Reborn: The rise and fall and rise again of the Fenway Hotel
How a Dunedin landmark went from eyesore to showplace.
The view from the rooftop bar was a revelation. Though it seemed as if all of Dunedin had decided to scope out the Fenway Hotel that weekend evening, the crowd couldn’t obscure the glories of sunset over the Intracoastal, or the feeling that this once-doomed landmark had been brought brilliantly back to life.
Jo Golson was one of those enjoying the view. A next-door neighbor to the Fenway, she used to work as a consulting school psychologist there when it housed Schiller International University. The facility, she remembers, was “horrible.” She’d go back to her home rather than use the ladies’ rooms at the school, and didn’t dare go to the top floor. “I thought it would fall apart.”
The decline of the property was a sad fate for what had begun life in 1927 as a glamorous Jazz Age hotel, host to politicians, musicians and even an Arctic explorer, and the site of Pinellas County’s first radio station, WGHB (precursor to today’s WFLA). In the 1950s it became an exclusive private club and was later purchased by Trinity College before being taken over by Schiller, which kept it until 2005.
Various proposals to redevelop or even demolish the Fenway came to naught until an unlikely savior came to the rescue: the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States. The society purchased the 6.4 acre parcel in 2014 and partnered with Mainsail Lodging and Development to renovate the hotel as part of Marriott’s upscale Autograph Collection. It opened to the public in November of last year, aglow in shades of coral and beige.
For anyone who remembers the Fenway as a sad-looking old pile behind a chain-link fence, seeing it reincarnated is like entering a time warp. The vintage aura is palpable; “1927” is emblazoned on the front desk, and a few steps away there’s a shady-looking portal that once led to a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Period menus and photos adorn the lobby walls. The 83 guest rooms combine up-to-the-minute amenities like Alexa with witty allusions to the hotel’s musical roots, like cymbals used as wall decoration and a Do Not Disturb sign that says “Off Air.”
The HEW Parlor & Chophouse maintains the balance between old and new, the charm of an old-fashioned resort dining room sparked by an of-the-moment open kitchen. The cuisine includes some traditional touches, like sauces poured à table by the server, but it’s otherwise deliciously up to date. HEW refers to the initials of the original hotel architect, Herman Everett Wendell, but the word also means “chop” — to wit, the menu offers stellar steaks like the Bison Coulotte, a succulent preparation with Scotch au poivre sauce and crispy shiitake mushrooms. But on the evening my husband and I dined there, the star was a melt-in-your-mouth swordfish special. I would return just for the roasted corn, coated in spicy miso butter and herbs, that came with the bison. With breakfast, brunch and lunch also available, HEW looks like a go-to spot for locals as well as hotel guests.
And what about the neighbors?
“The neighbors,” says Jo Golson, “are thrilled.”
Fenway Hotel/HEW Parlor & Chophouse/Hi-Fi Rooftop Bar, 453 Edgewater Drive, Dunedin, fenwayhotel.com.