Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant

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Discover Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant, known as the “grand lady” when it opened its doors after the town was renamed Jacksonville Beach.

Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2005, dates back to 1925.

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A member of Historic Hotels of America since 2005, the Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant has stood as a celebrated local landmark for decades. Accomplished hoteliers Gene Zapf and Francis E. Spinner were the main forces behind its construction, as the two were prominent businesspeople in the City of Jacksonville, Florida. The men had become amazed by the ongoing land boom throughout the state during the 1920s, as real estate prices grew dramatically. Much of this economic growth had transpired due to the ongoing commercial development of the Floridian coastline. Countless hotels and resorts debuted at the time, as people from across the Northeast headed south in search of warm climes in the winter months. Jacksonville itself was no different, as its very own shoreline was rapidly developed into a sprawling line of luxurious hotels and resorts. The businesses quickly became prosperous endeavors, which attracted all sorts of vacationers and business professionals. In fact, the population along the coast had grown so much that two separate communities had ceded from Jacksonville proper—Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach (Neptune Beach would not appear for another decade). Recognizing the immense economic opportunities of operating a luxurious holiday destination, Zapf and Spinner decided to open their own resort in Jacksonville Beach. Zapf himself was particularly confident in the venture, for he had previously worked as a general manager at a few neighboring hotels.

Zapf and Spinner had assembled a large group of investors to help finance the project, which subsequently hired the renowned architectural firm Marsh and Saxelbye to spearhead its design. What the company managed to accomplish was nothing short of spectacular. Constructed to resemble a historic Hispanic mission, the building’s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture was some of the best in the area. It stood two stories tall with a brilliant penthouse suite atop its flat roof. Inside, the guestrooms and public spaces displayed a wealth of fantastic decorations that distinguished it from its local rivals. It was also technological advanced for its age, as its hallow structural tile and steel frame made it incredibly fire-proof. The building even had a sprinkler system, which was unheard of at the time! The building debuted as the “Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant” on May 23, 1925—just in time for the summer season. Within a matter of months, the resort emerged as one of Jacksonville’s most elite destinations. Business remained strong over the coming years, even as the Great Depression and World War II undermined the overall strength of the local economy. Some of the most famous people of the era eventually arrived at one point or another, including Charlie Chaplin, Jean Harlow, and Al Capone. Members of the British Royal Family made an appearance, too, specifically the Duke of Windsor—the former King Edward VIII—and his infamous wife, Wallace Simpson. Even U.S. Presidents graced the Casa Marina Hotel with their presence, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his successor, Harry S. Truman.

Despite years of renowned service, the Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant had entered into a period of financial decline. At one point, the resort could only afford to operate its fine dining establishment. The economic situation had deteriorated so greatly that by the end of the decade, Ocean State Bank foreclosed on the resort. After sitting dormant for four years, new owners managed to successfully reopen the Casa Marine Hotel and Restaurant to great acclaim. They subsequently initiated a series of extensive renovations that not only made the resort more appealing to the modern traveler, but also brilliantly preserved the Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture. In order to truly restore the rich historical character of the Casa Monica Hotel and Restaurant, the renovations strictly followed guidelines prepared by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s then-current Standards for Historic Rehabilitation. Its ownership group even consulted regularly with architects employed by the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation. The work was so effective in restoring the Casa Monica Hotel and Restaurant back to its former glory that the federal government listed the entire building on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the resort is once more one of Florida’s most prestigious holiday retreats. It is also the only surviving historic destination from the 1920s to operate in the greater Jacksonville area. As such, few places in Florida can rival the elegance and history of the Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant.

  • About the Location +

    Jacksonville, Florida, has a rich history that harkens back generations. While Native Americans of the Timucuan people had lived in the region for millennia, the first Europeans arrived in the middle of the 16th century. A French explorer named Jean Ribault led a small expedition up the St. Johns River, seizing the territory in the name of King Charles IX of France. Shortly thereafter, René Goulaine de Laudonnière established a small outpost at the mouth of the river that he subsequently called “Fort Caroline.” The construction of the citadel was a direct affront to Spain’s claim over the Floridian Peninsula, which it had established several decades prior. Aghast, King Philip II of Spain quickly summoned Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to sail a sizeable fleet to Florida and destroy the new French settlement. Making landfall some 33 miles to the south of Fort Caroline in 1565, Menéndez established his own community that he named “San Agustín” (known today as St. Augustine). He then immediately led all of his soldiers to Fort Caroline and killed every French soldiers garrisoned inside. The Spanish subsequently renamed the fort “San Mateo,” which helped guard San Agustín from any potential reprisals by France. Indeed, French and English pirates—as well as disaffected Native American tribes—continuously attacked San Agustín for the better part of the next two centuries. Great Britain even temporarily assumed control over San Agustín and its nearby environs at the end of the Seven Years War, although that period proved brief for Spain recaptured the region at the end of the American Revolutionary War.

    For the next five decades, all of Florida remained under Spanish influence. Yet, with its society on the brink of collapse due to the stresses of the Napoleonic Wars, Spain had largely ignored administrating its scattered settlements across the peninsula. Pressures from the new United States eventually convinced the Spanish to surrender all of Florida to American control in 1821. A surge of settlers from across the Georgian border flooded into the new territory, with some heading to the northern side of a well-known local landmark called “Cow Ford.” Led by Isiah D. Hart, the people established a town grid complete with various streets and plats. They even named the new community “Jacksonville” in honor of Florida’s first territorial governor, Andrew Jackson. (Andrew Jackson was the great military hero of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 and would later go on to become the 7th President of the United States.) The territorial legislature eventually granted Jacksonville a coveted town charter several years after it had been founded in 1832. Agriculture continued to be the main industry for the community, which supported a smaller maritime trade. Several massive plantations existed beyond the city limits, too, supported by hundreds of enslaved African Americans. But Jacksonville later served as a major Confederate supply depot during the American Civil War. While not major battles occurred inside the city itself, Jacksonville did exchanged hands several times over the course of the conflict. Jacksonville was firmly in Union hands by the end of the war, although years of sustained warfare had greatly reduced it in size.

    One of the many ways that Jacksonville had reconstructed itself in the latter-half of the 19th century was the creation of its present tourism industry. Perhaps the greatest asset in this development was Jacksonville’s luxurious satellite communities: Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, and of course, Jacksonville Beach. Their magnificence convinced many aspiring hoteliers that countless northern families would flock to them in droves during the winter months. Concentrated commercial development of the major Jacksonville beaches commenced in 1882, when a group of local businessmen financed the construction of a long, narrow-gauge railroad from the city to Jacksonville Beach. They also acquired plots of land near the railroad for the creation of several hotels and resorts that would incentivize travel along the route. Starting with the massive Murray Hall Hotel, dozens of new facilities debuted over the next several years. Soon enough, the railroad brought permanent residents of Jacksonville Beach, who quickly established a wealth of residential neighborhoods. Originally calling the community “Ruby” in honor of one of the original resident’s daughters, the owners of the railroad subsequently changed its name to “Pablo Beach” after a nearby estuary at St. Johns River. Pablo Beach quickly emerged as one of the most popular vacation destinations outside of Jacksonville during the first few decades of the 20th century. To build upon this newfound popularity, the local changed the name of the city once more to “Jacksonville Beach.

    Similar economic developments then transpired in nearby Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach to the south. In 1899, the great railroad magnate Henry Flagler purchased the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railway and extended it through the of Jacksonville Beach. Heading further down the coast, he eventually stopped the line to the town of Mayport. Upon completing the spur, Flagler then started constructing the Continental Hotel as a means of attracting customers to the railroad. Its development was part of a massive real estate project that Flagler had implemented across Florida, in which he would build magnificent holiday destinations along the various railroads he financed throughout the state. Like his colleagues in Jacksonville Beach, he hoped that the new hotels and resorts would inspire unprecedented numbers of tourists to travel vacation in the area. Additional lodgings soon opened next to the Continental Hotel, such as the legendary Atlantic Beach Hotel. By the start of the 1920s, hundreds of people lived, worked, and played in Atlantic Beach, as well as its neighbor, Jacksonville Beach. So many individuals had established both temporary and permanent residences in the area that a third community—Neptune Beach—appeared in 1931, specifically ceding from the southern end of Jacksonville Beach. Yet, it never developed the same number of commercial businesses and remained largely residential in character. Nevertheless, all three locations have since become some of the most exciting places to visit in the greater Jacksonville area. Their serene coastlines and collective tranquil atmosphere attracts thousands of people every year.


  • About the Architecture +

    The two architects who originally worked on the Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant were William Mulford Marsh and Harold Saxelbye. Marsh was born in Deland, Florida, in 1889, but moved to Jacksonville as a child. While he had no formal education in architecture, Marsh managed to gained experience firsthand by working a series of jobs for a firm named “Talley and Sumer.” His counterpart, Harold Saxelbye, was, in fact, and Englishmen, who had attended the prestigious Royal Institute of Architects. Trained in the Beaux-Arts-style of architecture, Saxelbye was the polar opposite to William Mulford Marsh. Regardless of how odd their pairing, the two wound up working extremely well together. Saxelbye first met Mulford during a trip to Jacksonville in 1919, having already moved to the United States a decade prior. Mulford had learned of Saxelbye’s work on the Mason Hotel in downtown Jacksonville, and proposed that the two form an architectural company. Over the course of the next decade, the firm of Marsh and Saxelbye developed significant renown throughout the city. The pair successfully created many different private residents, although they also worked on massive commercial and municipal structures, too. Yet, the only building that Marsh and Saxelbye ever constructed in Jacksonville Beach happened to be the Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant. Specializing in various Revivalist architectural forms, the two were well-suited to design the resort’s layout.

    Marsh and Saxelbye incorporated a number of unique elements into the structure of the building. Founding the entire, two-story resort upon a U-shaped plan, with its entire skeleton frame made with hallowed tile and steel. The two had decided to use those materials for they were incredibly fireproof—a necessity given that several other high-profile destinations had burnt down a few years prior. Marsh and Saxelbye even instituted a sprinkler system throughout the structure, which was nearly unheard of during the 1920s! They subsequently covered the exposed frame with stucco, as well as terra cotta cartouches. Balconettes proliferated throughout the exterior walls, which anchored the building’s many windows. A flat roof sat atop the fledgling resort, complete with a luxurious penthouse suite that was available for only the most exclusive guests. Yet, certain aspects of the root displayed a pronounced curvilinear parapet, as well as secondary roofs complete with barrel tiling. Double-hung sash with some fanlights composed most of the present fenestration, as well. Inside, every public space contained cypress paneling across the ceiling, while beautiful tilework constituted the flooring. Guests were led directly from the lobby into a brilliant courtyard that Marsh and Saxelbye had anchored with a magnificent loggia. While most of the public spaces—including the restaurant—resided near the northern wing of the first floor, guestrooms filled the rest of the building.

    Also known as “Spanish Eclectic,” Spanish Colonial Revival style itself is a representation of themes typically seen in early Spanish colonial settlements. Original Spanish colonial architecture borrowed its design principles from Moorish, Renaissance, and Byzantine forms, which made it incredibly decorative and ornate. The general layout of those structures called for a central courtyard, as well as thick stucco walls that could endure Latin America’s diverse climate. Among the most recognizable features within those colonial buildings involved heavy carved doors, spiraled columns, and gabled red-tile roofs. Architect Bertram Goodhue was the first to widely popularize Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, spawning a movement to incorporate the style more broadly in American culture at the beginning of the 20th century. Goodhue received a platform for his designs at the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, in which Spanish Colonial architecture was exposed to a national audience for the first time. His push to preserve the form led to a revivalist movement that saw widespread use of Spanish Colonial architecture throughout the country, specifically in California and Florida. Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture reached its zenith during the early 1930s, although a few American businesspeople continued to embrace the form well into the late 20th century.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Al Capone, legendary mob boss of the Chicago Outfit who many knew as “Scarface.”

    Charlie Chaplin, actor known for his silent roles in The Kid and A Woman of Paris.

    Jean Harlow, actress known for her roles in such films like Red Dust, Dinner at Eight, and Hell’s Angels. 

    John D. Rockefeller, founder of the Standard Oil Company

    Mary Pickford, actress known for her role in the silent film Coquette. 

    Wallace Simpson, Duchess of Windsor and wife to King Edward VIII

    King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom (1936; abdicated and became the Duke of Windsor)

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States (1933 – 1945)

    Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States (1945 – 1953)


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