The much-discussed Soreno Hotel, a landmark on St. Petersburg's
waterfront for 67 years, was the city's first million-dollar
It opened on New Year's Day 1924, the first of 10 hotels to
be built in a three-year period in the St. Petersburg area.
Now that was a boom.
Owner Soren Lund -- who named the building for his son, Soreno
-- had the hotel built in the style of the day, with small rooms
and small bathrooms. Whatever its fate, the big Mediterranean-style
hotel at the corner of Beach Drive and First Avenue NE played
a significant part in St. Petersburg's history. For its builder
and owner, often likened to Horatio Alger, the Soreno represented
his finest achievement.
The Soreno is discussed by Ray Arsenault in his book St. Petersburg
and the Florida Dream. Soren Lund, a rather doleful Dane who
came to this country when he was a teen-ager, worked his way
up through the hotel business. He started as a busboy, advanced
to manager and finally owned a number of successful resort hotels.
He and his wife, the former Bertha Nickse, came to St. Petersburg
in 1910 to buy and operate the Huntington Hotel. They sold it
in 1920 and retired briefly.
"They were a great team," said former hotelier John
Knowlton. "He would work the back end (the business part)
of the hotel and she would be out front with all her charm and
graciousness. She had half the northeast section rented out with
the Huntington's overflow.
"Then some of the city fathers wanted St. Petersburg
to have another good hotel," Knowlton said. "Knowing
of the Lunds' success at the Huntington, they encouraged them
to build the Soreno."
Designed by Atlanta architect G. L. Preacher, the Soreno had
300 rooms when it opened. It had a fifth-floor coffee shop, and
its two towers were an outstanding feature of the architecture,
Widely known hotel manager Frank Dodge was hired to manage
the Soreno. Dodge brought his staff from Mountainview House in
Whitefield, N.H., for the winter until Lund's son would be old
enough to manage it.
Knowlton, who was hired out of the University of Florida,
worked at the Soreno during winters and at the New Hampshire
hotel during summers for 10 years.
When the Soreno went into receivership during the Depression,
the receivers realized no one could run it better than the Lunds,
Knowlton said, so the Lunds continued to operate it. As the nation
pulled out of the Depression and entered World War II, the Soreno,
like nearly every other hotel in St. Petersburg, was occupied
by people in the armed forces.
Betty Nickse Cormier, whose father was Mrs. Lund's brother,
recalls Soren Lund as "Uncle Joe" and his son as "Reno."
"As children, we used to have to go down on Sunday and
Uncle Joe took us for a drive. He was the world's worst driver,
and that wasn't the way we wanted to spend the day," she
"But I do remember Christmas Eve at the hotel. They would
turn out all the lights in the lobby and a choir with candles
would come down the stairs from the mezzanine. It was beautiful.
Then we'd all have popcorn balls and punch."
She remembers her uncle as "not what you'd think of for
a hotel man."
"He was very outspoken," she said. "His son
and wife had all the personality."
Soren Lund's later days were filled with unhappiness. His
wife had a stroke in 1937 and died several years later. His son
died of a brain tumor in 1945, and his daughter-in-law, Aris,
died shortly after. So deeply did Lund feel their losses that
he had a painting done on the east wall of the hotel ballroom
depicting a knight in armor going "upward and onward to
victory," symbolizing, as reported in a 1945 newspaper story,
"man's lifelong endeavor to surmount his difficulties."
Lund sold the Soreno to the Alsonett Hotel chain in 1944 but
remained chairman of the board of directors.
He died in 1946 at age 75 after he slipped and fell while
dodging a city bus.