What’s old is new again as the Gulfview Hotel held its grand opening Thursday night.
“The key thing about it is that it’s connecting the past to the future,” said Ted Corcoran, President/CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. “It’s the oldest building in the city, and it’s part of the future of Downtown Fort Walton Beach.”
The Gulfview Hotel was built in 1906 and served as a hunting and fishing lodge for several years. It operated as a hotel from 1913 to 1986 and was preserved by the Junior League of the Emerald Coast.
In January 2017, the City accepted the donation of the 113-year-old building from owners, Tom and Nicole Rothrauff and the Wyninegar family. The city also approved moving the building a quarter-mile east of its original location to 115 Miracle Strip Pkwy.
In April 2018, a portion of Highway 98 was closed for several hours as the building was moved to its new location. One contractor, Phillip Dehart, died from injuries after he fell more than 20 feet relocating cable lines during the move. Before the red ribbon was cut Thursday, the crowd outside the Gulfview recognized the man with a brief moment of silence.
At its new location, the building serves as a welcome center and gift shop. The guestrooms upstairs have been converted into nine leased offices. One of the tenants is Rep. Mel Ponder.
“Just a year ago, a lot of us stood out in the streets … (and) I don’t think any of us could envision the final product we’re standing in front of today,” said Mayor Dick Rynearson. “(The Gulfview) anchors our historic district — it completes the package.”
Dozens were standing outside the Gulfview for the ribbon cutting. After more than a year and an estimated total cost of $665,000 to relocate and renovate the building, people were anxious to see the final product.
“I couldn’t believe the attention to detail,” said Mike Ladner. “I hope people come in and appreciate how it used to be — real craftsmanship.”
Rick Rausch of RRR Construction was the contractor of the renovations. He said it can be hard to choose favorite projects, but the Gulfview Hotel was “certainly the oldest.”
Rausch said he was lucky that there was “very little damage” from the relocation process. During renovations, he worked diligently to restore as much of the building’s details as possible.
“You gotta keep some things,” Rausch said. “You can’t bulldoze everything.”
Outside, the original light fixtures were given a new coat of paint. The upstairs hardwood floors are as old as the building itself. Some of the indoor light fixtures were even donated by a former tenant of the hotel.
Out on the upstairs balcony, Caise and Linda Vickery check out the view of Downtown.
“We had our first date at Suds N’ Cinema 34 years ago,” said Linda pointing to the theater just down the street, which is currently going through renovations.
Caise and his family vacationed in the Fort Walton Beach area for years. Now retired from the military, he and his wife made the area their permanent home.
“I remember downtown from the late ‘60s,” Caise said. “It’s nice to see the City preserving history.”
Even longtime Fort Walton Beach residents were impressed with the new Gulfview. Eddie Taylor has roots in Fort Walton Beach. He points out his father in an old photo of a Billy Bowlegs Krewe hanging in the hallway.
“I remember coming to the Gulfview in the fourth grade…there were goats running up the street,” he said with a laugh. “This place brings back a whole lot of memories.”
The welcome center and gift shop inside the Gulfview Hotel will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.