Architecture & Design

A Look Back at the History of the Standard Spa and 40 Island Ave.

The iconic columns and once-modern square façade of the Standard Spa in Miami Beach have allowed the building to withstand change for more than half a century. Compared to older cities in the States, Miami doesn't have many buildings that remain erect for long, but 40 Island Ave. has stood since the early 1950s. With the posh hotel celebrating its tenth anniversary this weekend, we delved into the history of the building and relived some memorable moments of the past decade.

Most locals remember that before the Standard took over the property in 2004 (eventually reopening its doors in 2006), it was the beloved Lido Spa Hotel. However, according to Belle Isle history, the Lido was the second hotel to take over the property; the first was known as the Monterrey Motel, which opened in 1953. It was designed by architect Norman Giller, and not until 1960 did the hotel assume new ownership that changed its name to the Lido and expanded the space. 

"What's most interesting about the hotel is that it sits on an island — the only natural island," says Paul George, resident historian at HistoryMiami. "Everything else around it is manmade."

After its renovations in the late '50s, the hotel was becoming hipper, "but by then, things were already declining on Miami Beach, in terms of the venue. The action on the Beach had moved north of [the hotel] to the Fontainebleau and places like that," George explains.

The hotel still thrived and opened its own nightclub; from what he remembers, the historian is willing to bet the club was called the Lido. "It was a hot spot, there's no doubt about it — it had live entertainment and it had no ordinary entertainers." One notable entertainer, George continues, was Josephine Baker, who agreed to sing only if the audience was desegregated.

"It has been changed a lot, but [40 Island Ave.] remains one of the most wonderful, funky hotels today," George says.

The historian's fondest memory of the hotel was a breakfast he shared with author Tom Wolfe. It was about seven years ago, and Wolfe was meeting with George to discuss the author's latest book, Back to Blood (2012). The two shared a healthy breakfast, the professor recalls, and the setting itself was memorable: "It had all these great newspapers all around that you could pick up and read from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and all that."

He adds, "Tom is an older gentlemen — very quiet, very low-key. He was eating a bowl of cereal, and it must have taken him half an hour or 40 minutes to finish his cereal. He was very courtly and genteel, but I did all the talking because he wanted to listen. But I couldn't get over how long it took him to eat a bowl of cereal," he says with a laugh.

Aside from changes in ownership and names throughout its 60-year history, there's no doubt the past ten years are the most memorable for Standard Culture editor-at-large David Meyer. Having been with the company since 2003, Meyer looks back on a decade of debauchery with his ten favorite moments. 

10. Hosting the Miami Book Fair (2014)
Nerding out with the cream of the publishing world (including all the National Book Award winners in residence) turned out to be an absolute blast.

9. Dzine’s Imperial Nail Salon (2011)
Dzine’s Nailed was Standard Press’ second imprint. For the book launch, we transformed a guest room into Dzine’s mother’s living room in Chicago where she did hair and nails. People came by to have their nails transformed into elaborate works of art. It was just the sort of weird, niche little subculture moments we love to celebrate.

8. Swim Week (2015)
Swim Week has always been one of our favorite weeks. The rest of the world doesn’t know much about it, but we love having all our favorite swimwear friends around. It was quite a coup for our "Room Report" column to shoot Sport’s Illustrated cover model Hannah Davis (back in August 2015).

7. Being Named Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Best Spa in the Americas
The Standard Miami is our first and only “spa hotel” and was conceived as a “spa with rooms,” so it was great to hear that readers of the world’s premier travel magazine voted us the best on two continents. Chef Mark’s tater-tots winning best side dish at South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Burger Bash is a close second.

6. Azealia Banks' “Surprise” Performance During Art Basel (2012)
She was the hottest ticket in town, and she gave a great bayside performance. It was one of those rare parties that was star-studded as well as really fun.

5. Bruce Weber Booking Signing and Marching Band (2010)
Nothing adds a sense of occasion more than a marching band. People were having such a good time that no one seemed to notice when a rogue speedboat zoomed by on the bay and flooded half the party with its massive wake. It was just all part of the fun.

4. Wrinkles in the City: Havana Book Launch (2012)
In 2012, Standard Press launched Wrinkles of the City: Havana. The book chronicles the collaboration between artists JR and José Parlá for the Havana Biennial. Both have become world-famous artists — well, even more world-famous. In addition to hosting a very well-attended launch party, we opened a fully operational Cuban coffee shop called Cafecito Neptuno. It was this perfect overlap of what we do (food and beverage), José’s cultural inspirations and Cuban heritage, as well as offering something for our Miami locals.

3. Art Installations  
Art Basel created an amazing opportunity for us to showcase artists’ work. When the Standard Miami opened, it was a new and exciting way to gather a cross section of cultural figures from fashion, art, entertainment, and literature. Highlights include Marco Brambilla's 3D video installation, Keith Sonnier’s elephant sculptures (2011), Vanessa Beecroft’s performance installation in the pool (2010), Luis Pons' “Paper Dreams" (2013), Olef Breuning “Boobs and Flowers,” and André Saraiva’s “Room 40" (2013). 

2. Bruce Weber W Mag Shoot (2008)
Even if it hadn’t become one of the fashion world’s most iconic photo spreads, it still would have completely captured the ethos of the property and the brand. Fun and sexy and beautiful and colorful and free. Totally Miami, totally Standard, and totally Bruce.

1. The Staff
We’re lucky to have the best you could ever ask for. The service is personal. The people are real. They are what keep our guests coming back year after year and what will keep the Standard open for as long as it’s above water.  

The Standard Spa Presents Camp Standard: A Tenth-Anniversary Celebration
Various events open to the public, including the Lazy BBQ at noon Sunday, January 24; Throwback Bingo at 8 p.m. Monday, January 25; and Community Yoga Thursday, January 28. For more information and to RSVP, visit
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.