BELLEAIR — Despite the lack of air conditioning, the inside of the Belleview Biltmore hotel felt steamy but not stifling on Wednesday.
In most of the rooms, once-lush carpets had been ripped away, leaving shreds of dust and padding.
No furniture remained in guest rooms, and wallpaper had been peeled off the walls, leaving behind a patina of aqua, yellow and brown.
My 45-minute tour of the lower floors made me aware of how stark and barren the hotel is minus many of the embellishments that gave the Biltmore much of its character. But the 114-year-old building seemed a bit sturdier than I thought it might be in light of some accounts about its dilapidated condition.
During part of the tour, Matthew Cummings, a consultant for the owner, spoke about how the hotel lacked many of the amenities that other hotels in the area can offer. The Biltmore owns a golf club a little over a mile away, but not the one next door. And a view of Clearwater Bay is blocked by condos.
"So now the main amenity to the hotel is the historical value," Cummings said.
For years, the resort, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in December 1979, was a popular spot for movie stars, pop icons and presidents, including President Barack Obama.
We entered the Biltmore through a tunnel on the side of the hotel and met with security officer Bob Johnson. He sits in front of computer monitors, keeping an eye on various sections of the hotel. The cameras have motion detectors, he said, and if they get tripped after hours, a monitoring company calls him.
Cummings led me through doorways into an air-conditioned room, where plaques, pictures and boxes of historical artifacts were piled on tables. Hotel register books were wrapped in cellophane.
We headed back down the steamy tunnel and up some stairs and ended up in the kitchen, mostly barren except for an industrial dishwasher and stripped cabinets.
Nearby, the once bright and airy Tiffany Ballroom was dark and empty. For years, families and corporate bigwigs dined at a sea of cloth-covered tables. Now, just arched windows, ornate glass ceiling panels and bulb-less chandeliers adorn the empty room.
Cummings also showed off a gutted room where he thinks Obama stayed shortly before the hotel closed in 2009.
Cummings limited his tour to the tunnels and first floor. He said the upper floors were pretty much the same, though in February, a town report prepared by Clearwater-based McCarthy and Associates showed that water seeping through the roof and other openings led to extensive damage in some parts of the hotel.
The more severe areas appeared on the fourth and fifth floors of the west wing, where portions of ceiling and walls had peeled away.
As we exited the building, Cummings remarked about the "horrible Pagoda entrance," built in the 1990s by a previous Japanese owner, Mido Development.
"What the Japanese did to it was a crime," he said.