The Parliament House Aging Lady Landmark Gets a Major Facelift

Reprinted from AllBoy, May 2000

The Parliament House Aging Lady Landmark Gets a Major Facelift.

By Nye Willden

Mention the name “Parliament House,” and you’re going to get a reaction… either a blank stare from those who won’t admit that they’ve either heard of the place – or that they’ve been there – or a smile of recognition.

Founded as a gay resort 25 years ago, the Parliament House, a large U-shaped, motel structure on Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, Florida, has served as a gay Mecca for thousands and thousands of gays who were looking for a few more thrills than nearby Disney World, Epcot, MGM or Universal Studios provided.

Whether the Parliament House was ever “chic” is debatable. It certainly must have been a lot less broken down and tacky than it eventually became, but the “P” House, as it’s commonly called, was always notorious – a hedonist’s paradise. When every gay establishment was still operating somewhat underground, the Parliament House was a place where you could always go to get played and laid. And the place was internationally known, drawing gay vacationers from all over Europe as well as the United States.

The old lady, like a broken down whore, had become quite shabby, even tacky. Plaster was peeling off the walls, the draperies and bedspreads had too many washings, the carpets were stained with mysterious substances that we can only shudder about and the air conditioning had become such in name only.

Rumors had been circulating for the past few years that something was about to happen. The then-owner, a brother of the founder, obviously had no idea how to run a gay resort and even less interest in doing so (although the steady income must have been some compensation) and the place was going to the dogs. It was announced sporadically that “new” owners were about to take possession, but in the end nothing happened and many who loved the P House breathed a sigh of relief. Who minded the hustlers, drunks and silly little faggots who prowled the walkways and hallways until the late hours of the morning, being loud, obnoxious and sometimes ever sinister? After all, this was a place of revelry where, no matter what you looked like, had a sexual preference for, or acted like, you could find a bed partner for an hour or a night, provided you were persistent.

Over the past year, the police had begun a campaign of harassment, invading the grounds with their undercover cops who were arresting people for indecent exposure, driving through the complex with huge spotlights which they shone into private rooms and literally playing havoc with people’s privacy.

Things were looking bad.

And then, along came developer and entrepreneur Donald Granatstein and his wife Susan Unger, and the bought the place in partnership with the Parliament Partners and began making plans for some big changes!

Again, the rumors flew… that the new owners were going to renovate and sell, turn the place straight, get rid of the cruising, blah, blah, blah. All of these rumors were ridiculous if you thought about them. Here was a complex in the middle of a decidedly dicey area on the fringe of a ghetto where no straight family, black or white, would dream of staying. The place is nowhere near any tourist attraction, and without a liberated sexual atmosphere it wouldn’t stand a chance with the gay clientele, either.

“What our goal was and is,” says Granatstein, “is to remodel and make the place attractive and desirable for the gay tourist. We made the cruising more subtle and got rid of the blatant sex that was happening in public areas, and we began appealing to a wider range of gay visitors. And I think we did that without compromising the general atmosphere of the place.”

And, the new owners made dramatic changes in record time. According to Mr. Granatstein, “we put a deadline of December 31 on the changes to the exterior, the courtyard and the entertainment complex, but even I didn’t think we would make the deadline. Much to my astonishment, we did and everything looks beautiful. It doesn’t look the same at all.”

He’s right, the courtyard was once the main parking lot and it is now a painted concrete courtyard with beautiful flowers, palm trees, various plantings in pots, beautiful patio furniture and wonderful lighting which, at night, gives the area a true “fairytale” look. And it’s great cruising.
The theater, which had also fallen on hard times, is now a beautiful club, reminiscent of the best places in Las Vegas (where the Granatstein’s were once business partners with Debbie Reynolds in her hotel). The drag shows are now Broadway professional and the lighting and other theater amenities second-to-none. The buildings have all been painted, the doors to the rooms replaced, the restaurant totally refurbished and a number of the rooms remodeled. I stayed in one of them and it was luxurious, with beautiful tile in the bathrooms, soft lighting in the room and the walls painted soft, inviting hues of gentle beige and browns. The furniture is invitingly soft, blond wood… hotel-like but very comfortable. And, Granatstein vows that any raises in rates will be modest… just a few dollars at most.

To launch their new Parliament House, a huge Millennium New Year’s Eve bash was held on the grounds where the patio paint was barely dry. And what a bash it was! Miss P, the most famous drag queen in the Southeast, who has held court at the Parliament House for years and years, was flown in at midnight suspended from the bottom of a helicopter!

Dressed as Peter Pan in skintight green, Miss P was lowered to the courtyard where she took a bow and the disappeared, appearing a moment later clad in a “big bird” yellow feather outfit. She exclaimed that the helicopter trick was the “fucking thrill of my life!”

It was a great beginning although many of the guests were picking potting soil and leaves out of their hair from the violent stirring of the propellers of the copter.

The show proceeded with a great drag show, other entertainment, scantily clad go-go boys, gallons of champagne and, naturally, lots of sexual assignations all over the place. It was a grand beginning… and promise of more to come.

Granatstein credits his wife, Susan Unger for the efficient and marked changes. “Susan does everything,” he says. “She’s the decorator, manager and contractor. She’s done an amazing job.” He also credits Susan with the original idea of buying the resort. “For years she’s been after me to buy or build a gay resort, pointing out how important the gay tourist has become and that they have so much disposable income. Also, Susan and I have lots of gay friends and are completely comfortable in the gay community, as is our combined family of six (adult) kids.”

And then, another major change is taking place and that is the razing of a large trailer court complex to the north of the Parliament House, which the group also owns, and the building of over two-hundred time-share condominiums for sale to gays. “Already,” says Granatstein, “queries are pouring in from all over the world from people interested in purchasing one of the units.”

And, the owners plan to expand this idea of a luxury hotel/time share complex to other major areas of the country, establishing a “chain” of Parliament House resorts where gays can relax, meet each other, have a wonderful vacation in the security of knowing that they’re in a totally gay-friendly atmosphere and that there’s always the chance of meeting “Mr. Right” (or at least “Mr. Right-away”) during a vacation.”

Watch for the P House’s web site, for their national advertising campaign, and plan a trip to Florida for a stay at the famous and now new Parliament House. And, what the hell, you might even plan a visit to Disney World. After all, they’re gay-friendly too.

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