Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Inverness Colonial Hotel

The Orange Hotel was purchased by Victor and Hermine Soto of New York.

Born March 10, 1937 in Coamo, Puerto Rico, Victor Soto eventually made his way to New York City where he worked in the local hotel business.  There, he met his soon-to-be wife, Hermine.  They moved to Inverness in 1965 when they purchased the Orange Hotel from Leslie Mercer for $50,000. 

Upon taking ownership, Hermine thought it best to keep the hotel’s original moniker, the Orange Hotel.  But Victor believed the Colonial Hotel was more befitting “a property of that size and beauty.”

A new name required new postcards.  Here's an early postcard of the Colonial Hotel.

The follwing newspaper article samples taken from the archives of The St. Petersburg Times  and The Ocala Star-Banner document some of the activities of Victor Soto and his wife as they tried to make improvements to the Colonial Hotel by seeking permission from the Inverness City Council:

December 22, 1966.  The St. Petersburg Times reports:  “At the regular [City Council] session preceding the [Christmas] party the council acted on the following matters.  Agreed to the request of Victor Soto, owner of the Colonial Hotel, for greater lighting in the parking area opposite the hotel.  They also agreed to consider Soto’s request for a beer and wine license for the hotel dining room." 
March 7, 1969.  The St. Petersburg Times reports: “Victor Soto, owner of the Colonial Hotel, asked for permission to sell liquor in the hotel.  He said he intended to add a cocktail lounge. Council approved the request if all state regulations had been complied with.” 
March 19, 1969.  The Ocala Star-Banner reports: "Mrs. Victor Soto, owner of the Colonial Hotel, was granted permission to apply for a state liquor license.  All requirements have been complied with." 

But in four years, the stress of running a hotel, coupled with working sixteen-hour days, seven days-a-week, had taken its toll on their marriage.  By March of 1969, Victor and Hermine divorced and Victor re-married Wilma Rogers, a waitress in the hotel.  

Leaving the hotel to Hermine in the divorce, Victor moved with his new wife Wilma and her two teenage sons, Ed and Danny, to PoncePuerto Rico in June of 1969. 

According to Ed Bowman, son of Wilma Rogers and stepson of Victor Soto, leaving the Colonial Hotel behind in the divorce was a very difficult choice to make, “because he loved it,” Ed says of his stepfather.  “He had a sense of loss leaving the hotel but he looked forward to going back to Puerto Rico and starting over with people who loved and cared about him.”

Like his mother Wilma, Ed is also a former employee of the Colonial Hotel and has great memories of his days spent working there.  “I painted every room in the hotel the summer of 1967.  What a way for a 15 year old to spend his summer.  I have lots of stories to tell about that place.” 

Ed has nothing but high praise for his stepfather and former employer, Victor Soto too.  “I thought the world of Victor.  He had the greatest sense of humor.  We spent a lot of time laughing until we cried.” 
And, according to Ed, the Colonial Hotel was THE place to work for high school students.  “I think probably half the kids that attended Citrus High School during the mid to late 60’s worked for Victor at one time or another as waiters, waitresses, maids, bell hops, busboys, gardeners, painters, and general handymen.  I had a good friend that also worked there.  He would drive his dad’s tractor to work.  His name was Andy Bennett.  His dad and mom owned Bennett’s Rexal Drugs on Main Street.”  

A late 1960's arial view of downtown Inverness shows where the hotel is located in town.

After the divorce, Hermine Soto was left as the sole proprietor of the Colonial Hotel.  On June 2, 1969, she placed an ad in the Ocala Star-Banner seeking a new management team to run her business: 

SEMI retired couple wanted for hotel.  Small salary plus apartment and utilities.  Husband to do light maintenance and wife capable of handling administration and housekeeping.  No pets.  Phone 726-2087 Inverness, Fla. or write Colonial Hotel, Inverness, Fla. 

And on November 14, 1969, she placed another ad in the Ocala Star-Banner, this time offering the restaurant for lease:

RESTAURANT for lease, easy terms, fully equipped.  Excellent location.  Italian or specialty foods.  Colonial Hotel, Inverness, Fla. (904) 726-2087.  

One year later, by the end of 1970, Hermine had had enough of the hotel business.  On January 1, 1971, The Ocala Star-Banner reported she sold the Colonial Hotel:

Mr. & Mrs. [Teresa] Bill Shannon, formerly of Webster, Mass., have purchased The Colonial Hotel from Hermine Soto.  A full liquor license has been obtained for the Inverness landmark, which will retain it's name.  

After the sale, Hermine was rumored to have moved home.  "I heard she moved back to New York," Ed says.

In the spring of 1986, Victor and Wilma Soto left Puerto Rico and moved back to Inverness to care fro an ailing grandparent.  Victor Soto passed away on February 23, 1990.  Wilma remained in Inverness and even remarried.  Her latest husband passed away in November of 2010.  Wilma still resides in Inverness.

After purchasing the Colonial Hotel from Hermine Soto in the early 1970s, Bill and Theresa Shannon sought to expand their business.  Around that time, the Ocala Star-Banner reported that the new owners of the hotel had added a cocktail lounge with dancing and live music on Friday and Saturday nights.  

An ad for the Colonial Hotel placed in the local travel guide "Florida's Outdoor Wonderland - Citrus County"
published around 1971.

In March of 1972, the Shannons asked the city council to permit the lounge to stay open until 2 a.m. on weekends.  Their request was granted.

The Shannon's Colonial Hotel in the late 70's. Notice the gold "Shannon's" sign painted near the entrance of the lounge.

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