One day several years ago, Jim Gunderson found himself wondering what was going on with the proposed renovation of New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel. So he looked up the name of the city’s economic development director and fired off an email.
The response was swift — Gunderson is well known in historic hotel circles for restoring Mount Dora’s Lakeside Inn. Might he want to do the same with the Hacienda, a Jazz Age relic that once hosted the likes of Joseph Kennedy, Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin?
From that email grew talks with city officials and Gunderson’s ultimate purchase of the decrepit city-owned hotel. Now, after a multiyear, multimillion-dollar restoration, it is again ready to welcome guests.
“We took it back to the original layout,” Gunderson says of the 40-room hotel that first opened in 1927. “We’ve completely rebuilt it. Eighty to 85 percent of the internal structure is new.”
The Hacienda is among the smallest of Florida’s famed “pink” hotels — others include the Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach, the Vinoy in St. Petersburg and the Breakers in Palm Beach — that drew tourists and celebrities during the boom era of the 1920s. New Port Richey was then known as the “Hollywood of the East” because of its popularity with silent movie makers, and the Hacienda catered to a glamorous crowd.
Over time the hotel’s allure faded, and starting in 1985 it was used to house people with special needs. The city bought it in 2003, closed it three years later and, with the help of state grants and other funds, stabilized the vacant building. Then city officials began looking for an investment partner to reopen it as a hotel.
“We were interested in finding a suitor not only to renovate the facility but operate the facility,” said City Manager Debbie Manns, who calls the Hacienda a “historic jewel” and “very critical component” of New Port Richey’s downtown redevelopment plan. Although other offers came in, it was only after meeting Gunderson that city officials knew they had found the right combination of business smarts and experience with historic buildings. He paid $800,000 with performance conditions that “he has more than satisfied,” Manns said.
When work began in early 2019, the Hacienda was in terrible shape. Electrical wiring hung exposed. Hardwood floors had rotted. Support beams were in danger of collapse. There was no air conditioning or sprinkler system. But while much of the hotel is now brand new, it looks surprisingly like it did in its heyday. The chandeliers, molding and corbels in the lobby are original. The front desk is made of reclaimed cypress from 1927. Unique among Florida’s pink hotels, the outside walls still have fish-shaped bumps that evoke mullet jumping in the nearby Pithlachascotee River.
Vintage pictures of the hotel and New Port Richey decorate the hallways and guest rooms, which vary in size. The Joseph Kennedy Suite, named after a Hollywood mogul and father of President John F. Kennedy, is the only one with a separate seating area. Three other rooms located on a half floor are jokingly called the “bordello” because women and bootleg liquor purportedly were smuggled in through a Prohibition-era tunnel leading from the river.
The hotel has no pool but its grounds open onto the riverfront Sims Park, giving it a verdant setting that can be enjoyed from rocking chairs on the patio or a balcony overlooking the park. There is a restaurant with outdoor dining; the chef came from the Lakeside Inn. A separate room can host banquets of 75 guests.
The restoration of the Hacienda, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has generated the same type of excitement in New Port Richey that the restoration of the Vinoy did in St. Petersburg three decades ago.
“It’s certainly a catalyst for downtown businesses along with the work we’ve done in Sims Park and other initiatives,” Manns said. “People already are clamoring to hold events there. There are two restaurants that are in renovation to open in October that would not be downtown if not for the fact we could tout that the Hacienda was coming.”
Gunderson said he was drawn in part to the Hacienda because it is in a pretty, tree-lined downtown that gives New Port Richey, Pasco’s second largest city, the potential to be as alluring to visitors as Dunedin, Tarpon Springs and other small cities on Florida’s west coast.
“A property like this would not survive as well on U.S. 19,” he said. “It needs to be in a historical setting in a historic downtown with older buildings.”
Luckily for New Port Richey, the Hacienda is in just such a place.