The Biltmore Hotel Coral Gables: Rich in History, Focused on the Future

By Elaine Gallant, Contributor

CORAL GABLES, FL - In the 1995 movie "Bad Boys," actor Martin Lawrence enters the suite occupying the entire 13th floor of The Biltmore Hotel's tower in Coral Gables and is told that this is the Al Capone Suite. Which it is, even though Capone never actually stayed there.

But in 1926, during the height of the Roaring '20s when the resort was built, this suite did have a gangster's reputation. Revolving wall panels revealed gambling tables on one side, filled bookcases on the other and a secret stairwell that came in handy during police raids. It was also the scene of the deadly shooting of reputed mobster Thomas "Fatty" Walsh while the illicit casino was in full swing and whose lingering spirit is now fodder for the resort's resident historian and storyteller.

Nevertheless, as long and colorful as The Biltmore's history is, it is also a magnificent place and an integral part of the city. Here, old-world, European luxury echoes throughout the 280-room resort resplendent beneath a 15-story replica of the Giralda Tower in the Cathedral of Seville, Spain.

With its canopied entrance, elevated circular drive, and tailored doorman ready to provide red-carpet treatment to arriving guests, it's easy to fall for its charms. Likewise, inside its cavernous lobby that is part museum and gathering place capped by a ceiling of vaulted, Moorish arches, two mahogany birdcages showcase colorful finches that fill the air with happy chirps and shrills.

Ivonne Perez-Suarez, Media Relations Coordinator says, "The Biltmore's Mediterranean architecture influences the hotel's feel for elegance and grandeur unique to the area. When guests walk through its doors, they feel comfortable in a welcoming environment. They can enjoy our European ambiance and cuisine without leaving the states... The birdcages were placed there for the Summit of the Americas as an added attraction and to even more beautify the area."

As it is, it has always been the hotel's beauty that's attracted worldwide attention. George E. Merrick, founder of the City of Coral Gables, wanted to build a centerpiece -- one that would not only be a "great hotel," but also a "center of sports and fashion."

He arranged for exclusive trains called the "Miami Biltmore Specials" to bring northern guests to sunny Florida for its gala opening. Over time, royalty, the likes of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain, the Grand Dukes of Luxembourg, and Princess Benedicta and Prince Richard of Denmark, joined the throng of daily visitors.

Repeat guests included both The Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the very famous Vanderbilts. More recently, however, are former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George Bush and current Presidents Vincente Fox of Mexico, Andres Pastrana of Columbia and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain.

Meanwhile, the established love affair with Hollywood continues. Where once Johnny Weissmuller (later known as Tarzan) broke the world's high-diving record and Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, and Bing Crosby swung to the sound of big band jazz, today, Andy Garcia, Cameron Diaz, John Travolta and many others have made their presence known.

The most requested suite, of course, is the two-story, two-bedroom Al Capone Suite also known as the Everglades Suite. But second to that is the three-bedroom Merrick Suite at the tower's highest point on the 15th floor where twin balconies on opposite ends offer views of the golf course, the 600,000-gallon swimming pool and the City of Coral Gables. Both suites feature a central living room, a fireplace and, like all floors exclusive to the tower, private-keyed, elevator entrance. On the tower's seventh, there's even a Cellar Club Library and Cigar Salon that operates as a private-membership wine bar.

As for the remainder of the hotel, guest rooms feature feather beds, sitting areas, stone-tiled bathrooms, multi-function portable phones with voice mail and data ports, state-of-the-art climate control, safety deposit boxes and 25" color TV's. Some have balconies and all have panoramic views of either the city or golf course.

Credit for the continual upgrading of the resort is given to Seaway Hotels Corporation that took over management from the city in 1992. Prior to that, the hotel had experienced decades of starts and stops and other uses.

First came World War II when The Biltmore served as the Army Air Forces Regional Hospital, then as part of The University of Miami's School of Medicine and finally during the Vietnam War as a Veteran's Administration Hospital until it closed in 1968. Between 1973 and 1987, then again between 1990 and 1992, it remained unoccupied but was registered by the city as a historic landmark through the Historic Monuments Act and Legacy Parks Program. It also twice served as a fortified public shelter during the devastating hurricanes of 1926 and more recently, Andrew, in 1992.

"Today, our goal is to be the center of the social and cultural life of our community just as George Merrick envisioned," says Perez. "By hosting events such as The Biltmore International Wine Festival, The Summit of the Americas, and The Annual Americas Conference, we have become the most recognized landmark in Greater Miami, not only nationwide, but also in Latin America and Europe."

This is evident, according to Perez, by the first chat room conversation made between His Excellency President Francisco Flores of El Salvador and the viewers of Univision.com, a web site for the world's largest Hispanic TV network. Advanced communications within the hotel's Conference Center of the Americas, a newly added 40,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility with multiple amphitheaters, meeting rooms, conference rooms and business center, made it all possible.

Perez adds however, "There is always room for improvement and The Biltmore's goal is to continue serving the public in its tradition of class and elegance."

The Biltmore Hotel Coral Gables is located at 1200 Anastasia Avenue in Coral Gables, Florida. From Miami International Airport take LeJeune Road south to Anastasia Avenue. You won't miss it on the right, as it is in the middle of a well-maintained, residential area.

Dining at The Biltmore

La Palme d'Or is the hotel's signature, dinner-only restaurant under the direction of French Chef Philippe Ruiz. It has received numerous accolades and regularly welcomes Michelin-rated chefs from France with the opportunity to prepare their favorite dishes. Jackets are suggested. Recently, Chef Ruiz, along with the hotel's executive chef, was honored with an invitation to prepare dinner at the James Beard House for a select group of VIPs.

1200 & Courtyard Café offers indoor and outdoor seating serving breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as the hotel's notorious Sunday Champagne Brunch - something not to be missed!

La Cascade is open poolside for lunch and weekend breakfast buffet.

19th Hole Restaurant & Bar is located on the golf course and open daily 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. weather permitting.

Other dining options include full, 24-hour room service, hors d'oeuvres served in The Biltmore Lounge, afternoon tea in the lobby, snacks at the Pool Bar and wine, cheese and fruit in the tower's private Cellar Club.

Awards

The Biltmore Hotel is listed as a National Historic Landmark and is a recipient of the Mobile Four Star, the AAA Four Diamond, Meetings and Conventions Magazine's Gold Key and Florida Trend Magazine's Golden Spoon awards. It is also on Conde Nast Traveler's Gold List.

Recreation at the Biltmore

The Biltmore Golf Course is actually a public course run by the City of Coral Gables, but hotel guests can secure tee times through the concierge. It is an 18-hole, par 71-championship course designed in 1926 by Donald Ross. It offers a full practice facility including driving range, club and shoe rentals, professional lessons, golf carts with GPS capabilities and pull carts for walking.

It's most intriguing holes are numbers 6 though 9 that zigzag across a menacing waterway. The most dramatic is number 7 with its water carry to the green and number 9 with its finish at the base of the ever-present hotel.

Tennis on 10 lighted, hard courts is complimentary to hotel guests. Racket rentals, ball sales and professional private and group lessons are also available.

The pool, recognized as the largest hotel pool in the continental United States, measures 22,000 square feet, holds 600,000 gallons of water and takes one week to drain. There are 10 rental cabanas, but lounge chairs and towels are complimentary.

The Fitness Center & Spa features three separate workout areas with 80 pieces of state-of-the-art fitness equipment - everything from nautilus to body master and star track. Classes include aerobics, tai chi, yoga and aqua aerobics. The Spa is a full-service massage and body treatment center open seven days a week.

Storytelling about The Biltmore's reputed ghosts and related history is held weekly in the lobby every Thursday night at 7 p.m.

The resort also offers a variety of retail shops, a full service beauty salon, a Children's Program and sightseeing tours as well as a variety of excursions and other activities.

THE BILTMORE HOTEL CORAL GABLES
1200 Anastasia Ave.
Coral Gables, FL 33134
1-800-727-1926
Phone: (305) 445-1926
www.biltmorehotel.com

Elaine GallantElaine Gallant, Contributor

Elaine Gallant is a freelance writer specializing in golf, tennis, and travel. Her many experiences with travel and golf have taken her around the Untied States, Europe, Greece, the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaiian Islands, Australia and points in between.


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