For the past 35 years, a house on the outskirts of Woodlawn cemetery has been a haven to travelers in Central Tampa where they can relax and escape from the heat and hustle of one of Florida's biggest cities.
A truly rare site in a state where Holiday Inns and Motel 6's are as common as palm trees and reptiles, Tampa's only hostel is known around the world for being a place where you never know who you're going to meet, but you can bet you're going to be entertained.
"It's just a real chill place," owner and operator Bruce Holland said. "The atmosphere changes on a daily basis. One day, there might be 25 people staying here and the next only a few. It's just a nice environment. Hostel goers are different, as soon as they come in they are in a conversation with somebody."
It was 1977 when Bruce's brother, Mark Holland, bought the house on Plymouth Street and Ola Avenue in Tampa Heights. The aspiring musician originally created a bed and breakfast out of the home, which is a tribute to famous Americana music pioneer Gram Parsons. After trips to Europe playing his music, Holland fell in love with the idea of the hostel. He would begin replicating what he saw upon his return to Tampa.
By 1990, he had acquired the house next door as well and had formed the 10-bedroom facility that now welcomes visitors and musical acts from all over the world each year.
"Everyone is really nice and even though I've had people from all over the world stay here, I've never had people clash with one another," Bruce Holland said. "People do their own cooking in the kitchens or barbecue on the grill. We have live music on the weekends, and we keep the doors open to the public. We don't sell beer here, but you're welcome to bring your own."
It didn't come without a share of controversy, however, as Mark had built the entire hostel, complete with a crow's nest, dorm rooms, jacuzzi and live music area without a single permit from the city. As authorities became aware of what was happening, they threatened to close Gram's Place down. Local residents, however, had other ideas.
"There were people around the city who knew the system pretty well, and they stepped in and saved the place," Bruce Holland said. "Three hundred people showed up to those hearings and demanded the city keep it. They felt it was good for the neighborhood because when Mark got here there was a lot of drug trafficking and prostitution around here. He was instrumental in cleaning a lot of that up."
In November 2007, Mark Holland committed suicide at the facility, leaving behind a legacy of creativity and good vibes. Five months later, as Gram's Place began to slip into disarray, brothers Bruce and Jim stepped in to take control and save the hostel.
"I was in real estate at the time but the market was just going into the dumps," Bruce said. "I thought I would assess this place and hire a manager, but one thing led to another, and needless to say, I don't care about going back to real estate."
Since taking over, Bruce has fallen in love with the challenge that Gram's Place presents. He has shored up the plumbing and electrical work, replaced his brother's old recording studio beneath the main house with more lodging and maintained the theme, decor and ideas that have made Gram's Place what it is.
"You get to meet a lot of interesting people here," Holland said. "I enjoy the work. It's pretty much stress free, and everybody is laid back. More and more local neighbors are finding out about us and having their guests and friends stay with us."
Every now and then a celebrity will pop up and stay at Gram's Place — just last month, Rick Derringer stayed there, Holland said — but guests are as wide ranging as the decor on the walls of its bedrooms, which are themed into different genres of music such as jazz, blues, rock and roll and country. The amenities include a laundry facility and a steady diet of touring and local musicians performing live right out in front of your room.
"We're not making a lot of money here," Holland said. "But we're paying the bills and having a good time."
For more information on Gram's Place, visit their website or call 813-221-0596.