As city leaders mull ideas relating to the redevelopment of the Hacienda Hotel, the once-famous landmark continues to sit empty.
Since acquiring the building last decade, the city has provided little in the way of upkeep and maintenance, and now time and vandals are beginning to take their toll on the shuttered structure.
So, how bad is it? How much has the building really deteriorated in the last six years, under the city’s ownership?
These are the questions that I set out to answer amidst rumors of leaking roofs, collapsing ceilings, dangerous molds, and unsafe conditions inside the Hacienda.
In 1926, when construction of the Hacienda began, plans by architect Thomas Reed Martin of Sarasota called for the most modern construction of the time.
Built by New Port Richey contractors the Burns-Becker Company, according to the St. Petersburg Evening Independent, the Mediterranean style hotel was constructed with hollow tile block and a stucco finish applied.
This hollow-tile construction alone makes the Hacienda a unique landmark to New Port Richey since only a handful of structures around town were built utilizing this method.
According to Historic Buildings by Bill Kibbel, hollow tile block, also known as hollow structural tile, hollow building tile, and structural clay tile, was most commonly used during the first quarter of the 20th century.
These hollow tiles, with their parallel cells, were popular for floor arches, fireproofing, partition walls, and furring.
And, since stucco was usually applied as an exterior covering, Mission and Mediterranean revival styles like the Hacienda were some of the most common types of construction using the hollow tile block.
While the environment and natural settling commonly cause cracking in historical clay tile structures, it’s the improper care and lack of maintenance that usually compromise the integrity of structure.
According to "Structural Clay Tile," physical indications of deterioration include a soft, powdery surface or the presence of efflorescence that is similar to clay brick masonry.
However, according to New Port Richey building official Mike German, structural engineers have yet to do an evaluation on the Hacienda. Therefore, the full scope of its physical conditions and integrity are unknown at this time.
Inside the Hacienda the damages are a little more apparent.
While parts of the building’s interior have been retrofitted with modern doors, drop ceilings, and dry-walled partitions many original interior features still survive
When compared to historic photos, features like the foyer fireplace, originally plastered walls, crown molding, arched doorways, and Spanish-style corbels are still evident.
So, how bad is it inside?
When asked about the rumors and conditions of the Hacienda, city manager John Schneiger said, "It's really not that bad."
During a recent “casual walkthrough” with the city manager, German observed that the majority of the damages to the 85 year old building were from vandals.
And, while no formal reports were compiled during the walkthrough, German said the interior damages consisted mainly of broken windows and holes kicked in the walls.
However, brown stains and mildew on the ceilings do indicate minor leaks in a couple different places.
German said, “We’re not sure if these leaks stem from plumbing issues or a leaking roof, but they do appear to be minor.”
Minor water damage and mildew was also observed around several of the vandalized windows where rain has been allowed to drip down the walls.
But according to German, there seems to be no apparent signs of dangerous molds and no moldy smells as rumored.
When asked if the historic building should be condemned based on its current condition and his recent evaluation, German said,
“There’s nothing to indicate condemnation, but since it is a national landmark, a full evaluation from a structural engineer would need to be completed before condemnation was even considered."
He also added that the city would have to first consult with the U.S. Department of Interior since the building has been designated a national landmark.
But, its not just condemnation that requires a structural evaluation and discussions with the Department of Interior, redevelopment also warrants these actions.
As redevelopment moves forward, structural evaluations and discussion with the Department of Interior should follow.
At that time we should get the full scope of the Hacienda’s condition and its true integrity, hopefully before it’s not too late to save the aging and now unmaintained structure.