Construction of our first hotel begun in 1905 by Edwin T. King for Philemon Bryan, a railroad supervisor who arrived a decade earlier to manage construction of the line from the New River to Pompano.
Before then, Bryan lodged visitors at his house. But as more Northerners arrived to buy bargeloads of vegetables from Broward County farms, he saw an opportunity. He had the New River Inn built next to his house, just steps across the tracks from the long-vanished train station.
The hotel’s opening in 1907 was big news. The Daily Miami Metropolis wrote: “Mr. Bryan has built a beautiful structure, of artificial stone, three stories high and containing 25 fine bedrooms, fifteen feet square, well-lighted and ventilated throughout.” The article went on to tout the inn’s “modern conveniences such as baths… and electric bell service.” Activities for guests included fishing in the nearby New River (“tarpon, black bass, trout, bream”), quail hunting “in the surrounding woods” and deer hunting “on the outskirts of farms.” You can almost hear Bryan feeding the words to the reporter.
Not that there weren’t other places to spend the night. The first official lodging came via Frank Stranahan, whose trading post began offering more airy accommodations – in tents.
But Bryan was not only a pioneer, he was also a crafty entrepreneur. When trains pulled into the station he’d send his sons, Tom and Reed, to bring passengers to the hotel. If it was full, the sons would convince people to get back on the train, thus depriving the boarding houses and, later, hotels of potential business.
New lodgings went up in the nearby Brickell area. The Bivans family, previously proprietors of a grocery and boarding house, opened their hotel in 1922. Its façade still exists as part of Las Olas Riverfront. Another façade in the Riverfont is from the Marylander.
The city’s first upscale tourist lodging was the Broward Hotel, which opened in 1919 on Andrews Avenue (at the corner of Las Olas Boulevard). When filmmaker D.W. Griffith arrived with his company and production crew, for the shooting of The Idol Dancer, the hotel furniture was still in crates. Not a problem: Griffith ordered his crew to open the crates and unload them into their quarters, saving the hotel staff the trouble.
Promoted as “A Place of Elegance, Yet Reasonable,” the Broward Hotel was for our fledgling city nothing less than majestic. It was designed by prominent architect August Geiger, who also built the Dade County Courthouse and other now-designated historic landmarks. The hotel’s ads also touted its golf course and “the last word in fishing and ocean bathing.” The bellboys were Seminole youths who wore their native dress.
Alas, none of this was to last. After Bryan’s death, the New River Inn was managed by his daughters before it eventually closed in 1955. His son sold it to the city not long after and it now serves as the museum of history.
The other early hotels are all gone, too, including the Broward Hotel (later called Hotel Broward). As visitors were lured away to the new beach hotels in the 1940s, its glamour faded. The building was demolished in 1974.