Was the old DeSoto Hotel really haunted?  Who was the ghost?

Did Thomas Edison really spend the night there on the floor? 

Who was W.D. Lewis?  Who was Mrs. Hankins?



Those who were around in the heyday of the DeSoto Hotel saw it as the giant brick block-long hotel at Zack and Marion Street. 

We may recognize it from old photos or because of the many colorized postcards of it on sale to collectors.  But this giant building wasn't the original DeSoto.

This building was built in phases over a period of three years  beginning in 1907, eventually replacing a wood frame DeSoto hotel on the same corner.



The first DeSoto hotel was built by James Henry Thomas, a native of Chillicothe, Ohio, who came to Tampa by May of 1892.  Very little was published about him and his hotel in the newspapers during the planning and construction period.  This article above was the first mention of Thomas and the hotel, at which time it apparently had no name or at least was not made public, but it was known it would be a 60-room hotel.

The St. James was under renovation at the same time, and both were expected to be open in time for the fall and winter season when Tampa's hotels usually filled to capacity.


Then for two full years nothing could be found about J. H. Thomas or his hotel, including any mention of the DeSoto.    In these years the area north east of the center of town appears to have been somewhat "out there" and relatively ignored by the Tribune, and the Sanborn maps don't detail this area until 1895.

Unfortunately, there is a gap in the newspapers that runs from the 3rd page of Aug. 31, 1892 through March 28, 1893 (this was the Weekly Tribune, published on Tuesdays.)  The DeSoto likely opened during this period and so nothing could be found about it.



Two articles published on the same day, May 11, 1894, indicate the hotel has been open long enough for J. H. Thomas to want to lease out the hotel and petition the city to build sidewalks around it.  Thomas was probably managing it himself and once he had the business going, wanted someone else take over.   The new hotel manager,*  W. D. Lewis, had already gained a reputation of being a "splendid caterer" and the hotel one of being a "magnificent hostelry."



In the next few years, W. D. Lewis would achieve great success and notoriety as the manager.  His lavishly catered events were the talk of Tampa, and it wasn't long before his excellent singing voice caught the attention of the local papers, guests, and the people of Tampa.   In the next few years he performed yearly in dozens of local concerts with solo numbers and in a local quartet, as well as at his church. 

.  .

**In these times, the terms "manager," "proprietor," and "owner" were used interchangeably.  These described the owner of the business.  They may have also owned the building that the business operated from, or they may have been leasing the building from which they operated their business.  The latter being the situation here with W.D. Lewis, who leased the the building from J. H. Thomas in which the DeSoto operated.


AT RIGHT:  In Jun. 1894, the Tribune wrote, Why They Flock to the DeSoto:

There is a little secret about so many musical entertainments being given at the hotel DeSoto...Mr. W. D. Lewis, the proprietor, is one of the best bassos in the country, and a fine performer.  Capt. Thomas, the owner of the magnificent building, is a musician of no mean pretensions.  He plays elegantly on the piano, as well as on the guitar and other instruments.  It is no wonder people find it a pleasant place to spend an evening.

This article claims that the former State of Florida Superintendent of Schools William Penn Haisley was Lewis' uncle.  Before obtaining that status, Haisley traveled all over the U.S. and came to Tampa with extremely high educational credentials, starting his own private school and eventually become the principal of the high school that would transition later into Tampa's first public high school.

Learn more about the beginning's of Tampa's school system and W. P. Haisley.
Was he really W. D. Lewis' uncle?


In Nov. of 1894 Thomas had a separate wood frame structure built on the northwest corner of the property and rented the spaces for business. In 1895, this would be a two-story structure containing a tinware shop, general store, restaurant, millinery shop (hats), mattress shop and shoe maker shop on the ground floor with tenements (apartments) on the second floor.  Over the years this building would be modified for various uses. 


For a number of years afterward. the two-story building at Marion & Polk was known as the "DeSoto Annex" and the 2nd floor contained sample rooms and rooms for rent in case the main building was filled to capacity.

In the 1903 photo below can be seen construction on the ground floor of the Federal building with the First Presbyterian church in the background, and the large 3-story wood frame DeSoto Hotel to the right of it.  In between the two can be seen a small portion of the DeSoto Annex.  



In October of 1894, Lewis was joined in partnership by Charles A. Dunn of Ocala.   There were frequent articles in the local papers about various events and festivities held there, each getting great reviews for their handling of the events and facilities.









More accolades for Lewis's management of the DeSoto Hotel; summer was usually a slow season as the heat kept visitors in the cooler north, yet the DeSoto was booked at full capacity at this time

On Sep. 12, 1894, the DeSoto Hotel hosted a grand banquet for fifty members of the Key West Guards.  Florida Governor Henry L. Mitchell was among the guests at the affair.




In Jan. 1895, a musical group consisting of about a dozen men was formed to perform along with a new vocalion obtained by the St. Andrews church. (This was a reed-organ which can play sounds similar to the human voice, gradually perfected from experiments begun in England about 1870.)  The group was under the patronage and guidance of the "Guild of the Strangers" of St. Andrews.  W.D. Lewis was chosen as the interlocutor.*  In addition to a director, assistant, and secretary being appointed, Sumter Lowry was appointed as treasurer.  In the early 1900s, Lowry would become a city commissioner and work to obtain a Carnegie grant to build Tampa's first real library.  He would also go on to be the major mover to convert land north of Tampa from its intended use as a cemetery to a public park instead.  In the mid 1920s, the park was created and named in his honor.

*One who takes part in dialogue or conversation.  A man in the middle of the line in a minstrel show who questions the end men and acts as leader.






During this time, Lewis had an orange grove which upon maturity was estimated to be worth $45,000.  But unfortunately for him, the entire grove was ruined by the phenomenal freeze of 1894-95, when the temperature went down to 14 degrees on Dec. 29th, 1894. 



The Burgert Bros. photo below, from the Tampa Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert collection, shows a view taken from the highest point  of the new county courthouse looking NNE.  Various buildings in this photo indicate it was taken around 1895 and could be the snow fall in Tampa of Feb. 8, 1895.





1). St. Louis Catholic church building (partial view.) In 1905 this became the site of the magnificent Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

2). The original YMCA club house. In 1910 a new $100k brick structure was built at the northwest corner of Florida Ave. & Zack St. It occupied one-fourth the total area of the square block, with the gym comprising half of the building's  area.

3). St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, built here in 1883.  A new concrete-cement block structure was built in 1907 on the vacant lot seen here just south of it at Marion & Madison streets.




By 1903 this church had been moved to
the north side of Zack at Marion.   

This house was moved
and in 1903  construc- 
tion began on this  entire
block for the new Federal
Courthouse / Post


4). A key structure in this photo, the Convent of the Holy Names, a three-story brick with wood frame balconies and stairs structure completed in 1892 and occupying the whole block between Zack & Twiggs, and Morgan & Pierce St. It's completion date determines the earliest this photo could have been taken.

5). Tampa Livery Sale & Transfer - stables.   This June 1895 map shows the newly expanded facility.  This facility is also a key component of the photo because it is the only rooftop in the photo covered in white like the streets.  Evidence that this is snow and not just sand in the streets.  Why only this roof?  Being a large stable, it probably did not have heating inside.  Place your cursor on this block to see it in 1892, before the expansion. Compare the two maps to what is seen in the photo.

6). The other key structure is NOT seen in the photo, but is obviously there--it is the new brick Hillsborough County Courthouse, from where the photo was taken. The highest point would have been in the minaret at the top of the dome which was over four stories high.

(The article below has been edited to show only the beginning and the end as it pertained to W. D. Lewis.)


During the Civil War, John P. Wall volunteered as a surgeon and was assigned to Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond. His life was soon to evolve into a curious milieu of medicine, law, journalism and politics. John P. Wall became a successful physician, writer and politician. He was associate editor of the Sunland Tribune, which later became the Tampa Tribune; served as mayor of Tampa from 1878–1880, concentrating particularly on increasing the maritime trade of the city, mapping out many of the routes through the Florida wilderness that are used by the Florida highway system today; and assisting Vicente Martinez Ybor in establishing Ybor City.  

The deaths of his first wife and daughter from Yellow Fever prompted Wall to search out new paths beyond simply guiding patients through the fever’s various stages. He now devoted his life to researching and studying how it could be prevented and destroyed more effectively.  He was among the first to assert that yellow fever was carried by the mosquito. For his conclusions on the mosquito, Wall received nothing but ridicule from the medical profession and especially from the lay press.  His second wife was the beautiful young daughter of James McKay, but to receive McKay's permission, he had to successfully defeat his greatest enemy--alcoholism.   Wall also served as Tampa's health officer and successfully lobbied for the construction of a hospital to care for the people stricken with yellow fever. 

Dr. Wall collapsed and died while giving a speech to his colleagues at the annual meeting of the Florida Medical Association in Gainesville on April 18, 1895. He had gone up there with his life-long friend and colleague Dr. Sheldon Stringer.

Read the article published in the Tampa Morning Tribune on April 19, 1895 about his life and his death.
(When the image opens, click it again to see it full size.  It is large.)

Read about the amazing life of Dr. John P. Wall here at TampaPix.  Also see    "They Exalt Humbug at the Expense of Science and Truth": Dr. John P. Wall and the Fight Against Yellow Fever in Late-Nineteenth Century Florida by Larry Omar Rivers, at USF Scholar Commons. (Source for the above oval portrait.)


Although the United States had not yet entered into war with Spain, Cuba had been fighting for its independence for several years.  There was a small contingent of Spaniards in Tampa who quietly favored control of the island by their homeland, but not the imprisonment and mistreatment the Cubans were being subjected to.  Most in Tampa sympathized with the plight of the Cubans and the horrible conditions they were subjected to by the Spanish rulers and military leaders.  Read more about this at Clara Barton in Tampa, here at TampaPix.

Here in late May, a "Grand Concert" was held at the Cuban opera house (in Ybor City) for the benefit of wounded Cuban soldiers, assisted by "some of the musical talent of Tampa."  "The DeSoto Duo" of W. D. Lewis and James H. Thomas teamed up for a duet, as well as each performing a solo with their instruments of expertise.



Described here as one of the best, best-looking and best-known hotel men in Florida.  Formerly the owner of the Carleton and St. Simon's in Tampa, he previously owned the Ocala House in Ocala.  He received his training at the hotels in New York City and was an "up-to-date" man in every respect.

Every room at the DeSoto was newly furnished (the hotel was about two years old) and lit by electricity.



In early 1896, about six months after his rave review in the Tribune, Charles Dunn retired, leaving W. D. to claim all the future profits (and bills.) 


Read the entire obit of J. H. Thomas
When it opens, click it again to see fulll size.


J. H. Thomas, builder and owner of the DeSoto Hotel building, died in his apartments at the hotel on Apr. 1, 1896.  He was an Ohio naive, born in Chillicothe in 1833 and came to Tampa in 1892.  "He had a deep abiding faith in the destiny of Tampa that no calamity could disturb, that never slept, and which proved contagious to all who came within its influence..."




A Tribune reporter sensationalizes the random ringing of a telephone line at the DeSoto as being the ghost of J. H. Thomas, former owner of the hotel building who died in his apartment there.  The reporter claims the servants are telling a "chilly, blood-curdling" story which guests from all over have vouched for, that the bell ringing on it's own in the office is Mr. Thomas ringing for water from his room #7.


E. M. Greeson, a building contractor who worked on the DeSoto, dispels the the story by explaining that when the building was wired before being plastered, someone maliciously vandalized the wiring.  All that had been accessible were repaired, but the bell to room #7 was still shorting out.

Below:  W. D. Lewis responded more aggressively, demanding his response be published.  He corrected the reporter by saying Mr. Thomas occupied room #9, not room #7, and "no guest ever noticed the bell nor was even startled by it, and no servant was ever alarmed by it or 'cast  his eyes down' or ever made a general or particular fool of himself by any other preposterous performance." He rebuked the reporter for publishing "rot" and not considering the damage his sensationalism would cause to the hotel's reputation, adding "such trash" would still be believed by some who  hear it, as "all the idiots and fools are not dead yet."




On Jan. 30, 1897, W. D. Lewis ended his connection with the Hotel DeSoto after a supper there that evening, having sold the hotel to the Williams brothers, experienced caterers from Waldo, Fla..  The Tribune says "Mr. Lewis has made a jolly good host and retires with the good wishes of the traveling public."  The Williams brothers planned a lavish feast with a number of imported dishes to celebrate. 



The next day, it was announced that Lewis had formed a partnership with a Mr. Keyes in Louisville as a merchandise brokerage firm in the name of Lewis & Keyes,* which would start business immediately.

*Nothing of the Lewis & Keyes partnership could be found.  Perhaps the plan fizzled.  Mr. Keyes may have been the president of the Keyes-Gallrein Music Co. in Louisville, who advertised as "We are the Largest Music Supply House in the South.  Manufacturers, Publishers and General Dealers."  This Louisville partnership between John W. Keyes formerly of Nashville and Herman Gallrein of Louisville appears to be short-lived; it advertised only from July to early Sept. of 1897 in a Hartford KY newspaper.  In mid-Dec. 1897, Mr. Keyes sold his interest in the company and on Jan. 1, 1898, took charge of the manufacturing and wholesale business of Wulschner Music House.

In May, 1897 Williams & Co. became H. A. Williams Co. when R. M. Williams retired.




How did he obtain the reputation of being a fine caterer before managing the DeSoto?  Where and how was his vocal talent refined by the time he came to Tampa?  What happened to him and his wife after he left the DeSoto?

Find out more about W. D. Lewis, including what the W. D. stood for!  Here at "Who Was W. D. Lewis?"





These were the two months leading up to the Spanish-American War.  President McKinley had sent the USS Main to sit in Havana Harbor just as a "show of force" in late January of 1898.   American Red Cross founder Clara Barton arrived in Cuba in early February and was setting up Red Cross operations and bringing in provisions., tending to the tens of thousands of starving Cubans in Spanish concentration camps,   On Feb. 13th, Clara toured the Maine and had dinner with Capt. Sigsbee on the ship.  She was working at her desk in Havana the evening of the 15th when all Havana was rocked by the explosion on board the Maine. 


After the explosion on the Maine, Tampa's mayor (Myron Gillette) and congressman promptly petitioned U.S. Secretary of War Russell Alger for protection against the Spanish Navy.  Leading citizens and the Board of Trade demanded a military presence in Tampa and the funding of coastal defense sites. But from the armchair generals in Washington, there was no response.



Then on March 22nd, Henry Plant wrote Secretary Alger personally, calling attention to his multi-million dollar investment in Port Tampa. Money talked and Plant had it.  On March 25th, Alger sent his Chief of Engineers to begin fortifications on Egmont and Mullet Keys. With that, Florida, Tampa and H.B. Plant were involved in the still-undeclared war. The Olivette had already made one run for Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, delivering ammunition to Key West.


Local papers began boosting Tampa as the obvious supply point for operations in the Caribbean. At the end of March, a real-life seagoing admiral checked into the Port Tampa Inn. On behalf of the Plant System, Henry Plant's second in command, Franklin Q. Brown, gave "Fighting Bob" Evans a tour of the harbor. The admiral passed the word to the press corps. In the event of war, make way for the Navy!


Due to the coming war, the order was given for all American citizens to leave Havana. Clara Barton was forced to abandon her relief work and, in her words, she left those “poor, dying wretches to their fate.” One newspaper reported, “The whole system of caring for and giving aid to the starving Cubans is for the time being brought to a complete standstill.” On April 9th, she packed her bags and headed to Tampa, where she set up the American Red Cross headquarters.


At the declaration of war on April 25th, the American Red Cross in Tampa was ready to offer immediate war service, and in spite of war, Barton hoped that her relief work would continue.


In the meantime, Tampa and Port Tampa became a hotbed of military activity, and a flood of journalists from all over the world descended on Tampa.  H. B. Plant's Tampa Bay Hotel became headquarters for the top brass of the U.S. military forces during the Spanish American War as Tampa was the debarkation point for troops going to Cuba.  The troops and their leaders camped out at various places around Tampa, West Tampa and Port Tampa, and Ybor City.  A young relatively unknown officer named Theodore Roosevelt camped outdoors in the sweltering heat and mosquito infested area of West Tampa with his "’Rough Riders, but his wife stayed at the "big hotel."  Generals Joe Wheeler, John B. Gordon, Fitzhugh Lee, Nelson A. Miles, James F. Wade, McClure, and Ramsey were some of the brass who mapped strategy from the shady verandahs of the hotel.


Rooms were scarce and hotels and boarding houses in Tampa profited.  This was a boom-time for Tampa--a tremendous boost for the local economy, especially the saloons.





Where did Clara Barton stay during the times she was in Tampa?  Find out at TampaPix.  It's NOT where most people think she would have stayed.


Read more about Clara Barton, from her early childhood, through her Civil War relief, her Red Cross efforts, and her time in Tampa as well as the war, here at TampaPix.com: 


Clara Barton Early Life through 1897  

Clara Barton 1898 through 1912


(Captions and credits for all the photos used in this section are provided on the pages linked above.)









Mrs. Hankins was formerly the owner of the Gold Hotel in Bartow, and the Commercial boarding house in Tampa.  Nothing more is said about her in the Tampa newspapers other than her name, which was always "Mrs" and her husband's initials, and Hankins. This article goes on to describe the DeSoto and the plan Mrs. Hankins had to improve the hotel, such as offering special rates to Tampa people.  Special attention would be given to the cuisine, "and the table will at all times be supplied with the best the market affords."





The Desoto opened on Apr. 5, 1898 with Mrs. Hankins as the new manager, formerly owner of the Commercial house in Tampa.  She is credited with having "a considerable amount of management of hotels in Florida."






Mrs. B. S. Hankins was the wife of Bethel Stevens Hankins, a.k.a. Gilpin or just "Gilp" Hankins, his nickname.  About eight months before she leased the DeSoto Hotel, Mrs. Hankins was widowed in early Aug. 1897 when her husband and his brother, Sylvanus Masters "Marter" Hankins, were involved in a street fight with the McNeil brothers James C. and Lee.  Gilp Hankins was co-owner of "The Missing Link Saloon" and at the time of his death, he was co-owner of the "Hankins Brothers Saloon" with his brother Marter.  On Aug. 4, 1897, around 10 p.m., Marter and Gilp Hankins encountered the McNeil brothers on the streets at Franklin and Harrison where the Hankins Bros. saloon was located.  An argument over an old gambling debt J. C. McNeil was said to have owed to Gilp ensued, which turned into a violent fight resulting in Gilp's death.


Their father, William Wesley Hankins, was one of eight children of pioneer farmer Dennis DuPont Hankins who owned a large plantation in Madison County.  William Hankins was a gunsmith and dry goods store owner in Bartow.  In town, and in most of the state, he was known as "Uncle Billy Hankins."  He was a skillful hunter and is credited with firing the last shot of 2nd Seminole War at age 16.  During the Civil war, he was a Confederate sharpshooter in the 5th FL Infantry, Company D, and was captured Apr. 6, 1865 at Highbridge.  Later he was released on oath from Point Lookout Prison MD.  William was a member of state House of Representatives from Madison and Lafayette counties in 1873, and a member of state senate in 1883 and 1885 from Taylor and Lafayette counties.


In all, W. W. Hankins and wife Almira Church had at least twelve children, but three died in childhood.


William Wesley Hankins (standing, 2nd from right) and his children, ca. 1890-1897.


Photo courtesy of Florida Memory, State Library & Archives of Florida.
The Hankins family lived in Bartow, Fla.   William W. Hankin's wife, Almira Jane (Church) Hankins, is not in the photo.  She died in 1890 so
this photo was taken sometime after her death of Mar. 1890 but before Gilp Hankin's death in Aug. 1897. 



In a letter to the Gulf Coast Breeze (Crawfordville, Fla.) newspaper from an unnamed writer, published Aug 19, 1897 about the Aug. 4th street fight between the Hankins brothers and the McNeil brothers, this was said of the Hankins and McNeil families:


The Hankins brothers were originally from Middle Florida.  Their father, Hon. William Hankins, was a noble true and good man.  He represented at different times, the counties of Madison, Lafayette, and Suwannee in the Legislature and while under his control, Marter and Gilp Hankins were extra good boys.  Their older brother, Hon. W. D. Hankins, of Lafayette County, followed in the footsteps of their honored father, but Marter and Gilp engaged in the liquor saloon business, and followed the course of the average man in that business.  For the past ten years or more, they have enjoyed the reputation of being violent and dangerous men.

The McNeil brothers are originally from Sumter County, Georgia.  James C. McNeil is an architect, and is sole proprietor of the Tampa Planing Mills and Novelty Works.  For several years he identified with the city government of Tampa as President of the City Council and Mayor pro tem.  Lee McNeil assisted his brother at his mills, until disabled by the loss of a hand in the machinery.  Since then he has been in the employ of the city as manager of the city cemetery
Tampa City Council Members

James C. McNeil from group photo of Hills. Lodge #25 members, Apr. 14, 1928
at the THCPLC Burgert Bros. Collection


Tampa City Council Members
March 4, 1892 – March 10, 1893

James C. McNeil, President
George T. Chamberlain, President pro tempore
Louis G. Cone
Isaac S. Craft
Henry L. Crane
Jose Gomez
William H. Kendrick
Peter O. Knight
James W. Roberts
March 10, 1893 – March 9, 1894

James C. McNeil, President
George S. Petty, President pro tempore
George T. Chamberlain
Henry L. Crane
Robert W. Easley
William H. Kendrick
Peter O. Knight
John S. McFall
Emilio Pons
Ramon Rubiera de Armas
John Savarese





The DeSoto Hotel in 1898
Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.





No other mentions of Lamar.

Brown & Corning immediately undertook to renovate the hotel by flooring the lobby with tile installed by Tampa Tile & Paving Co., tearing away the old kitchen and adjoining outhouse and building a new and "more commodious one."  The entire culinary department was to be completely overhauled, including repainting the dining room.

All seventy-one guest rooms were to be thoroughly overhauled and renovated, including new screens and beds.  Four new porcelain bath tubs and entirely new closets* were also being added.  Also, the sample rooms were to be newly wallpapered and carpeted.


It appears that a Mrs. Capt. Rogers owned the building, with the new leasers being described as "proprietors" (owners of the business.)


W. L. Lamar is described as "a young man of wide experience in the hotel business, and understands it thoroughly."  Mrs. Hankins planned to open a "fashionable boarding house opposite the entrance of the Tampa Bay Hotel on Plant Avenue" in a  house occupied by the well-known Tampa doctor Oppenheimer.  Mr. Lamar's career at the DeSoto was short-lived.  In Sept. 1898, the DeSoto was leased for a number of years by Amos A. Brown and W. E. Corning, men with long experience in the hotel business.




*The DeSoto, as well as many other hotels of this period, didn't have a bathroom in the guest rooms.  Bathrooms were usually one large room with multiple tubs.  "Closets" was probably  "water closets"--  toilets in a small private space in a room to be shared by all guests.  If they were outside they were called "outhouses."








Webb & Parker were currently the owner and manager of the Palmetto Hotel, but soon as Webb closed the sale of the Palmetto to Hazen, Webb bought the DeSoto from Brown & Corning.  It is R. F. Webb and W. L. Parker who would remodel and refurbish the old wood frame DeSoto, "...elegantly furnished, including bathrooms with porcelain tubs, and electric and gas lights..."  and reestablish its popularity by 1902.



Information mostly from his Tampa Tribune obituary of Nov. 13, 1918, and some info and photo from
"The City Council of Tampa & Celebration of Old City Hall's Centennial

Born in Liberty County, Georgia on Mar. 26, 1868, W. L. Parker spent most of his life in Florida.  He lived in Wellborn, Fla. until he was 16, then went to Orlando to work in the railroad offices.  Later he came to Tampa and took a position as telegraph operator for the Plant System, which became the A.C.L. Railroad.  In 1900 he became manager of the Palmetto Hotel when his father-in-law, former council member Robert F. Webb, retired from the hotel business. Soon afterward, when the Palmetto was sold and the DeSoto purchased, Parker became a stockholder and was given the position of manager, one he would retain until his death.

Under his ownership, the old wood frame hotel was completely replaced by a new gleaming brick and stone structure, a process which spanned from 1907 to 1911, and eventually occupying almost the entire square block.

Parker was a member of Tampa’s first Library Board and was instrumental in establishing a public library in Tampa.  He was elected to Tampa City Council to represent the First Ward, downtown Tampa.  Parker served on the Ordinances and Rules Committee, the Schools and Public Buildings Committee, and the Wharves, Bridges and Harbors Committee. He was also a Hillsborough County Commissioner.

Walter L. Parker
Tampa City Councilman from
June 5, 1904 – June 7, 1906 and
Hillsborough Co. Commissioner

Mr. Parker was a member of many clubs and fraternal organizations, including the Rotary Club, the Masons and Elks.  He held numerous important positions in his Tampa business career.  including chairman of the board of county commissioners, member of the city council and library board, director of the South Florida Fair Association, and steward in the Methodist church.

In March, 1891, Mr. Parker married Miss Texana "Annie" Webb, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Robert F. Webb.  The last two years of his life he spent mostly away from Tampa, seeking cure for his illness by traveling in search of better health, including to Denver, CO, and Asheville, NC.  He died a in a hospital at Columbia, Ala., on Nov. 12, 1918, where he had been for just a few weeks.  Mrs. Parker and Walter's brother, Nat Parker, were with him at the time.

He was survived by his wife Annie Webb Parker, one daughter Mrs. Eugene Knight, and a son, Francis Webb Parker, one sister Mrs. J. Futch of Alachua, and four brothers: Nat of Tampa, Harry of St. Pete, T.C. of Baltimore, and C.C. of Lake City.  Also a granddaughter Nancy Knight.  Mrs. Parker was a sister of Goodlett Webb of Tampa Electric Co, Elmore Webb, V. R. Webb, and Mrs. M. W. Pollica of the DeSoto Hotel.

TAMPA CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS June 5, 1904 – June 7, 1906
Curran Elmore Webb, President
W.D. Wiggins, President pro tempore
James Robert Dekle, Michael C. Foley, Thomas C. Folsom, Henry Clay Giddens, John Thomas Gunn, John Percy Hardee, Ernest W. Monrose, Walter L. Parker, Joel B. Phillips

"The City Council of Tampa," etc, adds about Walter Parker: When the streets around it [the DeSoto hotel] were laid out, Parker Street was named after him."

Parker St. is nowhere near where the DeSoto Hotel was located.  The streets in the area of the hotel, and all the others downtown, were named and laid out in 1848 by surveyor John Jackson.  Parker Street is in Hyde Park just on the west side of the river at present Kennedy Blvd.



Photo from July 28, 1915 Tampa Tribune article.



This rare photo below shows the original wood frame DeSoto Hotel in 1903, remodeled and refurbished by Webb & Parker.  This was about six years before it was completely replaced by a new brick & block four-story structure. It is the upper right portion of the previously displayed photo showing the Federal Courthouse construction.  At the far left of the photo can be seen the improved two-story annex to the DeSoto, which ran along Polk St. between Marion & Morgan.   The water tank at upper left is at Tampa's first waterworks pumping station located at the corner of Estelle & Jefferson St.

The original wood frame DeSoto Hotel, Feb. 1, 1903.  The two-story DeSoto annex can be seen at far left.





In the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 27, 1906, a fire was discovered at the DeSoto, having started in the ceiling between the first and second stories.  Stations 1 (from City Hall) and 5 (from Palm Ave & Fla. Ave.) responded and quickly extinguished the fire.  All the guests were safely evacuated and damage was about $200.  But a fireman was fatally injured en route to the fire.

Lt. Eckles was filling in for the regular driver who had the day off. While coming down Fla. Ave. from Station 5, his wagon hit a hole in the street at 7th Ave. and was thrown "with great force to the pavement, receiving a number of internal injuries and having his right leg passed over by the heavy vehicle."  The engineer driving the rear of the vehicle did not know that Eckles was thrown off, as the horses continued down Florida Ave. for several blocks to Hillsborough St. (now named Royal St.) where the horses turned west and then at Franklin St. proceeded to go north back toward Tampa Heights.  It was at this time that the rear driver called to Eckles that he was going the wrong direction and upon getting no response, climbed up over the rear, saw there was no driver, and took charge turning the horses back toward the DeSoto.  Meanwhile, a man residing where Eckles was thrown, discovered the injured fireman, and took him into his home for medical attention.

Lt. Eckles was described above as "one of the oldest firemen in Tampa having served well and efficiently here for more than six years."  He was regarded by Chief A. J. Harris as one of the most resourceful and aggressive fire fighters of the department.  The entire city was upset about the accident and were taking up donations to help Eckles.

On Jan. 31, it was reported that Lt. Eckles had not improved and that his mother had arrived from Winter Haven and was with him.  The next day, it was reported that Lt. Eckles had died at 1 a.m.  Previously, his leg had become infected and had to be amputated after being placed under an anesthetic which lasted two hours.

On Friday, Feb. 2 it was announced that the funeral would be Saturday at his home at 9:30 a.m.  A large detail of firemen and every police officer available was expected to attend, as well as other city officials.  Eckles was survived by his wife and two sons, a two-year-old and a three-month-old, his parents, four brothers and a sister.

William Cooksey Eckles, "one of the oldest firemen in the department" was 30 years old.  The Tribune urged that the whole city mourn with the closing of city offices and the attendance of public officials at the funeral  It also suggested a collection be made for the benefit of Eckles's widow.

Eckles's funeral was conducted by Rev. B. K. Thrower who paid the fireman a beautiful tribute at the home and graveside services.  In the procession to the cemetery could be seen Mayor Solomonson, City Auditor Hansborough, Chief and Mrs. A.J. Harris, Chief of the West Tampa Fire Dept. A. J. White, a squad of 15 firemen  under command of Capt. J. D. Ross of Sta. 3, twelve patrolmen commanded by Capt. W. A. Johnson, members of the City Council including Pres. Elmore Webb, and many long-time friends of Lt. Eckles.  He was buried at Woodlawn cemetery.

William Eckles was the second oldest man in the department and the second to die in the line of duty at this point.

At right, a tribute by his grieving father, Joseph David Eckles.

The City Council appointed a committee to draft a resolution on the death of Lt. Eckles, and continued his salary while a pension for his widow was being discussed.



In late March, Mrs. Eckles asked the City for compensation in the loss of her husband in the line of duty.  She asked for total $3,000 in monthly payments.  This was granted by City Council on April 24 in the amount of $50 per month for five years.  (In 2019 dollars this would be like $1,440 per month.


The 1910 Census in Tampa shows at 209 Oak Ave.,  31 year old Dora Eckles, widowed, born in Georgia, with sons William (6) and Gray (4) both born in Fla.   Dora has no occupation.  In 1940, Dora was listed on the census as a Circuit Court deputy clerk.

In the weeks that followed this great tragedy, several committees in Tampa organized and raised funds and necessities to send to San Francisco's earthquake victims.  The following is a summary of those committees funds they raised. 
The whole article listed each committee and the individual contributions it collected.
When the image opens, click it again to see it full size.

The grand total of $7,207 would be like $210,507 to us today.





R. F. Webb died on July 20, 1904, from a stroke which partially paralyzed him on July 19th.  He was in "unusually good spirits that afternoon, feeling so well that he decided to walk home from the Cuesta-Rey factory, a distance of about half a mile.

The article contains a little about his past and circumstances of his hotel endeavors before the DeSoto.  More about this is presented toward the end of this feature, after the section about Thomas Edison and the section about the destruction of the DeSoto in 1955.

See "History & Heritage" article by Leland Hawes, who presents details provided by a Robert & Nancy Webb's great-granddaughter, Nell Trice Roberts. 





In the fall of 1906, Walter L. Parker sold the DeSoto to a number of Ocala developers who were associates of his.   The new expanded ownership planned to replace the old wood structure with a four story brick and stone building.  The improvements were scheduled to begin after the State Fair in November.  The planned improvement of $150,000 along with other construction projects in Tampa set a one-month record high of $210,432 for November, topping Oct. 1906 by just over $125,000.



The new construction was touted as the largest permit in the history of Tampa, with the possible exception of H.B. Plant's Tampa Bay Hotel, the new Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and the new Federal Building.  The hotel would be known as the "New DeSoto" which would be built fireproof with steel beams, with its own electric power plant and steam laundry.  It would take up the whole block between Polk, Zack, Morgan, and Marion Streets and have three entrances.  The new building would be 210 feet square, eventually taking up the whole block, with a space for a courtyard of around 50 x 100 feet.

The whole project would be done in phases, with the original building remaining until the greater part of the new hotel was completed. It was expected that Elmore Webb would oversee the project.  Architect of the Tampa Bay Hotel, J. A. Wood, was hired to design the the new hotel.




The first to go was the two-story wood structure along Polk St. that was built as an annex with extra rooms for the original wood frame hotel.



By the end of Feb. 1907, a new foundation had been laid along Marion St. and Polk St.  This was for the north wing on the northwest corner of the lot and the main building that fronted Marion Street.





As construction on the main building progressed rapidly, a fancy ink well trimmed in silver with onyx pedestal and silver pole supporting incandescent lamps was received from the American Hotel Supply Co.




Owner of the DeSoto W.L. Parker announced in late July 1907 that the old DeSoto would close on Sat., Aug. 3.  He originally planned to keep it open longer but work was progressing so quickly on the new hotel that they needed to start the next phase of construction:  moving the old building to the rear of the lot to make room for the south wing of the main building. 

By Sep. 1907, the old structure had been lifted, rotated 90 deg. counterclockwise, and moved to the rear of the property along Morgan Street.  This second phase, the annex, would be completed as soon as possible so as have space for temporary offices, some rooms could be refurbished on the upper floors and a large dining room created on the ground floor.

By the end of Oct. 1907 the concrete floor, roof and cornices of the new building were being worked on.  A probably opening of January was a highly optimistic guess.  The old three-story building was to reopen next month; this was another optimistic prediction.


The original 3-story wood frame building was rotated 90 deg. counterclockwise and moved to east side of the block along Morgan St.

In mid-November 1907 the projected completion dates of the main building and the annex were pushed back due to difficulty in obtaining some building materials.  A portion of the main building "will in all probability" be ready for occupancy by Jan. 1 and the annex was expected to open in early December.  J. A. Wood was expected to flip the switch on the lighting at night within a short time.


The newly relocated and refurbished annex was opened to guests on the evening of Nov. 30, 1907 and the first meal was served the following night, Dec. 1.  W. L. Parker had no estimated date that the completely new main building would be finished. 



Architect J. A. Wood was furnishing and completing new rooms in the main building every day.  A large number of rooms were expected to be ready for guests in early February, just in time for state fair visitors.

In early Feb. 1908 the plumbing contract for furnishing and installing fixtures to the new annex was awarded to Joughin Bros.  This was a prestigious accomplishment for that company as their work was under the supervision of noted architect J. A. Wood, and it called for fine plumbing and expensive fixtures.



Born in Terrel, Texas in 1880, Bob Joughin moved to Sanford, FL in 1884 with his parents.  He received his early education there and later took special commercial, plumbing and heating engineering courses. He came to Tampa in 1897 and worked odd jobs for a few years, learning to be a plumber under the apprenticeship of K. R. Lau Plumbing Co.  In 1904 he went into partnership with W.E. McAndrews as Joughin & McAndrews.  A year later, his brother, W.A. Joughin, bought McAndrews's interest in the company and the firm became Joughin Brothers Plumbing & Heating Co.  In 1909, he married Miss Lula M. Jackson, a granddaughter of early Tampa pioneer and surveyor John Jackson.  In 1917, Bob Joughin bought his brother's interest when W.A. entered the army and his company became R.T. Joughin, Inc.  Knowing the business from the ground up, Mr. Joughin was enabled to secure and carry out the plumbing and heating contracts for the largest buildings in Florida. 

In addition to his plumbing business, in the early 1920s he owned "Joughin's Corner," a large cigar, refreshment and restaurant business at one of the most prominent corners in Tampa, Lafayette & Tampa St.  Always in interested in politics, Mr. Joughin served for twelve years as a member of the Democratic Executive Committee.

Image at left from "Rinaldi's Guide Book of Tampa", 1922.

R. T. Joughin, ca. 1915
Image above from "Men of the South" See full reference below.

Image from "Smoking Guns"
See full reference below.

In 1928 Joughin was appointed to serve as sheriff of Hillsborough County by Gov. Doyle E. Carlton as a result of controversy concerning alleged corruption of the current sheriff, L. M. Hatton.  Joughin served for three years as Sheriff during the "smoking guns" gangster era in Tampa.  Joughin's daughter,  Lula Joughin Dovi, was an author and a writer for the Sunland Tribune, Journal of the Tampa Historical Society.  In her article about her father, "Smoking Guns," she wrote:  "My father was called from his plumbing and heating contracting business by then-Governor Doyle E. Carlton to begin serving the unexpired term of the Sheriff who was suspended. And as I recall that period I remember seeing a machine gun sitting in the corner of his bedroom and two pistols resting under his pillow. There was an ever present threat of ambush."

Sheriff Joughin ran for re-election in 1932 but lost.   There were rumors of ballot box "stuffing." Former Governor Carlton told Lula when her father died in 1961 that he and her father were told about a polling place where there was allegedly some ballot box "stuffing."  The two of them were getting ready to go check out the rumor when, as Carlton recalled, "We remembered we didn’t have any guns on us." 

LULA JOUGHIN DOVI, native of Tampa, a daughter of  Sheriff R.T. "Bob" Joughin, was a great-granddaughter** of John Jackson, surveyor of downtown Tampa and many areas of Florida, through her mother.   A 1940 graduate of Plant High School, she received her A.B. degree from Florida State University and her M.A. degree from University of South Florida. She was a countywide coordinator of social studies and art for Adult and Community Education, Hillsborough County Public School System and served as vice chairperson of Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee and as a member of the board of Carrollwood Civic Association, and attended the Democratic National Convention as an alternate delegate. She was a member of Phi Delta Kappa, educational honorary.

**The original Sunland Tribune article says she is the granddaughter, but that is not the case.  John Jackson and wife Ellen Maher Jackson had four children, their oldest was son Thomas E. Jackson.  Thomas married Kate E. Warner.  Of their children that reached maturity was their third child, Lulu Marguerite Jackson, who married Robert T. Joughin.  These were Lula Joughin Dovi's parents.




In mid Feb. 1908, twenty rooms were "now in use" but the article doesn't say what they're being used for. "More are being finished daily for occupancy" doesn't really clear it up as "occupancy" doesn't specify guests.



In late April 1908 Parker decided that no more new additions would be constructed until the main building was completed.  A seventy-five foot long porch verandah was under construction.  The lobby would be 62 ft. by 62 ft. and it was expected that over 62 rooms ready soon.  It would seem that guests were already booking rooms, whether or not they were occupied at the time remains to be seen.


In late May 1908 a contract for tile floors was awarded to "Prof. O. H. de la Morton" for floors in the offices of the new building.  The work was expected to start as soon as the materials arrived.

In early June, work on the floor had begun in preparation for the tile.  The work was being supervised by Allen L. Feeks of the National Mosaic Flooring company.  He was from Mobile, Ala. and was "thoroughly experienced in the work" and would see to it that the tile was laid properly.

The tile arrived in mid-June aboard the steamer Morgan.  Thirty-nine thousand of the sixty-nine thousand pounds were for the new DeSoto.  The rest was for a new store in Mulberry.

Parker was confident that the new DeSoto would be one of the best equipped hotels to be found south of "Mason and Dixon's line."


The main building was almost completed in the latter third of August, pending the arrival of office furniture and electrical fixtures.   The office, which was temporarily in the frame annex, was to move to new building and the old office space in the annex was to convert to a dining room.


This Sep. 11th article is improperly titled, as it is not the annex but the main building that was ready for occupancy in about a week.


On Sep 18th, 1908, Parker announced that the completed portion of the main building would be opened on the following day, and dinner would be served in the temporary dining room at 6:15. 

Here, the reporter refers to the main building as the southwestern wing.  There is no doubt it is the main building since it is the location of the lobby and the excavating at the southwestern corner had not yet begun.

Parker was making the plans to finish the rest of the building--the south wing, but had not yet determined when that would start. 


In late Sep. 1908, with the exterior completed and some minor interior work being done, owner W. L. Parker is presented with a bouquet of roses from a shoe company that was having a convention there.  The convention put a strain on room availability, but all went smoothly on opening day, "this has not daunted Manager Parker."  The hotel was described as "Well lighted and imposing, presenting an attractive appearance to the ey and proving to be a great drawing card."



In late Sep. 1908, Williams & Peacock, the owners of the "Three Friends" barber shop on Franklin St, opened on in the DeSoto.

In mid October 1908, Marion Street in front of the hotel was paved and widened, so that traffic wouldn't have to stop when passengers were being dropped off.  Later, this would cause a big stink when a city auditor finds that the bill for this was footed by the city and not the hotel.

The placement of the dining room and barber shop on the map at right is arbitrary and not necessarily where they were actually located.


In late Jan. 1909 Parker had the old sidewalk torn out and was replacing it with a new 9 ft wide cement walk. In mid-May 1909 it was announced that by the end of the year and into next spring, 1910, work would start on building the new south wing at the corner of Marion and Zack.  The spring months of 1909 were prosperous for Parker and the upper floors of the new wing would provide additional rooms.  It was imperative that this be done before the opening of the next winter season on 1910.


From a 1924 photo

July 4, 1909 - Cigar distributor Eli Witt, who's motto was, "Cigars, that's my business!" bought the shop from Joseph Palmer in the post office which was in the basement of the new Federal building  and negotiated with W. L. Parker to put a cigar/newspaper stand in the DeSoto, leaving Palmer to manage both places.  The finest of fixtures would be arriving soon.


In early Aug. 1909 bidding was opened for a contractor to build the new south wing of the hotel.  Five principal bids were received ranging from $63k to $66k.

A decision from Parker was expected soon because he was eager to open the hotel in time for the upcoming winter season.




Parker decided not to contract with a construction company because he thought the bids were too high.  His estimate was that the south wing could be built for $50,000 to $60,000 using freelance carpenters.  By mid-August 1909, work had begun on clearing the south half of the property to build the south wing foundation.  The south wing was to be a duplicate of the north wing.  Carpenters had begun work on excavating for the foundation but Parker was using "day labor."  

Within a month after the news was released, Witt had his stand up and running in the DeSoto.  The fixtures had just been installed the night before, all bought from and installed by E. R. Beckwith.  Parker and Witt were both pleased with the results, which also included a newspaper stand.  The shop was situated in the southeast section of the lobby.







In mid-August 1909 a permit of $105k was issued for construction of the new YMCA building, and another for $50k to Parker to build the new south wing of the Desoto.  This was $13k less than the lowest bid he received from construction companies earlier this month.  The entire south wing was to be 52 ft x 153 ft. but a later article shows that the entire wing wasn't built at this time.  $50,000 in 1909 is like $1.42M today.



In early Oct. 1909 Parker was trying to get the new dining room on the first floor of the new south wing completed in time to serve Christmas dinner in it.  The whole wing was expected to be completed for occupancy by Jan. 15, 1910.



The roof of the south wing was completed in late Oct. 1909.


In early Nov. 1909 C. E. Webb said the new addition was 50 x 80 feet, with the lower floor devoted entirely to dining purposes.   Its 80 ft. length indicates that it did not extend all the way along Zack St. to Morgan St. as the Aug. 13 permit described (52 x 153.)  The second floor would house 27 sleeping rooms with baths.  It's not clear if the remaining work on the south wing is a reference to this nearly completed structure or to the next phase which was to extend this wing along Zack St. towards Morgan St.


By Nov. 20, 1909, work had begun on the interior of the new south wing.  Parker expected to serve Christmas dinner in the new dining room a month later.

Fifteen days before Christmas and Parker thinks he will be serving dinner in the new dining rooms "even before Christmas."

In mid-December 1909 workmen were rushing to place the finishing touches on the new dining room in the south wing and Parker expected to serve guests there in two days.  The new dining room was described as "a model of artistic beauty, roomy and well arranged."  Solid marble columns ran its entire length down the middle of it and on each side with the room being steam heated.  Ten electric fans cooled the room in the summer and 48 electric lights lit the room.  A private dining room "of magnificent proportions" adjoined the main room on the north.

Tuesday was Dec. 21, but after the above article on the 19th, nothing more is found in the papers about the Desoto (except for a handful about who was staying there, and the one at right) until Christmas day.

Parker had a farm north of West Tampa where he raised produce and possibly livestock to supply his hotel.

C.E. Thomas, along with a group of other Chicago investors, formed the "North Tampa Land Co." around 1905 and in 1910 bought 32,000 acres of land 20 miles north of Tampa near Stemper. The Chicago-based company advertised their plans extensively all over the North and Midwest in newspapers, focusing heavily on Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.  They developed the area into the town of "North Tampa" which in 1913 was renamed "Lutz."

Read about this at TampaPix's History of Lutz






Workers must have really felt pressured to finish the interior dining rooms but they got it done just in time, as no announcement was made in the paper until Christmas morning that dinner would be served on time.

The finest dinner that Parker had ever served since he had been in the hotel business, consisting of "the choicest viands,  "will find place on the DeSoto boards between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m" for ONE DOLLAR.

This may sound ridiculously cheap but according to the Dept. of Labor statistics Consumer Price Index, $1 in 1909 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $28.35 in 2020.  Still not a bad price for a first-rate meal.

Apparently the news of the dinner was out on the street before the article which said many reservations had already been made.



On Jan 19, 1910, two fires broke out that could have been disastrous, but both were quickly contained with little loss.

The fire at the Garcia cigar factory in Ellinger City (later it was called Roberts City) was ruled not of incendiary origin.  Today we use the term "arson."  Interesting that an insurance inspector was on the premises at the time. Being the worst possible time for a fire to take place, one would think immediately of the competition as suspect, or at least a disgruntled employee, and back then there were plenty.

At the DeSoto hotel, a fire broke out in the "pressing club."  Today we call it the laundry room.  Why would they have a tub of gasoline in a laundry room?

This is why:

According to research published by the National Institute of Dry Cleaning, turpentine spirits, camphor oil, benzene, naphtha, kerosene, and white gasoline were common dry cleaning solvents in the late 19th century.  In 1898, carbon tetrachloride imported from Germany was sold as a dry cleaning and spot-removal agent and in the early 1900s, raw white gasoline was the primary dry cleaning solvent used in the U.S. Around the early 1900s, distillation was first used to purify spent solvents. Steam presses came into operation in 1903 and by 1905, clarifying systems, including settling tanks, were used to purify dirty solvents. By 1915, the average U.S. dry cleaning operation used approximately 12,000 gallons of gasoline per year. It wasn’t until 1924 that Lloyd E. Jackson and W.J. Stoddard developed specifications for a higher flash point petroleum dry cleaning solvent, which later became known as the Stoddard solvent. In 1928, the U.S. Department of Commerce required a minimum flash point of 100 degrees Fahrenheit for petroleum dry cleaning solvents, which resulted in drycleaners beginning to use the Stoddard solvent. 

In mid-April 1910, Mr. & Mrs. Parker went to stay at their farm for several weeks, but Mr. Parker planned to visit the hotel every day.

(Info from The History of Drycleaners Written by: Ruxandra Niculescu, CEO of REM.)


In late July 1910 it was announced that Parker expected the new south wing addition to be completed by October 1 that year.  Later plans included an improved courtyard with a pool containing alligators, and a garden cultivated with flowers.  With the new south wing the DeSoto was to have 150 rooms.



In late August of 1910, the new south wing addition was progressing rapidly and expected to open in time for the winter season rush.  The construction of the wing and other improvements was an outlay of $30,000. IMPROVEMENTS PLANNED FOR CORNER OF POLK & MARION STREETS
The corner of Polk and Marion Streets was undergoing many great improvements toward the end of summer, 1910.  A new brick ice plant was planned for the northeast corner and the lumber from the heavy hauling offices of W. O. Hobbs, which currently occupied the corner, was torn away to be used to build cottages elsewhere.   Parker planned to tear away the last remaining wood structure at that corner and build on the the hotel with more brick buildings.


W.L. Parker reported that Sep. 4, 1910 was the best business the hotel had done in the past four to five months.  Reservations from northerners planning to spend the winter in Tampa were beginning to increase and Parker was looking forward to the best winter in the history ofd the DeSoto.

A journeyman's plumbers strike in Oct. 1910 caused a shortage of plumbers at various establishments around Tampa.   Master plumbers were expected to fill the void which along with the cigar workers stirke, was causing a limited number of jobs available in construction.  Serving as a Journeyman Plumber is a key requirement of becoming a Master Plumber. Although a Journeyman and a Master Plumber are both licensed as plumbers, a Journeyman's work centers on plumbing only while a Master Plumber can own a plumbing business, supervising other plumbers and is experienced at plumbing as well as business management..


The plumbers strike left Tampa's plumbing inspector W. J. Regar with little work to do.  The plumbers union had nothing to say about the strike which came about due to two journeymen plumbers who refused to do work on the buildings declared unfair.


W. L. Parker spoke out saying he was sure that the strike was nothing personal directed against him and that he believed something was being worked out so that work on the DeSoto would not be delayed more than a few days.  If the delay was to be longer, it would be a great inconvenience and cause a rush to finish in time for the tourist season.

At a meeting of the Contractors' Association, it was decided that to pass a resolution approving the use of any class of labor to complete construction on the DeSoto.  The strike had expanded to include carpenters, plasterers and painters in early October.  Contractors were surprised when their employees walked out because none of them had ever been accused of being unfair with their workers.  "Both Mr. Webb and myself have been among the best friends that union men have in Tampa" said Mr. Pimberly of the Buildings Trades Council.



Work on the DeSoto resumed when eight non-union men were hired to replace the striking men.  The work was being done with the approval of the contractor's association after a dispute by plumbers at the Sanchez & Haya realty company job site caused the strike.  Attempts had been made to find out if any grievances existed against the the contractors at the DeSoto but no satisfactory reason had yet been given.


The Tribune voiced its opinion on the strike by taking sides with the DeSoto contractors, stating that it was unfair for workers there to walk out when there were no issues with their work there.  It further stated that the labor unions could not take a stance claiming the adoption of the "open shop" policy at the DeSoto site was a blow to unionism by the contractors, as every observance of the union rules were being followed in the treatment of their workers.  It ends with a strong statement, "Let this be fully understood...by all parties  concerned before the present trend of public sentiment in Tampa proceeds further in the development of a course of action which has been forced upon it by the unreasonable and town-wrecking attitude of the union men themselves."



The Tribune warned the unions that the non-union men working with the contractors on the DeSoto Hotel should be a lesson to the unions as to what they can expect with their "unqualified endorsement of the ruinous policy of the leaders of the cigar strike which every day spells disaster to this city and its every interest."

In early December, 1910, fine tile had arrived from Mobile and was being laid in the rooms and corridors of the new wing of the DeSoto.  "These tiles are exactly like those in use for centuries in Spain and Cuba, and the big factory in Mobile is the only plant in America except a small attempt in Ybor City by some non-English speaking Cubans."  The article goes on to describe the tiles, the company who makes them, and the durability and better economy of tile floors for the long run.

The 25 day delay of work on the DeSoto caused 10 days of no work being done and the recent rains have caused damage because of it, due to the walls still being open to the elements.



The new south wing was expected to be finished by mid-December, 1910 adding 26 more rooms and many other conveniences.  Parker next expected to extend the Morgan Street side of the hotel by finally removing the old wood frame section which was the original structure that was moved and rotated from its original location at Marion and Zack St.


Nothing more was published about the completion of the new south wing at the DeSoto.  All that was found concerned who was in town and staying there, or ads by businesses operating from there.


Tampa historian Karl Grismer on the DeSoto:

Prior to its erection [the Hillsboro Hotel,] the principal hotel open the year round was the DeSoto, built in 1892-93 by Capt. R. F. Webb and Walter Parker. Designed by J. A. Wood, the architect who had planned the Tampa Bay Hotel and the county courthouse, it was topped by Moorish domes and minarets which Wood favored and was adorned by rambling wooden porches and stately marble columns in the lobby. However, the De Soto lacked modern bathroom facilities and the Hillsboro became Tampa's leading hotel, immediately upon completion. Later the De Soto was modernized and enlarged.

Clearly, Grismer is mistaken on a few key facts:

  1. The first DeSoto was built by James Henry Thomas who came to Tampa from Ohio in 1892, not by R. F. Webb or Walter Parker.

  2. Robert F. Webb bought the first DeSoto from Thomas and turned it over to his son-in-law, Walter L. Parker.  Upon Parker bringing in a number of associates as co-owners, they were the builders of the NEW DeSoto Hotel.

  3. J. A. Wood designed the second Desoto Hotel.  To think that everything J. A. Wood designed had Moorish domes and minarets is a bit presumptuous on Grismer's part.  As can be seen, both the original and the new hotel designs were far from Moorish, and the feature bearing the most resemblance to the Tampa Bay Hotel was the Desoto's front porch, verandah and decorative trimmings.

1910 Construction nearly completed on DeSoto Hotel #2 -- the "New DeSoto."


From the Hampton Dunn and Florida Collection of Postcards at the USF Library digital collections website.







This Sanborn map has been rotated so that north is towards the bottom and better corresponds to the photo below.  By this time, the old annex was being used entirely for the kitchen on the bottom floor, with two 55' tall chimneys at the corners.


The old wood frame buildings on the corner of Polk and Morgan were a barber shop and a garage with capacity of 10 cars.



A rare view of the rear of the new DeSoto Hotel (upper right) with the old DeSoto serving as the "Annex" at center of the photo. 
In 1907, the old DeSoto had been moved from the southwest corner of the property and rotated 90 degrees to  the location seen below so construction could start on the new DeSoto. 


1915 photo courtesy of the Florida Memory State Library and Archives.

Plans were announced in Dec. 1910 that the old building would be removed as the final step in extending the new DeSoto all the way around the block.  The old wood frame  building, built in 1892-93 served as the annex until around mid-1925 when it was closed to guests and used for storage at least through March 1928.

The photo can be dated to a period from 1912 to 1916 by the appearance of the Hillsboro Hotel seen on the skyline to the right of the Sacred Heart Church dome.  The first phase of the Hillsboro Hotel, seen at left, was completed in 1912 with 124 guest rooms. 

When the Hillsboro's 2nd phase was completed in late December 1916, seen at right, a structure just as tall as the tallest part of the old Hillsboro was added to the south.  Both phases of the conjoined hotel in total boasted "250 rooms, an increase of 140 rooms" giving a room count of 110 for the first phase.  This 2nd phase doesn't appear in the DeSoto rear view photo.

1921 - Company B of the Hillsborough Co. Home Guards

Burgert Brothers Cirkut Camera Panoramic image from the collection of the Tampa Hillsborough Co. Public Library website.
These negatives are named after the special Cirkut camera that could rotate up to 360° to produce sweeping panoramic views.
The negatives were produced on nitrate film and had deteriorated severely over the years. The library has created new negatives and prints from these old negatives.
Read about the Cirkut Camera at the TampaPix Burgert Bros. feature.


Burgert Bros., Tampa Hillsborough Co. Public Library digital collection.

April 6, 1922 
The old wood frame annex was still in use at the rear of the new hotel, but not visible in the photo.  One chimney can be seen at the right behind the DeSoto sign.

The Desoto Lobby
1924 Burgert Bros. photo courtesy of the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library System

Below: a close up from the above photo.

Notice the brass spittoons on the floor and tables visible through the cafe windows.



Three suspicious fires broke out in the old DeSoto annex on Mar. 7, 1928.  The article stated that the annex had been closed to guests for two and a half years and was being used for storerooms.  This puts the closure around Sept. 1925.  An employee named Bill Main who was occupying a room in the annex was questioned and denied any knowledge of the fires, but he was ordered held at the city jail anyway.  The article appears to say that the third fire started over an hour after the first fire, and after the suspect had been locked up.  The damage was estimated at $5,000 which in 2020 dollars would be $75,675.

The suspect was released the next day when no evidence could be found against him.






Just four days later, on Mar. 11, 1928,  another fire started on the north end of the old annex, causing est. damage of $2,000.  It tooke the firemen over an hour to put out the fire.

Most of the damage was confined to old furniture stored there.  Firemen and insurance adjusters were unable to determine who was starting the fires.

Those $2,000 in 1928 would be like $30,270 in 2020.






An Aug. 21, 1928 holdup at the DeSoto mentions that the two bandits "disappeared into an unused darkened annex and made their escape on Morgan St." after looting the cash drawer of $46.50.  ($703 in 2020.)

The 1931 Sanborn map at left shows that the old annex had been removed by this time, as well as some cement block additions (blue) and a brick addition to the north of the rear porch..



Photo by Robertson & Fresh from the USF digital collections

The sunken building with the smokestacks and firewood is where the hotel's steam heating system was located. 


The photo is dated 1936 but might be from a few years earlier.  The O-Kay Shoe Shop seen at left appears to have been in business from 1931 to 1933 judging by their ads in the classified section of the Tampa Times.  Nothing could be found about the Hot & Cold sandwiches shop.



1936 - Main entrance on Marion St.
Photo by Robertson & Fresh from the USF digital collections


1936 - South entrance, Zack Street

Photo by Robertson & Fresh from the USF digital collections


1936 - Rooftop sign
Place your cursor on it to switch it on.
Photo by Robertson & Fresh from the USF digital collections


In 1937 the DeSoto Tire service station moved from across Morgan St at 715 Morgan to their location behind the DeSoto on the corner of Morgan and Polk streets.  This photo appears to be from the early 1940s.

The hut on top of the pole seen at right was for the railroad lookout.



Nov. 4, 1946 - The Indian Room Bar at the DeSoto Hotel
Photo by Robertson & Fresh from the USF digital collections


1950 - Entrance to Indian Room Bar & Grill at 721 Marion Street
Burgert Bros., Tampa Hillsborough Co. Public Library digital collection.


Nov. 4, 1946 - Lobby at the DeSoto Hotel
Photo by Robertson & Fresh from the USF digital collections

The ghost of James H. Thomas, builder of the first DeSoto, who died in his room at that hotel,
can be seen behind the front desk at center of the photo.  This is not a Photoshop effect by TampaPix.
See the actual Robertson & Fresh photo at USF Library and zoom in.



Nov. 4, 1946 - A view of the DeSoto from Marion & Zack St. looking northeast.
Photo by Robertson & Fresh from the USF digital collections

June 3, 1949
Burgert Bros. photo courtesy of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Library System
Notice the rooftop sign is gone.

Below, close up of above photo showing the various shops.  Notice the woman in the window of the Hollywood Beauty Salon.  The OKAY shoe repair shop, formerly along the Zack St. Side near Morgan St. was now in the front of the hotel.  The barber shop was operated by Mike Sperandeo (see window sign) since 1912.  Read about him below.

June 3, 1949.

Zack St. entrance to DeSoto Hotel and Club Chateau.

June 3, 1949.


Front veranda and entrance to the Indian Room Grill
June 3, 1949.


Elevated view,   June 3, 1949.
Burgert Bros., Tampa Hillsborough Co. Public Library digital collection.



This April 6, 1955 article broke the news to Tampa that the nearly 50 year old hotel building would soon be leveled to build a parking lot.

Also, here appears for apparently the first time the mention of Thomas Edison reportedly spending the night on the floor of the DeSoto, due to lack of vacancy.  Perhaps this was circulated for many years as Tampa folklore.  Brief searching for Edison in Tampa has found no result, but there is brief mention of his father, Samuel Edison, being in Tampa in April 1892.



Tribune staff writer George Knight's article below describes barber Mike Sperandeo who was planning to retire when the old hotel building closed.  He had spent 43 years at his shop in the basement of the DeSoto--since 1912--having come to Tampa from Italy in 1907.   Knight says Sperandeo remembered when gospel revival preacher Billy Sunday "shook the roof of the ballroom" with his revivalist chanting, and a visit by Mrs. Foster, who at the time was a sister of the US Sec. of War during WW1.

"And then there is the story about Thomas Edison" (apparently not from Sperandeo's memory) which claims that Edison waited in the lobby for hours one evening while clerks "searched frantically for a room, but to no avail."  Eventually, "a friendly guest offered to share his room if the distinguished-looking visitor would use a mattress on the floor."  He ends the story stating that it wasn't until the next morning that the visitor introduced himself as Thomas Edison.

Knight also discusses when the present structure was built, stating most say 1907, which is correct but that's when construction started.  It took a few years in phases to complete.  The reporter also  claims that the old wooden structure it replaced was built in the late 1890s by H. B. Plant.  (Not so for both.)  This was may have based on the writings of historian Karl Grismer, whose history of Tampa was recently published in 1950.  Not only was Grismer incorrect on its builder, he assumed that its architect, J. A. Wood (architect of the Tampa Bay Hotel and county courthouse) built it with Moorish domes.  Clearly not the case.

He also mentions a number of modern-day ownership changes which haven't been verified by TampaPix.


County Judge W. C. Brooker read Knight's story above and wrote the Tribune to say that the Edison incident took place at the Almeria Hotel, not the DeSoto.  Judge Brooker's account was from his memory of his 1922 dinner with John Sutton and Herbert J. Drane.  Drane was a congressman, and Brooker claimed that Drane told him and Sutton about the time Edison slept on a pallet in Drane's room in a Tampa hotel on Franklin St.  He further stated that Drane claimed it took place around 1885, and to Brooker's memory the Almeria Hotel was open in that time, which was also the period that Edison was perfecting his light bulb, and that "Almeria" was the name of the hotel Drane mentioned.  Judge Brooker's memory also recalled that Drane said he was asked by the hotel manager if he would allow this man to occupy his room.  Agreeing, a mattress was brought in and placed on the floor.  The next morning, the man made an inquiry concerning passage to Ft. Myers and it was then that Drane learned it was Thomas Edison.

So at the time Brooker was having lunch with Drane, Drane's memory of the event was 37 years old, and now in 1955, Brooker was recalling a 33 year old memory of the 1922 lunch with Drane.  He ends with "This story made a deep impression on me and except for a few details it has remained vividly in my mind ever since. 



Theodore Lesley wrote the Tribune in May 1955, having read the previous story by Knight and the resulting letter by Judge Brooker.  Lesley was a grandson of Tampa Pioneer John T. Lesley, whose civic, business, and political contributions to Tampa's early history are far too many to summarize.  Theodore Lesley was Tampa's highly-regarded historian, having lived much of the period of the later pioneer days.  He opened with his view of the previous article and letter, and three reasons why they couldn't be correct.

  1. Lesley heard it straight from Drane who said it happened at the Orange Grove Hotel in Feb. 1884.

  2. The Almeria Hotel had not yet been built in 1884 when Edison was in Tampa.

  3. With him and Drane was a daughter-in-law of Dr. Howell Lykes and his wife Almeria McKay Lykes, who would have spoken up had it happened at the Almeria.

Lesley provided a detailed story, with details not mentioned in the previous articles.  He told the story as he got it straight from U.S. Congressman Herbert J. Drane, who was a "warm personal friend of my grandfather, John T. Lesley."    Lesley commented from notes he took in 1940** when he met with Drane at a convention in Ft. Pierce. With them was Mrs. H. T. Lykes, daughter-in-law of the builder of the Almeria Hotel. 

**1940 was 55 years after the Edison incident, but Lesley is referring to notes he took at the time, whereas Judge Brooker was relating from memory.  This leaves the possibility that Drane's account was the same both times, but that Brooker's memory of it changed over time.

Lesley stated, "The following is an abstract of Congressman Drane's reminiscence of the Edison episode.  It is presented in this form because in the Congressman's own words it would be too long to record here."

"In February of 1884 Drane was on a trip from Lakeland to Tampa.  As this was just following the advent of H. B. Plant's railroad into Tampa, the town was in the throes of a boom and rooms for tourists were at a premium.  Drane realized this and got off the train at its first stop east of the city limits and hurried on foot to the Orange Grove Hotel located on the block bounded by Twiggs, East, Madison & Jefferson Streets..

Sheriff D. Isaac Craft was then proprietor of the hotel and assigned Drane a room on the second floor.  It was not long before he knew he was to have a roommate and a mattress was brought in and placed on the floor for the newcomer.  As his roomer was deaf, little conversation passed between the two and Drane did not catch his name.

Next morning, Judge Henry L. Mitchell, later Governor of Florida, and at that time a year-round resident at the hotel, stopped Drane and asked him if he knew who the man was that was just leaving the hall entrance.  Drane replied it was his roommate but didn't know his name.  Judge Mitchell convinced Drane that he was justified in thinking him a "suspicious character," and asked that he follow him and find what he was up to in Tampa.

Later in the day, Drane reported back to Judge Mitchell that their "character's" name was Thomas Edison and that he had just hired a fisherman's boat on the Hillsborough River to deliver a cargo of Maine pine lumber to Ft. Myers that he had consigned to this port some weeks before.

This lumber was delivered in time to Ft. Myers and erected into the laboratory where Edison proved and released to the world many of his famous inventions."

Notice that Lesley has provided the reason why there were no rooms available; why Tampa was so filled with visitors at the time, who owned the Orange Grove Hotel at the time, what floor the room was on, why the two men had little or no conversation, who met Drane in the lobby, and specific detail on how it was discovered that the guest was Thomas Edison, where he was going, and why he was there.


Thomas Alva Edison, April 1878
Photograph by Mathew Brady
Courtesy of Library of Congress
and Colorized History

Mary Stilwell c1871
Image courtesy of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park on Facebook


One of the most tragic events of Edison's life was the death of his first wife, Mary Stilwell Edison, at a young age. Mary died at age 28 on Aug. 9, 1884.  A newspaper article titled, "In the Wizard's Home," by Olive Harper from New York World  (June 1, 1884) tells of their first meeting which contradicts the often-told story of her courtship with Edison, gilded as a whirlwind affair between the inventor and one of his factory employees.  As Mary tells it, she was a schoolgirl of fifteen at the time of their first meeting, but tall for her age. She met Edison by chance when she took refuge in one of his factories during a rainstorm. She noticed Edison for "two reasons … he had very handsome eyes… and he was so dirty, all covered with machine oil, etc." Edison walked her home and visited with her family. At first, Mary was the reluctant object of his affection, but with her father's permission, they began courting in the spring of 1871 and were married on Christmas day that year.  She was 16, he was 24. 

(Courtesy of the National Endowment for the Humanities, "Heartbreak at Menlo Park" by Jason Boffetti)





"...When we got to the house I saw that he was determined to go in and I had to invite him, and when my mother came down she asked who that was.  I told her and said that he had brought me home and she [sic] went in.  I was in mortal terror lest she ask him to stay, but she did, and then he got up and took off his overcoat and stayed till 9 o'clock., and then when he went away he asked permission of my mother and myself to call again.  When he got it he availed himself of it to come almost every evening..."


Thomas and Mary Edison had three children:

  • Marion Estelle Edison (1873–1965), nicknamed "Dot"
  • Thomas Alva Edison, Jr. (1876–1935), nicknamed "Dash"
  • William Leslie Edison (1878–1937) Inventor, graduate of the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale, 1900.



In 1878, Edison focused on inventing a safe, inexpensive electric light to replace the gaslight–a challenge that scientists had been grappling with for the last 50 years. With the help of prominent financial backers like J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family, Edison set up the Edison Electric Light Company and began research and development. He made a breakthrough in October 1879 with a bulb that used a platinum filament, and in the summer of 1880 hit on carbonized bamboo as a viable alternative for the filament, which proved to be the key to a long-lasting and affordable light bulb. In 1881, he set up an electric light company in Newark, and the following year moved his family (which by now included three children) to New York. Though Edison’s early incandescent lighting systems had their problems, they were used in such acclaimed events as the Paris Lighting Exhibition in 1881 and the Crystal Palace in London in 1882.  In 1882 Nikola Tesla moved to Paris to work as an engineer for the Continental Edison Company, designing improvements to electric equipment brought overseas from Edison's ideas. Competitors soon emerged, notably George Westinghouse, a proponent of alternating or AC current (as opposed to Edison’s direct or DC current). By 1889, AC current would come to dominate the field, and the Edison General Electric Co. merged with another company in 1892 to become General Electric Co.




The Almeria Hotel was one of Tampa's leading hotels for several years.   But it was built in late Dec. 1889, and opened in Jan. 1890, not Oct. 1886.

Glogowski was four-time mayor of Tampa, Florida in the later 1880s and early 1890s. He was first elected mayor on August 13, 1886, and served until July 15, 1887. He was elected again to a second term on March 8, 1888, and served until March 6, 1889. He was re-elected two terms and served from March 5, 1890, to March 4, 1891, and from March 4, 1892, to March 10, 1893.  He was killed in a tragic horse and buggy accident in Tampa on December 3, 1909.

Tampa Riverwalk Bust of
Herman Glogowski

It was the Lykes BLOCK that was built in Oct. 1886. Newspaper articles of the period indicate this, as well as the Sanborn maps seen below.  (Karl Grismer also incorrectly states the Almeria opened Oct. 29, 1886.)  Later, the hotel would take over the upper floor of the adjacent Lykes block brick building.

In late 1889 to early 1890, Lykes had the hotel built behind the brick buildings of the Lykes block, and had the two connected with stairs and hallways to the top floors of the older building, thus becoming part of the hotel.  Dr. Howell T. Lykes named the hotel after his wife, Almeria Bell (McKay) Lykes.  She was a daughter of Tampa pioneer James McKay.

(Dr. H. T. Lykes photo courtesy of Fla. Memory State Library and Archives of Florida.  Mrs. Almeria Lykes photo courtesy of the Hernando Sun "Mama Allie."

May 9, 1889 - The first mention of Lykes possibly building a hotel on the Lykes Block but still undecided.
Nov. 28, 1889 - Work is progressing on the brick laying for the Lykes hotel.

These articles show that construction on the Almeria, which was yet to be named, probably started in July 1889 continuing through to Dec. of 1889.  In December Lykes petitioned the city to allow him to lay an underground sewer line from his hotel to the river, which was granted so long as he paid the City Engineer personally while the work was being done.

Plans for Lykes's hotel were drawn in early May, but it was late Jun. when Lykes decided to go ahead with it.  The hotel would be built behind the brick building on the Lykes block and joined to it, converting it into hotel space as well.




BELOW: This 1913 Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa Hillsborough Co. Public Library System shows the Lykes Block at lower left corner.  This is a view looking south along Franklin St. and the intersection at the Lykes Block is Washington St. 



The Orange Grove Hotel was located near the present day intersection of Madison St. & Jefferson St. The hotel was built in 1859 as the home of cattleman William B. Hooker, Florida's pre-Civil War "cattle king." During the Civil War, it was used as confederate headquarters and was where Tampa pioneer Joe Robles reportedly marched his captive Union soldiers to in the winter of 1863.  In 1866-67, Hooker converted the home into a hotel. Judge Henry L. Crane and his wife (Hooker's daughter) operated the hotel, then later, the hotel was run by Isaac Craft.





The Orange Gove Hotel, claimed to be taken in the 1870s.
The photo above is courtesy of
William LaMartin, with the ultimate source being the
Florida State Archives Memory collection.

The Thomas Edison myth is repeated.


Sep. 23, 1955 - Demolition of the 45 year old DeSoto Hotel #2.

Burgert Bros., Tampa Hillsborough Co. Public Library digital collection.

Leland Hawes's article below presents a history of the DeSoto with information on one of its owners, R. F. Webb.  He uses information from a book on Tampa hotels history by J.J. Gordon, presents some info from Grismer (showing how it differs from Gordon's research and already presented here in this feature as mostly incorrect), along with photos and info from a Webb descendant.


Hawes states that the Webbs came to Tampa "110 years ago" (1886) from New Mexico and bought the City Hotel at that time.  Then they made a "quick switch that year" and bought the Palmetto Hotel.  

This "quick switch" year is incorrect.  The articles below show that Webb owned the City Hotel for just over four years.  His purchase of the City Hotel was made on Mar. 29, 1886 and he sold it May 1, 1890.  Hawes then mentions that the hotel had a number of owners before the Webbs, citing George C. Munro.  Munro's ad of Feb. 10, 1886 indicates he had recently bought the hotel, which already enjoyed an excellent reputation "in the short time it has been opened to the public."  So the hotel was relatively new when Munro bought it.   Later articles indicate he didn't own it for much more than a month-and-a-half before selling.  Whether or not he sold to Webb on Mar. 29 or there were intermediate owners in that short time who sold it to Webb hasn't been researched.


In June, 1890, Webb bought the lot next to his City Hotel and planned to build a 3-story brick hotel.  He also planned to eventually replace the wooden City Hotel with a brick one. April 30 & May 2, 1890 it was announced Webb was closing the City Hotel and that he had bought it on Mar. 29, 1886 and was the owner until May 1, 1890.
R. F. Wbb bought the Palmetto Hotel from realtor George Macfarlane for $10,000.
 At the time, the Palmetto hotel was under the management of J. W. Booz and would remain so for some time yet.  Ads of this period show he was operating it as "The Booz House."

  The article below was presented earlier in this feature, it shows that Webb sold the Palmetto in June 1900 and immediately bought the DeSoto, putting his son-in-law Walter Parker in charge of it as manager.  So Webb owned the Palmetto for about 10 years.

Mr. Hawes states that Walter L. Parker was a telegraph operator living in the Palmetto Hotel at the time he married Robert Webb's daughter, Annie and that her first name was really "Texana."  They married in 1894.

Robert Webb's obituary was presented earlier in this feature in the chronological context of the first DeSoto.  Webb's death may have had a role in Walter Parker's 1906 decision to expanded ownership of the hotel to his Ocala developer associates.




Hawes states that J. J. Gordon found an article indicating that after the DeSoto's first builder J. H. Thomas died in 1896, his widow continued as the manager until 1899.  As seen earlier in this feature, the DeSoto underwent quite a few changes in ownership and management after Thomas died. 



But when Thomas died in April 1896, W.D. Lewis was still the hotel manager and owner of the business, and when he left in Jan 1897, the hotel went through management by the Williams Bros, then the widowed Mrs. B. S. Hankins, then W. L. Lamar, and finally Brown & Corning, at which time the building was owned by "Mrs. Capt. Rogers."  Then the hotel was sold to R. F. Webb in 1900.  Could "Mrs. Capt. Rogers have been the widow of J. H. Thomas, remarried?  Not likely.  Nothing could be located on Capt. Rogers marrying Mrs. Thomas, and Mrs. Capt Rogers is in the papers quite often concerning her travels and social life..



The City Hotel was near the Hillsborough River and had a rooftop overlook.  It catered to travelers in the 1880s,
when Tampa was just beginning to grow, after the Plant System railroad arrived.

Today, the site of the City Hotel is a part of the parking lot for the GTE Financial building.




The Palmetto Hotel on Florida Avenue, with its five-story tower, was considered one of Tampa's best in the 1880s.
In 1914 the City Council wanted to buy this property for $145,000 and build a new City Hall on it.
Mayor D. B. McKay had a better location in mind, and it cost a whole lot less.

The Sanborn Maps below show the Palmetto Hotel was being built in 1884.  In 1887 Monroe St. was renamed Florida Avenue.  At right:  The Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse building occupies the former site of the Palmetto Hotel.



The DeSoto catered to many traveling salesmen, providing them with free space to display their samples.

Today, the Robert Timberlake Federal Building and the Timberlake Annex occupy the former site of the DeSoto Hotel.


On June 14, 1979, the building was named in honor of security officer Robert Lee Timberlake, Jr. who was shot and killed with his own service weapon while dealing with a transient in an elevator of the Tampa Federal Building.  Timberlake was 56, a native of Bannockburn, Ohio and former policeman from Akron Ohio and was with the Federal Protective Service since 1971.  When not in Tampa, he was a resident of Weeki Wachee Acres.

See the June 15, 1979 article "Building named for slain officer."

The true aristocracy in our country is the American citizen who serves others and who serves his country.  The man to whom we dedicate this building today was such a member of the American aristocracy.  He served.  He took care of people.  He helped people.

Image courtesy of Officer Down Memorial Page (enhanced by TampaPix.)

The shooter, 36 year old Michael Paul Wragge, was known as a drifter and troublemaker who had already been ruled mentally incompetent a short time earlier, and was well-known to the Social Security office workers who dealt with him frequently in the building. 

On Jan. 23, 1979, Officer Timberlake followed Wragge into an elevator on the first floor.  While in the elevator a struggle ensued and the suspect gained control of Officer Timberlake's .38 caliber handgun and began shooting.  Upon reaching the fourth floor the door opened and a bystander saw Wragge shoot Timberlake in the stomach.  On the fifth floor, the door opened and a woman screamed when she saw Wragge being struck on the head. The elevator went down and stopped at 4 again, the same bystander saw Timberlake get shot twice in the head.  On the third floor the doors opened and Timberlake was on the floor with Wragge crouching behind him.  A U.S. Customs agent in pursuit ordered Wragge to throw down the gun, they exchanged shots and the door shut.

Upon arriving on the first floor, the door opened with two FBI agents and three Tampa Police officers taking cover behind a pillar on the left, two more FBI agents behind a pillar on the right.    After some heated conversation, gunfire broke out in the lobby, with Wragge being severely wounded.  Timberlake suffered two fatal shots in the head and two in the back, with deep cuts and a broken neck.    The subject was wounded several times by other federal agents when the elevator doors opened.  He was taken to Tampa General Hospital where he was in critical condition with internal bleeding and kidney failure, as well as paralysis on one side. 

Wragge was ruled incompetent to stand trial and was sent to the state mental hospital in Chattahoochee until ruled competent enough to stand trial.  He was ruled competent in 1980 and in July 1980 before Circuit Judge Arden M. Mecrkle, Wragge pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, to the charge of murder which was accepted.  As a plea deal, he pleaded no contest to the 2 counts of attempted murder and 2 counts of aggravated assault that were due to his shootout with officers after the elevator doors opened.  He received prison sentences of 20 years for each attempted murder and 5 years for each assault, to be served concurrently with his time in the hospital.  He spent the next 10 years in between the state mental hospital in Chattahoochee and in prison due to periods of competence and incompetence.  In  Dec. 1981 he was declared in remission so was sent to Hillsborough County to finish his sentence.  In Feb. 1982 the same two Hillsborough court-appointed psychiatrists who found him incompetent at the time of the crime, submitted reports that his condition had deteriorated.  All doctors agreed he suffered from chronic paranoid schizophrenia and an antisocial personality disorder.  Dr. Coffer suggested that his return to the county jail "may have been too much for him despite anti-psychotic medications.  Wragge told Coffer "I don't bother anybody unless I'm provoked.  If you're provoked I guess it's ok to kill someone."  Coffer added "prognosis for eventual recovery, other than transient remissions, seems unfavorable."   In 1988 Wragge said he was not made aware of the Federal indictments for assault until January 1988.  At the time he was in the state prison at Polk City when a federal judge dismissed the two assault charge indictments (not the attempted murder charges) because of the delay in prosecuting them, claiming Wragge's rights to a speedy trial were violated.  Judge Castagna said the government had established no reasonable justification for the delay and the court could only conclude that the government was "simply negligent."  At the time, it was reported that the ruling would allow prosecutors to bring new charges.  In early 1990, a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the District Court to reconsider its dismissal of the indictment of Wragge's assault charges.  Nothing  further was written as to whether or not Wragge was still in custody in a hospital or a prison.  After this, nothing more can be found on him, he probably died in prison or in the mental hospital, as these types of records would not be made public.

Wragge was born in 1942, in 2020 he would be 78 years old.