How Sweet It Was

Lido Spa's sale to a hip hotelier is not just the end of an era -- it's a death in the family

The first hint the ladies at the Lido Spa pick up on is the men coming to measure. Strangers, in a place where everybody knows everybody, taking tape measures to everything: the lobby; the swimming pool; the walkway along Biscayne Bay; the individual guest rooms reserved for each lady who comes here to escape the cold weather up north for a few weeks, a few months, or even the whole winter, year after year ...

Such a lovely place. Such prime real estate. Who can blame Mr. Edelstein if he should sell the property after 39 years? The ladies agree: Everything has its price.

But when Terry Ross asks Chuck Edelstein about the measuring, he shrugs thin shoulders beneath his sport coat. Gangly and good-looking at 67 years old, Chuck can put on a stammering Jimmy Stewart charm when he wants to. He can play dumb.

"Measuring?" he asks. "Where?"

"You're full of shit," Terry says.

Seventy-eight and six feet tall in her size 11 1/2 heels, Terry Ross can stand up to her boss. A World War II Navy nurse and a postwar Borscht Belt vet who's played every hotel from the Catskill Mountains to Miami Beach, she's earned the right to speak her mind. As the social director at the Lido Spa for the past 35 years, she knows Chuck's shtick.

So when an article comes out in the Miami Herald on November 22, 2002, suggesting that the Lido may already be under contract to be sold to Andre Balazs, the fellow who recently bought the Raleigh Hotel on Collins Avenue for $25.5 million, Ross confronts Edelstein again.

The boss insists: "I didn't commit to anything with that man."

Meanwhile the ladies are in an uproar. They surround tour operator and fitness instructor Gerda Rosner after chair aerobics class. The ladies demand to know: "Where are you taking us next year?"

After 30 years of building up business for the Lido Spa, where else could Gerda bring her more than 100 elderly but active ladies for the winter? The Palm Aire in Pompano Beach is too pricey; Canyon Ranch in Tucson and the Berkshires is for a younger set. "I can't think of any place with the same price," Gerda admits of the packages she offers for $73 to $99 a night, double occupancy, meals, exercise, entertainment, and daily massage included. "Here they have what they need at their age."

Betty Grynwald, one of Gerda's ladies who has been coming every winter from Montreal for the past eleven years and has every intention of coming for a twelfth, offers Mr. Edelstein an ultimatum. "I hope next year I have a place to come to," she smiles, batting thickly coated lashes. "Otherwise I'm going to come live with you."

"Oh, my God," Edelstein groans. "You and my wife?"

Typical Chuck, but not exactly reassuring. So last week, when a letter finally went out to the Lido's employees, confirming that the hotel is under contract for sale, no one was exactly surprised. Who can blame Chuck for wanting to retire? But that doesn't make anyone feel any better. The Lido is the last gasp of the old Jewish retirement hotels that once thrived on Miami Beach; when the Edelstein family pulls out of the hotel on June 1, there will be no place like it for the elters to go. "It's like when someone in your family is very sick and you know they're going to die," says Terry Ross. "When they actually pass away you're so bereft you can't even lift your head up."

Yet the Lido Spa Hotel itself will live on, carefully restored as a chic boutique spa under the ownership of celebrity hotelier Andre Balazs. He's the one who revived the Chateau Marmont, old Hollywood haunt of Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, and Greta Garbo. With an ironic wink, he transformed the Fifties world headquarters of Standard Oil in downtown L.A. into one of his style-on-a-budget Standard hotels. A spokesperson for Balazs's company Hotels AB confirms that the Lido will be another Balazs restoration. The 106-room property will retain its original Sixties façade and original function as a spa.

But for the past 39 years, the Lido has been more than that. For hundreds of lovely Jewish ladies of a certain age and the faithful staff who serve them, the Lido has been not a hotel, but a second home. A family.


Way back when

When Balazs gives a chin tuck to the Lido's aging façade the triumph of youth -- or at least its pursuit -- will be complete on South Beach: Botox, Viagra, and breast implants über alles ...The Morris Lapidus design will be marvelous again, reviving the Miami Modern or MiMo style made famous by the architect's bigger hotels along Collins Avenue -- the Deauville, the Eden Roc, and the Fontainebleau. Savvy students of design will dig the gold columns lit up against that crazy pink backdrop at night and love the neon glow that spells out L-i-d-o S-p-a H-o-t-e-l. Hummers and Escalades will idle on the semi-circular drive where the old Lido vans used to load up the ladies for sightseeing tours. Models and club kids will meet beneath the sea-green-and-blue mosaic carport where long-time guest Millie Schiller used to sit, still smoking after nearly 92 years.

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