When legendary fashion designer Gianni Versace purchased his Mediterranean-style villa, then the Amsterdam Palace apartment building, in Miami Beach in 1992, Ocean Drive was still an odd collection of small hotels, modeling agencies and senior citizens’ homes. By 1997, the year he was gunned down by serial killer Andrew Cunanan on the front steps of the remarkable home he’d spent a reported $33 million restoring, the oceanfront strip was a bonafide celebrity destination.
Twenty years after Versace’s death — the anniversary of his murder is July 15 — the property, now the celebrity-favorite hotel The Villa Casa Casuarina, and the fantastical scenes it’s witnessed still capture the public’s imagination.
The second season of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story anthology, Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History, premiering in 2018, tells the story of the designer’s life and death, and inevitably of his most famous home.
The show filmed “essential, central” scenes at the house-turned-hotel, says Casa Casuarina general manager Chauncey Copeland, who notes hundreds of visitors still come to pay tribute to Versace at the property’s gates every day. But it’s most alluring features, including the ten below, can be found only once you check in.
1. The 24-Karat Pool
The villa’s most over-the-top showpiece is without a doubt the mosaic swimming pool, which is just what its name implies: “It’s made up of thousands of tiles that were imported from Italy, and hundreds of them are 24-karat gold,” says Copeland. Following her 2005 VMA wins, Kelly Clarkson jumped into the golden pool fully clothed.
2. A Hidden Time Capsule
It’s believed that the home’s original owner, Alden Freeman, hid a time capsule in the house when it was built in 1930. The item was never uncovered during Versace’s extensive renovation of the home in the 1990s, but, Copeland notes, it is thought to be hidden in the building’s cornerstone, which was left untouched during the remodel.
3. Hidden Passageways
The villa has several hidden passages that were used by Versace and his guests. The most famous connected his dressing room to one of his libraries. Most have been closed up since the hotel moved in and the library is now known as the G Lounge.
4. Famous Overnight Guests
Madonna, Elton John and Princess Diana were all friends of Versace and overnight guests at the villa. The fashion designer’s contemporaries like Diane von Furstenberg and Halston were also frequent visitors, says Copeland.
5. Celebrity Clientele
Today the property is a luxury hotel, The Villa Casa Casuarina, but the celebrities keep coming. Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Justin Bieber, Drake, Sylvester Stalone and Lionel Richie are all fans.
6. All-Night Soirees
One unnamed A-list client — the hotel operates under a strict code of privacy — who stayed there for an extended period “would come back with an entourage from the club and then party all the way through to the next afternoon,” says Copeland. “That was one of the more lively times.”
7. Record Visitors
Outside of the hotel’s gates however, hundreds of tourists come daily to lay flowers on the infamous front steps and take photos of the house. “The Versace mansion is the third most photographed in the United States, behind Elvis’s Graceland and the White House,” Copeland notes.
8. Supernatural Visitors
While most stop to snap a photo in front of the facade, some visitors have a more haunting interest in the property. “You do get the occasional ghost hunter,” says Copeland. “We’ve had a few people coming in over the years and try to sense his spirit. For the most part, people still see it as a place celebrating his life more than his death.”
9. An In-House Artist
Recreations of Versace’s famous bed spreads and pillows were made and brought in for the filming of American Crime Story, but the hotel’s intricate wall art has been maintained for years by an artist on staff that works to keep up and carefully restore the many murals on the property.
10. Ties to Christopher Columbus
The Mediterranean Revival home was modeled on one in the Dominican Republic owned by Diego Columbus, Christopher Columbus’s eldest son. That mysterious cornerstone was brought over from the original house.