Make us your home page

Don CeSar hotel gets a major makeover, name change


It's not the fountain. It's not even the replica of the fountain. It may be a substitute for the replica of yet another fountain in London where the builder of the Don CeSar supposedly met his true love and inspiration for his pink palace by the sea. So perhaps it's the fountain twice removed.

In any case, the fountain on the Don's fifth floor outside the King Charles ballroom has been taken out as part of a $7 million renovation that includes a name change and a departure from its tropical decor. The hotel is now officially called the Loews Don CeSar Hotel.

"Oh, no. That's a shame the fountain is gone," said Deborah Frethem, a Tampa Bay Ghost Tours guide who leads groups through the 83-year-old hotel. She regularly shares the legend of the hotel's builder, Thomas Rowe, and his intense love for a Spanish opera singer named Lucinda. There are stories of guests and employees who have seen their ghosts lingering by the fountain. "But I'm sure Thomas and Lucinda will find somewhere else to meet."

Rowe completed the Don CeSar in 1928 as a tribute to Lucinda. Supposedly he saw her in the opera Maritana, fell in love and the two met regularly after her performances at an ornate fountain near the Royal Opera House. Their plans to elope were foiled by her parents. Some years later, Rowe named his hotel after a character in that opera and built a fountain in the lobby that was a replica of the one in London.

That fountain was destroyed when the government bought the hotel and converted it to an Army hospital in the 1940s. Enter William Bowman Jr. He paid $460,000 for the dilapidated Don CeSar in 1972 and restored it to grandeur, including the lobby fountain. It was then that a note written by a former superintendent who was ordered to demolish the fountain in the '40s was found under the lobby floor. He lamented that a "spot of beauty" was destroyed because some thought it got in the way of pedestrian traffic.

In subsequent ownership after Bowman lost the hotel during financial struggles, the lobby fountain was again removed and another fountain was built on the fifth floor. Once again it seems it was an impediment to pedestrian traffic.

"For all the weddings we do upstairs, the fountain was something that kind of got in the way when trying to host receptions," Don CeSar general manager John Marks said. "It didn't work very well any longer. It wasn't the kind of thing you could fix. It was tired. We had some odor-related issues from pipes."

June Hurley Young, a historian who led the charge to save the Don CeSar in the 1970s, has written a history of the hotel. She believes there was much history and sentiment tied to the lobby fountain but not the one on the fifth floor.

"That fountain was not significant," she said. "The one in the lobby was (Bowman's) answer to the note they found under the floor. It was destroyed when they put in the grand staircase."

You'll soon see many more changes at the landmark hotel.

A major makeover of the lobby, lobby bar and Sea Porch restaurant should be done by next month. All of the 277 guest rooms will have new furniture, carpet, drapes and bedding by January. Instead of its current tropical, beach decor the hotel is going with a cleaner, sleeker, hipper look to appeal to the younger market.

"We've created a much more elegant and contemporary environment," Marks said. "We're moving forward … to meet the demands and expectations of new generations of future Loews Don CeSar guests."

The general age range of Don CeSar guests is 30 to 60. But with more than 300 weddings a year on the property, customers are skewing to the younger side. Many return regularly to celebrate anniversaries.

Though still not at the sales levels it reached in 2006 or 2007, 2011 has been better than last year and 2010 was better than 2009, Marks said.

Don't get your heart set on buying a palm tree pillow or green-and-white-striped wing chair at a chaotic hotel tag sale. The furnishings that get replaced will go to a furniture liquidation company.

News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or [email protected]

Don CeSar hotel gets a major makeover, name change 09/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 17, 2011 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay small businesses give Tampa B+ for regulatory climate


    In a recent survey about small business sentiments toward state and local government policies that affect them, Tampa Bay ranked at No. 25 out of 80 — a B+ overall.

    Tampa Bay ranked No. 25 out of 80 in a recent survey about how small business owners feel about state and local government policies that affect them. | [Times file photo]
  2. Seminole Heights restaurants face struggles amid killings, post-Irma

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The neighborhood's hip circle of popular, well-regarded restaurants is feeling the squeeze in the wake of a recent killing spree. And the timing is rough.

    Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe has been taking precautions in light of the Seminole Heights killings: keeping the lights on all night and having employees walk to their cars in groups.
  3. St. Pete-Clearwater holding food, supply drive for hurricane refugees


    CLEARWATER — St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and Allegiant Air are holding a food and supply drive for the Hispanic Outreach Center in Pinellas County. The event, which will benefit refugees displaced by Hurricane Maria, will be held Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the airport at 14700 Terminal Blvd.

    St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and Allegiant Air are hosting a food and supplies drive Tuesday for refugees displaced by Hurricane Maria. | [Times file photo]
  4. Tallest building in Pinellas County in search of a new name

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — The name "Priatek" is gone from Pinellas County's tallest building, perhaps to be replaced by that of a much better-known company new to the Tampa Bay area.

    The Priatek name is off of downtown St. Petersburg's tallest building.
 [LARA CERRI  |   Times.  2015]
  5. Estuary wins pier design contest for the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway extension

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — And the winner is… Estuary.

    Voters overwhelmingly supported a pier design called Estuary for the $200-million extension of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in Tampa.
[Courtesy of AECOM]