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New Port Richey

A quick turn off hectic US 19 will reward you with a delightful visit to New Port Richey. Nestled along the banks of the Pithlachascotee (Cotee) River is a bit of Roaring 20s Florida.

New Port Richey is a city of 16,000 residents (2017) along the Gulf of Mexico with 1920s historic architecture and a thriving downtown once known as the Hollywood of the East.

Located in west-central Pasco County, New Port Richey encompasses a total area of 4.6 miles. The Gulf of Mexico coastline borders the west side of the city, and the Pithlachascotee River runs through the city’s heart. New Port Richey is considered part of the Tampa Bay area and is part of Florida’s Nature Coast.

 

New Port Richey History and Currency

A quick turn off hectic US 19 rewards visitors with a delightful downtown in New Port Richey. Nestled along the banks of the Pithlachascotee (Cotee) River is a bit of Roaring 20s Florida.

New Port Richey was a magnet for the rich and famous of the 1920s, including the silent screen star, Thomas Meighan, and the famous golfer, Gene Sarazen. It is a great place to explore still today.

New Port Richey was to be the Hollywood of the East

These stars of yesteryear pictured the area as the “Hollywood of the East.” They built beautiful homes along the river and historic buildings in the downtown. One of the more famous buildings is the Hacienda Hotel, where movie stars would winter. It was designed by Thomas Reed Martin, opening in 1927.

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The Mission Revival architecture bones are there, but the hotel fell into disrepair over the years. It was sold several times and was converted to an ACLF in 1986, and then closed for several years.

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One of the wonderful arches in the interior of the Hacienda Hotel building.

The Hacienda Hotel property was purchased for renovation. I was privileged to tour the property. where I happily discovered that most of its architectural embellishments have been kept in decent repair. I wonder whose coat of arms is displayed over the ornate plaster mantle above a fireplace.

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A fireplace in the Hacienda Hotel building, gives an example of the magnificent plasterwork that has survived its many owners and business incarnations. Note the family crest above the fireplace.

Hacienda Hotel History

On Oct. 24, 1996, the Hacienda Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Many say the old hotel is haunted but I could not find any real “proof.” There is a “secret” floor that can be accessed from outside, or from a door in the kitchen.  It’s called the Bordello. Additionally, there is a tunnel (no longer accessible) that goes out to the river where liquor and “ladies” could be smuggled in during Prohibition.

The Hacienda Hotel was built of “hollow tiles,” an architectural process that was popular in the 1920s. The hollow tiles are covered with stucco and painted to give a Spanish style.

In 2014 the Florida legislature allocated $1 million toward the restoration of the Hacienda.

Murals enhance Downtown New Port Richey’s Charm

There are murals on several of the downtown buildings which are fun to explore. My favorite is the one at the corner of Main and Bank Street, entitled, “A 1920’s Day on the Pithlachascotee River,” by Keith Goodson. It uses local people’s faces on the 1920’s characters.

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A 1920s Day on the Pithlachascotee River mural in downtown New Port Richey

There is a plaque on the mural that names all the participants which marries past and present. All the downtown murals are very good and worth a gander.

Sims Park features great Festivals and Live Music throughout the Year

In addition to the murals, the river and the historic buildings, New Port Richey’s downtown area has Sims Park. Sims Park borders the Cotee river, the Hacienda Hotel and Main Street, reaching over to Orange Lake.

Sims Park features a nice outdoor amphitheater and several festivals are held there each year featuring live music, vendors, and activities for residents and visitors. My favorite is the Cotee River Seafood & Blues Festival because I love blues and seafood. It is usually held near the end of April each year.

Greater New Port Richey Main Street started many of the festivals and is a great resource for downtown commerce opportunities.

Historic Richey Suncoast Theatre

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A 1920s photo of the Thomas Meighan Theater courtesy of fivay.org

The Richey Suncoast Theatre was built in 1925 at a cost of $60,000. It was originally named the Meighan Theatre after the silent film star, Thomas Meighan. Meighan’s film, The New Klondike, was the premier screening.

A pipe organ was installed in 1927. The Meighan theater was the center of a controversy about being open on Sundays in New Port Richey. A January 4, 1927 vote of the city’s citizens kept the venue open Sundays, along with baseball games being ok, but not dancing.

In 1930, a “sound system” was installed and sound movies made their debut. In 1934, the Great Depression hit and the magnificent theater was closed.

The Meighan Theatre becomes The Richey Suncoast Theater

One of the many iterations of the Meighan Theater, probably taken in the 1940s -1950s, courtesy of fivay.org
One of the many iterations of the Meighan Theater, probably taken in the 1940s -1950s, courtesy of fivay.org

Like the Hacienda Hotel, this extravagant building would be bought, sold, managed and change hands many times over the ensuing years.

In 1972, the theater was renamed The Richey Suncoast Theater and community theater featuring live performances began.

In 2007, a complete remodel was done on the theater’s tired interior. Air conditioning vents, lighting, carpet, walls, and seating were upgraded. The exterior was repainted and the gold dome regilded. It is beautiful and functional once again.

Live theater is active there today and it is great fun to visit downtown and see a local production. Their schedule can be found here.

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The Richey Suncoast Theater today.

Downtown Dining is Alive in New Port Richey

There several nice restaurants and taverns in the downtown area, ranging from the home-style Greek food at Christina’s Restaurant to Dulcet, a very upscale restaurant, and lounge, offering live music, requiring proper dress, and impressing everyone with their spectacular food and atmosphere. Who says you can’t put a high-end juke joint in a historic downtown?

There is pizza, fresh soups and salads, and a traditional tea room, The White Heron Tea and Gifts. The White Heron requires reservations for high tea, but offers a quiet room for walk-ins to enjoy a pot of fresh-brewed flavor.

Several bars and pubs serve food as well as beer, wine, and cocktails. An ice cream parlor, bakery, coffee shop, and shaved ice store fill out an ever-changing mix.

dulcet
After renovating a broken-down building at Grand and Missouri, the Dulcet opened December 31, 2014. Greater New Port Richey Main Street proudly presented the owners with their Downtown Beautification Award.

Recreation and Aquatic Center, Library and Parks are all part of New Port Richey

Sims Park, a favorite for events and concerts is right on the banks of the Pithlachascotee and runs behind the Hacienda. It houses a nice playground, including handicapped-accessible equipment, a bandshell, and boat launches. A great library is downtown and several blocks north of the library is a recreation and aquatic center with multiple pools, workout equipment, meeting rooms and more.

Back to the beginning of this post. Take a turn off US 19 at Main Street and enjoy one of the Nature Coast’s more famous cities: New Port Richey.  Then let us know what your favorite part is.

A Video of New Port Richey by Anew Films