In 1912 Miguel Morell purchased La Finca de Santa María de Monte Carmelo, a 5,000 acre farm which raised sugar, tobacco, coffee and cattle. The farm streched to a small town now submerged under Lake Caonillas.
In 1947 the hacienda was built using the railroad tracks as support beams. At that time Miguel’s son Pedro bought the farm and lived in the hacienda with his wife and three sons. His wife taught school to the local children. Horses, cows and mules were kept on the property across the road.
Pedro operated the farm for 20 years. He had as many as 36 farm hands working the land. The coffee was dried in the area now used as a parking lot. Pedro sold 107 acres now comprising the hotel property to his loyal butler Mariano Orquelle for a nominal sum. Orquelle sold to a St. Thomas hotelier, James Pepperdine, who never used the property. In 1971 he traded the parcel for two condominiums owned by Cesar Toledo. When Toledo, a local “Utuadeño,” first came to look at the property it was so overgrown by the tropical jungle that he couldn’t locate it. In frustration he stopped by the roadside and asked a little boy if he knew of the place. “Oh, la casa grande. It’s over there.”, the boy exclaimed, pointing the way. The place has been called Casa Grande ever since.
In the mid 80’s, Cesar Toledo embarked on construction of the guest cabins, the conference building, and the manager’s residence. In 1988 Casa Grande opened for business.
While guests for four days they were approached by several of the staff members who encouraged them to buy the hotel. Although Steven had an active law practice in New York he began to think about the prospects and limitless possibilities. After leaving the hotel he wrote to “Don Cesar” and advised him that they might be interested in buying the property if he wanted to sell. Upon returning to New York Steven received a call from Toledo and Lo and Behold! six month later they owned the place.In December 1995 Steven Weingarten and his wife first set eyes on Casa Grande. They were on a 10-day vacation and the Parador was their first stop. Although the buildings and equipment were in disrepair and in need of extensive work, the beauty of the location could not be denied.
At the time of purchase Steven’s wife moved from Long Island to live in the residence across the road. Without any experience in the hotel business she became the resident manager. During the first year Steven commuted from New York spending 9 to 10 days per month living and working at Casa Grande. His wife developed the restaurant’s menu and Steven took charge of the rest of the operation.
The business was growing slowly but surely until September 21, 1998 when the 165 mile an hour winds of Hurricane George tore through the valley. Electricity would not be restored for 3 weeks. Phone service was out for 5 weeks and the entire water supply system had to be rebuilt, leaving the property dry for about a month. The hotel was closed for business until late November.
As time went on Steven spent more time in Puerto Rico and less time in New York. He sold his house in Sea Cliff, Long Island, closed his office and formally retired from the practice of law. In the year 2000 the couple divorced and Steven became the sole owner of Casa Grande. He resided in Room #8 for 3 years working the business day and night. He now lives in a restored open-style cliffside villa located 15 minutes downriver from the hotel overlooking Lake Dos Bocas.
The Café has brightly colored cast aluminum furniture and receives a fresh coat of paint when necessary. The former conference center has been transformed into a fully equipped yoga facility. Steven is a certified Kripalu yoga teacher and offers morning class at 8 am daily to the guests and visitors.
Steven, a gardener since the age of 6, has nurtured a botanical garden here with more than 100 varieties of plants, trees, and flowers. Some garden areas are structured while others are totally wild. The flora has been acquired from many sources. Some have been collected form the roadside, others come from employee’s farms, guest’s contributions, small local nurseries, and large nurseries in the metropolitan areas.
Although small with only 20 rooms, Casa Grande enjoys an international clientele. Nature lovers find their way to “The Casa” from points near and far. Half the guests live in Puerto Rico, many in the San Juan area. It is not unusual to find people dining at The Café who hail from Canada, Alaska, New Zealand, Texas, Spain, or California. While most diners are guests at the retreat many day visitors travel from afar to have lunch or dinner.
When the hotel first opened it was part of the Island’s parador program and was known as Parador Casa Grande. In 1997 the name was changed to Hotel La Casa Grande. In 2002 the name once again changed to Casa Grande Mountain Retreat to more accurately describe its setting and intention.