When you see the Don Cesar for the first time, whether from land or sea, the first thought that comes to mind is that this is a fairy castle…an edifice constructed of fantasy. The towering pink walls meet alabaster sand and turquoise seas while billowing clouds scuttle across an azure sky. It is the ultimate tropical getaway….a place where you could spend many happy hours recumbent on the beach, sipping piña coladas. Could it get any better than that? Yes! Because not only is this exotic destination perfect for a weekend of pampering, but it also has a mysterious, intriguing side that makes the hotel even more attractive.
The Don Cesar has a legend behind it, a love story. The mastermind behind this awe inspiring hotel was Thomas Rowe. It is said that when Rowe was a young man, he toured Europe, eager to see the world. What he encountered on that trip was a love that would last his whole life…his love for Lucinda, a beautiful, young, raven-haired opera singer playing the lead on the London stage in a production of Maritana. For Rowe, it was love at first sight. He and Lucinda used to meet one another after her performances by a special fountain. Time went by, feelings grew deeper and an elopement was planned. After her final performance they would meet again by the fountain and run away together. Thomas fervidly awaited his love that night, but she never came. Her parents had discovered their clandestine arrangement and disapproved of the match for religious reasons. They whisked their daughter back to their home country of Spain, and Thomas would never see her again.
Heartbroken, he settled in the United States. Hopeful still, he would send letters to Lucinda, letters that her parents intercepted and returned to him unopened. Finally, he married someone else, though his heart wasn’t in the relationship. Eventually, he received a communication from Lucinda’s parents. Their daughter had passed away from an illness, but on her death bed, she wrote a message to Thomas: ”Time is infinite. I wait for you by our fountain…to share our timeless love, our destiny is time. “
In his forties, his own health suffering, Thomas Rowe traveled to the then remote St. Petersburg Beach and built a tribute to his love, complete with a replica of their special fountain, and named the building The Don Cesar after the hero from the opera Maritana. Throughout the years, Thomas invested not only his money, but all his love in making the hotel the grandest in the region. The Don Cesar had a reputation for perfection.
In 1940, Mr. Rowe passed away, but he never left his beloved hotel. His apparition has been spotted overseeing the daily operations in the hotel, smiling at incoming guests and then disappearing, and walking along the beach front, dressed in a white suit. Joyfully, his apparition is often sighted in the company of a beautiful raven haired woman, their hands lovingly clasped together.
After his death, the hotel suffered a setback. Though Rowe had intended to leave the hotel to his employees, the hotel staff, he hadn’t signed the new will in time and the hotel instead fell into the hands of his estranged wife, whom he had never divorced. She didn’t have the same knack or even desire to carry on the hotel, and eventually lost the property.
During the Second World War, the United States Government owned the building, and converted it into a hospital in which injured troops could recuperate. The popular method of our war time government when taking ownership of beautiful, elegant buildings, was to strip as many of the attractive elements from the structure as they could. Many windows were bricked up, the marble floors were laminated over, and the special fountain that Rowe had had reproduced in memory of Lucinda was ripped up. An interesting side note, when the hotel was being renovated, many years later, a letter was found under the spot where the fountain had once stood. The letter was from the contractor who was given the task of demolishing the lovely water feature. His note described the fixture in detail, reflected his regret that it was being destroyed and denied any part in the process that resulted in the decision to remove the font. He stated his hope that if his letter was ever discovered, that it could be printed in the local paper; it was.
During the time that the hotel served as a convalescent home for war-battered veterans, many deaths took place. These tragedies resulted in quite a few paranormal stories, some of which were related to me and my sister-in-law when we visited the Don Cesar in the late 90′s. Our waiter graciously spent time with us recounting tales that were as current as the week previous. He relayed to us that the morgue of the veteran’s hospital had been located in the area that had formerly been one of the kitchens in the hotel. After renovations, it was once again converted to a kitchen that is currently in use today. At least one of the chefs had opened the walk in freezer to encounter the seemingly solid apparition of a nurse standing just inside the door. Another worker had been passing the walk in freezer when he heard someone banging on the door from the inside. He thought it was one of his co-workers, a notorious prankster, but he saw the prankster just outside of that area of the kitchen. When he summoned his courage to open the door to the freezer, it was devoid of life.
Our waiter also told us of an intriguing, yet irritating phenomena that had happened just the week before our visit. In the dining room, during a very busy dinner hour, the lights in the dining room started to go off and then on in rapid succession. The lighting in the room is controlled by separate fixtures located in different areas of the room. From where the waiter and other perplexed staff were standing, they could see several sets of light switches, across the room from one another, with no one near them; yet the lights continued to turn on and off, one after another, as if someone was playing with the controls.
It may be that some of the service men who came here to recuperate simply never left. After the restoration that the Don underwent to regain its original beauty and elegance, who could blame them for wanting to stay?
If you are interested in staying at this exquisite tropical resort, please visit their website: http://www.loewshotels.com/en/Don-CeSar-Beach-Resort/index/about