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Fort Lauderdale Hotel Pioneer George W. 'Bob' Gill Dies at 93;
Developed Six Properties on Fort Lauderdale Beach
By Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News


February 26, 2009 - George W. "Bob" Gill Jr., whose pioneering hotels on Fort Lauderdale beach earned him acclaim as the father of Broward County hospitality, died Wednesday at home of natural causes. He was 93.

Born in Chicago, the U.S. Navy veteran moved to South Florida after World War II to develop real estate in warmer weather. He and his father first built houses, but Bob turned to hotels with the 50-room Escape, which opened New Year's Eve 1949. It was first on Fort Lauderdale beach to offer a swimming pool and to stay open year-round beyond the peak winter season.

Mr. Gill developed six properties on Fort Lauderdale beach, including the Jolly Roger in 1952, the first in the area to offer in-room air conditioning. He's probably best known for the two largest: the Yankee Clipper and Yankee Trader, sold in 2005.

Tourism veterans call Mr. Gill a marketing genius. He pioneered bringing travel agents from wintry U.S. cities to stay at his hotels and see the area. He helped to lure the New York Yankees' spring training camp to Fort Lauderdale in the 1960s, to promote college Spring Break and later, to move the area from Spring Break to its more upscale image.

As an innovator and doer, Mr. Gill personified "crusty," tough on the outside but soft inside, said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. He'd call in and either say "Good job" or "What the hell are you doing over there?" she said fondly.

"Most anybody in hospitality in South Florida — not just Broward — learned something from him," Grossman said.

Jim Pancallo, former general manager for the Yankee Clipper who worked 26 years with Mr. Gill, marvels at the risks his boss took at hotels in the '50s and '60s: opening a bar looking into a swimming pool, offering a Polynesian show and hosting ice-skating acts.

"He did it like the old Frank Sinatra song — his way," Pancallo said.

Mr. Gill is survived by Mary, his wife of 59 years; daughter Linda; three grandchildren and a great grandchild. Visitation is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Friday and services for 11 a.m. Saturday at the First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, 301 E. Broward Blvd.

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Copyright (c) 2009, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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