Deirdre Marie Capone remembers learning to ride her bike at the Miami Beach mansion of her great uncle, the notorious American gangster Al Capone.
She learned to swim in the pool — and she was there when Capone died in the house in January 1947.
“We were a very close family,” she said Wednesday, standing in that same Miami Beach home she visited in the 1940s. “We ate our meals together, we sang together, we cooked together.”
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On Wednesday, MB America, a property investment company that bought the house on behalf of a private investor, showed off the renovated Palm Island mansion.
The more than 30,000-square-foot estate at 93 Palm Ave. is one of the oldest and most notorious in Miami Beach and was part of American prohibition-era history. Capone hosted lavish parties in the house — and spent his final days alive there.
The colonial-style, seven-bedroom mansion, built in 1922, is now made up of three separate houses — the gate house, the main villa and the pool cabana. MB America purchased the house in May 2014 for $8 million and renovations started in November.
The restoration work included the main, a pond with a grotto lighthouse, a bridge made of red coral, a black-and-gold Art Deco powder room and a large swimming pool.
When MB America bought the place, it was mostly in disrepair. Mud and water were piling up under the foundation. The wooden floor was caving in.
The house was cleaned and the structures were upgraded and brought up to code.
In a month or two, the work will be finished. And the plan is to open up the mansion for video and photo productions, said MB America CEO and co-founder Marco Bruzzi.
Paul George, a history professor at Miami Dade College, visited the mansion Wednesday and detailed Al Capone’s life in Miami Beach.
Capone first bought the Miami Beach house in 1928 during an economic downturn in the area, George said. The tourist industry had been destroyed by the 1926 hurricane.
When the Chicago gangster first visited in 1927, Miami Beach was “fighting and clawing to come back,” George said.
“Miami Beach was a beneficiary of an increasing number of tourists,” he said. “There were a lot of newly unionized laborers who were getting paid vacations.”
During Capone’s time in Miami Beach, he had his share of run-ins with the law. When Capone first arrived, Florida Gov. Doyle Carlton told every leader of every county to stop him from entering, George said. It didn’t work.
In the mid-1930s, Capone was sent to prison for tax evasion. He returned to his Miami Beach home when he was released in the late 1930s.
“When he came back in the last few years, he preferred to just be alone, to sleep alone in a small bedroom,” George said.
He died in 1947. He was 48.
Capone’s grand niece, Deirdre Marie Capone, 75, wrote a screenplay about her great uncle’s life and said she hoped that parts of it could be filmed at the newly restored home. She wants the movie to be finished by 2017.
The main purpose of her work is to show people who Al Capone really was, “What made him laugh, what made him cry, what kind of a person was he really,” she said.
She also wants the world to know that the Al Capone that “you think you know was created by Hollywood.” She told stories about Capone before he was one of the most well known people of the 20th century.
She remembered Capone and “the boys” shooting their guns out over Biscayne Bay when they flocked to Florida to escape the Chicago winter.
“Boys are boys,” she said. “And they would have a good time and they would party all night.”
One night, her grandfather was in downtown Miami with Capone and ran into J.C. Penney, the retail magnate.
Penney went up to Capone and asked them to “keep it down” at the Palm Island mansion because the president of the United States, Herbert Hoover, was staying with him nearby.
“So Al, being the character that he is, said, ‘Well, why don’t you and the president come over tonight and have some drinks with us?’ ” she said. “Now this was during Prohibition. You don’t ask the president of the United States to come over and have drinks with you.”
When Penney got home and told the story to Hoover, the president asked, “Who’s Al Capone?”
“Nobody outside of Chicago knew who Al Capone was,” she said.
They certainly do now.
Deirdre Marie Capone hopes through her screenplay that people will learn the real story about her family.
“What people don't know about that era is why did Prohibition start, why did it only last 13 years and why are Italians so associated with bootlegging,” she said. “You need to study history so you don't make the same mistakes over again. So I’ve got a part of history that really people don’t know.”
The history of Al Capone’s home
1922 — Built as an investment by realtor Clarence M. Busch.
1928 — Al Capone buys it for $40,000. He spends up to $200,000 on improvements, adding a command post with a gate-guest house, a cabana and a coral rock grotto.
1931 — Capone is sent to prison for tax evasion.
1938 — Capone returns to Palm Island.
1947 — Capone dies in the house on Jan. 25, 1947 at age 48.
1952 — Sold by Mae Capone, Al Capone’s wife, to Thomas Warren Miller, a Cleveland realtor.
1968 — William Knowles buys it for $48,000.
1971 — Henry T. Morrison, a Delta airline pilot, buys it for $56,000.
2006 — Put back on the market by Henry Morrison.
2011 — Founder of an energy company Peter L. Corsell buys and renovates.
2013 — A French buyer purchases the house.
2014 — MB America buys the property on behalf of a private investor and renames it 93 Palm.
Source: MB America