings and glazed-marble tile ﬂoors, have been painstakingly preserved or replaced (much of the tile was replaced by a local Tampa firm) and complement the infusion of modern art, which includes Renee Dinauer’s steam-bent wood sculpture and select pieces of Chihuly glass displayed throughout the interior. Accolades reﬂecting the success of the colossal, $93 million reconstruction effort are still pouring in. Condé Nast Traveler magazine once ranked it as one of the “Best Places to Stay in the Whole Wide World.” The Vinoy Renaissance has also been named as one of the “500 greatest Hotels in the World” by Travel & Leisure magazine. For a closer look take a fascinating tour with Vinoy historian, Elaine Normile and get the behind-the-scenes story, and all the details of the rise, fall, and rebirth of this iconic property.
The Vinoy Marina, a Boater’s Best Bet
Approaching from the Bay, it’s easy to pick out the Vinoy’s distinctive pink tower rising to a height of nearly 11 stories; the Mediterranean Revival design is reminiscent of a grand lighthouse. Dockmaster Wes Stevens and his staff are a wealth of local knowledge and will be standing by to catch your dock lines and welcome you to the Vinoy Marina located across the street fromthe Hotel in Vinoy Basin. Transient boaters who choose to visit this marina are invited to experience the many exclusive pleasures and privileges offered to the hotel guests. Among them, the Walter Hagen championship golf course, a salon and spa, fitness center, pools, a tennis center, and several award-winning dining options, all offered at discounted marina rates.
Venture ashore and cool down at The Veranda Café with cocktails created by resident mixologist, R.J. Hunt. Then savor the culinary delights offered at the award-winning Marchand’s Bar and Grill. Or travel back in time and discover the lower-level speakeasy called Fred’s Cellar; there you can enjoy unique entrees, cocktails, and live jazz, that is, if you know the secret password of course.
Visiting boaters also have the unique option of ordering dinner from a special marina menu and having it brought to the boat. The modern, 75-slip Vinoy Marina boasts room for transient vessels from 35 to 120 feet as well as complimentary valet parking, cable, Wi-Fi, dockside valet, key-card access, and 24-hour security. For additional support, Tampa Bay Yacht Management is on site to assist with any maintenance, or repair issues that may arise. Your guests will ﬁnd it convenient to ﬂy into Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) located one mile from the Vinoy Marina. A regional airport, SPG caters to general aviation and is serviced by Sheltair FBO, and Tampa Bay Aviation—a helicopter service offering a variety of airborne tour options.
Location, Location, Location
Situated in the heart of the St. Petersburg waterfront, the Vinoy Marina is the perfect base for exploring the lively downtown on foot, bicycle, or trolley. A community that appreciates its history, St. Pete does not shy away from embracing modern, high-proﬁle sporting and entertainment events. The nearby Tropicana Field is home to Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg kicks off in March and the St. Anthony’s Triathlon attracts athletes from across the country. In mid-November the city will host the 26th year of “Rockin’ Ribs—helping kids,” a charity music festival on the bay side in Vinoy Park. The highly colorful sport of high-speed boat racing sponsored by the Florida Power Boat Club has perfected the art of converting money into noise while thundering across Tampa Bay. Theater, dance, sports, music, shopping, nightlife, and museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, and the magniﬁcent SalvadorDalí Museum containing 2,000 original works bring a vibrant energy to downtown St. Pete. All this plus a year-round downtown Farmers Market and miles of world-class beaches, as well as recreational trails are all within easy reach of the Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Marina.
Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the images: