KEY WEST, Florida Keys — The fabled Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, reflecting the rich history of Key West, is to celebrate its 100th anniversary on New Year’s Eve 2020.
Casa Marina opened Dec. 31, 1920, at 1500 Reynolds St. on the southernmost island city in the continental United States. Called Key West’s most glamorous resort, it was conceived by Standard Oil tycoon Henry M. Flagler, visionary developer of the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that stretched from the Florida mainland to Key West.
Elements of the resort’s centennial celebration include a silent auction set for Thursday, Dec. 31, to benefit the Key West Art & Historical Society; a pair of reservation-only dining offerings and a 9:45 p.m. fireworks display above the property’s private Atlantic Ocean beach.
Flagler envisioned his last project as a luxurious resort for wealthy travelers who could afford the train journey through the Keys, across the Seven Mile Bridge and down to Key West. But he died at age 83 in 1913, the year after the railroad’s completion.
Casa Marina’s construction began in 1918, overseen by Flagler’s trusted aide Louis Schutt, who subsequently managed the property until his death in 1933. Its Spanish architecture was designed by Thomas Hastings and John Carrere, architects of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House.
With 22-inch-thick walls, Casa Marina was built with the same mix of German cement, sand and gravel used to build Flagler’s Seven Mile Bridge. For the first decade, it was open seasonally from January through March.
Over the years its famous guests included former Presidents Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman; writer Ernest Hemingway; poets Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost; bandleader Guy Lombardo; actors Rita Hayworth, Gregory Peck, Ethel Merman and Rudy Vallée; and conductor John Philip Sousa.
Through eminent domain, the United States Navy bought the resort in 1942, converting it to officers’ quarters until 1946. Then it underwent multiple ownerships until 1962. That year, the military commandeered the resort, surrounding it with barbed wire during the Cuban Missile Crisis and installing missiles aimed at Cuba, just 90 miles away.
Not long after, it was purchased by Florida Senator John Spottswood, a fifth-generation Key West resident who had worked the property’s lobby newsstand as a boy. Spottswood, whose prominent family still resides in Key West today, leased the resort to Westinghouse Corp. to train Peace Corps volunteers attempting to create a written language for the Micronesian people.
The Casa Marina sat empty from 1967 to 1976, with only its Birdcage Lounge and outdoor patio open. Beginning in 1976, various owners oversaw the Casa Marina for the next 41 years. Renovations and expansions included rooms along Key West’s Seminole Street and a building with suites on Reynolds Street.
Park Hotels & Resorts purchased Flagler’s “crown jewel” in 2017. Today the landmark property — a coveted venue for weddings, family celebrations, corporate meetings and fireworks festivities — has 311 rooms and suites, two private pools and Key West’s largest private beach and event space with 11,000 square feet indoors and outdoors.
Amenities include Spa al Mare, Flagler’s Ballroom serving daily breakfast and the outdoor Sun Sun Beach Bar & Grill, with “toes in the sand” and casual lunch and dinner options.
Visit casamarinaresort.com or call 305-296-3535 or 305-304-3818 for event information.
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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