Monday, May 28, 2012

Places: The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida - a picture tour

The Biltmore Hotel
Builders: John McEntee Bowman, George Merrick
Architect: Schultze and Weaver

You could kinda say I have a soft spot for this old hotel. It's on my way to work, so I drive by it every morning, five days a week, but could never grow tired of its presence. When I was a kid on the Fourth of July my family and I would watch the fireworks show on the golf course surrounding the building. One of my nephews had a birthday celebration there when he was younger (we had told him the rumors of it being haunted and he wanted to check it out). It's among my favorite hotels in Miami and I enjoy its relaxing atmosphere, away from the crowds.

This is a building with a rich history--one that's definitely seen its share of changes throughout its 86-year history. It was built in 1926 and operated as a luxury hotel and golf resort until World War II, when the government took control of the property and transformed it into a hospital for wounded veterans. Then from 1952 to 1968 it served as home to the University of Miami medical school. In 1973 ownership was transferred to the City of Coral Gables, and it was during this period that the once-lively resort became stagnant and unoccupied for almost ten years. It underwent a major face-lift in the early 80's and reopened again as a hotel in 1987. In 1996 it received the honor of a National Historic Landmark designation. 

The Biltmore when it was the American Air Force Regional Hospital 


When the lobby was renovated in the 80's the designers tried to duplicate the look and atmosphere it had when the hotel opened in "The Jazz Age" 1920s. 

You didn't think I would do the entire post without sneaking in a makeup item, did you? This is MAC's Snob on nails.

Developer John Bowman, a fox hunting enthusiast, imported English red foxes to the Biltmore for sport in 1926. I found this interesting to learn because I have actually seen foxes in Coral Gables and both times it was after dark and less than a mile away from the hotel. Maybe they really were the descendants of Bowman's foxes! 

Hi there! It's me here, in the shadows :)


The excerpt above mentions that teens used to trespass during the years the hotel was closed up, and it even became a "rite of passage" of sorts. I remember hearing stories from my then junior high-school aged brother and friends about their adventures in the abandoned building and golf course after dark. I think I would have been too scared of getting caught by police to try it...come to think of it, I don't remember ever hearing about any of the girls we knew doing this, but I'm sure there were some who took the risk! 

Above is a look at the dilapidated state of the hotel interior prior to its renovation in the early 1980s. 
(Photo of p.145 from The Biltmore Hotel: An Enduring Legacy.)

One of the more fascinating facts about the hotel is that when it first opened, guests could take a gondola ride down the Coral Gables waterway to "Tahiti Beach" on Biscayne Bay. Knowing that the hotel's inland location would be an issue, Merrick and Bowman devised a solution to attract more guests by creating their own man-made beach and they connected it to the hotel by a canal. No expense or detail was spared--architect Leonard Schultze traveled to Italy and found ten trained Italian gondoliers who were willing to relocate, and he purchased authentic Venetian gondolas and had them shipped to Miami.

Above: "Miami Biltmore Hotel guests took advantage of the six mile gondola excursion to bathe on Tahiti Beach." (APC) Source: The Biltmore Hotel: An Enduring Legacy

When the hotel opened in 1926, this was the largest hotel swimming pool in America! According to the hotel's website, "This the pool where Esther Williams and Johnny Weismuller showed their skills to audiences that included Babe Ruth."

Bob and Enid Kay of New York City raise finches & nightingales

One of my very favorite features of the hotel are the enchanting finches and nightingales kept in beautiful mahogany birdcages in the lobby. They make the sweetest, soft little song. I am not a bird expert so all I can say is, they are incredibly pretty and colorful, and no trip to the Biltmore would be complete without stopping by to see them! 

The photo above shows what was originally the dining lounge of the hotel, but now serves as a space for special events and receptions. 

Look at the beautiful ceilings! It was dark inside and I didn't use flash, but you can still see the detail a bit. 


I hope you enjoyed this picture tour of the Biltmore. Many of these photos were taken late on a Sunday evening and I was lucky enough to find the place fairly deserted, but the number of visitors varies widely depending on the time of day and whether guests are in the area for special events or conferences. I definitely recommend stopping by for a look if you're ever in town and have an hour or two of free time! 

~ Thanks for reading ~

Credits:  All photographs were taken by me with a Canon S100, except for the images of the text, which are pictures I took with a Panasonic Lumix DMC G-1 of pages from the book The Biltmore Hotel: An Enduring Legacy, by Samuel La Roue, Jr. and Ellen Uguccioni. 


  1. I loved this 'places' post. I love how you've captured the old world glamour and lush tropical environment of the Biltmore. The pool looks amazing and I enjoyed the colorful birds as well!

    1. Thanks Dovey! I'm lucky to have this particular place practically in my back yard and easy to access! It's a great place visit and take pictures :)

  2. What a wonderful hotel! Thank you for the tour! :)

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  4. What a beautiful place! For some reason, some photos make me think of Rome... never been there but thats one of the places I want to visit.

    1. Hi Michelle, yes, I think all those statues and columns in the pool area do give it a Romanesque quality :) I've never been to Rome either but it looks amazing! :)

  5. What a fabulous post! It looks amazing, and the pics of before the renovation...well, I'm glad someone saved the old girl. Beautiful!

    1. Thank you Carlene! Isn't it amazing the state it had fallen into? I know it cost a lot of money to renovate, but I think it's worth it to preserve places like this. :)


Thanks for commenting!