Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Orange After "Aunt Tom"

On August 13, 1959, the Citrus County Chronicle reported that Mrs. Archie Scott had sold the property to Lynnwood N. Smith, a local business man responsible for creating several subdivisions.  His plans for the property at the time included enlarging the Shangri-La Dining Room to accommodate more guests as well as modernizing the ground floor and redecorating & air conditioning some of the guest rooms.

("Back Home: A history of Citrus County, Florida" by Hampton Dunn, pg. 451)

But Mr. Smith would not own the hotel for very long before succumbing to financial woes.  On May 23, 1961, the New Hampshire newspaper The Nashua Telegraph reported: 
Leslie Mercer and his charming wife, long winter residents of Inverness, Florida, on the West coast of that state, have become hotel owners in that growing city.
A recent story in the Citrus County Chronicle, a weekly paper that covers that area, reports that the Mercers have bought the Orange Hotel at a foreclosure sale for $25,000.
Mercer says he does not plan to operate the place permanently as a hotel.
Knowing Les one can be sure that something profitable will come from the venture.

And almost a year later, the Ocala Star-Banner reported he purchased the food and beverage side of the business as well:
Shangri La Dining Room Bought By Mercer 
April 27, 1962 
INVERNESS - Leslie D. Mercer, operator of the Orange Hotel here, has recently purchased the adjacent Shangri La Dining Room and is in the process of remodeling and redecorating it. 
One of the prime purposes of the large dining room, Mercer said, will be its use for the convening of various civic clubs in the area.
Mercer, a former New Hampshire auto dealer, has operated the hotel since last May.  Until recently, the Shangri La was under separate management.

January 17, 1963 - the Citrus County Chronicle reveals the allure of both the Orange Hotel and Inverness for guest who would return year after year.

2-A    The CITRUS COUNTY CHRONICLE - January 17, 1963

The Orange Hotel, an old Inverness Landmark, holds a fortune in memories for many persons.  It’s colorful hostelry has been a gathering place for a host of out-of-state visitors to Citrus County down through the years.  One of these, Mrs. Mary Nash (shown in her favorite “sun parlor” chair) has been coming to Inverness and the Orange Hotel for 27 years.  She tells why in a Chronicle story on Page 6B.

Mary Nash

6-B    The CITRUS COUNTY CHRONICLE - January 17, 1963
Arkansas Woman Makes Local Hotel Her Home For 27 Years  
Inverness holds a special place in the heart of Mary Nash.  It has for 27 years.  For that many years this “capital” ofCitrus County has been her second home…and the Orange Hotel, in particular, has been her home away from home. 

Mrs. Nash, a pleasant woman who loves to talk—and who has many nice things to say about Inverness—has found that ideal living is being in her beloved foothills of the gorgeous Ozark Mountains of Arkansas part of the year and relaxing in the sub-tropical and friendly atmosphere of this section of Florida the remainder.  She readily admits that she would be “most unhappy” if she had to live the year ‘round in either.  She has two sons, both druggists, in Jonesboro.
Her experience as a part-time resident of JonesboroArk. and InvernessFla. have been delightful, to say the least, and as long as her health is good, she plans to continue her yearly visits.  She has a host of friends in both “homes” and looks forward each trip to renewed acquaintanceship.
It was nearly 30 years ago that Mrs. Nash and her druggist and wholesale manufacturing husband first came toFlorida.  After seeing much of the state, they decided on Clearwater as the place to visit annually. 
On their way back to Clearwater, they happened to pass through Inverness.  Some friends who did considerable fishing in the Homosassa River area had been to Inverness met up in Clearwater they decided to spend a few days in Citrus County.  They would stay at the Orange Hotel in Inverness.
Mr. and Mrs. Nash found the hotel to be a delightful and refreshing place.  The food was delicious and incredibly inexpensive.  Folks were unusually friendly.  The local atmosphere entranced them, and before they realized it, they had fallen in love with their new-found quarters and the people associated with it.
The Orange Hotel was and still is an Inverness landmark.  For years it stood as a one-floor hostelry on Main Street, where the Chamber of Commerce is presently located.  After fired destroyed a portion of the building it was literally picked up and “transplanted” to its present site on Seminole Street.  A complete renovation and addition enhance its appearance and it soon became known to out-of-state tourists as “the place to go” when passing through this section of the state.
In those days the popular hotel was owned and operated by Mrs. Archie Scott—for well over 50 years, as a matter of fact—who sold the establishment about three years ago and died soon afterwards.
When the Nash couple started patronizing the hotel there was some doubt in Mrs. Nash’ mind about “settling” there each year.  Friends in Arkansas agreed with her that if she was going to Florida why not spend her time and money at some popular resort area…where there were beaches and amusements? 
But there was something about the atmosphere at the Orange Hotel—the folks she met there, the local residents. And where else could she and Mr. Nash get a nice room and the finest homecooked meals all for just $35 a week! Besides, she and Mrs. Scott were becoming the best of friends.  Also, fishing was great, and her husband liked that.
There were many others who felt the same way.  In those days, rooms at the Orange Hotel were hard to come by. “Why I’ve seen  many times when dozens of people were turned away from both the hotel and the dining room… some with tears in their eyes,” recalls Mrs. Nash.  “And you should have seen the banquets put on in the dining room!”
Returning to Inverness and to the Orange Hotel was a must for Mr. and Mrs. Nash.  They had made many friends here and looked forward to seeing them each year.  People from many states made their winter home here.  At one time, for example, there were about 30 residents of GaryInd. who found “home” in the local hostelry.
Except for the war years, when gas and tires were scarce, and another time when Mr. Nash suffered a heart attack, the couple would make their annual journey from Jonesboro to Inverness.  It was here that Mr. Nash passed away, ten years ago next month.  Since that time, Mrs. Nash has increased her visits, and for several years has been visiting here three times annually. 
Once you get accustomed to it, you love it.  Mrs. Nash says about Inverness.  But it puzzles her why so many people move into the area “on first sight”, since there are no amusements or special attractions other than good fishing.  Perhaps it’s peace and quiet they’re after, and there’s no more serene place, she feels.
As she stood gazing out of one of the hotel’s many front windows from what used to be its much-frequented sun parlor, Mary Nash remembers when the city park was the center of attraction.  “The place used to be covered with people, both young and old.  I just don’t see why all those buildings and the parking lot were allowed to be put there.  Wasn’t that property deeded to the City for use as a public park only?”
Mrs. Nash admits there have been many changes in and around the hotel.  She regrets (as do many others) that the dining room is no longer operating.  She hopes it will open again soon, as she remembers the food and atmosphere it once boasted.
Present owner of the establishment is Leslie Mercer.  He too hopes to get the dining room back in operation and is taking steps in this direction.  In addition to the nearly 40 rooms, the hotel rents five apartments and two business areas—La Mode Beauty Shop and office of Attorney Charles Fitzpatrick.

Committed to his desire to re-open the restaurant, Mr. Mercer brought in new talent to help give it a fresh start.   The following announcement appeared in the Citrus County Chronicle:

Hotel Dining Room Re-Opens 
May 2, 1963
The popular Shangri-La Dining Room in the Orange Hotel, Inverness, re-opened Wednesday under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Spafford and family, of Hernando.

The Spafford family brings to the local dining room a wealth of experience in the food business.  Mrs. Spafford said Monday that a complete daily meal service will be conducted featuring a business men's luncheon each noon with a menu change every day for thirteen consecutive days.
Mrs. Spafford will supervise the dining room and the menus and she will be joined by her son, Wilbur, Jr., a trained chef, who is being discharged from the Air Force Friday after four years of service.
The Shangri-La management will cater to parties of any size and will feature a weekly Sunday noon-day dinner spacial.
A style show by Beverly Lee Shop, Inverness, will be held in the Shangri-La Dining Room next Wednesday evening, May 8, beginning at 6 o'clock.

And on May 12, 1963, an article in the Ocala Star-Banner covering the Spring-Summer Fashion Show held at the Orange Hotel named Mrs. Wilbur Spafford and Miss Belita Low as the new managers of the Orange Hotel dining room.

A matchbook promoting
the restaurant.

But by the summer of 1965, after owning the hotel for just over 4 years, it seems Mr. Mercer was ready to divest himself of the hospitality business altogether.  The following classified ad was placed in the St. Petersburg Independent on July 31, 1965:

HOTEL, 36 rooms, 5 apartments, 3 business rentals, beautiful air-conditioned 70 chair dining-room, fully equipped kitchen, at new shopping center, just off U.S. 41, full price $55,000.  Orange Hotel, Inverness, Fla.  Phone 726-9939.

The latter days of the Orange Hotel.

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