The list of architects who worked on North Beach's Biltmore Terrace Hotel reads like a dean's list of Miami greats: Albert Anis, Melvin Grossman -- and the biggest name of all, Morris Lapidus, the man behind the Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc. The rectangular beachfront space at 87th Street and Collins Avenue, built in 1951, once advertised itself as "the hotel with the wholesome family atmosphere"; today it still wins over fans as an iconic example of MiMo architecture.
"That's what North Beach is all about," says Kirk Paskal, who lives nearby and founded the North Shore Historic District Neighborhood Association.
But now community members are livid after a developer that promised to restore the building abruptly began demolishing it instead.
"They misled everyone in the community," Paskal says. "We're all sick about it."
The historic hotel, which is now the Howard Johnson Plaza Miami Beach North, was bought in December 2013 by the Terra Group, a Pembroke Pines developer. (Terra did not return a phone call requesting comment from New Times.)
Last year, Terra created a buzz by announcing its intention to restore the building in conjunction with its plan to add a condo tower on the property. The group then presented its designs at various community meetings and won approval from the Design Review Board. It was also granted a zoning change, from 60 feet to 200 feet, so the new condo could be built.
But in late November, the developers' plans changed. Instead of following through with the renovation of the historic building, Terra applied for a demolition permit, which is not subject to review because the building doesn't have historic designation. By last week, the firm had already begun destroying the structure.
The same community members who applauded the renovation idea were shocked, deriding the developer's promises as an underhanded, profit-oriented tactic to secure a zoning change. At a panel last Thursday, Terra presented plans for the new luxury tower, and community members showed up to "impress upon the developer that this bait and switch is not what North Beach deserves."
Paskal says he's not sure if anything can be done at this point to preserve the building, which is already partially razed, but he hopes attention can at least help save other structures in the neighborhood.
If nothing else, he says, North Beach should "have the assurance that at least a portion of our character will be protected."
Below, pictures of the hotel, from then and now, all courtesy of Paskal: