January 16th, 1928 The Don officially held its grand opening with an impressive soiree that over 500 of America’s who’s who attended with black ties and flapper dresses. It was a party that lived on in legend, and Mr. Rowe was so proud of his luxurious Pink Palace. Let’s all be extra proud of this amazing heirloom that we have been asked to take care of and share with others.
The beautiful Don CeSar has a romantic history. Developer Thomas Rowe chose St. Pete because of its booming real estate market opportunities and warm weather which were suggested by his doctor based on health concerns. When Thomas first saw this beachfront property, he had arrived via a rickety drawbridge run by an unreliable operator. But he had a vision—a beautiful luxury hotel visited by tourists eager to enjoy Florida’s fabled sunshine and warm Gulf breezes.
The name Don Ce-Sar (hyphenated until 1973) was a character from Rowe’s favorite opera, Maritana. In the opera, the character faces long odds, rigid societal lines, and a king’s wrath to emerge the hero. Rowe won the heart of Lucinda, a dark-haired beauty in the London performance he'd attended, who played the heroine, Maritana. Although they planned to marry, Lucinda was kidnapped from the romance by her parents before unexpectedly passing away. Rowe left London heartbroken and never forgot his first love.
In 1919 Thomas J. Rowe left Virginia for booming St. Petersburg seeking health and wealth. Within five years, he had parlayed $21,000 into $1,050,000. He bought 80 acres on what was Long Key—now St. Pete Beach—and sold tracts to finance his dream hotel, the Don Ce-Sar. Construction on the hotel began in fall 1925. Rowe hired architect Henry DuPont and contractor Carlton Beard to build his palace, and the two visited the grand East Coast Moorish/Mediterranean style hotels for inspiration. Beard devised an ingenious floating concrete pad and pyramid footing foundation to stabilize the hotel on the beach’s shifting sands. That same sturdy foundation still supports the building today. The grand “Pink Palace” opened during the winter tourist season in January 1928 and was wildly successful. But after the 1929 stock market crash, reservations dried up, and the hotel went into receivership, with Rowe appointed as its manager. To stay afloat, he shrewdly negotiated a three-year contract to house the New York Yankees baseball team during Spring Training. William Bowman bought the hotel from the GSA in March 1972. He was a developer and hotel owner who spent a year and a half and his considerable expertise to clean, restore, and furnish the ‘Pink Palace.’ In his passion to restore the hotel to its former beauty, he removed, cleaned and replaced every existing pane of glass in the windows.
Today the Don CeSar is set apart from its competitors by its long-term and dedicated team of 380 employees who provide professional genuine service. Many of our team members have represented the Don for decades, and interact with our loyal guests as part of their family legacy. In addition, we are not only the iconic Pink Palace Mediterranean structure but also offer a 90-year legendary history. In 1989, it was a founding member of National Trust of Historic Hotels and was recognized by the organization in 2015 as "Best Historic Hotel".