Monday, June 04, 2007

Casa Casuarina in Miami Beach

Casa Casuarina (1116 Ocean Drive. Miami Beach, Fl.) was built in 1930 by architect, philanthropist, author and political reformer Alden Freeman (heir to the Standard Oil fortune) as an homage to the oldest existing house in Santo Domingo, DR.: the Alcazar de Colon. The Alcazar was home to Christopher Columbus' son Diego in 1510, and Freeman chose to use it as inspiration because of his life-long veneration of Christopher Columbus. Indeed, Casa's cornerstone contains brick from the Alcazar de Colon.
Casa Casuarina had a festive opening on Christmas Day, 1930 attended by local celebrities and blessed by the Archbishop of Santo Domingo. A three story structure with a Spanish style inner courtyard, the Casa contained 22 apartments. It quickly became home to Freeman's mostly artistic group of friends which included the brother of the dancer Isadora Duncan.
In 1937 after Freeman's death, Casa Casuarina was bought by Jacques Amsterdam who promptly renamed it "The Amsterdam Palace." It became an apartment house, but its tenants continued to come from the artistic world, attracted to the building as an architectural curiosity.
In 1992 on a trip to Miami, couturier Gianni Versace encountered Casa Casuarina for the first time. Although it had fallen into great disrepair, Versace fell in love with it and bought it. Versace made substantial changes; he painstakingly restored, expanded, and embellished it. The south wing, pool and garden are all Versace's additions made possible after he bought and razed the adjacent hotel. The result was a grandiose rococo folly of Spanish and Italian design, and Casa Casuarina took on international renown.

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