In the 20 years since Gianni Versace was gunned down on the steps of his opulent South Beach mansion, Casa Casuarina has had two new owners and was almost purchased by Donald Trump. Today it is an expensive hotel and photo op.
Unlike its Art Deco neighbors, Casa Casuarina, built in 1930 by Standard Oil heir Alden Freeman, was based on Alcazar de Colon, a 16th-century castle in the Dominican Republic that was owned by Christopher Columbus’s son’s family. When Freeman died, it was sold and turned into flop-style apartments called the Amsterdam Palace and stayed that way until Gianni Versace spied it in 1993 while making a side visit to Miami Beach on his way to Cuba. He immediately fell in love with the newly developing South Beach Art Deco District and dismissing the Cuba trip, purchased it immediately. He also bought the 1950’s building next door and tore it down to create a garden for his new casa. In several months, construction began to turn it back into an elegant single-family home dripping in signature Versace elegance from ceilings to floors.
In 1997 while walking home from the nearby News Cafe where he always had his morning coffee, Versace was gunned down by a lone gunman just as he reached the entrance gate to his home. The serial killer Andrew Cunanan was the target of a nationwide manhunt who committed suicide eight days later.
The next owner, Peter Loftin, a telecommunications millionaire, tried to turn Casa Casuarina into a Playboy Mansion-type club, which eventually sent him into bankruptcy. In 2013, the Nakash and Gindi fashion families purchased it at a bankruptcy auction and have continued to run it as a boutique hotel and restaurant. Season two of the cable television series American Crime Story is being shot there this year that will focus on the Versace murder. Though Versace’s belongings were auctioned in 2001, much of the decor still retains his penchant for mind-boggling elegance.
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