Daytona Beach Hotels
A Brief History of the Plaza’s long legacy
For more than 100 years, the Plaza Resort has stood watch over Daytona Beach. Many Daytona Beach hotels have come and gone, but the Plaza has weathered storms, fires and economic disasters to remain a distinguished landmark on the World’s Most Famous Beach.
The Plaza’s history begins in 1888, just 12 years after Daytona had its first “town” meeting. One of the fist American settlers to the area, Charles Ballough, built a large beach cottage at the end of Ocean Boulevard. Although it was a summer residence for the Wisconsin native at first, the cottage was soon expanded and named “The Clarendon”. This cottage was to become what we now know as the Plaza Resort.
Charles Ballough formed a partnership with another local business man. The two combined their properties including the Clarendon, the Breakers (on the North side) and a 1,200 foot pier (on the South). With the successful partnership, the Clarendon and the Breakers were joined as “The Clarendon Hotel”. The hotel was complete with a casino, spacious porches overlooking the ocean and a stable/livery for horses and carriages. The cost to stay at the Clarendon started at $3.50 per night.
At the time, Daytona Beach was the “end of the line” for Henry Flagler’s railroad. The Daytona Beach area was a popular tourist destination for the wealthy. Daytona, Seabreeze and Daytona Beach were considered the hub of Florida. The three cities would not be combined into Daytona Beach, as we know it today, until 1926.
In February, 1909, tragedy struck the popular hotel. At the height of the Winter Season, a fire broke out and the entire hotel was destroyed. Guests were rushed out of the hotel at put-up at the nearby Colonnades Hotel. Although, many guests stayed for hours on the beach to watch the grand hotel burn.
Three months later, Philadelphia architects Price & McLanahan completed plans for the brand new “fire proof” Clarendon Hotel. Guestrooms were built of solid mahogany, with glass doorknobs and buff marble floors. The “new” Clarendon was opened on New Year’s Day in 1911. The famous hotel had risen from the ashes with more grandeur than ever. Hotel guests were treated to Turkish baths, an 18-hole golf course, horseback riding and trap shooting. At the time, the Clarendon was one of only two major hotels on the east coast of Florida that directly faced the Atlantic Ocean.
Just one month after opening, City leaders and the Clarendon contracted with an airplane manufacturer to perform a “Flying Exhibition” on the beach as a tourist attraction. The Wright Brothers had only taken their maiden voyage eight years prior, so the novelty of manned flight was still very much a curiosity of the time. For $3,500, John A. D. McCurdy brought his “Silver Dart” airplane to Daytona, by train. The airplane, complete with bicycle tires as landing gear, made a series of 3 flights along the beach to the delight of visitors and residents.
The Clarendon would continue its love affair with aviation for years to come.
In 1912, the hotel arranged for a pilot and plane to fly in guests from the North during the winter. The hotel constructed a hangar and landing strip just south of the hotel. This would be one of only 50 established airports in the United States at the time. In 1915, female pilot Ruth Law became the first woman to “loop” an airplane. She accomplished her feat in front of the Clarendon. During WWI, it was not uncommon to see the beach in front of the Clarendon littered with parked airplanes. Pilots on their way to training in Jacksonville often stopped for rest at the hotel after a long flight. The only complaint, according to one pilot, “Fliers often tell me that the greatest trouble in landing is to avoid automobiles which appear unexpectedly…”
World War 2
In 1942, The Clarendon Hotel closed down for the war effort. For two years, the hotel served as a barracks for the Woman’s Army Corps (WACs). The hotel reopened in June of 1944 with a new owner, and a new name. 60 years after opening, the Clarendon was renamed the Sheraton Plaza. It would later be renamed, again, The Craig Hotel, when the Sheraton company sold the property for $1 Million dollars.
In a brief brush with history, a passing guest named Martin Collins stayed at the hotel on his way to New York. He was later arrested and identified as Col. Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy. Col. Abel was traded with the Russians for American Pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose U2 spy plane was downed over the U.S.S.R. Life magazine ran pictures of the hotel, although it was not the type of publicity the owners were looking for.
The Craig Hotel
In 1959, the seeds for Daytona Beach’s convention industry were spread, and they began growing at the Plaza (which was, then, called the Craig Hotel). Although the Chamber of Commerce, at the time, did not believe that the convention industry would provide a return on investment, management at the Craig Hotel took the ambitious step to invest $30,000 to attract conventions to Daytona Beach. Fran Culbertson was one of only a handful of convention business sales representatives in the entire industry flying around the country to bring business to Daytona Beach. “Everybody’s going to have a convention somewhere, so why shouldn’t they have it here? Convention money is like ‘fresh blood’ in a community,” she said.
In March of 1963, the Craig Hotel went through the first of many renovations. The owners at the time, Jacob Fine and Milton Pepper announced a $500,000 renovation project to restore the old hotel’s “grandeur”.
Through the most recent decades, the old “Clarendon” has gone through much turmoil and tribulation. In 1974, the bank foreclosed on the owner Jacob Fine. Many of the furnishings of the hotel were sold, and the top floors of the hotel were removed. In 1998, the hotel was purchased by Charles Bray and Joe Gillespie. The Ocean Waters Spa was opened with much fanfare in 2000.
In 2004, the Plaza Resort & Spa (as it is currently named), was ravaged by three hurricanes. Many Daytona Beach hotels were forced to close their doors in the aftermath, but the Plaza stood tall, as it has for more than 100 years.
The current owners have vowed to continue to keep the historic hotel as a “shining beacon” for residents and visitors who continue to come to Daytona Beach.
Special thanks to the Halifax Historical Museum for their historical records.
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