All photos courtesy The Don CeSar
Contributor James Ross shares his tips for a stay at the elegant Don CeSar hotel, including a story of love that still haunts this historic building
Updated Nov 15, 2022 / Commissions may be earned from our affiliate partner links
There’s no mistaking the glamorous Don CeSar. This beautiful historic hotel is set in an unparalleled setting surrounded by swaying palms and the sugary sands of St Pete’s wonderful beach on the Gulf of Mexico.
Instantly known as Florida’s Pink Castle when it opened back in 1928, this opulent resort has proudly stood as a beacon of style on Florida’s Gulf Coast. If you love those grand old hotels, flush with history and full of stories, then the Don CeSar in St Pete has everything: a fascinating history, a romantic love story, the rumour of ghosts, and a reputation as a playground for the rich and famous.
The hotel’s celebrity guests have ranged from F Scott Fitzgerald, Clarence Darrow, Al Capone, Jerry Garcia, and Tom Petty, to every US President since Franklin D Roosevelt. In the 1940s, the whole New York Yankee baseball team took up residence during their annual spring camps.
Enjoy Floridian Luxury with a Stay at The Don Cesar
The Don Cesar was born as a hotel during the golden age of jazz in the roaring twenties, became an army hospital during the 1940s, and narrowly dodged the wrecking ball in the 1970s, before finally being restored to its former glory. Walking the magnificent halls of this majestic hotel, I can almost imagine jazz music in the air, and Gatsby-like characters playing their part in a rarefied world of glamour and intrigue.
A building’s identity is not characterized solely by its architecture or construction, although this is certainly part of this hotel’s charm. The lofty ceilings and rich furnishings and the Don’s Mediterranean and Moorish architectural motifs are just a few of the alluring details of this 277-guestroom resort.
And the hotel’s distinctive pink façade and lush tropical surroundings stand in inviting contrast set against the gulf’s aqua waters and blue skies.
The Don CeSar Love Story
The mastermind behind The Don CeSar was Thomas Rowe. When Rowe was a young man, he toured Europe, eager to see the world. On that worldly trip he met a beautiful raven-haired opera singer named Lucinda who was playing the lead on the London stage in a production of Maritana.
Rowe fell in love – a love that would last his whole lifetime. He and Lucinda would meet secretively by a favourite fountain after her performances. After her final performance, the couple’s plan was to meet at their usual spot and run away together.
Lucinda never came. Her parents had discovered their clandestine arrangement and whisked their daughter back to their home in Spain. Rowe would never see her again.
A Tribute to Eternal Love
Heartbroken, Rowe travelled to the then remote St Petersburg Beach and built a tribute to his love, complete with a replica of their special fountain. He named the building The Don CeSar for the chivalrous hero in the opera Maritana. Eventually, he received word that Lucinda had passed away from an illness, but on her death bed she had written a message to Thomas: “Time is infinite. I wait for you by our fountain to share our timeless love.”
In 1940, Rowe passed away, but it is said that he never left his beloved Don CeSar. His apparition, dressed in his favourite white suit, has been spotted by many (though thankfully not by me), overseeing the hotel’s daily operations, smiling at incoming guests, and then disappearing. Joyfully, for those in favour of a haunting love-affair, Rowe’s ghost has also often been sighted in the company of a beautiful raven-haired woman, their hands lovingly clasped together.
Riley Recommends: For your chance to meet the ghost of Thomas Rowe and his eternal love, why not book a stay at this most romantic of luxury hotels in Florida? Check out our preferred accommodation partner for the latest reviews, rates, and reservations at The Don CeSar.
Contributor James Ross is a travel writer and columnist, and author of the books Cottage Daze and Still in a Daze at the Cottage. He lives in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada.
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