Just a footnote in DeLand’s history?
BY BILL MANCINIK
It now appears that the historic Putnam Hotel could be just a footnote in DeLand’s history. It is reported that demolition is recommended for this old and tired lady.
I was born in DeLand, on New York Avenue, so the Putnam has been present in my daily life for over 70 years. As a youngster, I thought little about it. It was just there, this white and imposing structure. At that time, it was simply a building that had seen better times.
I would hear stories about the hotel. It was once a social center for our community with luxury rooms, banquet and meeting facilities on the top floor, lovely grounds, and a cozy bar in the northeast corner called the Cypress Room.
It was in this bar that my first real experience with the Putnam began. Once I came of age, I made it my favorite watering hole. You could meet friends, have a beer and shoot some pool. It was dark and cozy with pecky-cypress paneling and a real Seminole dugout canoe hanging over the bar where barkeeper Steve Burley ran the show.
The Cypress Room was the real deal. It was a leftover from a different time.
You could wander about the first floor and get a sense of its history. There were preserved local animals, such as heron birds, turtles and raccoons, all encased in glass cabinets. No one was really sure if the elevator worked, so that risk was never taken.
Later, the Cypress Room expanded into the large banquet room adjacent and became the top venue for DeLand’s rock scene. Some really good music was created by top, local bands. It could get pretty wild, with crowds jammed into a tight space. The hotel portion seemed to take on a kind of low-income-housing aspect.
Tommy Smith opened the Amber Inn restaurant in the westerly banquet room after another dining spot called Dr. John’s Night Trip closed shop. Yes, that was really the restaurant’s name.
Tommy pioneered a Tex-Mex menu for DeLand, before any Mexican restaurant had appeared in our community. On occasion, the venue featured the local jazz legend, Noble “Thin Man” Watts.
After the Amber Inn closed, the location turned into a country-western venue called JR’s. It was very popular and packed them in on weekends.
Once the bars closed, the Putnam Hotel began its saga of “What if?” The hotel closed, and owners came and went — each with some grand idea of renovating and repurposing the historic structure, in its perfect Downtown location. Nothing materialized, and she is in the state we see today, perhaps to fall to the wrecking ball.
Old Mr. Google provided some additional background and history. The first hotel on the site was the Grove House, built by Henry DeLand in 1880. As the name suggests, it was in the middle of a grove. A man named Putnam purchased the place in 1885, and it was renamed.
The original Putnam Inn was a smaller wooden structure that burned to the ground in 1921. Such a possibility was a real concern for travelers in those days. No one wants to awake to a raging inferno. The 1923 rebuilt structure became the Putnam Hotel, and boasted solid fireproof, brick, concrete and steel construction.
In the early to mid-20th century, the hotel was owned by families whose descendants still call DeLand home.
I have been a Realtor for many years, and do not often become nostalgic about property. To me, it is more of a commodity. Highest and best use appeals to me. But the Putnam Hotel is different. Through good times and bad, she has stood sentinel over West New York Avenue. For 100 years, she gave all she’s got to locals and visitors alike.
Reality can often be bitter. When and if she goes and the dust has settled, memories can sweeten the loss.
Wonderful history of the Putnam Hotel at: abandonedfl.com/putnam-hotel
— Mancinik, of DeLand, is the originator of The Beacon’s West Volusia Memories series, and the co-author, with Randy Jackson of DeLand, of the book Postcards of Historic DeLand, Florida.