The drive from St. Petersburg to nearby St. Pete Beach on the Pinellas Bayway is brief, but drivers are gifted memorable views of Boca Ciega Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway. The culmination of the scenic quickie comes at the crest of its final bridge, although the view of the Gulf of Mexico that comes into sight can be stunning, it is the Pink Palace that stands straight ahead that dominates the scene.
Since the height of the Gatsby era in 1928 the Don Cesar Hotel has graced the pristine Gulf beaches of St. Pete Beach. The magnificent resort playground was built by Thomas Rowe as a tribute to his lost love, but ironically Rowe later died in the lobby of the hotel and the property fell to the control of his estranged wife. By 1942 the Don shifted from an opulent playground for the rich and famous to military service. Sold to the United States Army the Pink Palace became a sub-base hospital, then a convalescent center for airmen returning from battle. When the war ended it transitioned again to a headquarters for the VA and continued as such until it fell into disrepair. In 1969 the property was in such bad shape that the government abandoned it and it stood unoccupied under threat of a wrecking ball.
A group of local citizens began a grass roots effort to save Don Cesar in 1971 and in 1972 William Bowman bought the distressed jewel and embarked on a $3.5 million dollar restoration. The fully restored resort was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, preserving its history and insuring the future for Pinellas County’s most distinguishable landmark.
From its birth Don Cesar hosted celebrities and stars, starting with F. Scott Fitzgerald in the early days followed by a Hollywood A-list in the years that followed. The Pink Palace herself has appeared in movies and commercials, including 1982’s Once Upon a Time in America starring Robert DiNiro and James Woods. In 1985 the Don provided the backdrop for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers MTV rock and roll documentary. Tampa native Hulk Hogan also chose the Don for the setting of his series pilot for the 1993 series Thunder in Paradise.
In 2015 the Don Cesar was named Best Historic Hotel by Historic Hotels of America and today’s resort hotel was renovated through the years to provide the finest experience for its guests. With a complete spa and top restaurants, a beachside pool and stunning sunsets, the Don Cesar provides guests an unforgettable experience in Paradise!