San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. St. Louis has the Arch. Las Vegas has its retro welcome sign. It seems like every city has an iconic structure to represent itself to the rest of the world. Every city but Miami, that is. The Magic City is full of architectural gems, and maybe that's why no one building has come to define it. But that's left this town without a symbol of its own. In our Miami Icons series, we're aiming to fix that. Today, writer Lee Zimmerman argues for the Versace Mansion, AKA Casa Casuarina.
It was an indelible image seen around the world. The bloodstained steps of the Versace Mansion in the immediate aftermath of the inexplicable murder of fashion icon Gianni Versace. who, in spite of his wealth and influence, seemed a most unlikely target of an assassin's gun. For all the opulence that this palatial home represents, it's those stairs, where the homeowner was inexplicably ambushed by the crazed killer Andrew Cunanan, that still finds tourists gawking and gazing in amazement.
How strange that that small parcel of cement turf should overshadow the grandeur and spectacle borne by one of Miami Beach's most lavish domains. With ten bedrooms, 11 baths, a magnificent center courtyard, and 23,000 square feet of living space, it's imposing indeed. Versace was a man of impeccable taste, and up until his death in 1997, the furnishings and décor that he surrounded himself with reflected that fact.
The three story home was originally built in 1930 by Standard Oil heir Alden Freeman, but by the time Versace bought the Spanish style mansion and the hotel next door in 1992, the property was in a sad state of disrepair. He spent nearly $33 million on renovations, adding sumptuous furnishings like marble inlays in the luxurious 54-foot swimming pool and decorative mosaics and frescos on the walls and ceilings.
After Versace's death, his family retained ownership of the home up until 2000, when it was sold to Peter Loftin, a telecommunications billionaire, and renamed Casa Casuarina, a name that never seemed to stick with those who still think of it as Versace's old digs. The new owners turned it into a private club, but that never stopped passers-by from stopping and staring at those infamous steps and peering through the cast iron gates.
Earlier this year, businessman Barton G contracted with the new owners, VM South Beach and agreed to turn it into a luxury hotel featuring suites that start at $795 per night and go all the way up to $2,200 per night for the 1,174 square foot Villa Suite, once Versace's very own private bedroom. There guests can enjoy a nine-foot, double king-size bed, two balconies, seven custom-made closets and an ornate oversized shower. Each of the other guest rooms offers king and double-king beds with custom Egyptian cotton linens, goose down pillows and duvets, patios and balconies, and Italian marble bathrooms.
An intimate 30-seat restaurant, Il Sole, enhances the luxurious setting, although even with the exorbitant prices, meals apparently aren't included.
So while it would be hard not to feel like a celebrity while encamping in those quarters, it's a good bet that real celebrities will be its main draw. Kim Kardashian was photographed waving from one of its balconies on opening week, and she likely won't be the last wealthy patron to grace the hotel's lofty environs in the months and years to come.
An ocean-facing home; an ultra-luxe estate; a nightclub; a high-end, celebrity-driven hotel; a site of shocking news. The Versace Mansion's history encompasses many of the things that have made Miami famous. And like its home city, the property seems to be in a constant state of change. Who knows what it'll become next?
Send your story tips to Cultist at [email protected].