Don CeSar Hotel is a hotel located in St. Pete Beach, Florida, in the United States. Developed by Thomas Rowe and opened in 1928, it gained renown as the Gulf playground for America's pampered rich at the height of the Jazz Age and it still serves as a popular retreat for the rich and famous of today. The hotel was designed by Henry H. Dupont. The Don CeSar is a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In 1924, Thomas Rowe purchased 80 acres (320,000 m2) of land in St. Petersburg, Florida for $100,000 to begin his dream of building a "pink castle". He hired Indianapolis architect Henry Dupont to design the hotel and Carlton Beard as contractor. To ensure the stability of the hotel on the shifting sand and avoid the high cost of sinking so many pilings, Beard devised a floating concrete pad and pyramid footings. To this day there is no sign of evident settling of the hotel. The architecture is a blend of Mediterranean and Moorish styles modeled after different hotels and developments that Rowe and Beard saw in Palm Beach, Coral Gables and Boca Raton. Arched openings, red clay tile roofs, balconies, stucco over hollow tile and tower like upper stories were some of the elements that they borrowed. The original design called for a $450,000 six-story hotel with 110 rooms and baths. It was later expanded to 220 rooms and 220 baths and the costs soared to $1.25 million, 300% over budget. Rowe named it Don Ce-Sar after Don César de Bazan, the hero of William Vincent Wallace's opera Maritana.
Rowe's "Pink Lady" opened on January 16, 1928, with an extravagant party attended by the elite of Tampa and St. Petersburg. The hotel quickly became a favorite romping ground for the rich and famous of the Jazz Age including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Clarence Darrow, Al Capone, Lou Gehrig, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Pink Palace continued to attract the rich and famous throughout the Great Depression, thanks in part to a deal made with New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert to house his team during spring training for three years.
However, after the sudden death of Rowe without a will, "The Don" was left to his estranged wife and began to fall into desrepair until the United States entered into World War II and the hotel was bought out by the Army for $450,000. It was converted into a military hospital and reopened in December 1942. In February 1944 the Don Ce-Sar became a U.S. Air Force convalescent center. In June 1945 the Don Ce-Sar was ordered closed and was vacant by September of that year. It was converted into a Veterans Administration Regional Office by the end of 1945.
In November 1967 the Veterans Administration began moving out of the Don Ce-Sar. By spring 1969, the once grand hotel was vacant. The General Services Administration planned to raze the graffiti-covered hotel, but this was met with fierce opposition from local residents. In March 1972 the Don Ce-Sar was sold to C.L. Pyatt and William Bowman Jr., a Holiday Inn franchise owner. The Don CeSar (now spelled without the hyphen) reopened on November 23, 1973. Multiple renovations from 1985 to 2001 have updated and added onto the hotel, including a 4,000-square-foot (370 m2) spa, a signature restaurant, and a second outdoor swimming pool. After the addition of the full-service beach club and spa, the official name of the hotel was changed to The Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa.
The Don CeSar was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and became a founding member of the National Trust Historic Hotels of America in 1989.
The Maritana Grille is the Don CeSar's signature Four Diamond restaurant. Guests are surrounded by 1,500 gallons (5,700 liters) of salt water aquariums and contains some indigenous Florida fish, as well as lion fish and hippo tangs, while dining on New American cuisine. The Maritana Grille was selected by Epicurean Rendezvous magazine as one of the "Top 100 Restaurants in Florida."
In a corner of The Maritana Grille kitchen, separated from the grill and preparation areas by a window, is a triangular table known as the Chef's Table where small dinner parties can watch their food being prepared by the executive chef from a unique menu.
The Sea Porch Café is located on the beach and offers Caribbean and Mediterranean cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a garden-like relaxed setting.