WASHINGTON: When is a luxury hotel far more than just another luxurious vacation experience? When it’s The Biltmore Miami and Coral Gables. This Miami landmark, on the National Register of Historic Places, was built by George Merrick, opening in 1929 as a playground for the rich, well away from the hoi polloi. At the Biltmore, the beautiful played while enjoying fashion shows, galas, and golf tournaments.
Historic Mediterranean Revival plus more architecture
The Biltmore Miami is built in a Mediterranean Revival style featuring Italian, Moorish and Spanish architectural influences. It is an eclectic mishmash of Hollywood style architecture. A 93’ center tower, capped in brass, is fashioned after the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain.
Throughout the property are architectural ornaments giving the hotel a fanciful, fairytale-like ambiance.
A colonnaded lobby with hand-painted frescos, travertine floors, marble columns and leaded gas fixtures, each piece of decor more exquisite than the last.
The open-air courtyards, lavish gardens, and decorative fountains are in a mash of styles from Ancient Rome to modern Italian.
Moroccan inspired lights dangle from pointed barrel ceiling arches that are brilliantly painted with vibrant blues and gold accents.
Of particular fun must have been the water shows in the ginormous 23,000 square foot pool, surrounded by Roman statuary, which is still among the largest, if not the largest, in the world.
Johnny Weissmuller, who later played Tarzan, broke the 50-meter freestyle record in the hotel’s pool.
The Biltmore opens at the end of the Jazz Age
When the first Biltmore opened it was the Jazz Age and the Biltmore was the destination for Southern Florida’s elite. Big bands entertained guests who traveled to what was called the “American Riviera” resort. A-listers from Hollywood flew into what was then the International Pan American Airport. Interesting to note is that today Miami City Hall is located in the old Pan Am terminal building and Grove Key Marina still operates out of two of the Pan Am hangers.
Judy Garland, and Ginger Rogers were regulars and photos from of the beautiful women, and handsome men were on the society pages of the Miami Herald.
As America suffered the effects of the 1929 Stock Market Crash, Depression and dustbowls in the southwest, the Biltmore parties on, however that changed with World War II.
Army Air Forces Regional Hospital
As America entered into the war years, the Biltmore shut its doors to socialites, opening them to soldiers. Renamed the Army Air Forces Regional Hospital, the Army sealed the building the hotel’s windows with concrete and covered priceless travertine floors with linoleum.
The Biltmore reopens and closes
Gaining ownership of the hotel in 1973, it was nearly ten years before the city started the first renovation, returning The Biltmore to its historic grandeur. At what today would be a more than reasonable $55 million, the hotel reopened on December 31, 1987. It was a black-tie event ushering in not only a New Year but also a renewed Biltmore Hotel.
Unfortunately, the new Biltmore closed its doors after a scant three years.
The Biltmore revisited
Jumping ahead to 1992, and the Biltmore underwent a $40 million, 10-year renovation including an additional three million to restore the 18-hole championship golf course in 2008. Guest rooms, fitness center, and spa were recreated. The pool was resurfaced with polished marble. The pools famous 85-foot diving tower was turned into a waterfall.
In 1996, the Biltmore was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Recently Announced: A new Biltmore Hotel c. 2018
In the announcement of the newly redesigned Biltmore Miami and Coral Gables, Gene Prescott, President and CEO of The Biltmore Hotel says:
“This historic landmark is a treasure of the City of Coral Gables, and the newly redesigned elements allow us to highlight the hotel’s old-world feel while exceeding today’s modern-day standards of hospitality and golf offerings. We remain committed to the property’s success while maintaining its status as a first-rate, world-class destination.”
Recently announced is the newly redesigned Biltmore Hotel. Renovations include updating the 18-hole, par-71 golf course originally designed in 1925 by Donald Ross. This latest golf course upgrade was overseen by Brian Silva who added new Bermuda grass on the existing tees, fairways, and greens.
Silva also incorporates new bunkers short-game enhancements, and separate range areas. The course also features signature holes, and extends the overall course length to over 7,100 yards making it worthy of championship level play.
Guests walk in the lobby over original travertine floors entering an expansive space by D’Shakil Designs and Studio 5 Design + Architecture. Using royal hues, luxurious materials, and elegant furniture pieces that harmonize seamlessly with the newly refurbished main lobby compliments the grand Mediterranean architecture and fanciful ornamentation.
Hotel guests will luxuriate in redesigned rooms that incorporate the sage green from South Florida foliage, the rich greens of Coral Gables’ canopy roads, and the warm Mediterranean architectural inlays of the property’s original design.
Those royal colors are also in guest rooms and suites with their elegant array of transcending tones including luscious plums, silver sage, and accents of regal gold creating a lavish and tranquil paradise.
Romantic gemstone chandeliers over the beds, classic moldings that complement the hotel’s character, couture fabrics such as cut velvets, embroidered damask, framed art created from original architectural blueprints, and imported plush carpets.
The Everglades Suite
While at the Biltmore Hotel ask to see the Everglades, or Al Capone suite, located in the tower and on the ominous 13th floor. Legend is that the two-story suite was used by Chicago gangster Al Capone during prohibition. Capone, the story says, ran a speakeasy at the Biltmore. A private elevator helped him keep his private affairs private. It is written that there were rotating wall panels with gambling tables on one side, bookcases on the other. A secret stairwell would allow the gangster a retreat should the coppers show up. If it is still there, look around the fireplace and brick walls for bullet holes.
The suite, allegedly, was also the scene of the deadly shooting of Capone’s bodyguard Thomas “Fatty” Walsh. I say allegedly because while there is plenty of lore, the facts are hard to find.
There are luxury three suites in the tower where Presidents, heads of states and the otherwise rich famous people stay.
Is the Biltmore Haunted?
With World War II servicemen coming to the Biltmore during its hospital days, gangsters bodyguards getting shot, there are plenty of ghost sightings at the Biltmore. Fatty Walsh is a jovial presence. A mother who died trying to save her son from falling off the balcony has been seen. A couple dancing. And plenty of young men in hospital gowns have been seen.
The newly opened Biltmore Hotel Miami and Coral Gables is worthy of your U.S. travel bucket list. Miami offers fascinating architecture from the Art Deco and Art Nouveau eras along with the overly grand style of the Biltmore and its storied history. Food is fabulous and the history of Southern Florida is worth exploring.