MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The waterfront South Florida mansion gangster Al Capone bought as a family retreat in 1928 is being restored to its Prohibition-era opulence and beginning what the property's new managers said Wednesday is a new chapter as a sun-splashed site for video and photo shoots.
The site is actually a collection of three houses: a gate house, a main villa and a cabana overlooking a large pool on one side and Biscayne Bay on the other. Marco Bruzzi, co-founder and chief executive officer of the MB America property investment company, said the purchase price was more than $8 million, with an additional $1.75 million in renovations ongoing.
As many 1920s touches as possible are being kept, including some original light fixtures and a red coral bridge over an outdoor pond. It will have a new name: 93 Palm.
"It's important to keep the same look for the property," Bruzzi said.
Here are some of the Capone mansion's highlights.
A FAMILY THING
Deirdre Marie Capone, grandniece of Al, rode her first bike at the mansion and learned to swim in the Miami Beach property's 30-by-60-foot swimming pool — at the time the largest private pool in the area. She remembers Uncle Al as a family man who wore aprons when he cooked, far from his popular image as a violent bootlegger and vicious mobster that she says was partly a creation of Hollywood filmmakers. Her grandfather, Al's older brother and business partner, was Ralph "Bottles" Capone. At the mansion unveiling, Deirdre Capone displayed copies of her book about the family and said a movie version is in the works.
Al Capone paid $40,000 for the mansion in 1928, and often spent the colder Chicago months there. It's protected by a 7-foot wall and heavy gate, and still retains Art Deco features such as a gold-and-black powder room, fireplaces and ceiling lights dated to 1921. Paul George, history professor at Miami-Dade College, said Capone loved to shop and hit the nightclubs, as well as the local horse and greyhound tracks. The local authorities were not happy to have him around. They arrested Capone several times on charges ranging from vagrancy — for not disclosing the sources of his income — to perjury for his complaints about police treatment. He always beat the rap, George said.
St. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE
Capone is widely believed to have ordered the infamous Feb. 14, 1929 killings of seven associates of a Chicago gang headed by Capone rival Bugs Moran. Capone, however, had an alibi: he was in Miami at the time. George, the historian, said Capone made sure to be seen in public that day during an appointment with a lawyer and the next day at a horse track.
PRISON AND RETURN
The feds finally caught up with Capone in 1931, when he was charged with tax evasion. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison, much of which he spent at Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. Capone was finally released a few years early in 1938 and returned to the mansion in Miami Beach, where he would live out the rest of his days.
Capone had contracted syphilis as a young man at a Chicago brothel and never had it treated. As the years wore on, George said he began to suffer from dementia related to the disease and became progressively weaker. He suffered a stroke and died on Jan. 25, 1947 at the age of 48. Deirdre Capone, now 75, was there.
MB America architect Monica Melotti said the mansion was falling apart when it was purchased, including rotting stucco outside and wood flooring beginning to cave in. Mud and water were piled up under the foundations. After everything was cleaned out, the company installed a new drainage system, replaced many beams and the roof, and put in a ventilation system.
Melotti said the entire structure was brought up to code, including required hurricane protections. But it still has 1920s touches such as original window glass.
The new owner hopes to cash in on the Capone mystique by renting out the renovated mansion for commercial, video, photo and movie sets.
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