The Don Ce-Sar: A Castle Made of Sand Pt. 2

This Is Part 2!

Heya. This is a supplemental post that reveals additional info, photos, and details about the fact-focused history of the Don Ce-Sar hotel. I’d recommend reading Part 1 first if you haven’t already. You can find it right here.

As If I Hadn’t Written Enough

The main article I did about the Don some days ago got a little lengthy and I unfortunately had to cut a few things out that I think are great. I thought I’d go ahead and post them here as a bit of a follow up. But also, and perhaps most fantastic of all, is that a ultra rare interior shot of the early days of the Don has managed to surface over the last couple days. Let’s start there.

Thank you Amy.

First… I must give a HUGE thank you to Amy Streicher, a hard-working concierge at the Don. When I was getting ready to write this article, she saw my request for photos or other assistance and answered the call. She offered a tour of the Don, and to help in any way she could. And did she! The tour of the Don was really great, but a few days later, shortly after I published part 1, she let me know that she’d found a photo of the interior from around 1930. This is an ultra rare find – not one other interior shot seems to exist, and this one I think had been lost until she found it. My hat is off to Amy for her help with this, and I thank her for the service that she has done to help preserve a rare piece of St. Pete Beach / Pass-a-Grille history.

The Rare 1930s Interior Photo

I have worked on this photo to retouch it, and restore it as best I could. What you see below is the passageway from the main lobby to grand ballroom as it looked in the 30s, before it was mostly enclosed in a later renovation.

Restored image of the 1930s lobby near the Grand Ballroom. It seems people liked sitting by themselves in those days, or perhaps just yelling at each other from a distance.
This corridor was originally part of a much larger lobby.

You’ll note that this photo seems similar…. but what happened? During a renovation, this massive lobby area was turned into a corridor, leaving just the section from the far right windows to only the first row of columns.

The original open lobby area was probably at least 3x the size as the remaining corridor is now, and makes sense when many stories talk about the enormous original lobby. The 1930s lobby picture is taken from what was the central portion of the original lobby, which is now divided by the wall / doors that you see on the left of the more modern photo here.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at the Don

F Scott had his fans. His wife wasn’t necessarily one of them.

This is something really cool for you literary types that I wanted to add to the original story, but it got so heckin’ long. Fitzgerald was a very popular writer in the 1920s / 30s; he wrote the revered novel that defined the time of extravagance and excess, The Great Gatsby. He and his wife Zelda, in brief, lived a life where the sun always seemed to be setting, and had many personal struggles throughout their time together. They spent lavishly, funded by Scott’s works and often on advances for such. His wife, Zelda, was constantly in his shadow and it led to conflict between the two. This difficult relationship perhaps worsened depression-related severe mental health problems for Zelda. They traveled the world, and despite the carefree veneer constantly spent to try to stay happy. From the biography of Zelda:

“In April 1930 Zelda suffered a breakdown and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She was admitted to a sanitarium in France and would stay there for months. She was later moved to a clinic in Switzerland that treated gastrointestinal ailments, which were thought to be related to psychological problems. She was released in September 1931 and the couple returned to Alabama because her father was dying. Her health deteriorated during this trip and in February 1932, she was readmitted to a psychiatric facility.”

So the newspaper account above is a little off – the visit was in the period just after returning to Alabama that they took the week-long trip to the Don. Her father died shortly thereafter and her mental health crises deepened.

Famous People That Didn’t Stay at the Don

Pretty vague. Must’ve been Capone, right?

Other famous people have stayed at the Don, and that is no surprise. Business, Sports, Politics… All the top people represented. A couple tidbits that I found interesting… While the Yankees stayed for three Spring training sessions in the 30s, Babe Ruth didn’t stay with the team. He loved the Jungle Hotel, which is now the Admiral Farragut Academy, and likely stayed there instead.

Al Capone? He is rumored to have stayed at the hotel, but it is unlikely. There is not much official evidence that Capone ever made his way to St. Pete, although the town was a known hangout for gangsters in the 30s prohibition era. This story may have been derived from the article snippet here, but it is safe to say that while gangsters probably did stay at the hotel, Capone was probably not one of them. That said, stay tuned for an upcoming article about the Jungle Hotel and a more likely tie-in.

A Non-Famous Couple that Did Stay at the Don

I really don’t think these two are famous, but they stayed at the Don in the 1930s and the photo is floating around here and there. It is a great period shot, and I didn’t know where else to include it. I wanted to post it though, because once again there were a lot of pictures of the imposing Don, but very few I could find of actual guests.

I am also posting it here is because I found the names of the people in the picture… which was a little more of an endeavor. The two are Meyer Miller and Goldie Jacobs Schuster. It seems that they were St. Pete locals who had a few other pictures, one from Pass-a-Grille on the beach from 1925, probably five or so years before this one was taken at the Don.

The Lobby Fountain of Yore

If you remember Part One of this grand tale, you’ll remember that there was a big (false) story of a lobby fountain created by the builder Thomas Rowe to honor Lucinda, his love lost… And I said it didn’t exist, that there was never a fountain in the lobby. I went on to show a photo from a fifth floor fountain that was likely installed in the 70s as the source of the story. That’s 35 years or so after Rowe passed.

Well, friends I have an update on that one… it seems that there was a fountain that existed in the lobby, but it also seems very…. familiar. I think if there are any phenomenon that may have wandered the halls of the iconic hotel, it may be the mysterious lobby / 5th floor fountain that originated sometime in the 1970s, and mysteriously moved about in subsequent renovations. Let’s find this thing and radio-carbon date it!

1970s lobby bar fountain after reno. It looks a little like Chi-Chi’s around the same time. Sorry, I know that’s sacrilege. It was uber classy then.
2008, 5th floor. Seems our fountain took a walk upstairs.

That’s It!

Ok compared to Part One this one didn’t make my fingers bleed from all the typing but hopefully you found these additional tidbits interesting. And once again, huge thanks to Amy Streicher who helped find a really cool interior shot that helped complete this whole tale.

Once again, if you liked this article, please share it on your preferred social media accounts… It keeps us writing!

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