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.
A gambler named Ed Wilson leased the unlucky thirteenth floor to operate as a speak-easy during Prohibition and his “club” was filled nightly with drinking, gambling and partying. One spring night in 1929, in front of a full crowd, Ed Wilson argued and ultimately shot another gangster named Thomas “Fatty” Walsh. Although the room was full, no one saw a thing and Wilson was never convicted. The murder was left unsolved.
The hotel struggled through the Depression by hosting events including synchronized swimming exhibitions, high diving shows, alligator wrestling and just about anything else that could turn a dollar and keep the pink lady from closing her doors. In the forties, however, the U.S. Government obtained the building and converted it into a Veteran’s Hospital where casualties from World War II could convalesce. Sadly, during that era, the hotel saw many deaths.
After a time, the government abandoned the building and let it sit empty, a sad reminder of more affluent times, towering above the Coral Gables neighborhood. Local teenagers would routinely trespass on the grounds and even enter the building for dares or partying. But the hotel began to acquire a reputation for ghostly happenings. Lights would be seen in the highest reaches of the hotel’s towers. Sounds would echo through the buildings. Even the trespassers began staying away.
Happily, in the eighties, Seaways Hotel Corp. bought the structure and spent years renovating the hotel back to its original grandeur. The government-issued linoleum was removed from the marble floors, the windows that the government had filled with cement were opened and re-paned. Today, the hotel is one of the world’s most elegant once more.
But the tragic past of the building still lingers. The elevator likes to carry guests to the thirteenth floor, even if they didn’t specify that level. Sounds and shadows are heard and seen mostly on that floor, but throughout the hotel and its grounds. A lady in white is spotted from time to time and attributed to a whispered rumor of suicide dating back to the hotel’s glory days.
The hotel staff embraces the buildings long and sometimes difficult history. Each Thursday evening, they host a storyteller’s hour which includes the history and lore of the hotel….ghost stories included.
Anyone interested in staying at this four star resort and National Historic Landmark, can visit their website at http://www.biltmorehotel.com.