TAMPA, Florida. – A longtime Tampa hotel that has gone through many changes is about to change hands once again.
For 70 years, it’s been a Tampa landmark, a place to relax, see and be seen, and occasionally stir up a little excitement. The Tahitian Inn, which began as the Tahiti Motor Court, has seen its share of changes.
This week brings another change. It has just been sold to a local property company who plan to keep it running with some upgrades. Despite being surrounded by properties torn down and rebuilt from scratch, this inn, which started in the Gilded Age, survives.
In the 1950s, sun-seekers escaped the bitter cold of winter at the South Pacific-themed Tahiti Motor Court in Tampa.
“People were really fascinated by the Pacific Ocean. And we just fought a war in the Pacific,” said Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center.
A postcard from the Automobile Court of Tahiti sent by a woman named Florence in 1959.
Kite-Powell shared a postcard from Tahiti Motor Court that was posted in 1959 by a woman named “Florence.” She sent it to a friend in Indiana. A stamp, at the time, only cost three cents.
“Boy, I’m off to this life of relaxation, tanning, golfing, and even breakfast in bed,” the post read. “It’s good to wear summer clothes in December. It’s chilly at night, though.”
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Joe Pupello opened the Tahiti Motor Court at 601 South Dale Mabry in 1953. It was fitted with air conditioning – a big draw at the time.
“The idea of motor courts really picked up after World War II,” Kite-Powell explained. “You know, everyone was getting in their car and driving across the country. There was the middle-class explosion and the idea of vacations, and in particular, driving vacations.”
The Tahitian Inn, which began as the Tahiti Motor Court, has seen its share of changes.
It expanded in 1961, becoming the Tahitian Inn with 42 rooms and a popular cafe.
“There are a lot of stories about Tampa’s very colorful organized crime personalities meeting there, especially the coffee shop,” Kite-Powell said.
In 2000, after a few rounds of renovations, the original section of the automotive terrain was demolished and incorporated into what we know today. In 2018, the cafe was taken over by Pach’s Place.
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For seven decades it remained under family ownership, even surviving bankruptcy. Now they pass the tiki torch. Tampa investment firm Om Ventures bought the inn for nearly $9.7 million, according to a deed filed Monday with the Hillsborough County Clerk’s Office.
The Tahitian Inn was sold for $9.7 million to a Tampa real estate company.
Om Ventures owner Dharma Malempati tells us the hotel will remain the Tahitian Inn. Pach’s Place will also remain. They’re looking to do some renovations and upgrades over the next year, but haven’t offered details yet.
We contacted the Tahitian Inn to find out what led to the decision to sell, but did not hear back.
“Places like the Tahitian Inn kind of defy the odds,” Kite-Powell explained, “but it’s also maybe a bit of an indication of the economy and where we are as a city and where we “We’re developing where not everything has to be, you know, bigger and better. These little boutique hotels have a niche, just like the big brands. So I think the Tahitian Inn fits that model.”
In a time when the old is often knocked down to make way for the new, and postcards are just Instagram posts, this little South Seas oasis along a busy highway remains.