Peter Loftin has been a larger-than-life
character in South Beach since he bought Casa Casuarina in 2000,
turning the former Versace mansion into an ultra-high-end luxury
guesthouse. Today, though, the former party boy is more mellow
and is widely credited with helping make Ocean Drive a more
Peter Loftin is a study in contradictions. He is a
big bear of a man with a Southern twang and lust for life. He runs
in political circles that include Al Gore, John Edwards, the
Clintons and Miami police chief John Timoney. He’s tight with Shaquille
O’Neal, yet he doesn’t name-drop. He’s a hell-raiser and serious at
the same time. He enjoys a belly laugh and flirting with
curvaceous women, yet he can turn melancholy rather quickly. He is
generous with his money and time, yet the staff at Casa Casuarina
formally refers to him as “Mr. Loftin.” He channels his namesake
Peter Pan (“I don’t want to grow up,” he says over dinner), yet he
talks about his two sons with the precision of a soccer dad. He is
anti-lawyer, yet his personal attorney accompanies him for this
interview. He is wealthy, but has given up the accoutrements of
fine living (private planes and megayachts). Most interestingly, the
owner of the Versace mansion (for nearly eight years) is not a
Despite the paradoxes, a few facts are undisputable: The
North Carolina native grew up in a loving family who nurtured him
to follow his dreams. After one semester at North Carolina State
University, Loftin did just that. He went door to door selling
cordless phones before starting a telecom company (BTI) in the wake
of the deregulation of AT&T. By 25, Peter was officially rich
and rode the telecom wave until its peak in 2000, which is when he
moved to Miami Beach and bought Casa Casuarina for $19 million.
Loftin’s arrival on South Beach was not without controversy, as the
impish character threw some sexy parties and gained a reputation as a
playboy. But he also became a civic organizer and is responsible for
helping upgrade Ocean Drive. Four years ago, he transformed Casa
Casuarina into a private club and 10-suite hotel (prices range from
$1,200 to $5,000 a night), with guests such as Paris Hilton, Simon
Cowell and Hilary Duff. Although he still maintains Donatella
Versace’s suite as his own, Peter, who is approaching 50, now lives
in a less imposing house on Miami Beach and allows the Casa to
function as a high-end social club. “I have preserved what Gianni
Versace created,” he notes. “I have kept that legacy alive.”
The exquisite stonework, pool area and lighting create a dreamlike atmosphere at Casa Casuarina.
OCEAN DRIVE: Why did you buy Casa Casuarina?
PETER LOFTIN: When I was
living in North Carolina, I saw Gianni Versace being interviewed in
the courtyard here. I said, This is a beautiful house. I wonder if
he would sell that to me. Then I dismissed it; he loved that house
too much. I completely forgot about it. Years later, I was on my
boat at the Miami Beach Marina and a friend said, ‘Let’s go look at
the Versace mansion. It might be for sale.’ This was in 2000. We
walked through the house and I said, ‘This place is magical.’ That’s
when we went into negotiations with the Versace family lawyer. The
young girl Allegra inherited a lot of Gianni’s fortune, and she was
involved in making the decision to sell the property.
Was there a vetting process?
Not really. They had many restrictions on the use of
their name. Any brand would. I abided by all of this. I refer to it
as Casa Casuarina, which is the original name. It was built in
1930 by Alden Freeman as somewhat of a replica of the Alcazar de
Colón, which was built in 1510 by Christopher Columbus’ son in
Santo Domingo. It was the oldest house in the Americas. Freeman
built this house as an apartment building so that his friends could
live here with him. He was worth $80 million in the ‘30s. In 1937
Jacques Amsterdam bought the property, and it was an apartment
building for many years—until Gianni Versace bought it.
You paid $19 million for the house in 2000.
I have put a lot more into it since then. At the time,
it was the highest price ever paid for a residential house in
Miami-Dade County. Now they have condos selling for $20 million.
The appreciation has been rather significant. Another thing I did
was to take the music off Ocean Drive. That boom-boom-boom driving
down the street. I couldn’t sleep at night. The windows were
rattling. I got with the police chief, and he put a task force out
here and started ticketing people. It took on its own life and other
neighbors got involved. Then an article came out on the front page of
The New York Times called ‘The Hot New Sound in South Beach:
“Quiet, Please.” ‘ I was the catalyst for that. It made the rest of
the street nicer.
What was it like living here as a private residence?
There was a lot more freedom than there is today. I
could do anything here—jump in the pool naked, whatever. It’s a
little different now.
Does it bother you that people pose in front of
the stairs at all hours of the night? The pictures, the stares, the
Not at all. It had beauty before Gianni bought it. After
he bought it, it was referred to as the ‘Versace mansion,’
although he referred to it as Casa Casuarina. Then there was the
tragic demise on the steps out front, which collectively have made
it a property that people want to see. It is the second most
photographed house in the United States behind The White House.
More than Graceland. It’s just photographed all the time.
The famous Casa Casuarina entry on Ocean Drive
Peter Loftin with Jon Bon Jovi
Do you ever feel Versace’s ghost?
I never feel his ghost. If I feel anything, it’s his genius, spirit and brilliance.
Why did you turn it into a private club and hotel?
The house was built as an apartment building back in
1930. It was meant to accommodate more than a single family. This
place screams for people, activity and entertainment. Even when I
lived here alone I had a lot of parties. Versace had some great
How many members do you have?
250. Many interesting people come here. Just the other
night the richest guy in the world was having dinner here.
What comes with membership?
You are able to come in through the front door. You are
able to come to the dining room and have dinner. You have access to
the pool and beach club. We have a spa. It’s a social club. If you
want to impress your clients or girlfriend or wife, this is the
place. You can have your birthday party here. There are corporate
events: Jaguar just had a party here and brought in their new car.
They craned it in.
How much is a membership?
There is a one-time fee of $50,000 and annual fees are
$8,000. Most of the members are like-minded fun people. We have
several gazillionaires. It’s safe, secure and quiet. You can
actually have a conversation here—unlike in nightclubs.
What does luxury mean to you?
If you live a life of luxury, you live a life that is
supposedly more special or privileged than that of the average
person. It doesn’t mean that you are happier than the average
person, though. All we are is a culmination of our memories and
Do you live a life of luxury?
Compared to where I came from? Absolutely! I would hate
for people to ever consider me a snob, though, or think that I have
an attitude because of something I have. Material things aren’t as
important to me as they once were. Experiences are more important
to me now. It’s an experience like sitting under a tree in North
Carolina, feeling the fall wind and remembering when you were a
kid. You can’t buy that.
You first burst onto the South Beach scene like a bull. Did you ruffle some feathers?
Yes. Anyone who pays $19 million for a house that a
slain famous fashion designer owned has to be a little bit out
there. I’m a redheaded Southern boy living down here. Not a lot of
people look like me. I’m a minority. I’m also a hugger. I hugged
everybody in town.
What did you think of South Beach back then?
I was a bit frightened of South Beach. I didn’t show it,
though. South Beach was wild, crazy and untamed. South Beach was a
foreign territory to me. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Peter Loftin with Jaime Pressly and Yanni
Peter Loftin with Nicky Hilton
How have you seen South Beach change?
I’ve seen Pete change. I’ve seen me mature. I understand
what South Beach is. I’ve seen many people come and go. The people
who survive South Beach want to live here. This is a place where
you work and live. It’s not a place where you go out every night
and goof off. You have to accept it for that and not let it chew
you up and spit you out, which it can. To live here for a long
period of time, you’re a survivor. You may get sand in your shoes,
as they say, but you also get more experience in your brain. Once you
learn how to moderate your social activities, you have a wonderful
existence here. I may go to a nightclub once or twice a month. The
Casa is more me, not only because I own it, but it’s also less
intensive as a party place. You come here to socialize. You don’t
come here to get drunk and listen to boom-boom-boom music all
What is your favorite aspect of South Beach?
I love the water, people and feeling of freedom. You can
express yourself however you want. You can be a guy who rides a
bike with a dog in the basket and goggles on. Or you can
Rollerblade down the street and text-message 100 people while doing
so. You don’t come here to wear a suit and tie. It has the exact
opposite air that New York has. New York has a work-hard, energized
environment. South Beach has a sexy, have-fun environment. I feel
it when I get off the plane.
You are friends with Shaquille O’Neal, Yanni and Jamie Foxx. How do you have so many famous friends?
Owning a fancy piece of property. Some of the people I
was friends with before, but a lot of people I’ve met here.
Describe your personality.
I have a very competitive side to me. I don’t like to
lose. But I’m not a bad loser. There’s a difference. I shake it off
and win the next one. Anyone who makes it on their own has to have
that fighting spirit. I can be feisty, but I try to control my
personality in a way that’s not too aggressive. Sometimes we need
to sit down, meditate and think about our lives. It’s important for
people to have introspection. What makes you happy does not come
from buying a new airplane. It comes from inside. I’ve pared my
life down. It’s simpler than it used to be and I like it better.
You have to find out what makes you tick as you get older. My two
children make me happy. One is 10 and one is 17 months. When you
have children, you start thinking about their future.
To what do you attribute your success?
My mom always wanted me to be successful. It’s amazing
how much a mother can influence her child. Bill Clinton was named
William Jefferson Clinton and his mother told him he would be
President of the United States one day. Most successful people had a
mother telling them they could do whatever they wanted.
The Casa dates back to 1930, and there’s the Versace legacy. How will the Loftin era be described?
It will be remembered for great people having great times. That is what this property is about.