The Haunted Don CeSar Hotel
The stunning white sand beaches and glittering crystal blue waves of Tampa, Florida are unsurprisingly lined with dozens of beachfront motels and highrise resorts. But of all the dazzling suites along the shoreline, the fabulous Don CeSar Hotel at St. Pete’s Beach stands out as the most spectacular. The hotel, appropriately dubbed “the Pink Lady” is distinct in its pastel color and tremendous size, towering over the beach like a modern-day fortress or Barbie’s own Tampa dream house.
Apart from its unique appearance, the Don CeSar Hotel is known for its historic nature, its reputation for catering to the rich and famous, and not least, for being the most haunted hotel in all of Tampa. According to legend, the palatial pink inn is said to harbor the spirits of a pair of star-crossed lovers, eternally bound by their love for one another. Due to the enduring beauty of their love story, the haunted Don CeSar Hotel is less of a spooky must-see and more of a testament to true love persevering beyond the grave. Though paranormal enthusiasts are not likely to be disappointed, as sightings of the pair are frequent, and just as spooky as they are heartwarming.
History and Background
At the turn of the century, a wealthy young Londoner by the name of Thomas Rowe traveled to Spain where he met a beautiful Spanish woman named Lucinda. The two fell in love on the beachfront of a beautiful pink hotel, vowing to marry and return to the hotel on their honeymoon. However, this was not to be. Lucinda’s mother did not approve of the relationship and forbid her daughter from ever seeing Rowe again. Devastated and heartbroken, Rowe set his sights on America.
In 1924, Rowe purchased 80 acres of land in St. Petersburg, Florida, and began designing the blueprints for what was to be his pink palace in the sand. To help bring his vision to life, Rowe hired Indianapolis architect Henry Dupont and contractor Carlton Beard. Together, the trio seamlessly blended the Mediterranean and Moorish architectural styles popular among hotels in Palm Beach, Coral Gables, and Boca Raton. Among the borrowed elements, the hotel features stucco, balconies, widely arched entryways, a red clay tile roof, and turret-like upper floors which add to the Don CeSar’s fortress-like aura.
Aside from general flashiness, the hotel also features some more practical design elements. Though Don CeSar is massive in size, it is nothing compared to the tremendous power of the shifting sands. In order to ensure its stability, as well as to circumvent the high cost of sinking the hotel’s numerous pilings, Beard and Dupont devised a floorplan consisting of a concrete pad and pyramid-style footings. Their efforts have held up to this day, as the hotel bears no signs of settling.
When completed, the Don CeSar rose six stories above the sand, complete with 110 rooms and baths. A few years down the line, its size was expanded to include 220 rooms, with production costs toppling $1.25 million, roughly 300% over budget. But to Thomas Rowe, this was a small price to pay for true love. Rowe named his new hotel the Don CeSar after Don Cesar de Bazan, the protagonist of William Vincent Wallace’s Maritana, the opera Rowe had taken Lucinda to see on their first date. The design of his new hotel also mirrored the one where they fell in love, right down to its palatial design and pink color.
Although the two were never reunited in life, the hotel’s beauty and grandeur quickly found favor among America’s rich and famous. During the sparkling champagne Jazz Age of the 1920s, movie stars, bootleggers, and mobsters flocked to the pink paradise of the Don CeSar Hotel. Rowe counted among his prestigious guests F. Scott Fitzgerald, Clarence Darrow, Al Capone, Lou Gehrig, and even U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Not even the Great Depression could sink Rowe’s “Pink Lady,” as the hotel’s business was sustained by a deal made with Jacob Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees, to house his team at the hotel during spring training.
But the Don CeSar’s good luck had to run out sometime. After Rowe’s sudden death in 1940, the hotel was left without a clear direction, and fell quickly into disrepair. During World War II, the U.S. purchased the hotel and briefly converted it into a military hospital. After the war, the hotel served as administrative offices for the United States Veterans Affairs.
By 1967, the VA had moved out, leaving the once-bustling resort empty. In 1969, the Don CeSar was slated for demolition, a decision met by vehement opposition from local residents. Their demands to keep the hotel in business were met when the Holiday Inn purchased the hotel and finally reopened its pink doors for good in November of 1973.
Since the 1970s, the hotel has come a long way. Renovation efforts include the addition of a massive 4,000-square-foot spa, a beachfront restaurant, and a second outdoor pool. The hotel’s name was modified to reflect these additions, becoming officially known as The Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa in 2001. Today, the hotel remains a beloved Floridian staple and has achieved recognition as a historic sight on both the National Register of Historic Places and the National Trust Historic Hotels of America, to which it was a founding member.
After the Don CeSar’s grand opening in 1928, Thomas Rowe spent every night watching the shoreline, hoping against hope that his long-lost lover had somehow heard of the fortress-like pink hotel on the beach which bore the name of Don Cesar de Bazan. As the sun came up and cast its rosy glow over the sea, Rowe would walk up and down the sand in his white Panama suit, thinking only of Lucinda.
When he passed away in 1940, he still had heard from her. Yet according to Tampa lore, the two seem to enjoy an eternal reunion in the afterlife. One older patron of the Pink Lady describes a surprisingly heartwarming encounter with the spirits of Lucinda and Thomas Rowe.
According to his story, the man was staying at the Don CeSar the summer after his wife’s passing. The pair had spent their honeymoon at the extravagant resort after its grand reopening in the 1970s and had stayed there every summer since. That year marked his first summer apart from his beloved wife. She would have wanted me to go, he told his children as he packed his bags for the beach. He missed his wife terribly and wanted to continue their special tradition in her memory.
Just as the sun dipped into the ocean, the man checked into the spacious suite he normally shared with his wife overlooking the water. He put his bags down and changed into his bathing suit, eager to hit the beach. When he reached the water, he was annoyed to find it packed with young people. Grumbling to himself, the man-made his way down the shoreline.
As he walked, he noticed an older couple ahead of him. They walked half in the sand, half in the water. The gentleman wore a white hat and white Panama suit with the pants rolled up, and the lady wore a beautiful pink caftan dress over her bathing suit. The couple had a stately, almost regal air about them, and it seemed almost as if their feet did not touch the earth as they walked.
At second glance, their feet were in fact, not touching the earth at all! The man gasped softly to himself. As the couple made their way down the beach, their bodies hovered ever so slightly above the ground, leaving no footprints behind them in the sand. The man could hardly believe his eyes. He looked wildly up and down the beach for someone else to confirm what he was seeing. But he had wandered down into an almost abandoned stretch of sand and could find no one other witnesses. By the time the man turned his attention back to the couple, they had vanished.
Although the sight sent chills up the man’s spine, for weeks to come, he couldn’t stop talking about what he had seen to anyone who would listen. And although his children may not have believed his story, they always smiled when he told it, because at the end he would wink and say, that’ll be me and your mom one day. And perhaps he’s right.
So whether you’re a history buff, a fan of beautiful hotels, a paranormal enthusiast, or just a hopeless romantic, the beautiful Don CeSar Hotel is the place for you. With a luxurious spa, beachfront views, and a spooky-sweet backstory, the hotel truly has something for everyone.