A Past Worth Saving

There goes the neighborhood. Come to think of it, where is the neighborhood? Sentiments often heard in this relatively young city, where things historic -- as in buildings -- have only recently become a concern for the masses. Yes the holdouts have always been around, the architectural version of tree huggers who make up the 22-year-old Miami Design Preservation League and the 27-year-old Dade Heritage Trust. They're the ones with the vision, the foresight to know that piles from the days of yore are of value, worth safeguarding.

"Only the crazy people give a damn; they're the ones who make things happen," says urban-rehab trailblazer Tony Goldman, who counts himself among the daft. Goldman arrived in Miami Beach in 1984 and saw infinite potential in the dilapidated yet architecturally significant structures that now compose the Art Deco Historic District. Goldman restored a slew of properties, from the Park Central Hotel to The Hotel, a crucial catalyst in fashioning what he likes to call the American Riviera.

Individuals such as Goldman, who have made significant contributions to the cause of historic preservation, will be recognized at the Miami Design Preservation League Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony on Thursday. Goldman, a past MDPL award recipient, will be on hand to deliver a casual chat titled "Reminiscences of the Art Deco Historic District: That Dynamic Duo -- Barbara Baer Capitman and Leonard Horowitz," highlighting two people who transformed his life and altered a neighborhood forever. Considered the godmother of South Beach for helping the Art Deco District gain its historic designation, the tenacious and passionate Capitman wouldn't give a second thought to chaining herself to a building to protest and prevent its imminent demolition. Her sidekick Horowitz, who Goldman refers to as "South Beach's Monet," devised the pastel color scheme that adorns many Ocean Drive structures. "I had immense respect for the both of them," Goldman says. "My leadership ability was honed in the South Beach experience: learning the values of sharing a vision, embracing a community, and having the community embrace me."

The import of the past will be recognized further on Saturday when Dade Heritage Trust presents The Dollars and Sense of Saving Historic Neighborhoods, a seminar for those who own, or want to own historic property, says Becky Roper Matkov, the Trust's executive director. U.S. Congressman E. Clay Shaw will discuss federal tax benefits for preservation of historic residences, a protection that has never been afforded, and a position that he has supported for several years. Preservation expert Stanley Lowe will talk about his role in the rejuvenation of Pittsburgh. And a panel discussion about successfully implementing preservation strategies locally will be led by City of Coral Gables historic preservation director Ellen Uguccioni.

"We're going to show examples of places -- Pittsburgh, Palm Beach, Miami Beach -- where preservation has really been made to work and has been an economic boon to those areas," says Matkov. "We're trying to show how it's been done in all these other places, and that it will help Miami financially. This is not a feel-good kind of thing. It's an economic thing."

Striking the delicate balance between money and aesthetics is paramount among preservationists and enlightened developers, making the struggle of maintaining the soul of neighborhoods while remaining profitable a never-ending one. Tony Goldman's work is a persuasive example of how it can be done. "It's about making that three-dimensional vision almost a five-dimensional experience," he says. "Then it's about taking to the streets and committing oneself to a daily sense of diligence. Without that almost compulsive sense of passion, you don't make it. You have to be a tenacious leader with a clear vision shared by the community. If you don't know where you're going, you're going to have a tough time getting there."

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Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman