Standing Still

Historic landmarks in preservation limbo

Stonegate (1927)
Built by a retired contractor from Chicago, this coral-rock house just outside South Miami is the largest in Dade County and received local historic designation as an outstanding example of Mediterranean vernacular architecture. During the 1980s, while its owner unsuccessfully tried to sell the neighborhood on his plans to build a subdivision on the site, the property sat empty and neglected as a combination of water damage and vandalism destroyed much of its interior.

This past April Metro-Dade preservationists and the property's current owners agreed to put Stonegate on the market for nine months in hopes of finding a suitable buyer. Asking price: $1.9 million.

Braman Cadillac headquarters (1928)
Braman Cadillac is one of Miami's oldest car showrooms and, along with the Sears Tower, one of the few remaining vestiges of Biscayne Boulevard's glory days. According to City of Miami preservation officer Sarah Eaton, the facility, now under the aegis of car magnate and Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, was one of several that formed an automobile row. Although the city designated it as a historic structure, in February Braman was given the go-ahead by the City of Miami's Historic and Environmental Preservation Board to demolish the four-story building.

Hoping to find a buyer who would maintain the building, the preservation board specified a six-month waiting period before demolition. (This is the second time Braman has secured a certificate to raze the showroom. Two years ago he gained approval but failed to file for a demolition permit before the certificate expired.) So far, according to Sarah Eaton, no buyer has expressed interest; the current six-month waiting period expires next month.

Sears Tower (1929)
No local edifice has provoked as much debate in recent years as the Sears Tower, and there seems to be no middle ground. One camp praises the landmark as an architectural gem, the oldest Art Deco structure in Dade. The other camp lambastes it as an embarrassing eyesore that should be demolished immediately.

The octagonal tower is part of a larger building at the northwest corner of Biscayne Boulevard and Thirteenth Street that stands as one of the remaining vestiges of the era when the Biscayne Boulevard Company developed the boulevard into a commercial thoroughfare. This year, in a rare eructation of preservation-mindedness, Miami commissioners passed a resolution urging that the structure be preserved and incorporated into the design of a $139 million performing arts center slated to be built on a 5.5-acre plot that includes the Sears site. Cesar Pelli, the New Haven-based architect whose firm won the contract to design the complex, has said he will attempt to integrate the tower into his plan.

Pan Am hangars (1930)
In 1930 Pan American World Airways opened a base for its commercial passenger seaplane service to Latin America from Coconut Grove. Its terminal on Dinner Key, a Streamline Moderne-style structure, is now the Miami City Hall; four hangars also still stand and serve as dry dockage and boat-repair facilities for a marina.

For years the fate of the Pan Am hangars has been unsure. Owners of nearby businesses and hotels have urged the city to tear down the old metal structures, and over the years city commissioners haven't concealed similar desires. But preservationists have urged that the hangars be restored, citing their importance to local history and to the history of aviation. Community groups and elected officials have discussed a variety of mixed-use proposals for the sites including a farmers market, aviation museum, cafe, and public sailing center.

Coconut Grove Naval Reserve Center (1938)
Four buildings stand on this 32-acre site at 2610 Tigertail Ave.: a mess hall/office building, a garage, and two barracks. They originally served as the barracks and administrative buildings for a U.S. Coast Guard air station, which also included a hangar built in 1932 on nearby Dinner Key. (The hangar later served as a boxing venue and now houses the Shake-A-Leg sailing program for handicapped sailors.) The station became the busiest air-sea rescue facility in the world and was later turned over to the U.S. Navy. In 1991, when navy officials informed the City of Miami of its plans to level the site, preservationists protested. While they admit the center isn't a topnotch architectural work, they do assert that its role in the history of the Coast Guard makes it worthy of preservation. According to Sarah Eaton, the site is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The center was awarded to the Miami Coalition for the Homeless under the McKinney Act, which assigns surplus federal property to homeless-advocacy groups. Neighbors objected to the coalition's plan to convert the center into a facility for 80 single mothers and their children; the opposition's cause has been buoyed by a 1994 federal law mandating the involvement of local redevelopment authorities. The fate of the site remains undecided.

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