Here I am beside the biggest hotel pool in North America, 22,000 square feet, at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, built in 1926. It’s fun to swim in these 700,000 gallons: never crowded and when you do a few laps, you feel like you have been somewhere. Usually I do just the butterfly, but this time the shoulders hurt from my recent injury, so I stayed with the crawl and backstroke. Not really much of a workout. But something. And a welcome antidote to the very humid 85+ degree weather. The picture of me by the pool was taken just after an hour of exhausting tennis practice. I am still dripping from the heat. In Connecticut that week, I had played tennis outdoors in 36 degrees!
According to one article I found, “That pool played an important role in helping the Biltmore through the nation’s economic lulls in the late 1920s and early 1930s. People came from all around to aquatic galas with synchronized swimmers, bathing beauties, alligator wrestling and Jackie Ott, the boy wonder who would dive from an 85-foot platform and slip through a circle of fire into the pool.
Before he was Tarzan (in the movies), Johnny Weissmuller was a swimming teacher and broke a world record at the Biltmore pool. Weissmuller was fired for running naked through the hotel one night. His female fans put up such a fuss, the hotel management hired him back.
The man famous for swinging through trees is only one source of entertaining stories at the Biltmore. The hotel had a gangster reputation, too. Mobster Thomas “Fatty” Walsh was murdered there while an illicit casino was in full swing. His ghost continues to scare occasional guests on the 13th floor, according to hotel storytellers.”
The hotel’s own web site boasts that “The Biltmore was one of the most fashionable resorts in the entire country in its heyday, hosting royalty of both the European and Hollywood variety. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby were frequent guests. In fact, everyone who was anyone – from politicians like President Franklin D. Roosevelt to notorious gangsters like Al Capone.”
Last year when I stayed there, I saw John McCain (campaigning for President) leave the hotel in an SUV caravan that had been sniffed by dogs and included snipers with sunglasses.