The Casa Marina inn, awash in history

05/26/2013 12:00 AM

05/21/2013 8:07 PM

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Presidents Harry S Truman and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Jean Harlow, Charlie Chaplin and Al Capone. Cheryl and Matthew. These are some of the distinguished guests who may have graced Casa Marina with their presence, and probably tracked in some Jacksonville Beach sand, too.

For obvious reasons, I did not share an elevator or trade a quip with any of these special individuals, though I did read about most of them in my first-floor suite. I found A History of the Casa Marina Hotel resting on the coffee table.

In the entertaining yet brief biography, certain phrases popped out: “Grand Opening … June 6, 1925,” “playground for the rich and famous,” “first … automatic sprinkler system” and “gangsters.” Other words — specifically “Cheryl” and “Matthew” — did not appear in the literature. I learned these names from the wedding souvenir fans left behind in the bar.

The 24-room property on Florida’s east coast wears a Historic Hotels of America tiara and draws romantics with its Spanish-Mediterranean magnetism. The front entrance arches dramatically and glows with mood lighting. On the back side, a princely courtyard leads to a wood walkway that doubles as a built-in wedding aisle to the beach. I also discovered a third portal: a door that — whoops! — burst into a couple’s reception.

The wedding chewed up most of the scenery; the first-floor bar, courtyard and grand parlor were off-limits to everybody but friends-of. The celebrants also spilled over into the lobby.

Despite the ruckus, the staff was in the zone, handling all of our queries and requests with aplomb. A front-desk employee quickly delivered blankets for my pullout couch. When we returned from dinner, my mother asked for a printout of directions to the airport; the staff member smiled and said that she had already slipped it under our door.

Based on my handy Casa Marina pamphlet, each room is decorated in a style that represents a particular era. However, our furnishings did not scream one specific period. The main living area, with its urn-shaped lamps, side tables and small TV and fridge, seemed to be circa Grandma. In the bedroom, the piece de resistance for my parents was the queen-size bed with the carved headboard and satiny blue coverlet. As for me, I was impressed by the solid cabinetry attached to the sink. I imagined Keebler elves vacationing inside.

I made up my bed, which at full length nearly touched the table holding the TV. The in-between space was too narrow to fit the coffee table, so I dragged it toward the door, blocking the exit. Maybe the theme was 21st-century Manhattan hotel.

When it was time to go, I returned to the circular driveway and heard a crackle underfoot. It sounded like crushed seashells, but it was only a souvenir from the wedding, a broken beer bottle.

• Casa Marina Hotel, 691 N. First St., Jacksonville Beach; 904-270-0025; casamarinahotel.com. Rates from $159.

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