Mike Morgan Says

Of Innkeepers and Hard Cash

Anent the off times frantic financing of hotels you probably have heard the ancient chestnut of the fellow who put together a multi-million complex mortgage deal. “The only drawback right now,” he complained, “is that they want five thousand bucks in cash.” It’s a worn-out wheeze on the Beach.  But I recalled it when I heard of how a couple of youthful hotel men became pioneer Florida operators in 1907.

It was told to me by Roger deWardt Lane (“that’s a small  ‘d,’” he cautioned), who is comptroller at the Diplomat Hotel. Roger is a third generation hotel man whose forebears were Proper Bostonians who got into the innkeeping trade through a most singular route.  At the behest of the Episcopal Church.

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THE CHURCH inherited a summer resort hotel in New Hampshire.  Roger’s step-grandfather and grandmother presided over a brood of five sons.  The family was highly respected and church officials asked if they would operate the hotel, though all were novices.  They figured with a family that size problems would be eliminated.

Thus in the 1890’s the Pinnacle Summer House came under the new management.  It proved to be a most successful operation.  Prices were moderate.  A fellow could get a room and board for $7 a week.  Anyone wanting a luxury treatment could rent the $12-a-week suite.

Two of the sons, A.H. Lane (Roger’s father) and E. Lane made the hotel business their life work. They came, to Daytona Beach in 1907 where A.H. learned that a modern hotel was available for lease, which would enable the brothers to take over the hotel.

Terms were arrived at.  The great obstacle was that $450 was needed to close the deal.  A.H. had $400, his total bankroll.  Brother Ed had fifty bucks.  But Brother E was reluctant to invest his entire assets in what might be a bum deal.

He took two days to think it over, then decided: “O.K. I’ll gamble.”  So with $450 they went into business as proprietors of the Bennett, a class hotel with all modern improvements: electric lights, heat, call bells, running water, both hot and cold.  And a good cuisine.  The place commanded seasonal rates of $3 and $4 a day, meals included.

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THE VENTURE flourished.  By 1911 the brothers were able to take over a second hotel, The Oaks.

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Then, in the early 1920’s the brothers leased the Edgewater Inn at St. Petersburg, which still stands.  At that time the Edgewater was considered the status hostelry of the area.  The boom was in fullest and lushest flower.

In a gesture intended not only to take advantage of the free flow of money, but also establish without question the preeminence of the Edgewater, A.H. Lane boosted his base rate from $7 a day to the extravagant charge of $10. Other hoteliers instantly predicted this rash action would prompt guests to check out en masse and the Lane brothers would go broke. Instead the reverse held true.  You couldn’t get into the place.

Some weeks later other hotel keepers reassessed rates. What eventually felled the brothers was not the hike in rates but the bust of the boom.  That, coupled with A.H.’s accounting systems which was a marvel of confusion and auditor’s nightmare.

Which is why Roger, after thoroughly training himself in other facets of innkeeping, decided to specialize in hotel accounting.

But can he start a resort hotel for $450?

Columnist Mike Morgan wrote this piece for the Miami Herald Newspaper December 15, 1967.