KEY WEST, Florida – The story of the fabled Casa Marina Key West, a luxurious Waldorf Astoria Resort, that celebrated its 100th anniversary on New Year’s Eve, reflects the rich history of Key West, the southernmost island city in the continental United States.
Casa Marina opened on New Year’s Eve 1920 as Key West’s most glamorous resort. Conceived by Standard Oil and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, the visionary developer of the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad stretching from the Florida mainland to Key West 160 miles. The Hotel was seasonally open from January to March.
Flagler envisioned his last project as a luxurious resort for the wealthy travelers who could afford the exciting train journey through the Keys, across the Seven Mile Bridge, and down to Key West. But he died at 83 in 1913 after completing the railroad the previous year. Casa Marina’s construction began in 1918 overseen by Flagler’s trusted aide Louis Schutt, who subsequently managed the property until his death n 1933. Its Spanish architecture was designed by Thomas Hastings and John Carrere, architects of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House. With 22-inch-thick walls, Casa Marina was built with the same mix of German cement, sand, and gravel used to build the Seven Mile Bridge.
Commandeered by the military during WW II and again in 1962 during the Cuba Missile Crisis, the property was the home to U.S. missiles pointed at Cuba 90 miles away. Unbelievably, the resort sat empty from 1967 to 1976, with only its famous Birdcage Lounge and expansive outdoor patio open. Beginning in 1976, various owners oversaw the Casa Marina for the next 41 years. My family and I celebrated New Year’s there in 1980 on its 60th anniversary, with a formal affair in one ballroom, a fun kids affair in another, and an outdoor casual dress get-together for locals. Renovations and expansions over the years included rooms along Seminole Street and a building with suites on Reynolds Street.
Activities at Casa Marina run the gamut of watersports, boating, and playing in the surf. They have five dining options to enjoy the 5 star cuisine, the best in Key West, and plenty of meeting space for mitzvahs, weddings and family gatherings. And of course golf. The Key West Golf Club, reworked by Rees Jones, the open-doctor, is the only true tropical Carribean course in the country.
Guests at the Casa Marina Resort can enjoy free shuttle service and concierge planned rounds at the club, which is part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail. Originally opened in 1924 and sustained many hurricanes, the unique 18 hole, 6500 yard, par 70 championship course encompasses over 200 acres of beautiful Keys foliage and wildlife. Cleveland Golf rental clubs are available for those who don’t want to drag their bag with them.
The Key West Golf Club should be on your bucket list when visiting the area for its distinctive layout including the infamous par3, 13th ‘Mangrove Hole’ which plays over a thickly intertwined tropical mangrove.