When you think of showbiz glitz and glamor, do you think of New Port Richey? No? Well, this story may change your mind about the "Hollywood of the East."
Why do they call it the Hacienda Hotel?
"All right, Mr. DeMille. I'm ready for my closeup!"
When Gloria Swanson spoke those words, she captured the spirit of Sunset Boulevard. The movie's about a fallen silent film star who could never recapture her early greatness.
That movie could easily tell the tale of a different grand old lady: theHacienda Hotel in New Port Richey.
And that new movie could still star Gloria Swanson.
"The push was to find an Eastern Seaboard location for the movies that were being done in Hollywood at the time," said Doreen Summers, the city clerk for New Port Richey.
"So they began looking here --the 'Hollywood of the East,' which at the time is what New Port Richey was known as."
Summers says silent film stars flocked to her town in the 1920's.
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The hotel gets its name from the grand estates and plantations of South America called haciendas. Abrochure even claims the hotel as "A bit of Old Spain amid the palms."
The most famous face to ever smile into a mirror at the Hacienda was Gloria Swanson's.
She was one of the larger-than-life queens of silent films. Swanson was nominated for the first-ever best actress Oscar and owned a gold-plated bathtub -- the whole bit.
And Swanson stayed at the Hacienda, when both she and the hotel were on the rise.
"This is Gloria Swanson's bedroom," Summers said, walking through one of the hotel's suites.
In an area walled off for decades, Summers recently unearthed a once sealed-up secret.
"This actually was Gloria Swanson's private entryway onto the balcony and up into thecupola -- the little tower," Summers said.
"I discovered this carpet here. This is the original 1920's carpet. It's really amazing, we're actually walking through history right now."
But stars sometimes fade -- and fast.
Swanson fell out of favor when actors started talking in their movies and a pretty face wasn't enough. What about the Hollywood of the East?
"Unfortunately, right around 1929, we all know what happened: the Great Depression. That put an end to all these plans," Summers said.
The Hacienda survived as a hotel and social center in the city for generations.
"It was the happening place up through the 1970's. Anything you wanted to go and do, this is the place where you came to go and do it," Summers said.
Then, "it was bought by a concern that turned it into a residence for adults with developmental disabilities."
The city bought it back in 2003 with a new vision.
A company offered to reinvigorate the Hacienda as a hotel once again. And once again, a rocky economy stalled the Hacienda's future.
Despite plans for that hotel, nothing was done. The Hacienda became an empty -- even eerie place.
Now, the city has launched a fresh restoration effort. There are big, bold plans for this big, old place.
"Our goal is to restore it to exactly the way it looked back in 1927 when it was first built," Summers said.
Plans call for a restaurant and shops downstairs, and a boutique hotel upstairs, complete with the chance to stay in the suites of the stars.
"It's truly an amazing time right now for the City of New Port Richey," Summers said, "as we all come together and pull our grand old lady back to the way she should be."
Finally, once again, ready for her closeup.
Why do they call it that? Now you know.
The city is getting help from people in the community to clean up the Hacienda. They're also looking for old photos from inside the hotel to help them reconstruct it.
If you'd like to help, contact the New Port Richey City Clerk's Office.
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