Tampa, Florida is a popular vacation destination, and for good reason, sun, sand, and sea tourists to its shores all year long. There is no shortage of luxury hotels and resorts, perfect for unwinding in Tampa. Miles of beaches are available to explore.
If sun and surf aren’t quite adventurous enough, there is a surprising haunted history in the Tampa area. Travelers seeking a little more fright while on vacation may consider an elegant, decadent, and haunted hotel, such as the Don CeSar Hotel in Tampa.
Set on the shoreline of Saint Pete, near the Gulf, the “pink palace” has a fascinating history, spanning nearly 100 years. The story of Don CeSar is filled with lost love, A-list guests, and of course, ghosts.
If you want to check out a ghost story tour in Tampa, check this out.
The history of the Don CeSar Hotel begins several years before it’s construction. Like all good ghosts stories, it begins with young and forbidden love.
In the 1890s a young Thomas Rowe attended school in England and frequented the opera.
One fateful night he attended the play Maritana where he met Lucinda, a beautiful singer. Thomas and Lucinda quickly fell in love.
The pair met secretly at a fountain in a courtyard, he called her Maritana, and she called him Don Cesar after the characters of the play where they met.
As their romance blossomed, Lucinda’s parents grew concerned about their religious differences and moved Lucinda back to Spain. Thomas and Lucinda promised to write to each other and find one another again. Heartbroken, Thomas made his way to the United States and eventually Florida.
Thomas Lowe didn’t give up on his love, even after arriving in Tampa he wrote letters to Lucinda often, year after year, every letter was returned unopened. Until one day, Thomas received word of Lucinda’s death, undoubtedly due to a broken heart, along with a single letter addressed to him, from his lost love asking why he had never written her.
Don CeSar was built by Thomas as a memorial to his lost love Lucinda. Construction began in 1924 on the 80-acre plot of land perched on the sandy beach of Saint Pete. The fountain that graces the lobby and the courtyard were built to be identical to the ones in England where Lucinda and Thomas would meet.
History of The Pink Palace
Thomas Rowe had a dream to build a luxurious and whimsical hotel to honor his lost love. It took nearly two years for the 277 room hotel to be built. With sweeping arches and a castle-like design, the hotel quickly became a getaway for the rich and famous.
Locals soon dubbed it the “Pink Palace” due to the color of its stucco walls and palace-like features including turrets and towers.
The grand opening was an extravagant affair attended by the elite of Sait Pete at the time. The hotel soon became a popular destination for the rich and famous, with the likes of Al Capone, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Franklin D. Roosevelt being frequent guests.
While many hotels and businesses floundered and failed during the Great Depression, Don CeSar continued to flourish, in large part due to a partnership formed with the New York Yankees to house players in the spring.
Thomas Rowe did eventually remarry, though little is known about his wife. Upon Thomas’s untimely and sudden death, it was discovered he did not have a will, the hotel was left to his estranged wife and fell into disrepair.
It was bought in 1942 by the US military and converted into a military hospital for the next two years before being used as an administrative space by the United States Army.
By 1969, the Don CeSar was once again vacant. Local residents spoke out against plans to raze the building, it was purchased and updated in the early ’70s.
Renovations and additions have made the Don CeSar a premier resort in the Tampa area. Boasting a spa, a restaurant, and over 200 rooms, the hotel retains the elegance and romance envisioned by Thomas Rowe.
One would expect a building this old and with this romantic and varied history would have its share of ghost stories, and the Don CeSar does not disappoint. There is no sad tale of death or vengeful spirits to be found here.
One may hear an odd sound, feel a ghostly presence, or see a door open on its own, with any luck, even see a ghost. Don CeSar is the perfect spot to enjoy some ghostly happenings without risk of harm.
The Don CeSar reopened to the public in 1973, almost immediately staff of the hotel began reporting ghostly sightings. A gentleman in a white summer suit, wearing a Panama was the first and most common ghost spotted. The spirit is believed to be that of the late Thomas Rowe, wandering the grounds of his hotel.
Guests and staff alike have reported seeing Rowe, sometimes with Lucinda at the fountain, and on the fifth floor where Rowe resided. At times Rowe will greet hotel guests with a friendly smile as they enter, only to disappear when approached.
Strange sounds and knocking have been heard, doors will graciously open to assist staff carrying trays or luggage. By all accounts, a friendly and helpful spirit, Thomas Rowe, even in death remains a dedicated hotelier.
Thomas Rowe may be the most famous ghost at Don CeSar but legend says that he is not the only one. Many guests have reported an eerie feeling in some rooms, sightings of spirits and ghosts dressed well past the days of Thomas and Lucinda.
Many believe that these ghosts are former patients, soldiers who stayed at Don CeSar when it was used as a military hospital. Eerie noises and unsettling feelings are reported throughout the hotel.
Like Thomas Rowe, there have been no reports of these spirits harming or scaring guests. Perhaps Thomas is still keeping the hotel safe.
All of the splendor envisioned by Thomas Rowe is still evident at the Don CeSar. Sweeping ocean views and Spanish influenced architecture come together to give guests a first-class experience.
The hotel is now the only 4 diamond resort in St. Pete’s, boasting two swimming pools, a luxurious spa, and a top-notch restaurant, it remains a popular destination for the rich and famous. Recent guests include Bill Clinton and Tom Petty, the latter filmed a music video at the hotel in the ’80s.
If the draw of the ocean and the rich ambiance of the hotel isn’t quite enough, there is always the opportunity to experience the supernatural. Linger by the fountain, walk through the courtyard and look out onto the grounds. Keep an eye out for a young man in a white suit, holding the hand of a raven-haired beauty. Listen for the sounds of knocking and swinging doors, or look for a shadow of a soldier.
Tampa offers a surprising haunted history, from bars to beaches and hotels, ghosts are easy to find if one knows where to look. Don CeSar is the perfect ghostly adventure for visitors looking for a little spooky romance while vacationing.
Unlike most ghosts, there is no malice reported in the hauntings of Thomas Rowe. By all accounts, a dreamer and a romantic, Mr. Rowe enjoys watching the daily operations of the hotel he built and wishes only to welcome his guests.
Guests can enjoy the views, the food, and the spa, knowing that they are walking the same halls as actors, musicians, and former U.S. presidents. If they are lucky, guests will also spot Thomas and Lucinda, hand in hand, standing in the courtyard, content to spend eternity together at the Don CeSar.