Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bob Gill's Escape Hotel and his other Fort Lauderdale landmarks ...

Escape Hotel today (Tiffany House)
By Jane Feehan

News that the long-closed Escape Hotel will be resurrected as a 12-story condo sparked memories of the remarkable man who founded a hotel chain that stretched from the Bahamas to Tampa.

Chicago-born George “Bob” Gill came to Fort Lauderdale after World War II. He started out with his father building houses. A post-war dearth of hotel rooms in the growing city probably informed his decision to venture into the hotel business.

It proved to be an endeavor with significant impact on Fort Lauderdale history and one that unleashed Gill’s marketing genius.The Escape Hotel, the first on Fort Lauderdale beach to feature a pool and to remain operating year-round, opened its doors on New Year’s Eve 1949.   By 1960, Gill had built the Jolly Roger, the iconic Yankee Clipper (with a bar facing the pool interior that features underwater shows today) and the Yankee Trader. Then he bought the historic British Colonial Hotel (built 1901) in Nassau, Bahamas. During spring 1960, the Gill Hotel chain purchased the 400-room Hillsboro Hotel in downtown Tampa. 

Gill had a knack for marketing. He brought travel agents from around the nation to visit his hotels in Fort Lauderdale. He also knew how to court Floridians. Gill hosted a well-publicized junket from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa in June, 1961.  He chartered a Mackey Airlines DC-3 to bring 25 Fort Lauderdale movers and shakers to participate in the debut of the new Gaslight Room at the Hillsboro Hotel. His guest list included Yankee Clipper manager Tom Brown, attorney Bill Leonard, and WFTL sales manager Bob Peggs. On the plane, they were entertained by a guitarist and served a champagne breakfast by seven “modern-day Floradora girls.”  The partiers returned 24 hours later decked out with dark glasses and more baggage under their eyes than they carried in hand.
Escape Hotel today (Tiffany House)

Bob Gill died at 93 in 2009. His hotels were sold and became properties of Sheraton, the Hilton and other hotel companies. He probably would have been happy to hear that another chapter, though bittersweet, lies ahead for the Escape Hotel. Operating as the Tiffany House, an assisted living facility in the 1980s, the Escape will now be part of a 72-unit condo complex.  Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

For more on the Yankee Clipper, see:
For more on the Jolly Roger, see:
Ocala Star Banner, April 3, 1960
Miami News, June 25, 1961
Sun-Sentinel, Feb. 26, 2009
Sun-Sentinel, Sept. 22, 2013

Tags: Fort Lauderdale hotels, Fort Lauderdale history, historical researcher


  1. Our band player at the Escape Hotel summer 1965 "The Ravens" from Jax Fl. Then we played Lennie's Also in Ft L

  2. Just read about this hotel being saved in the Sun Sentinel. As a 53 year resident born & raised here, it's nice to see this building being preserved.