While The Villa at Casa Casuarina has gone through several inceptions and names, none holds more history and popularity than when it was known as ‘the Versace Mansion.’ Purchased in 1992, by the famed designer, Gianni Versace fell in love with the Spanish architecture of the property while vacationing with his family in Miami Beach. He scooped up the property for 2.5 million dollars and the rest is history.
On July 15, 1997, Gianni Versace was gunned down in front of his mansion after his usual breakfast at the News Cafe. On the heels of the 20th anniversary of his death, and Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace set to air in early 2018, the Versace Mansion continues to draw tourists to those famous steps and it’s rich and luxurious interiors.
We talked with Chauncey Copeland, General Manager of The Villa Casa Casuarina, to learn more about the mansion during the Versace reign.
How did the mansion come to be? CHAUNCEY COPELAND: The mansion has a long and incredibly interesting history. It was built by Alden Freeman in the 1930's after visiting Diego Columbus' home in the Dominican Republic. Alden dreamed of living in a bohemian society with all of his friends from local areas and built 24 apartments that he would rent and share with friends. After Freeman's passing, the property became an apartment complex named "Amsterdam Palace." In the ensuing years, Amsterdam Palace passed through the hands of several owners and hundreds of tenants. After a while, the building gradually felt into disrepair, but miraculously, most of the original fittings and artwork survived. In 1992, while on vacation with his family in Miami Beach, Versace took a walk down Ocean Drive and was immediately attracted to the house by the “Kneeling Aphrodite” statue and fell in love with the unique Spanish architecture of the property. Obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology, Versace purchased the original house built by Freeman for $2.95 million and the lot next door, an old art deco hotel called the Hotel Revere. Versace invested an additional $32 million in renovations in which he added the south wing, the pool, and garden, and turned the 24 apartments into 10 large suites in the original house and an additional 2 new suites in the south wing.
What famous guests have stayed in the mansion? CC: Princess Diana, Madonna, Elton John, Sylvester Stallone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Drake, Heather Graham, Justin Bieber, The Kardashians, Johnny Manziel, among others.
The Empire Suite
What was Gianni's favorite room at the mansion? CC: The back terrace of what is now The Villa Suite. This was an entranceway into his personal library and where he would spend time reading and taking in the sights of South Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
Any secret passages or room at the mansion? CC: Although no longer accessible to hotel guests, The Villa Casa Casuarina (formerly the Versace Mansion) was known to feature many secret doors and passages that led the late Gianni Versace and friends from certain parts of the property to the others. For example, there is a passage which would take adventure and shortcut-seekers from the Villa Suite (Gianni’s former bedroom) to what is now the G Lounge, the room of choice for events and weddings, mainly favored by grooms for the massive cigar humidor and private bar.
Million Mosaic Pool
What Italian influences or inspirations did Gianni have in mind when creating the mansion? CC: The mansion is done in Mediterranean Revival style, but with many other eclectic influences to create a style that is purely Versace. There are Italian nuances throughout, including the style of mosaic used in the pool, some floors and walls, however, this is mixed with Art Deco, Victorian, Classic Greek, French touches, and many other uniquely Versace flourishes.
This will sound strange, but there’s a toilet story here correct? CC: Versace’s guest bathroom when he lived here houses a very famous toilet. When Donatella took most of the furniture and sold it on auction, one of the items that was sold was a toilet just like this one to Kimora Lee Simmons, who made the toilet famous when she showed it on her episode of MTV's Cribs. The toilet has an estimated worth of $10,000 and was one of three made by the Versace company out of 1 piece of marble with a 24k gold plated seat and lid. (The present seat is a regular plastic one).