Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Biltmore Hotel

Located in Coral Gables, a historic neighborhood within Miami, the Biltmore Hotel has become a famous luxury hotel after years of neglect.
When the hotel was opened in January 1926 by George Merrick, the original developer of Coral Gables, it was to combine a luxury hotel with world class outdoor amenities such as a golf course and swimming pools and become the headquarters for Miami society. Schultze and Weaver, the architects of other hotels in the Biltmore chain (as well as New York's Grand Central Terminal and Miami's Freedom Tower), designed the hotel to have the most modern of conveniences while fitting in with Merrick's playful Mediterranean Beaux Arts style.Breaking records, the building was for a number of years the tallest structure in Florida and had the largest swimming pool in the world.
In fact, the pool was more famous than the hotel! Synchronized swimming was a big draw in the 20s and 30s and afterwards the guests would stay to dances in one of the many ballrooms.The actor Johnny Weissmuller was actually 'discovered' while a swim coach and performer here at the Biltmore.
The hotel was converted into the Army Air Forces Regional Hospital in 1942 and remained a hospital through the nearby University of Miami's School of Medicine until 1968.The windows were sealed shut and the marble floors covered with cheap linoleum, converting the lovely hotel into what was probably a very awkward, but elegant hospital. The Biltmore sat empty from 1968 until 1983 when it was restored and converted back into a luxury hotel again, opening in 1987.However, the bright side in this hospital conversion and abandonment was that the building was never modernized, saving many of the lovely old features and details.
The small structure behind the main hotel block was probably my favorite part; the very beaux-arts rational plan centered on an open courtyard, seen in the photos above.It reminds me so much of the Pan American Building by Paul Cret because of the open courtyard with dual processional staircases up to a grand ballroom that I wonder if it was a precedent to the architects?Stepping inside the enormous lobby, you're immediately confronted with 2 blanking birdcages, seen above. Such a nice lively touch I think! Have you ever seen an 8' tall birdcage like that before? I love the travertine floors, much prettier than the linoleum that covered them for 50 years!This little staircase in the corner of the lobby was probably my favorite feature -is that a Gremlin? haha I loved the blue painted spanish terracotta tiles and the wall finish is amazing.
High tea is offered in the opposite corner of the lobby and I'm sure it's becoming a tradition with mothers and daughters from all over Miami!
An Arabian Nights fantasy of a groin-vaulted ceiling fills both sides of the lobby, split in half by a more Spanish styled polychromed wood ceiling, seen below.A display case holding memorabilia from the heyday of the hotel, such as china, programs and hotel silver sits next to the front door.My favorite of the ballrooms is located directly off the lobby and features this amazing fireplace, big enough to walk into and polychromed wood ceilings.I'm not sure if these chandeliers are original, but they fit in nicely.I just can't get enough of these ceilings!Behind the lobby and adjacent to this ballroom is the Cortile Loggia, which surrounds the outdoor Fontana restaurant below.
This feels incredibly Spanish to me with the tilework and colorful stuccowork.I love seeing the patina on the old mouldings, wood window frames and stucco.The courtyard is filled with palms and in the winter Miami weather is really the perfect place to enjoy a meal. I loved the light fixtures on the lower level with the star shaped rosettes.
The courtyard is open ended and looks off into the well manicured golf course beyond a tiled terrace.These must be the best rooms with the balconies overlooking the golfcourse.I hope you enjoyed this visit to the Biltmore with me! While we didn't stay at the Biltmore (staying instead at the Soho Beach House on nearby Miami Beach, read about that fabulous hotel on Heather's blog HERE) I think my next trip to Miami may include a night or two here.
Read more on the history of the hotel and see period photos HERE.

18 comments:

Curtains In My Tree said...

I would love to see it in person

Janice

Sarah (Matters of Style) said...

Beautiful. Reminds me a lot of the Plaza de Espana in Sevilla.

The Devoted Classicist said...

How fabulous! My Cuban friends tell me the courtyard with the potted palms remind them of pre-Castro Havana. As I am not a golfer, I would have probably chosen a hotel in Miami Beach, too. But this is lovely.

Scott Waterman said...

I made a pilgrimage to the Biltmore once upon a time. It's nice to be reminded of it.

Splendid Sass said...

Such a beautiful place! This was one of my parents favorite places to visit.
Love your blog.
Teresa
xoxo

David Toms said...

Oh, how I would love to visit and stay here! The yellow and white exterior reminds me of The Catherine Palace an Tsarkoe Selo

The Down East Dilettante said...

*Swoon*

I had forgotten how just plain marvelous and improbable this place is. And how wonderful that management has managed to avoid silly 'updates' (the hideous new Cloisters at Sea Island immediately comes to mind). What a wonderfully over-the-top builing, yet with amazingly civilized moments. Some of those passageways make me think Cuba in the glory days.

Great post---you the man, as always.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Well, I'll be darned. I just noticed Devoted Classicist's comment about Havana---great minds think alike!

Mark D. Ruffner said...

I love those blue groin-vaulted ceilings! Thanks for always looking up!

Amanda said...

Gorgeous! I've always wanted to go there.

Topaz said...

Great pictures and story. As always, I leave your blog wanting to learn more, which is my mark of a good blog.

Michele from Boston said...

Wonderful building by a wonderful architect! Thanks for the pictures. So, so happy it was saved and restored! It's stunning. As a funny or probably tragic aside, George Merrick caught my ear last night when I was channel surfing and low and behold it was an episode of the new "Real Housewives of Miami". I stopped to watch and felt my heart exit my shoes when I saw what one of the housewives had done to her George Merrick designed home - unspeakable! At least the Biltmore survives!

Sally said...

I work in the fitness center in the Biltmore, such a treat to stroll the grounds every morning.
My children romp through the Biltmore like Eloise in the Plaza, they have discovered how to get to the very top of the tower.

Sally said...

When the Biltmore Hotel first opened guests were offered gondola rides along the Riviera Canal. The boat ride (on an authentic Venetian gondola) would end at Coco Plum Beach on Biscayne Bay. This public beach had Tahitian-like huts on stilts and the concession stand employees dressed in Gaugin inspired sarongs. Sadly that beach was sold to a developer in the late 70s and it is now a gated community of McMansions.

The Down East Dilettante said...

I came back for another look at the divine photos---the five inches of snow we were supposed to have today turned into ten, and then the temperature dropped 15 degrees, and I needed a little virtual sunshine. Those cloisters and courtyards and the pool are all amazing. And how fascinating, Sally's tale of the pool.

Reggie Darling said...

I have never been to the Biltmore, but your post here has certainly whetted my appetite. Great photos and a marvelous tour, Stefan. Thank you! Reggie

theduchessofH said...

I've never been to the Biltmore either, but I sure will make a point of it now. It's so beautiful!
I can't believe it stood empty for all those years. Thank God it didn't get knocked down and replaced by a golf course community.

Woody said...

Holy crap. Luxury hotel indeed.