In 1897 the beautiful Belleview Biltmore Hotel was erected overlooking Old Clearwater Bay by the famous Florida developer, Henry Plant. Mr. Plant’s influence is still felt throughout Florida; Plant City was named to honor him, the onion-domed, riverfront University of Tampa was originally built by Henry Plant as another grand hotel, and Morton Plant Hospital (named for Henry’s son) still provides state of the art healthcare for Florida residents. But of all Henry Plant’s contributions to Florida history, the one that holds a special place in my heart is the Belleview Biltmore.
In the “Roaring 20′s” there came to be built in the affluent Miami suburb of Coral Gables, a grand hotel called The Biltmore. This oasis of elegance in tropical South Florida is as pink as the flamingos that once graced the grounds. The sparkling pool which sits like a blue topaz set amongst emerald greenery was once the world’s largest. The highest society graced the ballroom, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, members of the Vanderbilt family, Bing Crosby, Ginger Rogers, and countless other society and Hollywood darlings. But also attracted to the Biltmore was a seedier selection of clientele. Al Capone and many other gangsters and criminals were drawn to the hotel, perhaps in search of a gentility that they would never be able to achieve on their own.