The History...

Irishman Thomas Rowe, who found his fortune in Florida real estate created this landmark after the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki Beach. The initial cost of his dream resort though was $1.2 million, which was nearly 300 percent over the initial budget.

The resort after its opening served as the hot spot for high society, with a guest list that included President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lou Gehrig and even Al Capone until a fatal combination occurred -- the Depression and World War II and Rowe's death in 1940.

Reportedly, Rowe’s plan after his collapse in the hotel lobby was to leave his "pink lady" to his family of employees. However, after his collapse in the lobby his attorney rushed out to get a new will. A team of nurses who were taking care of Rowe refused to serve as witnesses to the new will stating that he was in no condition to make this sort of decision. With that, his estranged wife of 30 years became the reluctant heir. In less than three years after Rowe’s death, the Don CeSar lost much of its personality and charm and the government seized the hotel for back taxes.

In 1942, the U.S. Army then purchased the property for only $450,000 and turned Rowe’s dream into a convalescent center for World War II pilots. Then when the war was over the former resort became the Veterans Administration regional office. The walls of the once pristine building were stripped and repainted green. Then in 1967 the VA moved out of the building unable to afford necessary repairs and Rowe’s “pink palace was left abandoned and dilapidated.

The once thriving resort for high society became a graffiti canvas, doomed for the wrecking ball.

However, a preservation group rescued the Don CeSar by locating a buyer named William Bowman, Jr. who shared Rowe's initial vision of grandeur and purchases the run-down hotel for $460,000.

In 1973, after putting $7.5 million in renovations into the old resort, Rowe’s initial vision came back to life as Florida’s Pink Castle on the Gulf Coast.

Now the resort is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1989 was selected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a founding member of the Historic Hotels of America.

In 2003, the resort and Florida landmark celebrated its 75th anniversary and continues to thrive as a famous location for movies, music videos, and home away from home for guests who range from heads of state to professional wrestlers.

by: Chris Wagar
photo placement: April Slazas & Suzanne White

Famous Guest List

The Don CeSar Beach Resort, one of western Florida’s most recognizable landmarks with its bright pink color stretching into the St. Petersburg Beach skyline has been a hotspot since its inception in 1928. One man’s dream has become a legendary hotspot for presidents, professional athletes and criminals alike.

President George W Bush
President George Bush
President Bill Clinton
Hillary Clinton

President Jimmy Carter
President Gerald Ford
President Franklin D Roosevelt
Andre Agassi
Robert Altman
Paul Anka
Chet Atkins
Lauren Bacall
Tony Bennett
George Benson
Bon Jovi
Anita Bryant
Jimmy Buffett
Carol Burnett
Dick Clark
Kevin Costner
Clarence Darrow
Robert DeNiro
Dixie Chicks
Michael Douglas
Duke Blue Devils
Duran Duran
Sheena Easton
Farrah Fawcett
Joseph Fiennes
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Harrison Ford
Eva gabor
Zsa Zsa Gabor
James Garner
Lou Gehrig
Barry Gibb
Dr. Jane Goodall
Grateful Dead
Wayne Gretzky
Dr. Clarence Hall
Scott Hamilton
Mariel Hemingway
Charlton Heston
Hulk Hogan

Glenda Jackson
Billy Joel
Elton John

Don Johnson
Emmett Kelly
Coretta Scott King
Jeane Kirkpatrick
Henry Kissinger
Heidi Klum
Ann Landers
Jerry Lewis
Ray Liotta
Sophia Loren
Barry Manilow
Mickey Mantle
Dan Marino
Dave Matthews
Bette Midler
Gretchen Moll
Joe Montana
Wayne Newton
Jack Nicholson

Stevie Nicks
Tom Petty
Pink Floyd
Tom Poston
Anthony Quinn
Rob Reiner
Janet Reno
Burt Reynolds
Mark Russell
Babe Ruth
Steven Segal
Tom Selleck
Dinah Shore
Britney Spears

Rick Springfield
Ringo Starr
Rod Stewart
Elizabeth Taylor
James Taylor
Kathleen Turner
Barbra Walters
Tom Watson
James Woods
Kristi Yamaguchi

by: Chris Wagar
photo placement: April Slazas & Suzanne White

The Don CeSar and Music Through the Decades

The function and façade of this historical structure seemed ever-changing. Through more than eight decades she has seen the likes of kings, presidents, athletes and movie stars, she has withstood hurricane force winds, the threat of a wrecking ball and four wars. She has taken in the ill and pampered the wealthy. The Don CeSar can be likened to a symbol for stability and grace.

Music through the decades can serve as an acoustic understanding of what the diverse times were like through the years of the Don CeSar. The music of each decade is a vocal representation reflecting a changing culture and tells stories of pain, love, struggle, oppression, happiness, and prosperity.

The 1920’s are characterized by economic opulence; the clothing and hair style of the flapper, and of course, the music. The “Roaring Twenties” began with the victrola being the main source of music to the masses. The radio was beginning to make its rounds as station opened up across the country throughout the decade. As the “Harlem Renaissance” was taking place, history gives it credit for the controversial jazz sounds of this decade, later dubbed the “Jazz Age”. Prohibition also added to the underground party mood of the times.

Popular Musicians
Bessie Smith
Duke Ellington
George Gershwin
Louis Armstrong- West End Blues

With the stock market crash of 1929 and other variables came The Great Depression. It would last until approximately 1941. The depression created a black cloud over the country as poverty set in. The population expanded in cities across the country as rural areas became desolate. The popular music of this time period was ironically very upbeat. Swing music, Big Band and Jazz are trademarks of the decade.The entertainment industry (music and film) realized and capitalized on what became a comfort to the people allowing the possibility of hope in the midst of the despair of the depression. Films began to feature numerous dance and musical numbers. The actors and the music became as popular as musicians on the radio. If only for a short period of time, the happy music and carefree appearance of the film stars brought a sense of escape from the miserable reality.

Popular Musicians
Bing Crosby
Guy Lombardo
Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers
Benny Goodman- “Sing, Sing, Sing”
Tommy Dorsey
Judy Garland
Duke Ellington
Billie Holiday
Fletcher Henderson
Ella Fitzgerald
Glen Miller

This decade begins with World War II, which pulled the United States out of the Depression through the industry of war production. Women were leaving their homes to replace the men off at war in the workplace. The Big Band sound that produced war time music was popular. The songs were characterized by their nostalgic qualities as people yearned for the end of war and simpler times. This decade began the baby boom. Many famous singers began their careers as lead singer in an orchestra or ‘Big Band’ but soon went solo changing the popular sound, such as Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Doris Day.

Popular Musicians
Charlie Parker
Vera Lynn
Frank Sinatra
Glen Miller Orchestra- “In the Mood”
Ella Fitzgerald

This decade is exemplified by a culture in need of a change. Father Knows Best and The Adventures Ozzie & Harriet were the ideal family unit. Children and woman did not speak their mind and knew their place. Poodle skirts and Drive-in movies were popular, but quickly began to beg for a makeover. The youth and feminist culture began to rebel as rock 'n' roll was born. Racial tensions were also stirring as Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a bus in 1955 Birmingham. Marilyn Monroe and James Dean are important entertainers of the era.

Popular Musicians
Elvis Presley- “Hound Dog”
Buddy Holly
Laurence Welk
Nat King Cole
Dean Martin

The 1960’s, where to start? A turbulent decade began with John F. Kennedy, as he moved into the White House and delivers his “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country speech,” in 1961 and was assassinated in 1963. Martin Luther King helped to change civil rights and was also assassinated in this decade, 1968. The Vietnam War progresses through this decade and gives way to a “free love” and “free thinking” society igniting protests and controversy. Political views enhanced with awareness and the idea of questioning authority found there way into the music of the decade and the culture itself. “Hippies” and mind altering hallucinogenic drugs become popular. Our culture experienced an overseas import that became a phenomenom and changed the face of music,The Beatles. “Psychedelic” music was introduced by Pink Floyd and Woodstock took place in 1967.

Popular Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – “Castles Made of Sand”
Bob Dylan
Simon & Garfunkel
Rolling Stones
Grateful Dead- “Casey Jones”
The Beatles

If the previous decade was full of protest and political awareness, this decade seemed to tire of “the cause” as it grew more widely accepted and was no longer “radical”. The war had ended, the Civil Rights Act and Feminism progressed, however, visionary leaders seemingly ceased to exist. The music that had been a voice for the generation now spoke for itself. The one thing that maintained a strong hold on the youth and the culture was mind altering drugs which rallied the people underneath a flashy, shiny spinning globe. The disco era was upon us. This decade witnessed the death of Elvis Presley, Watergate, Studio 54, Roe v. Wade, introduction to Bob Marley and his reggae sound and the breakup of The Beatles. This decade also began to clearly draw a line between different musical genres. Although tradition "Elvis" type rock 'n' roll was technically over a new anti disco scene eventually developed in punk rock and we saw the emergence of country music.

Popular Musicians
Led Zepplin
Neil Young
Elton John
The Bee Gees- “Saturday Night”
Fleetwood Mac
John Lennon
Bob Marley
Rod Stewert

This decade is epitomized by a materialistic culture in pursuit of affluence and wealth. Donald Trump, the Forbes list and ‘The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ became mainstream. The country was introduced to Princess Diana, Cabbage Patch Kids, AIDS, and Madonna. Sandra Day O’Conner became the first woman on the Supreme Court in 1981 and John Lennon was gunned down in New York City in 1980. Michael Jackson ‘Moon walked’ onto our television screens. MTV was born and had a huge impact on the music of the decade and helped introduce a new genre, rap.

Popular Musicians
Bruce Springsteen
Madonna- “Material Girl”
The Police
Cyndi Lauper
Michael Jackson
Culture Club

The 1990’s saw an eruption of technology. Cell phone, personal computers, palm pilot, and a little thing nicknamed the ‘information superhighway.’ We were introduced to the Persian Gulf War, the O.J. Simpson trial and the President Clinton sex scandal. This decade saw the massive merging of record labels, entertainment companies and radio stations. The musicians became signed based on target demographic group polling. With the introduction of the Compact Disc, this also became a tool in order to monitor sales. The artistic entertainment world of music became a corporate money maker and this decade saw no real significant change or impact. The Seattle credited sound of Grunge excelled while its polar opposite, Rap music, also flourished.

Popular Muscians
Mariah Carey
Janet Jackson
Dr. Dre
Pearl Jam
New Kids on the Block
Alanis Morisette
Snoop Dogg

by: Suzanne White
photo placement: Suzanne White & April Slazas

Don CeSar Time Line

1924 – Thomas Rowe moves to Florida and begins his dream of building a “pink castle” by purchasing 80 acres on St. Petersburg Beach. Rowe’s vision was of a ‘great hotel like Waikiki Beach’s Royal Hawaiin’. The name for the Don CeSar came from the main character in the English Opera Maritana named Don CeSar de Bazan.

1925-27 – Construction begins.

1928 – Opening night arrives at a cost of $1.2 million which is more than 300% over budget.

1930’s – Guest lists include Lou Gehrig, Al Capone, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

1931 – The New York Yankees save the Don from the “Great Depression” by signing a three-year deal to house their players during spring training. The Yankees arrival keeps the Don near capacity with droves of sports writers and players families staying constantly.

1940 – Original owner Thomas Rowe collapses in the lobby and dies shortly after. His original intention was to leave the Don CeSar to his hotel staff, but failure to obtain a witness to his signature in his final moments allows his estranged wife to take over instead.

1942-45 – US Army seizes control of the hotel and converts it into a hospital for WWII airmen after Mary Rowe loses the hotel to back taxes. A couple of famous guests during this time were Joe DiMaggio and Cary Grant.

1969 – The building begins to fall apart after various government offices pull out. Unwanted by the federal and local government the only option appears to be to tear the Don down. But, because Thomas Rowe wanted the Don to stand the test of time the cost of demolition is too high and she is left to vandals and vagrants.

1971-72 – William Bowman Jr. purchases the Don for $460,000 and sees the old hotel as a sleeping beauty.

1973 – The hotel reopens as a luxury resort. The cost of the remodel is $7.5 million and the property value rises to over $30 million.

1975 – The Don Cesar is added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1989 it is selected by the National Trust of Historic Preservation as a founding member of the Historic Hotels of America.

1982 – Robert DeNiro films Once Upon a Time in America.

1985 – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers film a music video at the Don.

2003 – The Don CeSar Beach Resort celebrates its 75th anniversary.

by: Chris Wagar
photo placement: April Slazas & Suzanne White


The Haunted Don?

“Time is infinite. I wait for you by our fountain . . . to share our timeless love, our destiny is time.” Thomas Rowe received this note upon the death of his love, Lucinda.

The two met in the 1890s when Rowe was studying in Europe. Rowe had attended a production of Maritana in London and had fallen in love with the female lead, Lucinda.

Lucinda’s parents decided Rowe was not a suitable beau and forbade the relationship. Rowe and Lucinda held secret rendezvous by a fountain until they were caught. Rowe returned to America, heartbroken.

For years, he mailed letters to his love but they were returned unopened.

Lucinda died in the early 1900’s never having traveled to America and never seeing her love again.

Rowe learned of Lucinda’s death and in 1925 he built the Don CeSar is a monument to their love. The lobby of the hotel included a replica of the courtyard and fountain where he and Lucinda met to share their forbidden desires.

A sudden heart attack claimed Rowe’s life in 1940 in the lobby of the CeSar. Stories claim that Lucinda’s traveled to the hotel to be with Rowe as they could not be together in life.

Although the fountain no longer exists, employees at Don CeSar tell tales of seeing a couple who suddenly appear, walking hand-in-hand in the hotel, and then disappearing. Others report seeing the couple walking the beach.

The second, fifth and sixth floors of the Don CeSar in Pinellas are said to be haunted by the ghost Rowe. Staff has reported seeing an older man wearing a dark suit and a Panama hat.

The St. Petersburg Times printed a story about the haunted hotel for its 2002 Halloween issue.

"About nine years ago, there were so many noise complaints that the general manager built a room for (Rowe) in between the floors and asked him to please stay there because he was scaring the guests," said Michael Chagnon, director of sales and marketing to the newspaper.

by: Bruce Kitchens
photo placement: April Slazas & Suzanne White