Dade's Greatest Hits

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

Leonard Beach Hotel (1925-1993)
If FPL takes the bad-taste sweepstakes for knocking down the Ryan Motors building, then Miami Beach developer Thomas Kramer, slayer of the Leonard Beach, takes home the award for hubris.

Located at the south end of Ocean Drive, the Leonard Beach was a unique example of what could be done with a 50-by-140-foot lot, the standard in South Beach. But it was never listed as a historic site A no buildings below Sixth Street, in the so-called South Beach Redevelopment Zone, were eligible for historic designation. In 1992 Kramer bought the building (which recently had been remodeled as a quirky, bohemian hotel), undertook his own renovation, and opened a nightclub called Hell, which closed almost immediately.

In June 1993, Aristides Millas was leading an international group of architects and town planners on a tour of historic South Beach. As the sightseers -- whom Kramer had flown into town for a much-ballyhooed South Pointe development charrette -- trundled past the Leonard Beach in the trolley the German developer had rented for the occasion, Millas was astonished to observe that a bulldozer was ramming the building.

Kramer's excuse: the place was structurally unsound. "It was one of a kind and it's gone," sighs Millas. Despite the fact that the area is the oldest section of Miami Beach, he adds, most of South Pointe's landmarks have disappeared.

Coral Gables Coliseum (1927-1993)
While Coral Gables can boast of an admirable recent track record in preservation, one of Dade's most notable losses fell within the boundaries of the City Beautiful. Designed by Anthony Ten Eyck Brown (architect of the Dade County Courthouse), the Coliseum opened in 1927 with Will Rogers as host. Whereas city founder George Merrick envisioned a state-of-the art auditorium for Greater Miami, the venue saw various incarnations: a theater, an opera house, a graduate school for aviators during World War II, a wrestling and boxing arena, an ice-skating and roller rink, a bowling alley, and a health club.

By 1987 it was empty. In 1992, after squatters set it on fire, Service Merchandise proposed to build a new store on the site, and city commissioners agreed to demolish the old Coliseum. According to Gables preservation chief Ellen Uguccioni, the city's preservation board delayed the demolition for six months while a task force of local businessmen and concerned citizens got involved. The Coliseum could have been adapted for another use, Uguccioni says. "It takes a lot of imagination and incredible commitment, and the costs aren't necessarily up-front, so there are some risks," she explains.

In this case, the risks were too high to attract interest. "There are so many limitations to the amount of involvement government can have in private industry," observes Uguccioni. "Short of owning a property, we're just terribly constrained."

Dorn House (1910-1994)
Built on what is now Sunset Drive in unincorporated Dade, the Dorn House was a native pine structure and an excellent example of turn-of-the-century vernacular architecture. For those attributes, it received local historic designation in 1983. It was owned by the Dorn family for most of its life span but was allowed to deteriorate, and by the time automobile dealer Nat Potamkin bought the house and an adjoining property several years ago, the place was in deplorable condition. Metro condemned it. When Potamkin sought to demolish the structure, preservationists stepped in.

The city commission in nearby South Miami agreed to provide land for the house if someone else were to pay for its relocation, and Susan Redding, a South Miami insurance agent and preservation activist, spent a year and a half leading a campaign to raise money for the move. Although she got promises for $36,000, she was unable to save the house. "It got caught in a maze of bureaucratic requirements," Redding bitterly recalls. "What happened was so unnecessary, so totally unnecessary. It was really a political football until time just flat ran out.

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