Written by Christopher Hendrix. Research conducted by the staff of Manatee Village Historical Park and the Manatee County Historical Resources Library. All sources are available upon request.
Note: Bradenton is spelled three different ways in this article because Bradenton has undergone several name changes throughout its history. Originally, the town was named Braidentown, and in 1903 the “i” was dropped, making the name Bradentown. In 1924, The “w” was dropped, and the name became what it is today, Bradenton. We utilize the appropriate spelling of the name, depending on the year being discussed.
In the 1890s and 1900s, several seasonal hotels throughout the state had become quite popular, and small coastal towns were very interested in building hotels of that nature in their own communities. The immediate economic benefits of these hotels were vast, including an increase in employment opportunities in and around the community and a new customer to purchase large amounts of local foods, goods, and services. The hotels also brought wealthy tourists and investors who were willing to put money into community. Tampa was a great local example of this. A city of just several thousand became a center of tourism in just a few years, seeing their population triple and infrastructure rapidly expand in the decade after the Tampa Bay Hotel opened.
In 1902, a meeting was held at the Braidentown Board of Trade to discuss the construction of a “first class tourist hotel.” The area had seen a recent influx of winter visitors, and there were not enough luxurious hotel rooms to accommodate the demand. The meeting concluded a hotel was necessary, and the city began raising $8,000 to purchase the required land. By spring of 1906, Henry L. Coe, the man who oversaw construction of the Tampa Bay Hotel some 15 years prior, began construction on his own hotel on land that was purchased by the city and donated to Coe for that very purpose.
With its grand opening on January 1, 1907, the Manavista Hotel was Bradentown’s first and only luxury seasonal hotel. It was one of the largest stone buildings in the town, and stood four stories high. Located on the west side of Main Street where it reached the Manatee River (today the 300 block of 13th St. W.), the Manavista was adjacent to Corwin’s Dock, where steamships would drop off their passengers. It had a large porch on the first and second floors, and its grounds were filled with the tall palm trees on the southern bank of the Manatee River. A tennis court along the water and gardens in the courtyard provided for a peaceful setting, and a private dock stretched from the grounds into the river.
Currently, no photos of the inside of the Manavista are known to exist, but descriptions indicate it was even more impressive than outside. Visitors would be greeted by a spacious lobby with a large fireplace. The hotel had a grand dining room, where meals were frequently served for the guests. After the first season, a music room and a dance hall were added in the attached annex. In total, there were about 80 to 90 rooms, depending on the season.
Because are no known photographs of the interior of this hotel, we can only speculate as to the opulence of the décor and furnishings, though there was a standard. Hotels were commonly finished with tile or carpet flooring, ornate wooden wall panels, or curtains and paints common to the Gilded Age. The arts were often celebrated at these establishments, with paintings and sculptures on display. Furniture was usually cushioned, and linens were of high quality. The idea was to lure wealthy families and allow them to feel at home, so proprietors spared no expense when it came to the décor.
A similar example to this would be the Manatee River Hotel, which opened in 1925 (pictured here). While it was not the same type of hotel as the Manavista, they did compete with one another and the Manatee River Hotel had the opulent furnishings and finish the Manavista likely had.
The dining room was one of the most utilized rooms in the hotel, and a full kitchen and waitstaff were employed to ensure guests had the most pleasant meal possible. Servers would have been dressed in suits, tablecloths covered the tables, and the Manavista was known to use china dishes. Meals were served off a small menu, with a few options for the diners. A menu from February 12, 1912, offers baked redfish, boiled ox tongue, beef steak pie, apple fritters, and more.
Events were commonly held in the music room and dance hall. For at least the 1913 season, the Manavista hosted weekly dances, with live music performed by the Manavista’s own orchestra. The hotel frequently opened for the season with some large event, including music, dancing, and dining, with attendees being guests and locals alike.
“Season,” for the Manavista, was relatively consistent from year to year. Before the 1930s, the hotel only remained open during the winter months, usually opening in December or January, and closing in March or April. This was typical of the seasonal hotel industry, as most of the guests came from the north and were looking to escape the colder climates. The hotel did not open in warmer months because Florida was not as comfortable in the summertime.
This hotel drew people from all over the country. Newspapers would frequently report on the social lives of wealthy residents and visitors. Today, they give us insight as to who the guests of the Manavista were and where they came from. A quick review of the Tampa Tribune has shown guests visited the Manavista from all over the United States and Canada, and even other Florida cities like Jacksonville. Some came with their children, others with servants. Some stayed for a few weeks, others the entire season. A vast majority of these guests likely arrived in the area via train or steamship, although newspapers did report some guests occasionally arrived in their personal automobiles. It is very evident the Manavista was quite a popular hotel.
The Manavista did more than just bring tourists to town; it was also a social center for the community. Conferences, club meetings, and even some political meetings occurred at the hotel. For several years in the 1910s, the Bradentown Board of Trade held their annual banquet at the Manavista. In 1919-20, the Florida Educational Association hosted their conference in Bradentown from December 30 to January 1. The three-day conference included meetings, speeches, and a reception at the Manavista and other locations in Bradentown, and many of the attendees stayed at the Manavista.
Hotels like this required a large staff to operate. As previously mentioned, a kitchen and waitstaff would have been retained for the dining room. Bellboys, handymen, maids, clerks, gardeners, hunting and tour guides, and other positions were also common at these hotels, and some are known to be positions utilized by the Manavista. When the hotel first opened, much of its staff consisted of northern residents, who came down to Florida for the winter hotel season, and would return north to work the summer hotels. By the 1920s, though, these hotels commonly employed local help, bringing jobs to the local community. The Manavista was no different, posting advertisements in various newspapers boasting they only hire Florida help.
By the late 1920s, other hotels had opened in and around Bradenton, including the Dixie Grand Hotel and the Manatee River Hotel, both with several hundred rooms designed for shorter stays. The Great Depression continued to harm the seasonal hotel industry, causing several well-known hotels throughout Florida to close. By the 1950s, the industry had changed to much for the Manavista, and it was demolished in 1959 to make way for a new type of hotel: the Bradenton Cabana Motor Hotel.
More information about this topic can be found in our August 26 lecture: Visiting Paradise: Tourism in Manatee.
Manavista Hotel, ca. 1907-1908, courtesy of Manatee County Historical Society
Postcard of Manavista Hotel Grounds & Tennis Court, ca. 1911, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Historical Digital Collections
Lobby of the Manatee River Hotel, ca. 1925, courtesy of Manatee County Historical Society
Clipping from The Tampa Tribune, March 7, 1913; courtesy of Newspapers.com
Clipping from from John Tellman’s The Practical Hotel Steward, 1900, courtesy of HathiTrust
Stocking the Manavista (3 photographs), ca. 1921, courtesy of Manatee County Historical Society