- An occasional feature on the origins of names in South Pinellas. The Vinoy Hotel, for so long a ragged pink Cinderella on the waterfront and soon to be a princess again, has a most unusual name. Have you wondered where it came from?
A consultation of one of several local-history books will tell you that it was built by and named after Pennsylvania oil man Aymer (pronounced eye-mer) Vinoy Laughner, who came to Florida in 1919 and stayed until his death in the '40s.
But how did Aymer Vinoy get his unusual name? His son, Paul Laughner, now 74 and living in Fitzwilliam, N.H., explained it: "My grandfather, Perry Laughner, loved books (novels) about men who were great fighters and great woman lovers. He found one whose name was Aymer Vinoy."
So he named his son after the fictional character.
As to giving the name to a hotel, Paul Laughner claims that was Aymer's friend E.M. "Gene" Elliott's idea. Elliott, the man who sold the bonds to finance Gandy Bridge, was at one of the many colorful parties at the former Laughner home at 532 Beach Drive NE. "It was about 3 a.m., and they were hitting golf balls off my dad's watch without breaking the crystal. Elliott looked toward the water and said to my dad, "We're going to build a hotel there, and we're going to name it the Vinoy because that's such a pretty name.'
It was just Aymer Vinoy Laughner, however, who built the hotel which is scheduled to reopen in late 1991 as the Stouffer Vinoy Resort.
Originally known as the Vinoy Park, the Spanish renaissance style hotel opened for the first time in January of 1926. Into the 1950s the hotel was one of the leading resorts in the area, opening each year just before Christmas for a three-month season. The Vinoy tower, lighted bright red, was a symbol that "the season" had arrived in St. Petersburg.
The hotel drew the wealthy from far and near, but was available to local groups for dances and parties, of which there were many, including the annual Debutante Ball, the Dragon Club New Year's Eve dance and numerous fraternity dances.
It closed in 1975, and the "Cinderella" has had many suitors, but all of their golden coaches turned to pumpkins until now. Realizing the hotel's place in St. Petersburg's past, executives of Stouffer and Frederick E. Guest, president of the Vinoy Development Co., which is restoring it, decided to retain the Vinoy name.
"Obviously, it is a historic building and a historic name so we wanted to keep it," said Guest. "The only requirement is that the management company has built a lot of good will into their name, so we wanted that in too. And we added the "resort" because that's what it is. It's more than a hotel now."