Dade's Greatest Hits

A requiem for some heavyweights that have tussled with the wrecking ball and lost

The list of the McAllister's fallen coevals is a long one. Among them is downtown's Hotel Toledo, constructed between 1910 and 1914 A after the railroad's arrival but before the real estate boom. Originally the Hotel Berni, the three-story masonry structure was designed for the comfort of Miami's earliest tourists, with a profusion of windows and porches to maximize exposure to bay views and breezes. It was demolished in 1988, not long after the owner was sent a notice of public hearing for historic designation, recalls Sarah Eaton, Miami's preservation officer. A parking lot now occupies the site.

"There is no question that Miami was once a really exciting downtown A there was a core to the city," comments Aristides Millas. "But we need the architectural variety that manifests that core, that shows the evolution of a town."

Residence at 2520 Tigertail Ave. (1882-1991)
This two-story wood-frame house in the Silver Bluff neighborhood of Coconut Grove was built in 1882 by Grove pioneers Charles and Isabella Peacock and was probably once part of the Peacock Inn. In recommending it for historic designation. Metro's 1977survey praised the house's "use of materials, adaptability to the area's climate, cohesiveness within the neighborhood, and straightforward functional character."

In 1985 the house was purchased by restaurateur Monty Trainer and a partner. Six years later they secured a demolition permit and knocked it down. There was no hope for a stay of demolition: The City of Miami had failed to bestow a historic designation. Margot Ammidown, then-acting director of Dade's Historic Preservation Division, was quoted at the time as saying, "As far as the history of Coconut Grove, probably next to the Barnacle, it was one the most historic houses."

Even today Coconut Grove is sorely underdesignated. By Sarah Eaton's estimation, there is a "good handful" of neighborhoods that could be eligible for historic designation. Some might encompass hundreds of houses (Miami's three main historic districts A Bayside, Buena Vista, and Morningside -- contain more than 200 buildings apiece). But nearly all the old wooden homes have been lost, Eaton adds, particularly those in the so-called Black Grove, which was settled in the late 1880s by Bahamians who came to Miami by way of Key West and built Conch-style houses with broad gables and ornate balustrade porches that sometimes wrapped around the sides. "Coconut Grove is a good example of someplace that hasn't been completely destroyed yet but is well on its way," Ammidown warns. "Almost nothing in Coconut Grove has been historically designated."

Three Score and Ten Club (1914-1992)
This structure at 243 NE Fourth St. in downtown Miami was built as a residence in 1914, then converted in 1925 to a fishing club by a group of Miami millionaires. The building was notable for its open porch, window awnings, and peaked, green-tiled Oriental roof. In 1941 the property was sold to the Three Score and Ten Club, an organization for septuagenarians that held formal Saturday-night dances.

In 1989 Miami-Dade Community College approached the club with an offer to buy. The two parties reached a deal in 1991 and, at the encouragement of state historic-preservation officials, MDCC agreed to re-create the club's glamorous ballroom in its new building. Still, MDCC professor and local historian Paul George bemoans the loss of the edifice, a reminder of an era when clubs were an important part of Miami's social fabric and evidence that downtown was once a vibrant residential neighborhood.

Algonquin apartments (1924-1993)
Amid the great boom of the 1920s, the Biscayne Boulevard Company developed Biscayne as a commercial alternative to the bustle of downtown Miami and as a link to points north. Lined with palm trees, the thoroughfare was dubbed (by dreamy local PR flacks, no doubt) "the Fifth Avenue of the South" and became a fashionable winter outpost for shops from New York and Paris. Among the buildings constructed during this period were the Algonquin and its sister the Priscilla, both on the 1800 block.

The sites were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, praised by preservationists as excellent examples of the Mediterranean-Revival style and classic remnants of boom-time Miami. But they were allowed to fall into disrepair, along with most of the once-fashionable neighborhood of South Edgewater, located east of the Boulevard behind the Omni Mall.

In the late Eighties, Chinese-American developer Isaac Shih wooed Miami commissioners with a grand scheme to build a residential and commercial "Chinatown" complex on the block where the two buildings stood. The fact that Shih's plans didn't incorporate the existing architectural gems had preservationists on guard from the outset. In 1992, concerned that the developer's project would never get beyond the drawing board, commissioners required that he put up a $250,000 cash bond before being permitted to raze either building. He did. But just after Shih bulldozed the Algonquin (and took a piece out of the Priscilla in the process), preservationists pointed out that city administrators had issued the demolition permit incorrectly: Shih hadn't paid all the requisite fees.

The Dade Heritage Trust subsequently pressured Shih to agree to restore the Priscilla's faaade and incorporate it into his project, and this past March the group sued the developer for reneging on that contract. In May the Trust settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum of money, effectively withdrawing the only remaining obstacle to the Priscilla's demise -- Shih's wish from the very start.

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