Jose Toledo, P.E. is the President of U.S. Structures, Inc. and engineer-of-record for the historic restoration of the Biltmore Hotel. His experience also includes the restoration repairs of the Freedom Tower Weather Vane in Downtown Miami, and the Coral Gables Congregational Church bell tower.
In 2000, USSI was retained by Seaway Hotels Corp. to provide structural engineering repair services for the damaged Tower portion of the hotel. Once completed, USSi scope increased to include the full restoration of the Hotel as a result of the 40-year recertification.
As the creator of Coral Gables, land developer George E. Merrick also founded the University of Miami, and developed the suburbs with strict building codes to ensure the beautiful surroundings.
In 1925, young Merrick joined forces with Biltmore hotel magnate John McEntee Bowman at the height of the Florida land boom to build "a great hotel...which would not only serve as a hostelry to the crowds which were thronging to Coral Gables but also would serve as a center of sports and fashion." In January 1926, ten months and $10 million dollars later, The Biltmore debuted with a magnificent inaugural that brought people down from northern cities on trains marked "Miami Biltmore Specials." The Giralda Tower was lit for the first time and the champagne corks popped as the guests fox-trotted to the sounds of jazz, all in celebration of the birth of The Biltmore.
In its heyday, The Biltmore played host to royalty, both Europe's and Hollywood's. The hotel counted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Al Capone and assorted Roosevelts and Vanderbilts as frequent guests. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a temporary White House office set up at the Hotel for when he vacationed on his fishing trips from Miami. There were many gala balls, aquatic shows by the grand pool and weddings were de rigueur as were world class golf tournaments. A product of the Jazz Age, big bands entertained wealthy, well-traveled visitors to this American Riviera resort.
The Biltmore made it through the nation's economic lulls in the late 1920s and early 1930s by hosting aquatic galas that kept the hotel in the spotlight and drew the crowds. As many as three thousand would come out on a Sunday afternoon to watch the synchronized swimmers, bathing beauties, alligator wrestling and the young Jackie Ott, the boy wonder who would dive from an eighty-five foot platform. Johnny Weissmuller, prior to his tree-swinging days in Hollywood, broke the world record at the Biltmore pool and was a swimming instructor. Families would attend the shows and many would dress up and go tea dancing afterwards on the hotel's grand terrace to the sounds of swinging orchestras.
But with the onset of World War II, the War Department converted The Biltmore to a hospital. It served the wounded as the Army Air Forces Regional Hospital. Many of the windows were sealed with concrete, and the marble floors covered with Government Issue linoleum. Also the early site of The University of Miami's School of Medicine, The Biltmore remained a VA hospital until 1968.
In 1973, through the Historic Monuments Act and Legacy of Parks program, the City of Coral Gables was granted ownership control of The Biltmore. Undecided as to the structure's future, The Biltmore remained unoccupied for almost 10 years. Then in 1983, the City oversaw its full restoration to be opened as a grand hotel. Almost four years and $55 million later, The Biltmore opened on December 31, 1987 as a first class hotel and resort. Over 600 guests turned out to honor the historic Biltmore at a black tie affair.
In June 1992, a multinational consortium led by Seaway Hotels Corporation, a Florida hotel management company, officially became the new operators of the Biltmore under a long term management lease with the City of Coral Gables, and again made significant refurbishments to the property.
Seaway invested in new lighting and telephone systems, computer systems throughout, repairs to the pool, furnishings, a complete guestroom renovation program and also remodeled a space into a state-of-the-art health club and spa. At the 1926 gala opening of the Miami Biltmore Country Club, Dr. Frank Crane predicted that "many people will come and go, but this structure will remain a thing of lasting beauty." He was right and in 1996, the hotel celebrated yet another milestone in its illustrious history—the 70th anniversary of this grand South Florida monument and an official designation by the Federal Government as a National Historic Landmark, an elite title offered to only 3% of all historic structures on the National Register of Historic Places.