The Diplomat Hotel- Then And Now by Ron Kapon

“A diplomat’s life is made up of three ingredients: protocol, Geritol and alcohol.”- Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

The Diplomat hotel in Greater Fort Lauderdale, Florida, began in 1953 as the 150-room Envoy, erected by Samuel Friedland, the founder of the Pantry Pride supermarket chain. In 1954 he expanded the hotel to 370 rooms and it was renamed the Diplomat. It was run by Irving and Marjorie Cowan, Mr. Friedland’s daughter and son-in-law. There was very little between Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale to entertain people until the Diplomat opened, and entertain they did with Bing Crosby, Xavier Cugat, Milton Berle, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Lena Horne, Joan Rivers, Sammy Davis Jr. and Judy Garland appearing in either the Café Crystal or the Tack Room Lounge. Jay Leno and Billy Crystal were opening acts. On a personal note I stayed at the old Diplomat many times during the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s.

Lawrence Welk filmed his first TV show from the hotel in 1962 as did the Jackie Gleason Show, and Arthur Godfrey taped his radio show there starting in 1965. Harry Truman, as well as every U.S. president since 1974, has addressed labor unions at the hotel. In a 2002 article for Travel & Leisure Magazine the Diplomat was described as “A playground for rich Northerners down for the season in their fur coats and string bikinis.” On New Years Eve 1974 Frank Sinatra returned from retirement and was paid $200,000 for his hour-long performance.

Over the years the Diplomat Resort continued to add rooms topping off at 1,170 with two golf courses and 19 tennis courts. But the hotel floundered economically, especially after a series of arson fires in 1983. Reopened in 1984 the hotel welcomed President Reagan, who addressed the International Longshoreman’s Association as well as Bob Hope, who hosted the New Year’s Eve Gala. In 1987 Cowan ceded control of the hotel to a group of labor union pension funds that sold the hotel in 1997 to the United Association of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumming & Pipe Fitting Industry. In 1998 the original hotel was imploded with 500 pounds of dynamite in less than 25 seconds.
In March of 2000 the 155-acre Country Club at the Diplomat opened to the public with an 18-hole golf course, 10-clay tennis courts, pro shops and 60-luxury guestrooms. In September of 2000 the 30,000-square foot Spa at The Diplomat opened featuring 20 treatment rooms and complete fitness facilities. Both are a mile away by hotel shuttle. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide was appointed management company for the renamed Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, along with The Diplomat Country Club & Spa.
In January 2002 the 39-story hotel opened with 998 rooms and was the tallest and most expensive building in Broward County. The lobby features a five-story, 60-foot atrium surrounded by waterfalls with the water motif continuing in an outdoor infinity-edged pool with waterfalls splashing into a 240-foot lagoon pool below. All rooms offer views of either the ocean or he Intracoastal Waterways. Another personal note– I have stayed at the new Diplomat in 2003, 2009 and 2011.
The 209,000-square-foot convention center is adjacent to the hotel and features four ballrooms as well as a full fitness center. Across the skywalk, over Ocean Drive A1A, is Diplomat Landing, a 60,000-square-foot area of restaurants with a 14 slip marina. I spent one entire day on The Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi, which stops there. I had dinner in both Rivals Waterfront Sports Grille and AiZiA Restaurant (Asian cuisine) while staying at the hotel in 2011. The same chef Mauricio Gutierrez is still there, but the restaurant was located in the main building when I ate there in the fall of 2009. It moved to Diplomat Landing in December of 2009, which gave it more room with both indoor and outdoor dining. At 11PM it becomes a nightclub. Believe it or not I had the same wait server, who said she remembered me because I reminded her of Ernest Hemingway. True story.
The Westin Diplomat is a short taxi ride from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood or Miami International Airports as well as the Port Everglades Cruise Terminal. There were 7 cruise ships in port while I was there. If you are a passenger on Holland American, Royal Caribbean or Celebrity and your return trip home is in the late afternoon or evening, the Hollywood folks have a great deal for you. For $35 or $40 (depending on which airport) they will send your luggage ahead to either Miami or Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airports and then transport you to a private room on the beach where you can relax, eat, swim or shop before they return you to your chosen airport. Wednesdays through Sundays the Hollywood Trolley stops at the hotel entrance (one of a dozen stops), and for $1 you can take it throughout the city of Hollywood from 10AM to 10PM. I used it to have dinner at Sugar Reef Tropical Grill on the Hollywood Broadwalk. Opened in 1994 it was the first white tablecloth restaurant to open on the Broadwalk. They specialize in fresh fish. I used my table to view the 56th Annual Hollywood Beach Candy Cane Parade. This parade, along the 2 1/2 mile Broadwalk, facing the Atlantic, has a real local feeling with floats, marching bands, dancers and fire and police vehicles.

I mentioned spending a day traveling on both the Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi. There are 16 stops and it operates from 10AM until Midnight. $20 buys an all day pass, get on, and get off. Seniors pay $16 and it is $10 after 7PM. One of the stops led me to a three-hour tour on the Jungle Queen Riverboat. It goes up the historic New River past Millionaire’s Row, Port Everglades, the Intracoastal Waterway and Downtown Fort Lauderdale. We spent almost an hour at their tropical Isle viewing exotic birds and monkeys. There was even an alligator-wrestling exhibit. Another stop allowed me to visit the International Swimming Hall of Fame and famous Las Olas Boulevard. I also visited the Sunday Jazz Brunch, held the first Sunday of every month at Riverwalk in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The 40th anniversary Winterfest Boat Parade, the “world’s most watched boat parade” with over one million spectators watching from the 12-mile route took place a few days after I had to return home. It starts in downtown Fort Lauderdale’s New River and winds it way up the Intercoastal Waterway to Pompano Beach.

There were many things I did not have time to see. They included: the Museum of Discovery & Science in downtown Fort Lauderdale as well as Gulfstream Park with a casino, shopping, dining and of course racing in Hallandale Beach. Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the Museum of Art and Stranaham House Museum are also located in Fort Lauderdale and the Arts Park at Young Circle in Hollywood.

Greater Fort Lauderdale includes 31 municipalities, and my hope is that they will invite me back to see all of them.