The Architecture of the Biltmore Hotel and the Freedom Tower





The Architecture of the Biltmore Hotel and the Freedom Tower

Biltmore Hotel History

The analysis of the Biltmore Hotel will investigate several aspects of the building including the architects, the architectural style and the interior and exterior feature of the structure. The Biltmore Hotel is an opulent establishment located in Florida in the United States in 1926 (Nylander 16). The building was developed by George Merrick and John Bowman in the process of developing other hotels in the Biltmore chain. Apart from being a successful establishment, the Biltmore Hotel was considered a national historic landmark since 1996 (Jay 34). This is because the hotel has hosted several important people from around the world. The hotel was also a site for treatment of World War II soldiers making it historically significant.

In 2012, the AIA also promoted the same establishment to the list of Florida Architecture 100 Years. 100 Places as an exceptional service provider (Nylander 131). While the founder of the Biltmore Hotel was John Bowman, the injection of capital by Merrick was responsible for its growth and expansion into the preferred hotel in Florida (Jay 12). The main intention of the hotel was to serve as a stop over for the tourists and other patrons who were conscious of the sporting and fashion activities happening within the area. However, it was quickly emerging as the preferred spot for affluent and famous individuals and families due to its location, design and services.

As the initial creator of Coral Gables, George Merrick who was a land developer started the suburbs and installed stringent building regulations with the intention of maintaining the beautiful environment (Nylander 44; Jay 13). Up to the present day, the natural floral and fauna in the location still attracts many tourists who seek an escape from the hustle of the city. The Coral Gables area is mainly a residential, prosperous location covered with extensive, tended boulevards, country clubs, and golf courses. The larger part of Coral Gables is covered in green tropical vegetation and banyan trees.

Amid the flourishing business district, over 100 multinational firms and branches have set up headquarters and offices. The building had initially been designed as a soldier’s hospital from around 1945 to 1950 and was later occupied by the University of Miami medical school at around 1958 (Jay 125). In 1987, it was converted back into a hotel under the management of the Seaway Hotels Corporation (Jay 134). Many rumors spread throughout Florida that the hotel was haunted by the spirit of dead World War II soldiers. When the construction works were completed, The Biltmore Hotel was the tallest building in the state and even exceeded the Freedom Tower (Nylander 23).

During its heydays, The Biltmore Hotel hosted a myriad of important guests from the movie and music industry as well as members of different royal families. These prominent guests were very influential in the preservation attempts that happened later when the economic was in recession. When it was opened, the hotel registered Bing Crosby, Al Capone, Judy Garland, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers and relatives of the Roosevelt’s as regular guests (Nylander 6). The former president Roosevelt had a transitory official office installed at the establishment where he stayed during his fishing trips (Nylander 7). The hotel hosted many gala balls, aquatic shows beside the large, exquisite pool and royal weddings as well as first-class golf tournaments. Several jazz concerts also performed at the same hotel. The architects ensured that the rooms were planned in such a way that privacy and luxury were maintained. Even the presidential suites were satisfactory enough for the state protocol officials (Jay 15).

The Biltmore Hotel managed to survive two economic downturns by hosting sporting events such as aquatic galas that maintained the publicity of the establishment and attracted many people. These galas consisted of different activities such as swimming competitions, synchronized swimming, diving displays and alligator wrestling. These features and services were rare in most American hotels and this point towards the heavy borrowing of Spanish concepts by the architect, Schultze and Weaver. The famous swimming instructor, Mr. Johnny Weissmuller was one of the diving wonders that attracted many crowds with his diving prowess.

However, the commencement of World War II saw the conversion of the hotel establishment into a hospital under the supervision of the War Department. During this period, the government took over the building but only occupied the lower floors and the basement where hospital equipment was installed (Nylander 67). The hotel now served as the center for caring for the Air Forces wounded. The building underwent major renovations with most of the large windows being blocked up with concrete, while the marble floor was covered with linoleum. However, after the war was over, the military were extracted and the building fell into disuse.

Biltmore Hotel Architect, Architectural Type and Style


The main architecture of the Biltmore Hotel was performed by Schultze and Weaver. Schultze and Weaver were first established in New York in the 1920s by Leonard Schultze and S. Fullerton Weaver (Nylander 78). The Biltmore range of hotels was among the first major projects taken up by this architectural firm. Apart from the Biltmore Hotel in Florida, Schultze and Weaver have done other projects for the same company including the Atlanta Biltmore Hotel as well as the Millennium Biltmore. However, the architectural firm has proved to be efficient in designing and developing different types of buildings. Other establishments that can be accredited to Schultze and Weaver include the Lexington Hotel, the Warldorf-Astoria Hotel and the Plaza hotel in the heart of New York. This is an illustration of the creativity and skill of the company.

While Schultze and Weaver are renowned for their expertise in designing luxury hotels, the architectural company has also come up with floor plans for residential developments, hospitals, schools, and office premises for instance the J.C. Penney Company headquarters in New York used in 1925. Other famous buildings include the Hunter-Dulin structure in San Francisco as well as the Freedom Tower in Miami (Nylander 32). The U.S. Post Office in Scarsdale was also partially developed by Schultze and Weaver. Therefore, the firm has contributed greatly towards the aesthetic value of New York City by developing first-class buildings such as the Biltmore Hotel. Schultze and Weaver maximized the land and financial resources when developing the Biltmore Hotel since the establishment was relatively small compared to other hotels. However, it had all the luxury of a first-class hotel and this illustrated the excellence in the drawing up and implementation of the floor plans (Jay 231).

Biltmore Hotel Elements and Characteristics

The Biltmore Hotel is relatively large compared to most hotels within Florida. It has approximately 275 rooms and including these rooms, there are 130 roomy suites that were designed in a Mediterranean style (Nylander 18). As mentioned earlier, there are two prominent presidential suites within these rooms although they are not open to public access. The hotel has numerous sporting facilities including an 18-hole golf course designed by Donald Ross, 10 professional tennis courts, one of the largest swimming pools nationally and private cabanas as well as the famous Biltmore Spa. Other prominent features that stand out include the Culinary Academy and conference and meeting facilities that are preferred by social events and weddings. The hotel was designed to cater for several age groups and professions within the state.

Starting form the early 1980s, the Biltmore Hotel experienced numerous updating plans and renovations that have greatly contributed towards keeping the heritage and reputation intact (Nylander 161). For the guests, this meant a compilation of suites and rooms decorated and fitted in deliberately classical fashion. Guests had the luxury of enjoying rare furniture and services such as Egyptian cotton bedding, feather bedding and stone floors from Jerusalem, and immense windows with spectacular views of Coral Gables, the swimming pool or the golf course. Simultaneously, the Biltmore had also embraced advanced technology such as cable TV and WI-FI Internet (Jay 37).

By opening up the hotel to sporting and culinary events, the architects ensured that the establishment would be permanently in business throughout the year. It is a great advantage to Biltmore Hotel being an affiliate of the Leading Hotels of the World association. Apart from the diverse interests offered by the hotel, Biltmore offers an extensive culinary portfolio that includes tea lounges, bars and restaurants. The interior of the Biltmore Hotel was beautified with hand-painted ceilings while the walls were glazed. This decorative trend was adopted throughout the hotel’s interior from the elevators to the ballroom. The floors were made of terrazzo tiles that led towards an interior courtyard. The hotel’s lobby was very breathtaking and comprise of a 45-foot ceiling that had been mounted by hand and having massive stone colonnades (Nylander 125). Most of the guests were also intrigued by the freestanding birdcages that were filled with colorful birds. The lobby, designed like a mini-cathedral,  was also lined with massive pictures of historical events that took place in the United States and the rest of the world.

Biltmore Hotel Construction

The Biltmore Hotel architecture was inspired by the Mediterranean Revival style. This style was introduced in the United States around the 1920s and marked the integration of Spanish and Italian Renaissance and Venetian Gothic architecture, and borrowed heavily from styles commonly found in palaces and beach villas. The Biltmore Hotel had adopted the basic structure that included a square floor design, and colossal, proportioned primary façades. The walls were furnished using stucco tiles, the roofs were covered with red tiles. The windows were shaped into complete circles or partial arches that covered several levels.

Towards the outside, the balconies and window grilles were fashioned of wrought iron or polished wood. The architects also used keystones occasionally. Ornamentation was also a common feature on the walls, fittings and furniture. Lastly, the courtyard was completed with a lush garden and a well-tended grass lawn. However, from the onset it is evident that the Biltmore Hotel largely borrowed its Mediterranean style from the Giralda Tower in Spain. The Giralda Tower was made up of four copper spheres and the main mast that were later replaced by a bell and cross (Nylander 19).

Freedom Tower History

This analysis of the Freedom Tower building in Miami seeks to elaborate on the architects, their building style and any outstanding features of the Freedom Tower. The Freedom tower in Miami was also designed by Schultze and Weaver and was considered for several awards as a national landmark and a historical location. The building was initially designed and completed in 1925 as the main offices of The Miami News, a fast rising newspaper company (Schultze, Weaver and Lamonaca & Mogul 173). Standing at about 255 feet, the Freedom Tower was a prominent structure having an ornamental beacon that was visible for many miles in the Miami skyline. After The Miami News vacated the building and relocated to another, it was occupied by the state that used its rooms as immigration offices to store, process and offer other administrative services for refugees who were fleeing from Cuba (Schultze et al. 162).

Owing to the political environment of the period and the effect of the Cold War, Cubans were voluntarily received in the United States and granted an exceptional amount of assistance to the refugees. The Freedom Tower stood as the single most individual building with Cuban experience. In 1972, the government sold off the building to Jorge Mas Canosa who converted it into a monument for the Cuban refugees. Much later in 2004, Terra Group purchased the building with the intention of transforming it into a residential zone (Nylander 77).The great opposition that was mounted against this proposal forced the developers to donate the building to the Miami Dade College who utilized it as an educational and cultural center. The Freedom Tower has been described in the media and by architects as a work that mimicked Spanish Renaissance architecture. The plan of the structure is a leading example of the adaptation of Spanish architecture that took place in Florida popularly known as Mediterranean revival. The style comprised of an assorted combination of Italian and Spanish architectural styles that are regularly blown up with Moorish decorations (Nylander 81-3).

Freedom Tower Architect, Architectural Type and Style

An examination of the projects undertaken by the Schultze and Weaver reveals that achieved a reputable position by operating mainly according to the period in society. Therefore, the Freedom Tower was designed with the intention of taking back the mainstream European and American clients to the colonial period where the Spanish and Italian architecture was appreciated for its aesthetic beauty and efficiency. Second, Schultze and Weaver mainly engaged in commercial buildings as these held far more profits when compared to civic buildings (Schultze et al. 201-2). The final occupants of the freedom Tower would eventually be corporate bodies because of the location and design of the building .

The Freedom Tower is classified under the Mediterranean Revival architecture. The main material used in the building was reinforced concrete. The foundation of the building consisted of a mixture of reinforced concrete piers and plain concrete slab. The walls were also made of concrete and finished with stucco and other ornaments made from concrete. The roof of the Freedom Tower was made of gravel, flat and tar. The Freedom Tower faces east towards the Biscayne Boulevard where it takes up approximately 254 feet towards the front and 190 feet on the north property line that lays parallels to the Florida East Coast Railway (Nylander 56). When the Freedom Tower was assembled, it was a very close distance from Biscayne Bay.

The building’s base has four stories and this foundation supports a twelve more stories that culminate in a cupola. The building also has a basement level that is highly uncommon in South Florida and stairs that lead to the lobby that were place about three feet over the grade. The foundation was constructed using concrete footings that extended approximately 12 feet below the level (Jay 26). A newer three-story was erected later that housed the printing presses and lacked any significant concrete or marble ornaments. This extension had a concrete slab foundation that was two feet thick (Schultze et al. 123).

Freedom Tower Elements and Characteristics

The building’s base is separated into three wings with the main entrance placed at the middle. The foyer was made up of a two-story circular arched gateway that was decorated with an intricate ornament and pediment on top so that it ran along the whole height of the four-story foundation. Windows on the first floor contained shouldered curves that enclosed awning windows. The stucco used for the ground floor was scored to look like single stone blocks that brought out the impression of a strong foundation that supported the remaining levels. The second floor was decorated with high casement windows that were installed with a quoined arch. A low balcony, consisting of a marble balustrade, was placed at the bottom of the windows. The ceilings at this floor were designed as groined vaults and the total length from the floor to ceiling was approximately twenty feet (Schultze et al. 161-3). One of the walls is occupied with a tall mural measuring about 42 feet that illustrates ancient directions like a map (Jay 12). Most of the artwork had depreciated due to age and had to be recreated again when the building was being restored in 1988 by architect Richard J. Heisenbottle.

The third floor was windowed with a succession of casement windows that duplicated the balanced arrangement of the bays and had intricate edges. The foundation of the building ended in an ornamental stonework grille that acted as the fortifications for the flat roof of those areas of the structure that bordered the tower. The design of the tower itself was borrowed from the Giralda Tower of the Cathedral in Spain. It was eleven stories in total (Schultze et al. 115). The first nine stories are marked by quoins at the edges. This part of the structure was the least ornamented in the work, and acted as the changeover from the amazing base to the complex features of the tower section. The bell area in the tower was located at the fourteenth floor followed by a balustrade for the next two stories that served to develop a buildup to the ultimate realization of the cupola.

Freedom Tower Construction

Between the period that The Freedom Tower remained unoccupied after the United States government vacated it and Zaminco International took up the task of restoring the building, most of the expensive fittings, stair railings and the copper roof had been vandalized by vagrants (Schultze et al. 162; Jay 56). Zaminco appointed Richard Heisenbottle as the main architect to conduct a restoration project on the building. Most of the steel structures within the building from the fourteenth to the seventeenth floors were stripped and rebuilt. Other areas that were reinforced include the columns, beams and concrete stairs. The main stairway leading from the terminal level to the base was completely reinstated.

However, Heisenbottle added a few changes to the Freedom tower. In order to cater for the banquets, Heisenbottle had to install an extension towards the back of the building that served as the kitchen. The minimal construction work did little to interfere with the integrity of Freedom Tower (Schultze et al. 343). The interior lighting, air conditioning, mechanical systems and lifts were completely replaced. This was an opportunity for Heisenbottle to install water-type air conditioning in an effort to preserve the artifacts and conserve energy. Newer fire alarms and elevator cabs were also installed making Freedom Tower very safe and secure. It is at this point that the earlier installations placed by Shultze and Weaver were removed. The drawings and other elements installed by these two architects were replaced by recreated or new paintings. In total, the rehabilitation process cost about $12 million (Jay 47).

After Zaminco International failed to finish the construction due to company debts, the building was abandoned again and remained unoccupied where deterioration slowly destroyed the earlier efforts. For the first five months in 2000, construction work on the Freedom Tower consisted of restoration activities targeting the structural system (Schultze et al. 172). The first stage entailed fixing the dilapidated reinforced concrete slabs, beams and. At the lobby, the construction work involved restoring the lobby walls, the ceiling, and the concrete ornaments. The previous ballroom would be transformed into space for showing museum pieces. By July, the demolition of the extended kitchen had been complete. A larger part of the space in the building would be converted into a lecture hall where meetings could be conducted. Much later in 2000, developments commenced on the external section of the structure (Nylander 29). It entailed the revamping of the timber doors, repainting the stucco, cast concrete ornaments, surfaces, reinstalling the casement windows and installation of newer windows. All of these developments were funded by Jorge Mas Canosa, the new owner of the Freedom Tower.

Review of the Building Styles

The Mediterranean Revival architecture was widespread in Miami during the 1920s Boom (Nylander 83). The architecture reflected the structural impacts of the Mediterranean coast including contributions from Moorish themes, Byzantine, Italian, and French. Adopted Spanish baroque ornamentation was freely applied in the gateways, cornices, and balconies. Pediments, curved columns, parapets and other classical elements were also regularly employed. Arches were a common feature in all Mediterranean architecture. The most ordinary materials used for this ornamentation were wood, red tiles, wrought iron, stucco, terra cotta, ceramic and limestone. The front porch was replaced with balconies and patios. Nearly all windows adopted a casement fashion.

The Mediterranean Revival architecture paid great attention to details and consequently, worked best in massive projects. The current establishment managed to combine the American culture with the Mediterranean Revival style to come up with a building that was efficient and full of art in almost all its aspects. However, despite the mixture of the different cultures in the style, Italian and Spanish architecture stood out as the dominant styles. The handmade paintings on the ceiling and the wrought iron grilles represented pure Italian and Spanish elements respectively. However, elements of other cultures were integrated in a mild manner within the architecture.

In their details and overall form, the Biltmore Hotel and the Freedom tower were designed to bring to mind remote locations and periods. With both hotels being located in Miami, all the residents of the city fully appreciated the Mediterranean revival structural design that transformed into district landmarks during their prime years. While it was evident that Miami city had no tie with any Spanish activity or settlements, an artificial identity was started by the city’s initial architects and developers to bring in visitors. The Mediterranean style was adopted with the intention of making the city have a Spanish feel.

However, the design was actually a fusion of architectural elements from several diverse regions in the world. The flourishing hotel was established with a basic and clever style that depended on the architects to come up with efficient ways of using limited spaces and expensive materials. The architects laid out floor plans that put into consideration future developments such as expansion and installation of new equipment. Apart from the appreciation of new culture, the architects also adopted a combination of methodical worker training and new technology to come up with a specialized, efficient and comfortable ambiance.








Work Cited

Jay, H. “Art & Artifacts an Interior Designer Combines Antiques, Religious Art and Architectural Salvage in a Mediterranean Revival Mansion.” Art & Antiques. 26 (2003): 58-65. Print.

Nylander, Justin A. Casas to Castles: Florida’s Historic Mediterranean Revival Architecture. Atglen, Pa: Schiffer Pub, 2010. Print.

Schultze, Leonard, S F. Weaver, Marianne Lamonaca, and Jonathan Mogul. Grand Hotels of the Jazz Age: The Architecture of Schultze & Weaver. Miami Beach: Wolfsonian-Florida International University, 2005. Print.

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