From the beach, she appeared ethereal, a vision from the past, perhaps some would say otherworldly. I approached slowly, taking in the sight. The Casa Marina, on Jacksonville Beach, had weathered many storms, the most visible, a scar at the top, on the outdoor patio, where she’d been struck by lightning.
I walked into the foyer, opening heavy wood doors to see dappled sunlight just beyond. You could have heard a pin drop in the peace and quiet there. I set my bags down and just stood for a moment, enjoying the solitude.
I moved forward when a voice asked ” Can I help you? ” jolting me out of my daydream.
Opening her doors in the 1920’s, to the rich, the pampered, the famous, on the dunes of what was called the ‘world’s finest beach,’ the Casa Marina must have seen many interesting people come and go. It seemed as if even I could hear the hushed whispers of those enjoying the excitement and danger of the ‘roaring twenties.’
I wished, out loud, that I had been there! I wondered if I might have stood near The Duke and Duchess Of Windsor, leaned against the rich length of the bar while I sipped cognac, with Al Capone and his crew nearby.
To start, she was a two-story,60 room hotel, the first on the beach with an automatic sprinkler system, and fire-proof structure. As other hotels along the beach were lost to horrible fires, she stood strong and survived.
When the war came, the government appropriated the property for a time. There were years, afterward, when she became a tea-room, set of apartments, a retail store. Then The Casa Marina, otherwise known as ‘The Grand Dame’ closed.
Today, the rooms are fewer. There are 23. And, man, they are stunning! I stayed in the red room. It was amazing! The history of the place was evident in the furniture, the artwork and the colorful walls in both the sitting room and bedroom where I spent a few nights this past August.
All along the hotel walls, I stopped to read captions about the rich and haunting history here. There were framed photographs of the beach, where many vehicles were parked, ones of families enjoying their weekend days at the shore. There were images of lifeguards patrolling, dances in the grand salon, people enjoying meals on the veranda.
It definitely was a playground and I felt a bit nostalgic as I wandered through her rooms, grateful that I had the chance to be a part of her present, just for a moment in time.
Do you have a favorite vintage hotel in the U.S.? Please leave a comment below.