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Florida’s Pink Lady, The Don CeSar Hotel

How Much Do You know About Florida’s Pink Lady, The Don CeSar Hotel?

By Emily Zobanov

Don Cesar Hotel St Pete Beach, FL

If you find yourself on St. Pete Beach, you can’t miss the lovely Don CeSar Hotel.   This hotel, in all it’s pink glory, presents a striking contrast against Florida’s clear blue skies.   Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Don CeSar (currently owned and operated by Lowes Hotels), is the culmination of Thomas Rowe’s vision of a castle-like hotel that paralleled the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach, Hawaii (Bude Nyholm, 2007).   In the mid 1920‘s, Rowe hired Indianapolis contractor Henry Dupont to design the hotel.  The Mediterranean/Moorish design they chose was inspired by hotels in Boca Raton, Coral Gables and Palm Beach.   Originally intended to be a six-story, 110 room hotel built on a $450,000 budget, the project evolved into a 220 room $1.25 million hotel – 300% over budget.  (Wikipedia)!

According to Bude Nyholm, “The grand resort was a hot spot for high society of the famous Great Gatsby era. Famous guests included FDR, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Clarence Darrow, Lou Gehrig and Al Capone.”   After the high life of the Jazz Age ended, the Don survived the Great Depression years thanks to a contract with the New York Yankees owner, Jacob Ruppert, who agreed to house his team at the hotel throughout spring training .

Rowe, who treated his hotel like his home, died suddenly in 1940 without signing his will (in which he’d intended to leave the hotel to his employees).     His estranged wife, who apparently was indifferent to the Don’s fate, inherited the hotel after his death.   Eventually the widow lost the hotel due to back taxes (Bude Nyholm).    At this point the “pink lady” entered a rather grim period.

During WWII, the Army became the owner of the hotel and used it as a convalescent center.   Apparently the hotel survived this phase fairly well until 1945 when it became a Veterans Administration Regional Office.   These folks were focused on the practical use of the hotel and turned a blind eye to its architectural features.    The rooms were stripped and, worst of all, the lovely fish pool fountain was demolished in the lobby in order to facilitate pedestrian traffic.   When the hotel was undergoing restoration in the 1970’s, a decades-old letter was found under the flooring where the fountain had been.  It read as follows:

At this spot in the center of the spacious Don CeSar stood a fish pond covered with imported tile.  The manager, Mr. J,H.F. Dikensheets, decided that the fish pool was unsightly and in the way of pedestrian traffic, so it must be     destroyed. During the Heyday of this hotel, this fish pool was a spot of beauty sitting in the center of this spacious lobby.  It is with much regret that Mr. S.F. Kuban, head carpenter, upon instructions of Mr. W.D. Goodale, superintendent of the building, demolished this pool.  If this letter should be found, it is hoped it   can be published in a newspaper.

The letter was published in the St. Petersburg Times (Bude Nyholm).

Today the Don CeSar is once again the shining pink lady she had been in her Jazz Age heyday.    After a brief period of abandonment in the late 1960’s the hotel had become an eyesore and was in danger of demolition.  Thanks to the outrage and efforts of local citizens the demolition effort was squashed.  The grateful pink lady was purchased and remodeled by a Holiday Inn franchise owner and opened her doors again in 1973 (Wikipedia).

We all know what interior design was like in the 1970’s so who knows what those interiors looked like at the time.  Fortunately, the Don CeSar has been remodeled extensively since then and today she is looking fabulous and very much in sync with her era.    The current owner/operator, Loews Hotels, is a luxury brand.    Click here to read how their website describes an experience at the Don CeSar.

Don CeSar Hotel, St Pete Beach, FL

My personal experience with the Don Cesar has been great.   A few years ago, my husband threw a surprise birthday party for me at the hotel.  What I thought would be a quiet weekend stay turned into a wonderful party with family and friends, catered very professionally by the hotel staff.   I also experienced Spa Oceana and dinner at the Maritana Grille.   I can say only good things about the food and service at this hotel.   And I look forward to going back.

So grab yourself a copy of the Great Gatsby, a martini, and a comfy spot by the pool when you find yourself at Florida’s famous pink lady.

Tampa Bay Real Estate Blog by The HOME Team

Comments

  1. I remember my grandfather taking me for a swim behind the Don when I was about 4. He was Stephen Francis Kuban, head carpenter at the Don. I found the article very interesting. I wonder where that letter is now?

    • admin says:

      Nancy, thanks for sharing! I love the Don! Celebrated my wife’s birthday there not too long ago. Not sure about the letter… I wonder about that myself.

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