CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami) — Where is your favorite place in South Florida? This week, the CBS4 Morning Team is taking you to their favorite places. CBS4 Traffic Reporter Vanessa Borge explained on Tuesday why Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove is her favorite place and Co-anchor Walter Makaula enjoys the outdoors horse-back riding at Bar-B-Ranch in Davie.
But where does CBS4 Meteorologist Lissette Gonzalez consider one of her favorite places?
“Growing up in South Florida, I’ve always admired the beauty of the Biltmore hotel and I’ve been intrigued by its history,” said Lissette.
Beyond the spectacular Mediterranean architecture, the hand painted murals, and the majestic Tower, is a great story of what inspired the creation of the Biltmore, how it has evolved and changed through the years.
It all started with George Merrick, the developer who created Coral Gables and founded the University of Miami.
“When George Merrick was assigned to sell some of his plantation property, he said he was going to need 3 things: schools, churches and a hotel for people to stay in,” explained Judy Pruitt from the Dade Heritage Trust. “He envisioned having a hotel. He loved the idea of having castles in the sky.
George Merrick was inspired by the weather when he built the Biltmore Tower.
“He was a poet, he wrote poetry about the towering clouds, that was his ‘castle in the sky’ and he wanted a place where people could look out and enjoy the scenery around Coral Gables,” said Pruitt.
In 1925 George Merrick joined forces with John McEntee Bowman at the height of the Florida land boom to build the Biltmore Hotel. In January 1926, the Biltmore was completed and debuted with a magnificent inaugural.
In the 20s and 30s, the Biltmore was one of the most popular resorts in the country. Politicians, Hollywood stars and European royalty stayed there and enjoyed fashion shows, galas and golf tournaments.
In the 1930s the Biltmore thrived by hosting aquatic galas that drew crowds and kept the hotel in the spotlight.
“The person who ran the hotel built bleachers and stands all around the pool. There are cabanas there now, but there were stands where people would watch beauty contests, synchronized swimming and entertainment every Sunday afternoon,” said Pruitt.
In 1941, when World War II broke out the government needed a hospital for the wounded troops, so the US government took the Biltmore Hotel into imminent domain and turned it into a hospital,” explained Pruitt.
The Biltmore Hotel was dubbed the Army Air Forces Regional hospital from 1942 to 1945. The Army sealed many of the hotel windows with concrete and covered the travertine floors with layers of government-issued linoleum. Also the early site of the University of Miami’s School of Medicine, it remained a Veterans Hospital until 1968.
It wasn’t until 1972 that a special act was passed that gave the Biltmore Hotel from the federal government back to the local government.
“It had been closed for years and years, so the Coral Gables government wanted to tear it down; they wanted to build something new and beautiful. The citizens rose up and they had bumper stickers that said ‘Save the Biltmore’ and they passed laws not allowing them to tear down the Biltmore,” said Pruitt.
By 1983, the City of Coral Gables initiated a full restoration of the Biltmore and it reopened 4 years later.
In 1996, the Biltmore hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark.
To this day, the Biltmore Hotel continues to play host to world dignitaries, presidents, celebrities and community events like the Annual 4th of July extravaganza, charity balls and weddings galore.
The Biltmore Hotel continues to be the centerpiece and the heart of Coral Gables; the “City Beautiful” that George Merrick had envisioned.
“The Biltmore will always hold a special place in my heart because I shared precious moments with my husband and my family on our wedding day and it’s now a part of our story,” explained Lissette. “I look forward to creating many new memories with our daughter Sofia and enjoying the Biltmore hotel as a family in the years to come.”
If you are interested in learning more about the story behind the iconic Biltmore Hotel, Judy Pruitt and other Dade Heritage Trust members volunteer their time to offer free historical tours of the Biltmore Hotel every Sunday at 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm.
The morning team wants to know what are some of your favorite spots around South Florida?
Just tweet to @CBSMiami and use the hashtag #CBS4Favorites.
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