Vinoy light tower holds best view, rich history of St. Pete

As condos and skyscrapers pop up across downtown St. Pete, 'view' is everything. But perhaps the best view of the city has been there for nearly a hundred years -- only it's off limits.

The Vinoy Resort and Hotel, one the most posh and picturesque resorts in Florida, opened in 1925 and set the standard for luxury. With rooms at a mere $20 a night, it was the most expensive hotel in Florida. But it also set a new standard for design with its Mediterranean style and its iconic 120-foot-tall light tower was the tallest point anywhere around. 

“In 1925, on New Year’s Eve, at 6:55 they opened the front doors. Just like they stand today, they looked like back then,” said Vibeke Sanson with the Vinoy.

Sanson explained that the hotel attracted VIPs from all over: presidents Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge, actor Jimmy Stewart, baseball greats Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, and even Marilyn Monroe.

"We didn't like to talk about that at the time because we wanted to respect their privacy," Sanson said with a grin. "But now we're opening the vault."

She also opened a door for FOX 13 that few have ever been through. Hidden inside one of the original penthouse suites is a door into yesteryear -- two steep staircases that lead up to the top of the light tower that's been closed off for more than 50 years. The views once up there are staggering: The only 360-degree views of the city at this height of more than 150 feet.

You can see the new pier, the Dali museum, down Beach Drive. And long before development, you could see the beaches to the west. 

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While up here, we couldn't help but imagine the conversations that happened at that spot back in the day. The light tower was once a private dining area where the VIPs would come to eat and get away from everyone else. 

Now, the stairs and rails are rusty so it's clear it would take a significant investment to bring it up to code. The Vinoy wouldn't say if they have plans to bring it back to life and open it to the public, but it's clear, with its views, it would be a real treat for guests.