LET'S GO FIRST CLASS across America: Part 2

Let’s take a trip to Palm Beach, Florida and stay at the Biltmore Hotel. Oh, wait…it’s not a hotel anymore. It’s a long story.

Click on either image to see it larger.

In 1894 the Palm Beach Hotel opened at 150 Bradley Place. In March of 1925 it burned down. In its place was built the Alba Hotel for between $5 and $6 million.

The hotel's furnishings were worth more than $2 million, and the Alba was surrounded by formal gardens.
But from the opening night's festivities, which the house staff threatened to boycott, the Alba seem doomed. Fewer than two months after opening, the hotel was awash in red ink and later closed.

On Sept. 16, 1928, Palm Beach was hit by a Category 4 Hurricane that destroyed much of Palm Beach and blew the roof off the Alba. Somehow repairs were made, and it reopened as the Ambassador for the 1929 season. (SOURCE: Restaurant Ware Collectors)
This too, failed, and the 1933 Hotel Red Book listed it as the Alba again until it was sold to a company that owned the Biltmore in Coral Gables, Florida and was renamed the Palm Beach Biltmore. I’m not sure if this took place in 1935 or ’38.
During WWII, the Biltmore served as a women's Coast Guard Training Center, and after that, a U.S. Navy convalescent hospital. When the Navy left the hotel, it once again became the opulent Palm Beach Biltmore Hotel. (SOURCE: Restaurant Ware Collectors)
The Palm Beach Biltmore Hotel was transformed into a U.S. Naval Special Hospital from mid-1945 to the end of the war, accommodating 1,400 soldiers convalescing from rheumatic fever or arthritis brought on by exposure. In June 1943, before it became a navy hospital, the Biltmore was used for the first dedicated school for the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. SPARs, as it was known for its creed, “Semper Paratus, Always Ready,” was created by the U.S. legislature on November 23, 1942, to allow more men to be sent overseas. Until the Palm Beach school was ready, enlistees were trained on the campuses of Oklahoma A&M, Iowa State Teachers College, and Hunter College.

Male reservists spent a month converting 430 rooms in what was then reputed to be the most expensive building yet constructed in Florida. They replaced hotel furniture with “sturdy stuff” and knocked out walls to accommodate six women per room, removing doors and luxury decorations.

The initial four-week boot camp was expanded to six weeks and included classes in organization, personnel, ships, and aircraft. Enlistees practiced deck swabbing in the hotel hallways. Disciplined physical training was held in part at the Surf Club, which was dedicated to their exclusive use of the tennis courts and beach. Graduates either were assigned to active duty or remained for 12 more weeks of specialist training to become storekeepers, yeomen, cooks, bakers, commissary stewards, dental or pharmacist mates, or recruiters. (SOURCE: PBC History Online)
So, what of the hotel after World War II and today? If you thought yesterday’s was expensive wait until you see the numbers for this one.
In 1946, the Biltmore, then owned by the Hilton chain, returned to civilian service. The hotel closed in the 1970s and fell into disrepair, but was rescued from demolition by famed developer John D. MacArthur. MacArthur sold it in 1977 for $5.3 million to investor Stanley J. Harte, who renovated it and reopened it in 1981 as the 128-unit Palm Beach Biltmore Condominiums.
Interested in living in the Biltmore? Are you in that 1% of the American public who haven’t been hurt by the economy? Then have I got a place for you. Take a look at some of the current condos available. (If this link doesn’t’ work in the future all I can say is sorry, it was current for the day this post was written.)

At one point the former Shah of Iran’s sister lived in the building. Her penthouse was on the market in 2009.

So I guess this means we won’t be meeting in the coffee shop around midnight in the Biltmore for a pie and coffee. I’ll see if I can find a place still open to the public for tomorrow. In the meantime, pack your bags.

This card, like the one yesterday, is a Curt Teich linen.

1 comment:

  1. Seemingly, people would love to go across the country in first-class accommodations with the best furnishings, smoking a fine cigar and sipping on scotch. Good post.