Most residents here are on a first-name basis with this city’s grande dame hotel, the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club. Simply, it’s “The Vinoy.”
But few locals could tell you the origination of that name, pronounced VIN-oy, or much less retell the legend of how the Mediterranean revival beauty came to have the best view of the downtown waterfront.
So let’s set the Wayback Machine for sleepy St. Pete in 1923, and the yard of a fancy home close to where the hotel would sit. But then, only palms and Spanish bayonet — a member of the yucca family — covered the site.
Gathered on the lawn across Beach Drive were a few wealthy men, including notable golfer Walter Hagen and a Pennsylvania snowbird named A. V. Laughner.
This being the madcap Jazz Age, someone bet Hagen that he could not smack a golf ball off the crystal face of Laughner’s pocket watch without damaging it.
Wager accepted, Laughner handed over his watch and Hagen proceeded to drive several balls off its face, which was undamaged.
Then, the legend goes, one of the swells suggested that Laughner, who made a fortune in petroleum, was so lucky that he should build an eye-catching hotel where the golf balls landed.
And so Laughner did. He even lent the 377-room hotel his middle name, Vinoy.
Construction cost $3.5 million — an estimated $47.5 million in today’s dollars — said to be the most expensive construction ’til then in Florida. European artisans hand-stenciled the lobby’s pecky cypress coffered ceilings and set the imported floor tiles.
$3.5 million Cost of building the Vinoy in 1925 — an estimated $47.5 million in today’s dollars
Guests of the Vinoy — then called the Vinoy Park Hotel — would include former President Calvin Coolidge and Babe Ruth, whose Yankees held spring training in St. Pete. After she married Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe relaxed in the hotel’s Tea Garden.
During WWII, the hotel was leased to the military to train bakers and cooks. After the war, however, demand for rooms declined until the rose-colored beauty closed in 1974. For about 18 years, its six stories sat empty except for vagrants and police exercises.
Nonetheless, the Vinoy was accepted on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ultimately after a $33 million makeover, in which every three guest rooms were reshaped into two and a guest tower was built adjacent, the Vinoy reopened in July 1992.
Once again it’s a beauty. Recently renewed or changed:
The impressive Grand Ballroom got an immense Chihuly chandelier, the central lobby with its three-story vaulted ceiling received conversation alcoves and a reshaped bar area, and guest rooms were refreshed. The hand-stenciled designs above floor-to-ceiling windows of the acclaimed Marchand’s Bar and Grill were renewed.
The hotel has four other restaurants, a large spa, 375 rooms and suites, a pool and golf course.
The Vinoy originally opened on New Year’s Eve 1925, and to celebrate the 90th anniversary, the hotel is offering packages for $1,925 — two nights, two dinners, two breakfasts and more. Otherwise, starting rates for available rooms in January range from $199 to $549.
But if you just want to glory in the Vinoy, you can book the historian’s tour, Wednesday through Saturday at 10:30 a.m. ($10).
▪ Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, 501 Fifth Ave. NE; 727-824-8033 or 888 303-4430; www.vinoyrenaissanceresort.com