When land developer George E. Merrick (creator of Miami’s Coral Gables neighborhood and founder of the University of Miami) teamed up with hotel magnate John McEntee Bowman in 1924 — the height of the Florida land boom — they envisioned building “a great hotel … which would not only serve as a hostelry to crowds which were thronging to Coral Gables but also would serve as a center of sports and fashion.” The Biltmore Hotel, with its Mediterranean architecture and classic Italian, Moorish and Spanish influences, opened its doors just two years later, on Jan. 15, 1926.
Soon after, the elite made their way to The Biltmore Hotel, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, gangster Al Capone, and Hollywood glitterati such as Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. Before he became Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller was a swim instructor at the hotel’s 23,000-square-foot grand pool, which was also the setting for aquatic and fashion shows over the years.
Like many historic hotels across the U.S., The Biltmore Hotel served as a military hospital during World War II, converted by the War Department into the Army Air Forces Regional Hospital. Once the war ended, the hotel became the early site of the University of Miami’s School of Medicine, and was a Veterans Administration hospital until 1968.
The property then went through starts and stops, including the City of Coral Gables acquiring ownership of the hotel in 1973, and a $55 million investment and reopening in 1987, only to close again in 1990 because of the economic downturn.
In 1992, a 10-year, $40 million renovation program launched, and today the hotel is back to its original…