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Ocala historic district
Building in the ocala historic district
Ditmar Wissel Family Dentistry
Building in the Ocala Historic District

Early Ocala Hotels

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By the last decade of the nineteenth century, Ocala boasted numerous restaurants and hotels. The city's hotels included the "Ocala House" on S. Main, the Magnolia/Montezuma, Harrington Hall Hotel on S Main at Ft. King, the Frederick House on Broadway, the Brown House, the Central Hotel on N Magnolia, the Allred House on N. Magnolia at the corner of N. Sixth W., the Marion House on S. Orange, the Planters Hotel and Whitfield House on N Magnolia, and the Arlington on Ft. King Avenue at the south corner of Main Street. In addition, Ocala offered accommodations in numerous boarding and guest houses throughout the city. By 1925, only four hotels appear to have provided accommodations. These included the Colonial, the Florida House, Harrington Hall and the Ocala House.

Historical information on some of Ocala's larger and more popular historic hotels follows. All have been demolished except the former Marion Hotel.

The Ocala House

In 1883, an 1847 frame building, identified as the first Ocala House, was demolished to make way for a new 150 room three-story imposing brick hotel bearing the same name, fronting the east side of the courthouse square at what was East Broadway and Main Streets. The hotel was one of several constructed as one of the first of several grand Florida hotels commissioned by Henry Plant throughout the state during the period. Within a short time the hotel came under the ownership of the Ocala and Silver Springs Company and the hotel was expanded to 200 rooms. Occupying an entire city block with a frontage of 238 feet, the building had white stone facings for many of its long windows and first and second-story piazzas. From a balustraded deck on top of the building, nearly all of the city could be seen. The interior of the hotel utilized native wood. The first floor plan included an office, reception and writing rooms, parlors and drawing room. Five storefronts were also located on the first floor, including the jewelry store of Fred G.B. Weihe, a watchmaker, jeweler and optician, during the 1880s. The hotel's dining hall had a seating capacity of 200. Broad ornamented stairs led to sleeping apartments on the upper floors. Wide hallways afforded lounging areas. The hotel, modern by the standards of the time, featured bath and toilet rooms, electric light and call bells, and telephones. The establishment's first proprietor was L.M. Thayer. M.L. Finch served as manager for a number of early winter seasons. During those months, an orchestra gave daily and evening concerts. The hotel hosted the city's leading society events. By the mid 1920s, the hotel was being operated by the Apaha Hotel Company with R.T. Adams as manager and L.R. Bracken as assistant manager and auditor.The Ocala House's garden was one of the Ocala's first subtropical gardens, providing a wonderful retreat of brick walks, flower beds, and shrubbery. Paved walks led from the passenger depot of the Florida Southern on Osceola to the entrance of the hotel. A tall, ornamental iron fences enclosed the garden on the north and east, while also separating it from the platforms and sheds of the depot. The long piazzas provided a wonderful view of the garden on the east. The porches on the west looked down on the soon to be completed new courthouse. At the time of its completion, the Ocala House was the largest brick hotel in the state. The hotel has been demolished.


The Magnolia Hotel

The Magnolia Hotel on South Main Street and Fort King Avenue in the heart of the business district was completed in 1884. The three-story masonry rectangular-shaped structure had 74 rooms and was equipped with electricity, gas and "sanitary" plumbing. At the time of its completion, it was the second largest brick building in the city. The hotel was named for a giant magnolia tree that stood in front of the building on the property. By 1893, the hotel's name was changed to the Montezuma and under the management of C.F. Brewer. In late 1912, its name was again changed to the Harrington Hall Hotel. The Harrington operated on the European plan and had both dining and lunch rooms. All rooms had hot and cold running water, steam heat, and telephone and electric elevator service. The hotel housed several businesses in first floor storefronts for a number of years. The Williams News Agency, established in 1914 by N.L. Williams, maintained offices in the building in the 1920s. Sam T. Wilson, a jeweler, maintained his shop in one of the storefronts for a few years beginning in 1921. A barber shop and restaurant were operating from the hotel in the 1930s and 1940s. The young men's division of the Chamber of Commerce maintained an office in the hotel in 1940. The structure has since been demolished.

The Florida House

The Florida House was located in a substantial stuccoed building at 433 North Magnolia Street conveniently near the Union Depot. The hotel, originally owned and operated by H.J. Goldsmith, contained 42 rooms and a dining room. A separate garage was on the site for use by guests. In 1940, the hotel's name was changed to the Hotel Florida when it was extensively remodeled. The hotel and garage no longer stand.


 The Florida House Hotel
Florida Photographic Collection 

The Marion Hotel

The Spanish Colonial Revival Style former Marion Hotel building, today known as the Sovereign Building, was designed by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Peebles and Ferguson who designed a number of hotels throughout the south, including Hotel Lorraine and the Hotel Monticello in Norfolk, Virginia. The hotel's builder was Day and Zimmerman, Inc. The costs of construction were completely financed by the sale of stock certificates to local citizens by the Community Hotel Corporation. Dr. James E. Chace, a former mayor of Ocala, and Horace L. Smith, Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, led the effort to have a first-class hotel erected in the city to accommodate tourists and traveling salesmen. A decision was made to construct a 100 room fireproof hotel and supporting structures. A method of financing the hotel was developed and the Hotel Committee of the Chamber of Commerce formed a Citizens Sales Organization with 140 volunteers who sold stock in the Community Hotel Corporation. Funding for construction was raised in less than six weeks, for a total amount of $500,000, with most of the shares being purchased by local residents.

The design of the seven-story concrete and steel hotel included stucco walls, with decorative Spanish elements. A central tower rises above the top floor of the main block flanked by two-story wings. At the time of completion, an automobile garage for the use by guests, the Hotel Marion Garage, was also erected adjacent to the main structure.

The hotel opened with a gala celebration in early March, 1927 with 300 people in attendance. When the hotel first opened it was managed by Griner Corporation, of which movie actor Thomas Meighan and Governor John W. Martin served on the Board of Directors.