Key West’s most iconic hotel celebrated a hundred years of hospitality and a legacy of luxury with a champagne luncheon on Dec. 30 in the hotel’s grand ballroom.
Railroad magnate Henry Morrison Flagler conceived the glamorous hotel, but died before construction began in 1918. Its architects ensured that Flagler’s vision was honored.
President Warren G. Harding checked in three days after the hotel opened and became the first of many dignitaries, celebrities and world leaders who stayed at the hotel.
The Casa Marina’s role in the community evolved throughout its century. The U.S. Navy bought it in 1942 to house officers throughout World War II. The 1950s saw its renaissance as a luxury hotspot for Hollywood celebrities. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the hotel was used by the U.S. Army’s Sixth Missile Battalion.
Casa Marina fell into a period of decline through the 1970s and ’80s. But a complete overhaul in 2008 restored the grand dame to its original splendor, befitting a luxury Hilton property.
“Conrad Hilton believed in making the world a better place through travel,” Hilton Executive VP Danny Hughes said in a recorded video message played at the luncheon, adding that the Casa Marina is a shining and enduring example of Hilton’s philosophy.
The luncheon included recollections by Key West natives, many of whom recalled high school proms and homecoming dances in the hotel’s grand ballroom. After lunch, the hotel staff installed on the property a 100-year time capsule containing staff and guest photos, restaurant menus and current newspaper clippings.