TAMPA — It isn’t Strawberry Fields.
But outside The Barrymore Hotel in downtown Tampa, John Lennon stands wearing a sport coat, long hair and his signature eyeglasses.
Steve and Cathy Ferguson walked around the corner at The Barrymore Hotel recently and spotted the life-size statue of Lennon. The couple and their friends couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take some selfies.
“We’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things, but I’ve never seen just a random Beatles’ statue or one of the Beatles standing in front of a hotel somewhere,” said Steve Ferguson, who was visiting from Virginia with his wife before getting on a cruise ship.
“When you came around the corner and you saw it, it just drew you right to it,” Cathy Ferguson said. “It was almost like he was going to talk to you. That was the kind of feeling.’’
Most Tampa residents haven’t yet seen the statue of one of the world’s most celebrated musicians, though it has been displayed outside the hotel, across the street from the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, for about five months.
Those that do inevitably whip out the smartphone for a picture.
“Once it catches people’s eyes they are absolutely surprised when they see it there,” said Larry Collier Jr., general manager and director of hotel operations for H.I. Development, the Barrymore’s development and management company. “We’ve seen numerous people stop and take pictures with it. We’ve seen cars drive by, stop and turn around.’’
The statue’s trip to Tampa began about a year ago, when Robinson Callen, the founder of H.I. Development, saw that the statue was being sold at auction. He sent Collier a photo of the statue and asked for his thoughts.
“I responded back, ‘I love John Lennon,’” Collier said.
Callen, who is retired, put in a bid at an auction on behalf of Fortune Street Partners, which owns The Barrymore and has common shareholders with H.I. Development. Fortune Street Partners won the bid — Collier won’t say for how much — and in October, the auction house delivered the statue, which was placed outside on that day next to the hotel’s sidewalk and near the road.
“It was even better in person,” Collier said. “The detail on that thing is absolutely amazing.”
The statue was designed and made by Cuban sculptor José Villa Soberon. It wasn’t his first Lennon sculpture.
Villa Soberon is well known for a sculpture of Lennon sitting on a park bench that the Cuban government placed in a Havana park in 2000. In a letter to Callen, Villa Soberon said that Lennon sculpture came about after he won a contest in Cuba. Cubans and tourists are fond of the sculpture and regularly sit next to the image of Lennon for a photo, he wrote in a letter to the Callen family.
A Colorado collector saw the sculpture in Havana and commissioned Villa Soberon to make another Lennon sculpture for his garden, according to Villa Soberon’s letter.
Villa Soberon wanted to make a new design so he created “Lennon walking to the future,” which today is outside The Barrymore Hotel.
The artwork fits with the motif at The Barrymore Hotel, which has works from local artists throughout its hotel and grounds, including painter Ray Paul, photographers Todd MacDonald and Nicole Abbett and sculptor Clayton Swartz.
“One of our goals here at the Barrymore is to try to establish that everything we do touches art somehow,” Collier said. “We feel it is so important being located in the gateway to Tampa and the arts district of Tampa. We want to make sure, one, that we support local art.”
They also want Lennon’s statue to serve as a landmark like the Lennon statue in Havana, Collier said.
“I feel like we can turn Tampa’s John Lennon (statue) into an equally photographed and widely recognized landmark,” Collier said.