Everything's Better with a Beach View
by Patricia Mack
A word to the wise for those who like to sleep in: if your room at Casa Marina is on the beach side (and most are), be sure to draw the blinds before you go to bed. Otherwise, you'll be awakened at dawn by the sun rising spectacularly over the ocean waves. This happens to be just one of the many charms of this legendary, century-old property on the sands of Jacksonville Beach, a small city just eighteen miles from downtown Jacksonville and 26 from St. Augustine.
During the Roaring Twenties, Casa Marina was the hotel of choice for the likes of Jean Harlow, Charlie Chaplin and Al Capone. Its glamorous past still echoes throughout the corridors, and the hotel is considered a grand dame of Florida's northeastern coastal lodgings, maintaining its standing as a reigning beauty by — how do we say this delicately? — having a little work done after a long and varied history.
The Great Depression took a terrible toll on popular vacation destinations like Jacksonville Beach, and Casa Marina suffered along with the town. During WWII, it was appropriated by the U.S. Army as housing for military personnel, and after the war, a succession of owners transformed it variously into an apartment building, tea room, clothing store, environmental center and restaurant. All eventually closed, and by the 1950s, the property was an abandoned shell. Fortunately, new owners in the early 1980s recognized the building's potential, and thanks to a respectful, decade-long renovation, the Spanish-Mediterranean-style Casa Marina stands as a tribute to — and the only remaining hotel from — Jacksonville Beach's heyday.
The hotel is small by today's standards, but it makes up for its size with architectural grace, which includes original high ceilings, master-craftsman woodwork, polished wood floors and uniquely grained pecky cypress paneling in the public areas. At the same time, the needs of modern travelers are met with up-to-date services and facilities, beginning with the 23 elegant guest rooms and parlor suites. Each has fixtures and decorative touches that reflect the hotel's history, as well as fine linens, cable TV, voicemail, coffee makers, hair dryers, alarm clocks and irons and ironing boards.
For the business traveler, the location is ideal (near A1A and Interstate 95), and a boardroom offers amenities for small corporate gatherings. Business groups can also meet in the grand salon dining room or on the covered outside verandah with a panoramic ocean view. This vista of sand and boardwalk is also a highlight at the new third-floor Penthouse Bar and expansive beachfront courtyard.