Now here’s one for the history books.
In the second season of American Crime Story, FX made the world turn their eyes to Miami Beach and a very grim part of its history: the assassination of Gianni Versace.
And with the Miami Beach mansion playing a huge role in the narrative, let’s take a moment to dive into the story of the home where tourists still stop every day to pose for pictures where Versace was fatally shot by serial killer Andrew Cunanan in 1997 — making it the 3rd most photographed home in America.
The Versace house in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Season 2 of the hit series explores the assassination of Gianni Versace, who was gunned down right on the front steps of his Ocean Drive mansion in 1997. The death of the iconic Italian fashion designer stunned South Beach and sent police scrambling to find the murderer.
The narrative of the nine-episode season follows the search for suspect Andrew Cunanan, a 27-year-old serial killer who became obsessed with attaining celebrity status and who, despite his very short stay in South Florida, has managed to leave a permanent mark on Miami Beach’s history.
And while a big part of the series was filmed in California in 2016, when it comes to scenes filmed in and around the house, those were all shot in the actual property once owned by Gianni Versace:
“The entire opening of the show was completely shot in the Versace mansion, in the interior. Then we shot the exterior quite a bit, especially the pool area and first courtyard,” says Judy Becker, American Crime Story’s production designer.
Versace’s interior designs were so intricate and extravagant that it would’ve been close to impossible to recreate them. Producer Ryan Murphy told Page Six:
“I don’t think I could have made the show if I couldn’t have gotten that house. There was no way you could build [a set] of it. Two of the rooms were made out of seashells. [Gianni Versace’s sister] Donatella [Versace] took all the furniture and the art when she sold the house, but through pictures we were able to recreate them.”
The history of Casa Casuarina
The Villa Casa Casuarina was commissioned in 1930 by architect, author, and philanthropist Alden Freeman, who was also the heir to the Standard Oil fortune. Alden Freeman modeled the mansion after the oldest house in the western hemisphere, the “Alcazar de Colon” in Santo Domingo — built in 1510 by Diego Columbus, the son of explorer Christopher Columbus. Freeman actually incorporated brick from this ancient house in the construction of Casa Casuarina.
When Freeman died in 1937, the property was purchased by Jacques Amsterdam. It was renamed “The Amsterdam Palace” and served as a 30-unit apartment building, attracting many local artists with its unique design.
The story of how Gianni Versace fell in love with the Casa Casuarina
As the story goes, Versace was passing through town on his way to Cuba when he asked a cab driver to show him something “fancy and fun” about Miami. And when the cab driver took him to South Beach and Versace first laid eyes on what was now the eccentric apartment building, it was love at first sight.
According to sister Donatella Versace, “Gianni just stopped in front of the building and said, ‘I want this house.’ Just like that, ‘I want this house.’ But it wasn’t a house; it was literally an apartment building, and people were living in it! I said, ‘Gianni, how are you going do that?’
But Gianni Versace didn’t let that intimidate him, and bought the house in 1992, spending more than $32 million into turning the rundown apartment building in the opulent mansion seen in the show.
As part of an extensive three-year remodel, the 24 apartments became 10 large suites, while he added a 6,100-square-foot wing and a 54-foot-long mosaic-tiled pool that was inspired by his Marine Vanuras collection and made up of more than one million mosaic tiles, thousands of which are 24-karat gold.
Five years later, he was gunned down on the front steps of his beloved Ocean Drive mansion.
You can Now Stay in Versace’s Miami home
In the 20 years since Gianni Versace’s death, The Villa Casa Casuarina has had a troubled course.
Donatella Versace sold the property three years after the murder and it changed hands several more times, eventually becoming a hotel owned by the Nakash family of Jordache jeans fame. They paid $41.5 million for it at an auction in 2013, beating a bid from now-President Donald Trump.
Now a boutique hotel, The Villa Casa Casuarina, Versace’s home still reflects his glamorous designs and opulent lifestyle.
Visitors can swim in the pool he lined with 24-karat gold tiles, sleep on double-king-sized beds so large they require custom-made sheets, gaze at the ocean from his rooftop observatory and dine in a gourmet restaurant established in his former dining room.