The late George "Bob" Gill arrived in Florida from a cold Chicago just after World War II. When he told people he wanted to build here, he was told he was too late, the boom was over. Some advice. Gill went on to build a bunch of houses and then got into hotels. The first was the Yankee Clipper, which he built on land considered unusable because it was not regular. Into that wedge of sand he inserted a building shaped like a ship. That, as well as the fact that the New York Yankees (think Joltin’ Joe, a.k.a. the Yankee Clipper) stayed there for spring training, inspired the name.
He went on to build the Yankee Trader a bit north. Bob Gill may be gone, as of last year, but his legacy of the two landmark hotels are not. To the contrary, they have both been reborn under the new ownership of Starwood. We toured them this week (with David Wahba, the director of sales and marketing) and came away impressed. The old Clipper, now the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, remains one of the few hotels that actually sits on the beach, with no busy A1A to cross to the water. In both cases the new owner kept what was best about the two facilities, while modernizing them to compete with the new W Fort Lauderdale, Ritz-Carlton and Hilton.
At the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, the Wreck Bar, a novelty at the time because it was situated below the swimming pool, remains as designed. Patrons can see through a huge glass window the activity in the pool above (you have to see this to get it). Huge beams simulate an old fashioned ship. Its dark wood is in contrast to the rest of the hotel redesign, which is blond and airy, especially in the lobby. Around the corner on the ground floor there is a Starbucks, run by the hotel. Additions have been added in recent years, including one reached by a skyway across A1A. A big change has been made to the beachside pool, greatly enlarged to accommodate the increased number of guests related to the expansion.
Up the road at the old Yankee Trader (now The Westin Beach Resort) there is still Shula’s on the Beach, an indoor/outdoor restaurant which takes up most of the ground floor. No big difference there, but the same cannot be said a few floors up where the walkway over the cross street now leads to a greatly expanded convention area. It puts this hotel much on the map for business groups and conventions. Part of the new complex is a ballroom which can seat almost 500. There have been numerous exterior improvements, which give what had been a dated facility a modern, state-of-the-art allure.