Don CeSar Hotel

St. Pete Beach, Florida | C.1928

Photo Credit: Jimmy Fashner

With a dream of building a “pink castle”, real estate scion Thomas Rowe purchased 80 acres in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1924. Four years later, his dream was realized with the opening of the Don CeSar Hotel. Quickly a favorite along the Gulf, the Hotel became a destination for America’s rich and famous during the Jazz Age.

Designed by architect Henry Dupont, the Hotel is a blend of Mediterranean and Moorish styles. Built at a soaring $1.25 million budget, the Don CeSar features arched openings, red clay tile roofs, balconies, and tall tower-like upper stories.

Rowe named the Hotel the Don CeSar after Don César de Bazan, the hero of William Vincent Wallace’s opera Maritana. Soon, cultural icons like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone, Lou Gehrig, and even Franklin D. Roosevelt started frequenting the Hotel. During the Great Depression, the Hotel stayed afloat by housing the New York Yankees during spring training.

In 1940, Rowe suffered a heart attack in the lobby and died. Without a formal will, the Hotel went to his estranged wife Mary and fell into disrepair, but WW2 gave the building a new, more practical purpose — it was converted into a military hospital and then a rehab center. By the end of the War, it became a headquarters for Veterans Administration.

The VA would move out of the Hotel and it became vacant in 1969, leaving Rowe’s Pink Palace under threat of being demolished. Local residents rallied to save the Hotel and in 1972, it was purchased by private owners. The next year the Hotel reopened and has since reclaimed its renown — it’s even said that Thomas Rowe’s ghost still haunts the Don CeSar, unable to leave the hotel he loved so much.

One thought on “Don CeSar Hotel

  1. no-reply says:
    November 10, 2022

    Archive Community Comments @leanab - I grew up next door and got married there! It’s an iconic Florida building. A big pink and white castle. @rachelpacifica - My grandfather was the administrator who coordinated the transition from the Don being used as a VA hospital. He always talked about what a huge undertaking it was to move every bit of the hospital to its new location in St. Petersburg.

Create an account to comment! Login/Sign Up.


Log in

Need an account? Sign up

Sign up

Already have an account? Log In

Enter your email to reset your password

Enter your new password