The sites were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, praised by preservationists as excellent examples of the Mediterranean-Revival style and classic remnants of boom-time Miami. But they were allowed to fall into disrepair, along with most of the once-fashionable neighborhood of South Edgewater, located east of the Boulevard behind the Omni Mall.
In the late Eighties, Chinese-American developer Isaac Shih wooed Miami commissioners with a grand scheme to build a residential and commercial "Chinatown" complex on the block where the two buildings stood. The fact that Shih's plans didn't incorporate the existing architectural gems had preservationists on guard from the outset. In 1992, concerned that the developer's project would never get beyond the drawing board, commissioners required that he put up a $250,000 cash bond before being permitted to raze either building. He did. But just after Shih bulldozed the Algonquin (and took a piece out of the Priscilla in the process), preservationists pointed out that city administrators had issued the demolition permit incorrectly: Shih hadn't paid all the requisite fees.
The Dade Heritage Trust subsequently pressured Shih to agree to restore the Priscilla's faaade and incorporate it into his project, and this past March the group sued the developer for reneging on that contract. In May the Trust settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum of money, effectively withdrawing the only remaining obstacle to the Priscilla's demise -- Shih's wish from the very start.
Leonard Beach Hotel (1925-1993)
If FPL takes the bad-taste sweepstakes for knocking down the Ryan Motors building, then Miami Beach developer Thomas Kramer, slayer of the Leonard Beach, takes home the award for hubris.
Located at the south end of Ocean Drive, the Leonard Beach was a unique example of what could be done with a 50-by-140-foot lot, the standard in South Beach. But it was never listed as a historic site A no buildings below Sixth Street, in the so-called South Beach Redevelopment Zone, were eligible for historic designation. In 1992 Kramer bought the building (which recently had been remodeled as a quirky, bohemian hotel), undertook his own renovation, and opened a nightclub called Hell, which closed almost immediately.
In June 1993, Aristides Millas was leading an international group of architects and town planners on a tour of historic South Beach. As the sightseers -- whom Kramer had flown into town for a much-ballyhooed South Pointe development charrette -- trundled past the Leonard Beach in the trolley the German developer had rented for the occasion, Millas was astonished to observe that a bulldozer was ramming the building.
Kramer's excuse: the place was structurally unsound. "It was one of a kind and it's gone," sighs Millas. Despite the fact that the area is the oldest section of Miami Beach, he adds, most of South Pointe's landmarks have disappeared.
Coral Gables Coliseum (1927-1993)
While Coral Gables can boast of an admirable recent track record in preservation, one of Dade's most notable losses fell within the boundaries of the City Beautiful. Designed by Anthony Ten Eyck Brown (architect of the Dade County Courthouse), the Coliseum opened in 1927 with Will Rogers as host. Whereas city founder George Merrick envisioned a state-of-the art auditorium for Greater Miami, the venue saw various incarnations: a theater, an opera house, a graduate school for aviators during World War II, a wrestling and boxing arena, an ice-skating and roller rink, a bowling alley, and a health club.
By 1987 it was empty. In 1992, after squatters set it on fire, Service Merchandise proposed to build a new store on the site, and city commissioners agreed to demolish the old Coliseum. According to Gables preservation chief Ellen Uguccioni, the city's preservation board delayed the demolition for six months while a task force of local businessmen and concerned citizens got involved. The Coliseum could have been adapted for another use, Uguccioni says. "It takes a lot of imagination and incredible commitment, and the costs aren't necessarily up-front, so there are some risks," she explains.
In this case, the risks were too high to attract interest. "There are so many limitations to the amount of involvement government can have in private industry," observes Uguccioni. "Short of owning a property, we're just terribly constrained."
Dorn House (1910-1994)
Built on what is now Sunset Drive in unincorporated Dade, the Dorn House was a native pine structure and an excellent example of turn-of-the-century vernacular architecture. For those attributes, it received local historic designation in 1983. It was owned by the Dorn family for most of its life span but was allowed to deteriorate, and by the time automobile dealer Nat Potamkin bought the house and an adjoining property several years ago, the place was in deplorable condition. Metro condemned it. When Potamkin sought to demolish the structure, preservationists stepped in.