Developer Frederick Guest, great-grandson of New York steel magnate Henry Phipps, first toured the Vinoy Park Hotel in 1982, after the St. Petersburg bayfront landmark had been left shuttered and decaying for nearly a decade.
“The ballroom was the world’s largest pigeon roost,” he told the Orlando Sentinel. “Half the ballroom’s ceiling was on the floor. It was pretty depressing. Anything decorative on the walls had been pried off and taken home. Kids had partied in there, and there were piles of beer cans.”
Guest, who died July 8 at age 83, was the majority owner in the group that restored the vintage 1924 hotel. It was his desire to see that the Stouffer Vinoy Resort – as it was eventually re-named – re-claim its title as the centerpiece, the salmon-tinted jewel, of the marina district.
The Vinoy was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, three years after it had closed for good. Guest’s $93 million restoration project was launched in 1990. “The condition had deteriorated to the point where if something hadn’t been done it would have had to be demolished,” said Guest’s architect William Cox, of Coral Gables. “When a building is that close to the sea, it’s like a docked boat: If you ignore it long enough, it will disappear.”
Indeed, the nearby Soreno Hotel, of similar vintage, was taken down by implosion in January, 1992 (the event was filmed, and used as the finale for Lethal Weapon III).
As president of Vinoy Development Corporation, from 1984 to 1996, Guest restored the hotel’s exterior and first floor public spaces – the lobby, main dining room and ballroom – and had the upstairs guest rooms enlarged and overhauled, adding a seven-story tower with 102 additional rooms.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” he told the Sentinel in 1992. “If we don’t make a profit in the first four or five years we won’t go away. I personally think we can do it in two years, and three years would be fast.”