On a recent visit to the Don Cesar Hotel and Resort in December, our group met Resort Host and Certified Concierge, Ronald MacDougall. As a concierge, Mr. assures MacDougall that every guest has the finest experience during their stay at Don Cesar. In his position as concierge, he has helped many of the VIPs who have visited the historic pink hotel on the Gulf of Mexico in St. Petersburg. Petersburg, Florida. These guests have included Mariah Carry, Carole King, Mick Jagger and Jimmy Buffet, as well as many of the visiting presidents.
Our private tour began in the main bar and lounge, which at this time of year is beautifully decorated for the holiday season. The majestic dark wooden bar, couches and large leather chairs make this the perfect place to sit back, relax and imagine yourself in another era, the early glory days of Pink Palace.
The story of the Don Cesar Hotel or Pink Lady, whom Thomas Rowe liked to call the hotel, begins at the beginning, as all good stories do. It was a vision of Thomas J. Rowe to create a monument to lost love.
This part of the story begins in London where rumors would say that young Thomas Rowe, while attending a university, attended the opera "Maritana" where he fell in love with the female lead, Lucinda, a beautiful Spanish opera singer. They met every night after her performance next to a fountain in London.
Elope was planned. The night they were about to leave, Lucinda didn't show up, and Rowe was left waiting for the fountains. Her parents were made aware of the pending marriage and forced Lucinda to return to Spain. It was reported that Lucinda had died at a young age, but sent this letter to Thomas with this passage. "Time is endless, I wait for you at the fountain to share our timeless love, … our destiny is time." Well, if it didn't happen that way, it should have.
When he returned to the United States, Thomas Rowe built business buildings in New York. He later moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where he met Mary Lucille, daughter of a wealthy landowner. Thomas married Mary and began life as a socialite.
At the age of 47, when his health was declining, Thomas Rowe chose to move to a more hospitable climate. After leaving his wife in Virginia, he decided on Florida and especially Skt. Petersburg, Florida, experiencing a boom property. Arriving at $ 21,000.00, Rowe began buying property.
Real estate development was hot in the early 1920's, and Thomas Rowe partnered with another former Norfolk socialite and land developer, a Mr. Page. He and Page formed the Boca Ciega Land Company for the purchase of land.
Mr. Page developed the land on the north side of John's Pass, and the family still lives on Madeira Beach.
Rowe collected a small fortune and visited an isolated stretch of undeveloped beach in the area known as Pass-A-Grille. Pass-A-Grille was named after 18th-century "grilleurs" who dried fish on the white beaches. This was a very remote and rugged landscape. Access from the mainland was by a wooden bridge. On this white sandy beach next to the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico, Thomas Rowe imagined his dream path. Against the advice of many in his circle, Thomas Rowe bought 80 acres on these banks. Soon a residential section was erected and each street named after a character from the opera Maritana.
In 1926, construction began on his dream road. Rowe hired architect Henry DuPont to design the project. One obstacle that had to be overcome was that the massive structure would sit on sand. A floating foundation was devised and its success is reflected in the fact that the fund has not changed in the last 82 years.
Another obstacle was the transportation of building material. As previously mentioned, the bridge was older and staffed by an older bridgeholder, who was not always reliable, and opened the bridge when he was in the mood. Construction material was placed on a barge and brought to the site using the bridge.
A railroad strike that year brought up the cost of construction, and after finishing the exterior and interior of the resort, Thomas Rowe ran out of money to furnish the hotel. A backman was needed to save the venture. H. P. Churchill wanted to give the money, but he had a provision. He will name the manager. It was agreed and Don Cesar had his Grand Opening in 1927, with some of the richest people in America attending.
It was lavish and lavish in the Grand Lobby. Thomas Rowe had constructed a copy of the fountain similar to the one where he, as a student, would meet with the beautiful Lucinda. The fountain would be the first thing that guests could see as they climbed the stairs in the lobby and were the center of the resort. Modeled after the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach, Don Cesar Resort was a vision that stood on the sand of Pass-A-Grille. Thomas Rowe liked to call the hotel Pink Lady.
The main entrance to the city was on Gulf Blvd. with two lion statues and a sign that says "Come all you who seek health and rest. For here they abound." The original staircase is hidden but is located where the Ice Cream Shop is now located on the first floor.
As luck would have it, the timing couldn't have been worse; the economy went into what became known as the Great Depression. Fortunately for the hotel, an agreement was secured with the New York Yankees baseball team to house the players during spring training, which helped the resort become solvent.
Thomas Rowe moved into one of the two penthouses in Don Cesar. Each day Rowe sat in a chair in the lobby, talked to visitors and staff and took stock of the guests. Guests who did not meet a specific dress standard or manners and speech were asked to leave the hotel. It was not an era of political correctness.
In 1940, Thomas Rowe collapsed in the lobby. He refused to be taken to the hospital, so he was moved into adjoining rooms 101 and 102. There he remained until his death. Rowe tried to get a will testified by the nurses, but they refused. This reported Will would have left the pink lady in the hands of the staff. When that happened, Thomas Rowe's wife, Mary, gained control of Don Cesar. The resort fell on hard times. So in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a vacation on the beach was not so attractive. People became afraid of attacks from the sea and soon the guests stopped arriving. The U.S. government bought Don Cesar and converted the resort for use as a convalescent center for members of the U.S. Army Air Corp., suffering from shell shock and damage from the war.
One injured person in the transfer of ownership was the fountain in the main lobby. The manager of the converted building was concerned that one of the visitors was going over the fountain and ordered it removed.
Later, Don Cesar was used for government offices and was finally abandoned and fell into forgery. A movement began to get the resort leveled and removed. A counter-movement led by local resident and activist June Hardy Young began to restore Don Cesar. The later move was successful and a new owner of the resort was located. William Bowman bought the town and in 1973 the resort was reopened. During the redevelopment, a copy of the original fountain was placed on the fifth floor.
Our trip included penthouses that were vacant at the time of our visit, and the presidential suite, where every president has stayed since 1940. The penthouse houses have spectacular views of St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg, the canyon beaches and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Of course, if you decide to live in one of these penthouses, it will set you back about $ 3500.00 per night. Night.
Don Cesar is a beautiful resort with two swimming pools, gym and a new spa. The recently opened Spa Oceana is a modern spa. Guests can enjoy a massage, relax in the hot tub and sauna, and then have lunch on the roof of the spa building overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
If you go, ask the reservationist if there are any offers. On our visit we received a rate for the pre-season and were very pleased with our stay.
The resort is owned and operated by the Loews Hotel chain.