The newest season of American Crime Story, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, just kicked off, and we’re already hooked. The story is crazy, the acting is great, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the visuals of Gianni Versace’s beyond-opulent mansion and lavish lifestyle are gorgeous to look at. I know this goes without saying but… the dude had good taste. But whatever happened to Gianni Versace’s mansion after he was murdered on its front steps? It turns out… that it is now a hotel.
The Versace family left the mansion untouched for three years after Gianni’s 1997 murder. Donatella sold it in 2000. Sometime around 2009, the building re-opened as a luxury hotel. Today, the hotel goes by its original name: The Villa Casa Casuarina.
The mansion’s history doesn’t start with Versace. Alden Freeman, the son of rich Standard Oil exec Joel Freeman, built it in 1930. Back between the 1920s and 1940s, Miami Beach was the ultimate place for the rich and fabulous to build their mansions. Miami Beach is a designated historic district thanks to its abundant art deco architecture.
Anyways, back to Freeman. Alden inherited his father’s fortune, retired at 27 and traveled the world. One building he saw during his travels was Alcazar De Colon in the Dominican Republic. The Alcazar De Colon is the oldest house in the Western hemisphere, and it was built by Christopher Columbus’s son, Diego. Inspired by the gorgeous, historic building, Alden returned to Miami Beach and built Casa Casuarina. He even incorporated an original brick from the Alcazar into the mansion. It originally contained 24 apartments. Alden lived in one and rented the others, often inviting the interesting people he met during his travels to stay. He died in the mansion in 1937 after a long illness.
The Versace Era
The mansion changed hands a few times over the years. It mostly continuing to operate as apartments and gradually fell into disrepair. That is, until 1992, when renowned designer Gianni Versace fell in love with the mansion during a stroll down Ocean Avenue while on vacation. The unique Spanish architecture drew him in, but the “kneeling Aphrodite” statue out front sealed the deal. Versace had a deep fascination with Greek and Roman mythology.
He purchased the house for $2.9 million and then bought the property next door (a historic art deco hotel called The Hotel Revere) for $3.7 million. Against the wishes of the Miami Design Preservation League, Versace tore down the Hotel Revere and used the land for his garden, pool, and a whole new wing on the house. Overall, Versace spent an additional $32 million adding all of this in. In addition, he also converted the 24 apartments into 10 large suites (plus two more suites in the South Wing).
Versace also replaced the fountain and reconstructed the observatory with a new copper dome. He planned to buy a vacant lot to the north for a second garden, but he was murdered before he got the chance. On July 15th, serial killer Andrew Cunanan shot Versace on the steps of the mansion as he was walking back from picking up coffee and the morning newspapers. Though the TV show American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace heavily speculates as to why Cunanan made Versace his fifth and final victim before turning the gun on himself, we will probably never know exactly why Cunanan shot Versace.
Gianni Versace’s mansion today
As The Villa Casa Casuarina, the hotel features 10 suites. Lots of the details put into Gianni Versace’s mansion remain, including the Medusa medallion on the courtyard staircase’s left wall, the mosaic garden, and the Medusa and Neptune statues by the pool. The 54-foot pool itself is also famously beautiful. More than 100 million tiles (including thousands made of 24-karat gold) decorate the so-called “Million Mosaic Pool”. A scarf from Versace’s Marine Vanitas collection inspired the design. And, of course, the bronze “kneeling Aphrodite” statue that drew Versace to the house is still here as well.
Here’s a guide to the other art deco gems in Miami’s Art Deco District
More luxurious spots to explore…