Historic South Beach Murals Set for Demolition to Make Way for Retail Complex

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Thanks to its well-preserved art deco district, South Beach has a reputation as one of the few bastions in Dade County that takes historic preservation seriously. But that doesn't mean there aren't loopholes. Take, for instance, the 1940 Wells Fargo Bank building on the southwest corner of Alton and Lincoln roads, an edifice adorned with murals by acclaimed local sculptor Enzo Gallo.

The west side of Alton Road isn't considered a historic district, so the building is set for demolition to make way for -- you guessed it -- a retail complex.

Plans for a gleaming glass-and-steel shopping center come via Russell Galbut's Crescent Heights company, the Miami Herald reports, after he's dropped $48 million to buy up properties along that block of Alton.

Some of those buildings date back to the 1920s, but because the western edge of Alton isn't part of the designated historic district, there's no review necessary on the plans. In other parts of Miami-Dade, including Coral Gables, every building up for demolition must go through a historic review process before it can be knocked down -- but not in Miami Beach.

"If we had that in place, some of the buildings might be preserved," Daniel Ciraldo, historic preservation officer for the Miami Design Preservation League, tells the Herald.

Most notable among the buildings set for the bulldozer is the Wells Fargo branch and its murals. Galbut's lead architect played down its significance -- "It's not a very notable building," he recently told the Real Deal -- but Gallo, who installed the murals in 1971, is undoubtedly a significant local figure.

Born in 1927 to a family of marble workers in Padua, Italy, Gallo moved to Havana when he was young man to work in a family marble company, but he soon quit to attend art school. He rose to become a notable sculptor in Cuba and his homeland and fled to Miami after Castro took power.

He founded the Art & Culture Center in Hollywood and designed other notable local public art -- including the World War II monument on Fort Lauderdale's Riverwalk -- before passing away in 1999.

It's not clear whether his murals on the bank building might be saved, though Ciraldo tells the Herald he's made a request with the city to preserve them.

The new retail center, to be called 1212 Lincoln Road, will rise five stories and include shops and parking.

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