On July 15th 1997 Gianni Versace was murdered on the steps of his mansion in Miami Beach. The story of the crime itself will be told by American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace along with, presumably, the story of the other victims of Andrew Cunanan. But the more morbid among you might wonder what you do with a house that was the scene of a famous murder. Well, in Miami Beach, you take the mansion and turn it into a boutique hotel.
Originally built by Alden Freeman, whose father had been treasurer of the Standard Oil Trust, the Casa Casuarina was built in 1930 and was originally designed as an apartment building with 24 units where Freeman housed many of his friends who came to visit. After Freeman’s death in 1937, it became a more traditional apartment house and stayed that way through many owners and some disrepair until 1992 when Versace saw the mansion on Ocean Drive and purchased it along with the hotel next door and turned it into his personal estate. The 24 apartments were converted to 10 large ones, with two more in the South Wing he added after demolishing the hotel in the next lot over. By the time he was killed in 1997, Versace had spent three years and somewhere around $32 million renovating the property. After his death the house stayed empty for a few years until it was sold in 2000 for $19 million, spending time as a private residence, membership club, and private events venue until 2009. At that point it was sold again and became The Villa by Barton G, and in 2013 changed hands again to become The Villa Casa Casuarina. The current owners aren’t shy about the history; I pulled almost all of this information from the hotel’s official website, which even includes the helpful note that Donatella’s former bedroom is now known as the Signature suite and Santo Versace’s room is the Venus room. Either of them are available this coming weekend for upwards of $1,600 a night. If you’d prefer to just drop in for a peek, the in-house restaurant is called Gianni’s at the Villa and they serve three kinds of Petrossian caviar and a Kosher Ribeye that will cost you $60.
While I can raise an eyebrow at the prices (and decorating) on display at that hotel, I can’t argue too much with making use of a beautiful building that happened to be the backdrop to a tragedy. The house was there long before Versace was, and it doesn’t bother me that it’s still in use rather than falling into disrepair. While it may seem crass, the history of the property is inescapable and perhaps leaning into it a bit is how to keep it running.