For the past two decades, thousands of visitors wandering South Beach's lovely but touristy Española Way have stumbled into the 405 building expecting another shop hawking SoBe tchotchkes or white linen shirts. Instead, they've found an eclectic mix of local artists packed into floors of small studios and dusty hallways. Over the years, the building has housed notable spots like the Kenny Scharf studio, the Miralda space, Carol Motty's studio, and the Starr Hagenbring studio. Artists such as Howard Davis, who founded the Artifacts Artists Group during the '80s and was an early staple on the Magic City's alternative scene, has called the charming enclave home for more than 20 years.
But those days are numbered. Davis and about a dozen colleagues who make up the crew at the unofficial Española Way Art Center have been asked to depart the creative haven by the middle of June to make way for a new hotel.
"We've half-expected this for years, but now we finally have to move out," Howard says.
The building was long owned by South Beach revivalist Craig Robbins, who allowed artists to use the space for minimal rent while he bought decaying buildings and helped turn around the Beach's fortunes in the early '90s. More recently, Craig's brother Scott owned the building and continued to allow the art studios to occupy the spaces.
The artists exhibited everything from paintings and photography to sculptures and mixed-media works, and visitors could walk into studios to chat with creative types living and working in the boho enclave. "We all stayed open ten hours a day, every day to share our vision with the people who walked through our doors," Davis says.
But Scott recently finalized a plan to refurbish the property and turn it into eight hotel units.
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"The building is 85 years old and in desperate need of repairs. I'm very sad to see the artists go, but it's time to restore the property and bring it into the 21st Century," Robbins says.
Davis says he's like most of the artists in the space -- unsure of where to relocate. No matter where he ends up, he doubts he'll ever re-create the laid-back atmosphere fueled by walk-ins on Española Way.
"I have a large collection of art created by friends, the installations I collaborated on with others at local nightclubs, and even a collection of 10,000 records and other ephemera and different objects of a fading era that were always on display," Davis says.