Janet Ramin - As a young boy, George Merrick traveled to Spain, explored medieval castles, towers, Moorish courtyards and pools, and developed a passion for them. Fast forward several years later, Merrick becomes a real estate developer and teams up with hotel magnate, John McEntee Bowman, to create a grand hotel, a destination magnet for the rich and famous. The Biltmore Hotel is born.
As you curve around the lush rolling green park, a Moorish tower arises and a Mediterranean palazzo appears majestically to fill out the horizon. For a moment, you may imagine you’re in Italy or on the plains of Spain but then the palm trees appear – snapping you out of the dream – and back to Coral Gables, Florida. Merrick wanted to recreate his childhood haunts and hired architect Leonard Schultze to achieve his dream.
Using the Giralda tower in Seville, Spain as inspiration, Scultze created the bell tower of the Biltmore and centered it in the palazzo-style hotel building. In the center of the hotel is an open courtyard, similar to the ones found in southern Spain, surrounded by a loggia of arches and columns. The courtyard houses the Fontana restaurant. Blue and green tiles – recalling the Mediterranean sea – cover the walkways of the courtyard and loggia. The hotel’s roofs are capped in terracotta tiles and the façade stuccoed in warm peach colors.
The Biltmore opened its doors in 1924 and has played host to a diverse range of guests, drawing from the upper echelons, the Duke & Duchess of Windsor, American presidents, F.D. Roosevelt and Clinton, to the infamous, gangster Al Capone. Hollywood stars such as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers, and sports legends, Babe Ruth and Bobby Jones, also stayed at the Biltmore.
To lure guests, Merrick planned a championship golf course, a 23,000 square foot pool – the largest hotel pool, polo fields, tennis courts, and haute cuisine restaurants. A popular attraction was the aquatic galas held at the pool each Sunday. Synchronized swimmers, Olympic divers, and bathing beauties starred at these shows.
From 1992 to the present, the interiors were renovated to restore its luxury status and to meet present-day technological needs. The lobby still reflects an old-world Mediterranean colonial style to complement its palazzo exterior. The robust chairs and tables display ornate carving, turned legs, and nail-studded upholstery, typical of 15th-16th-century Mediterranean furniture. Vaulted and ribbed ceilings against a sapphire ceiling provide a magnificent backdrop for the lobby.
In other areas of the huge lobby, elaborate stenciled patterns decorate the ceiling. A unique birdcage in the shape of a large bell captures your attention in the center of the lobby. In 1996, the Biltmore Hotel achieved one of the highest honors a building could receive: landmark status from the National Register of Historic Places.
Take a trip back into time – to the period of grand palazzos, flowering courtyards, and gracious living. You only have to travel to Coral Gables to see a piece of living history – at the Biltmore Hotel.
This article was reprinted by permission of the Sheffield School, New York, NY. Sheffield began as an Interior Design school in 1985, and then expanded our course offerings to train people in other design-related fields, including Feng Shui, Wedding and Event Planning, and Jewelry Design. With thousands of active students and more than 50,000 graduates, Sheffield has trained more design professionals than any school in the world.