The entrance to Casa Casuarina is on Ocean Drive at 11th Street, accross from Lummus Park. It was on these stairs that Gianni Versace was shot and killed in 1997.
If you've been to South Beach you've walked past the Versace mansion.
By: Robert Murgatroyd
If you're not sure whether or not you've seen it, just look for a really big mansion with an observatory on its roof, nestled between the cafes, restaurants and hotels of Ocean Drive. You'll know you're getting close when you see the crowd outside its famous doorsteps snapping pictures (it s the third most photographed house in America behind the White House and Graceland).
Before we step inside the Versace mansion we should probably cover a bit of history first. To make it a bit easier for you to follow, I'll deliver it to you in easy to read bite sized chunks for an easier understanding of this fascinating life.
The mosaic garden and swimming pool area seen at night. The pool is lined with 24K gold tiles.
Brief Bio of Gianni Versace
Versace (born December 2, 1946) was an Italian fashion designer and the founder of the Gianni Versace international fashion house. He and his companion, Antonio D Amico, were openly gay and were regulars on the international party scene. He hung out with some of the biggest icons of our time Lady Diana, Madonna, and Elton John just to name a few.
The Tragic Story of Versace s Death
In 1997, at age 50, and at the top of his fashion game, Gianni went out for his usual morning walk down to the News Cafe on Ocean Drive for breakfast (which was his regular morning ritual when in South Beach). Upon his return, he was shot dead on the doorsteps of his mansion by Andrew Cunanan (a 27 year old serial killer who had been stalking him for over a year). Cunanan shortly thereafter turned the gun on himself, committing suicide after fleeing to a nearby boat in a massive Miami police standoff.
The inner courtyard is one of the few areas of the villa that can be seen without being a guest; just eat at the restaurant.
Brief History of The Versace s Mansion Casa Casuarina
Casa Casauarina (as the house is titled) was built in 1930 by architect/philanthropist, Alden Freeman, as a homage to the oldest exisitng house in the western hemisphere, the Alcazar de Colon in Santa Domingo. The house in Santa Domingo was the home of Christopher Colubus s son, Diego, in 1510. One of the house s cornerstones actually contains original brick from the Alcazar de Colon .
How Versace Obtained The House
In 1992, on a trip to Miami, Versace encountered Casa Casuarina for the first time. Although it had fallen into great disrepair, Versace fell in love with it and purchased the residence for 3 million dollars. He invested an additional 33 million dollars in to restoring it. Yep, he put 33 million into a 3 million dollar house. He exquisitely restored, expanded and embellished all its features. He demolished the adjacent hotel to create the South wing, pool and garden. The result was a triumph in Italian design and the Casa soon became part of the world s stage.
The restaurant at Casa Casuarina is Gianni's and you can view the pool area and othe parts of the ground floor.
What Happened to The House After Versace s Death
Versace s estate was massive and took several years to settle. To give you an idea just how big his estate was, he left his 11 year old niece, Allegra, a half a billion dollars. In September of 2000, telecom Executive Peter Loftin bought Casa Casuarina for 20 million from Versace s sister Donatella (who now runs the famous brand).
The deal she made with Loftin was that she would sell the house to him for 20 million dollars, however this did not include the furniture. He agreed to the deal and she later sold off the furniture for 90 Million!
Owning Casa Casauarina has been dream of Loftin s since Versace remodeled the house. After Loftin purchased it, he dedicated himself to both preserving its history and bringing vibrant new life to it. He hasn t made any structural changes, but has done extensive work to preserve its architectural history. He restored all of the interior walls and brought back the opulent style of Versace with lavish furniture and details.
The Current Status of Casa Casauarina
Loftin initially turned Casa Casuarina into a private members only private club and has since morphed it into a luxury boutique hotel. Today it operates as The Villa Casa Casauarina, a four-star hotel with rooms from around $900 per night.
Robert Murgatroyd is the co-owner of Jet Set Life http://www.jetsetlife.tv/home.htm where he reports on where the Jet Set stay, eat and play around the world. For more reviews, photos and videos check out his blog- Living Jet Set. http://www.jetsetlife.tv/robsblog/