By Hannah Tucker
Photography by Caroline Maxcy Fox
The Lady in Pink has remained empty of promise for over 30 years along Golfview Road. You have likely passed by her and noticed the iconic pink paint continuing to fade or witnessed key pieces of history being taken from her. Through a deep dive online and some old tax returns, Robert Blackmon and his family decided to take on the challenge of saving Harder Hall and restoring her to a mission she was always meant for—creating memories.
The Blackmon family is no stranger to the restoration of historic properties. Their family restoration ventures began in 2008 with the purchase of a couple of homes in the Saint Petersburg and Tampa Bay areas. They decided to pivot into the multifamily market so that they could take more time in the renovation and restoration of larger properties, without the profit from sale being the measurement of their success. With opportunity still in Saint Petersburg, Robert Blackmon knew that it was time to branch out and expand on the family’s success. Through his search online, Blackmon came across Harder Hall. After giving the listing a quick look over, he decided that it was not the right venture and continued his search.
“My parents recently moved into a 1924 Mediterranean home that they restored, which was also dilapidated,” stated Blackmon. “As they were moving, we were sorting through boxes of files, and I was shredding and shredding old tax returns. I kept seeing on tax returns of my grandfather’s same name—Sebring. I thought, wait a second, that’s where that hotel that I saw was. If my grandfather was invested there, maybe I should check it out.”
After subscribing to the local newspaper, the family learned that Harder Hall was in her final days and was slated for demolition. Hoping that the demolition was not approaching quickly, Blackmon reached out to a local realtor to find out more information on the property. The opportunity arose for the Blackmon family to make a trip to Sebring and tour the Lady in Pink before her final days, anticipating that the structure would be rundown to the extent of needing demolition. Blackmon stated, “On the way out of the tour, we almost couldn’t keep straight faces. This place does need everything, but structurally it’s nowhere near as bad as the media portrayed.” Following the tour, he had three separate contractors walk through on separate occasions and each one stated that the bones were good.
The main reason for solidifying this deal was the personality of Sebring. “The character, the culture of the town and every single person we have met here have been incredible,” stated Blackmon. “The values of the people, the culture, and the quality of life is very high in Sebring.”
The community of Sebring is so tightly woven that a common phrase is often used: you can’t go to the grocery store here without running into someone you know. The Blackmon family is a true extension of that mentality. Their family is going to become an integral part of this community with plans to restore a needed lifeline to the tourism industry as well as a beloved local venue. On the long list of repairs, the Blackmon family plans to touch on every element of Harder Hall. The hope of the family is for the community to understand that there were talks of this place being demolished just 12 months ago, and it is in dire need of repairs. Blackmon noted that this project is not going to happen overnight and there is a very long road ahead.
So, what will the Lady in Pink become? The Blackmon family has plans to restore Harder Hall as a luxury resort. By having an established structure with good bones and an existing layout with blueprints, the next phase is to make it functional again. Blackmon ensures that although it will be luxury quality, “the pricing is still going to be in line with other hotels in town.” The destination tourism market is going to be a huge asset to Harder Hall, but the Blackmon family also anticipates a draw from the cultural heritage tourism market for travelers who want to vacation and visit historic locations.
Some additions he hopes to bring in are a lobby bar, pool bar, fine dining restaurant, and pickleball courts just to name a few. Locals won’t need to book a room to enjoy the amenities of the luxury hotel. “These are the places you will go, and we want it to be so inherent that if you’re having a business meeting or meeting friends, you’re going to go there,” says Blackmon.
The main goal of this restoration is to remain as close to the original as possible. The first step in this process is to repair the roof. After finding a box of the original roof tiles hidden in a crawlspace, Blackmon was able to import Spanish clay tiles directly from Spain to ensure that the restoration of the roof would be a true representation of the original. The next repair on the list will be the windows. The family decided on hurricane impact windows to add a soundproof element which will ensure a true resort feel. One major step that is happening soon will be the tenting for termites. With a contract signed and ready to go, you won’t want to miss photographing the biggest tent in town!
Harder Hall was updated 20 years ago with various electrical and plumbing improvements, so the next step will be to see which of those are operational. Blackmon ensures that if any element of Harder Hall needs to be updated, they will do it.
One piece of history that the Blackmon family is excited to restore is the original wrought iron in the main lobby. Another main lobby addition is a 7-foot chandelier, which is already waiting in a storage unit for its big day.
Blackmon ensures that this resort is going to be something that the Sebring community will have a huge stake in and won’t just be for tourists to enjoy.
“What I stress to everyone is that Sebring is one of the most well-defined secret southern cities that exists,” Blackmon states excitedly. “There is a huge sense of place here and sense of place is all that anyone is looking for these days in tourism and culture. Where else are you going to find a city on a circle and on the water? Every single building on the circle is a contributing National Register Property, which is unheard of. I’m hoping that everyone will see that we care a lot about this town and making this right for generations to come.”
Waterside, Blackmon plans to install floating docks. The hope is to have boat rentals and boat slips for guests of the resort as well as visiting locals. This will allow for traveling on Lake Jackson so that the waterfront areas and surrounding locations can be utilized by the community and not just residents who live on Lake Jackson. Blackmon states, “We want there to be community ownership of not only the hotel and the hotel grounds but the waterfront as well.”
There is no shortage of challenges surrounding this project, but one that the Blackmon family hopes will soon subside is the vandalism and looting. There are many historical pieces that have been stolen from the hotel during its many years of vacancy, but more have gone missing in just the short time that the Blackmon family has taken ownership.
One way that Blackmon hopes the community can help in preserving the history of Harder Hall is by donating historical pieces to help build a museum at the resort. He jokes, “Even if you didn’t steal them, if you have any historic pieces, we would love to see them. We are hoping to showcase the history, so if you have china, architectural elements, programs or photos, please share them because we want this to be a real community asset to the resort. We want to try and bring as much of the historic elements back as we can.”
More than anything, the Blackmon family is so appreciative of the excitement that the City of Sebring and the community have shown to them at the news of having Harder Hall rise again. It is going to take a lot of time before any signs of change are visible from the outside, but this will be a true labor of love. You can’t reverse the momentum of a downslide without first taking the time to stabilize it, and that is just what the Blackmon’s plan to do.
Out of respect for Sebring, they want to take the time to do everything right for the Lady in Pink. They hope to become one of those families that you run into at the grocery store, because they are here to make a lasting impact on our community, and theirs.
In my book Mallory House, Mallory Hall is based upon my memories of Harder Hall – complete fiction of course, but I remember modeling children’s fashions there ad s young child. Love Sebring history.