All Roads Lead to Mandalay
by Donna Malloy
Postcard courtesy of Clearwater Historical Society.
"Old lady 880" has had as many names and controversy surrounding her as actress Elizabeth Taylor. Known in recent years as Regatta Beach Club, the original building began its life in 1920 and was to be called the Kipling Arms Hotel. The nine story luxury hotel was destined to be the crown jewel of Kipling Plaza on north Clearwater Beach.
In his book Clearwater, A Sparkling City, historian Roy Cadwell stated that L.B. Skinner (who owned most of Clearwater Beach at the time), "was an admirer of poet Rudyard Kipling and named Mandalay Avenue and Kipling Plaza after Kipling's poem "On the Road to Mandalay."
Skinner's vision for Clearwater Beach was coming to fruition and all roads were leading to 880 Mandalay. A bridge linking Sunset Point Road in Dunedin to Kipling Plaza at the north end of Clearwater Beach was proposed as well as a double promenade at Kipling Plaza, lined with shops leading to the grand hotel.
But the Great Depression changed both the fate of the beach bridge and the Kipling Arms Hotel. Both projects were abandoned. Left standing on the prime gulf front site were four cinderblock walls and stairs with no destination; the only proof that the project ever existed.
For years the residents called the weathered site the "old hotel" and eventually it became the desired hang-out for local teenagers. It was rumored that a young woman was raped there; but that story has never been substantiated.
The "old hotel" remained an abandoned construction site until after WWII. In response to America's post WWII demand for housing, banks were now willing to approve of 100% financing. A second developer borrowed several million dollars to complete the now proposed 12 story Kipling Arms Hotel. But, according to staff writer Anne McKay Garris of the Clearwater Gazette, the developer absconded with the second million and the Kipling was taken over by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). FHA morphed into the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and eventually the department inherited 880 Mandalay.
In December of 1981, HUD was given 60 days by the city of Clearwater to remove cancer-causing asbestos used to coat the ceilings at Mandalay Shores during its construction in 1966.
In March 1982, HUD sold Mandalay Shores to Tampa developer Alfre Hoffman Jr. (the controlling partner of Mandalay Associates Ltd.), for $6.2 million after rejecting efforts by Burr and other residents to purchase the building." (Jack Burr was the head of a group of former Mandalay Shores' residents who opposed the sale. The group was called the Mandalay Shores Housing Association and Jack Burr was its president.)
In May of 1983, prompted by U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles, HUD began looking into reports of wrongdoing in its 1982 sale of Mandalay Shores. According to Clearwater Sun's staff writer Jeff Mangum: "…the inquiry involves contentions that HUD wrongfully guaranteed the private buyers protection from monetary loss if the venture were to fail."
When Hoffman, as Mandalay Associates Ltd., acquired 880, he also inherited from HUD a $500-a-day fine from the Clearwater Municipal Code Enforcement Board as the penalty for failing to remove the asbestos from the ceilings. Appealing to the Code Board in April of 1983, the Board sliced $60,300 from Mandalay Shore's outstanding fine, leaving Hoffman with a bill for the remaining $6,700.
In an article dated April 21, 1983, Mangum stated: "According to the city, all of the asbestos was removed by last Friday, 134 days behind schedule." Mandalay Shores was now asbestos free; or was it?
Once the drama settled down, life was good at Mandalay Shores. In addition to Gulf front accommodations at low rental rates, the complex boasted a restaurant, beauty salon, game room, community room, guards, fishing pier and an Olympic sized pool smack on the sand. The residents felt so comfortable at Mandalay Shores that some of them could be seen strolling the long hallways in their bathrobes and not feel self-conscious.
Eventually, Mandalay Shores became 880 West and then became 880 Mandalay. In the early part of 2001, rentals were going well at 880 Mandalay. A Gulf side efficiency rented for approximately $650-$700 a month. The restaurant catered weekend pool parties and live entertainment was also provided. Life was good at 880 Mandalay.
After years of speculation that 880 Mandalay would eventually go condo, in July of 2004, Crescent Heights, a New York based developer, purchased 880 Mandalay for $46.3 million and renamed it Regatta Beach Club (RBC). Crescent Heights is known as one of the largest condo conversion companies in the United States today. The existing renters were offered a 10% discount if they "converted" to buyer status. In one day, sixty of the 349 condominiums were contracted. Buyers lined the length of the building the first day 880 Mandalay was offered for sale to the public.
Should I buy or not buy? That was the question on everyone's mind for months once the condos were offered for sale. A young Russia woman, the victim of a love triangle, jumped to her death as a result of the uncertainty of her future. Her boyfriend was overheard in the hallway saying he was "not sure what to do." Apparently he was breaking up with her and she did not want to return to Russia.
A week later, the Russian woman "appeared " to an 880 Mandalay resident. "She was wearing a flowered dress and she smiled and told me he was happy" stated the resident.
The conversion process soon began, and similar to Hoffman's experience, the developers discovered the presence of asbestos in the flooring material of the condominiums. Because of this new development, the conversion was delayed until the asbestos was removed from the tile flooring. Regatta Beach Club was once again claimed to be asbestos free.
Since converting from rentals to ownership, everyday life haschanged at Regatta Beach Club. The restaurant and beauty salon have long since closed, the pool parties are history, the association charges owners $1 per page for a local FAX and the front desk no longer accepts packages.
But, in today's ever changing world, the one constant that RBC has to offer is its uninterrupted view of the Gulf of Mexico and its close proximity to pristine Caladesi Island, voted the country's #1 beach for 2008. Life is good at Regatta Beach Club.
Postcard courtesy of the Clearwater Historical Society.
Return to Current Edition