Art Deco Architects
A number of architects made a distinct contribution to the architectural character of the North Beach area of the city of Miami Beach. Some of the more important individuals are listed below. Courtesy of www.MiMoOnTheBeach.com
Joseph J. DeBrita (1901-1992) practiced in Miami Beach from the 1930s to the 1950s. He designed dozens of residential, hotel, and apartment buildings in the Art Deco, Classical Revival, and Post-War Modern styles. These include the Villa Luisa and Ocean Blue hotels on Ocean Drive, the Dorset and Coral Reef hotels on Collins Avenue, and the Eastview Apartments (Marriott) on Washington Avenue.
With architect A.Kononoff, he designed the classical revival Mount Vernon and Monticello (Harding) hotels at 63rd Street in 1946. Other notable buildings by DeBrita include the Tropicaire Hotel at 880 71st Street, and apartment buildings located at 7725 Byron Avenue and 1208 71st Street.
L. Murray Dixon (1901–1949) was a native of Live Oak, Florida, educated at the Georgia Institute of Technology (1918–1919). After Dixon moved to Miami Beach, he designed, beginning in 1933, over 100 surviving buildings in the Miami Beach Architectural District (N.R. 1979). In his short lifetime, he became one of Miami Beach’s most prolific and talented designers of hotels, residences and commercial buildings.
Some of the many hotels Dixon designed are The Tides, Victor, Tiffany, Marlin, Ritz Plaza and Raleigh, along with numerous apartment buildings. In North Beach, he designed the Normandy Plaza Hotel at 6979 Collins Avenue and a number of apartment buildings, including 920 Bay Drive; 7345 Byron Avenue; 7625 Abbott Avenue; and 320–328 80th Street.
Gilbert M. Fein (1920–2003) was from New York City and studied architecture at New York University. He served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and settled in Miami Beach after the war. He designed hundreds of residential and commercial buildings in South Florida in the new Post-War Modern style.
One of his trademarks was a type of mirrored garden apartment building, featuring two 2-story buildings joined at the front by a marquee or gable roof, and framing a landscaped courtyard. Most of Fein’s comfortably livable buildings are function extremely well in Miami Beach’s low scale multifamily neighborhoods.
In the North Shore and Normandy Isle neighborhoods there are over 76 buildings designed by Gilbert Fein from 1949 to 1961, but some of the better known are the Ocean Front Apartments, 7400 Ocean Terrace; Ocean Way Hotel, 7430 Ocean Terrace; Beach Place Motel, 8601 Harding Avenue; and Deco Palm Apartments, 6930 Rue Versailles.
Roy F. France (1888–1972) was born in Hawley, Minnesota, and studied at the Armour Institute of Technology (1905–06) and the Chicago Technical School. As a young man, he worked as a draftsman in Chicago. He was a hotel architect in the Windy City until he and his wife took a train trip to Florida in 1931 and enjoyed it so much that they settled permanently in Miami Beach.
Here, he designed dozens of prominent Art Deco and Postwar Modern oceanfront hotels, virtually creating the Miami Beach skyline, particularly in the Mid-beach area. Many of France’s Miami Beach buildings have been demolished but 20 still remain between 24th and 44th Streets. His philosophy for design was to “Let in the air and sun. That’s what people come to Florida for.”
Existing buildings include several hotels located on Collins Avenue such as the National (1677), Saxony (3201), Sovereign (4385), and Casablanca (6345) hotels. His son, Roy France, Jr., worked as his partner briefly but died at a young age.
Norman Giller (1918–2008) was well-known as one of Florida’s most prolific and influential architects of the Post-War Modern style. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, he graduated from the University of Florida in 1945 and worked with Henry Hohauser and Albert Anis in his early career.
He pioneered the use of air conditioning, flat-slab construction techniques, and early motel design. His buildings include the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood (demolished), the Ocean Palm and Thunderbird Motels in Sunny Isles Beach, and the Carillon Hotel and the North Shore Bandshell in North Beach.
Leonard H. Glasser (1922–1982) and his brother Robert L. Glasser both attended Miami Beach High School before serving in World War II, Leonard in the Army and Robert in the Navy. Both resumed their study of architecture at the University of Florida after the war. Leonard completed the state boards in 1949, and Robert in 1954, becoming a junior partner in his brother’s firm with offices on Lincoln Road.
The Glassers designed several groups of homes in Fort Lauderdale, Vero Beach, and Marathon. They are also responsible for the new oceanfront auditorium at 10th Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, as well as more than 40 buildings constructed in North Beach from 1950–1955. They also designed the Coral Gables Post Office, the Fun Fair drive-in on the 79th Street Causeway, and Miami’s 990 Insurance Building.
The Glassers relocated their office to Puerto Rico in 1961 to work on projects there and in Central America. While in Puerto Rico, the Glassers collaborated with the firm of SACMAG International (Enrique Gutierrez) on the design of the Bacardi Building in Miami. In 1969 they formed a partnership, Glasser-SACMAG Associates. Leonard Glasser died in 1982 at age 60. Robert Glasser was living in Winter Park, Florida, in 1996.
Melvin Grossman (1914–2003) was an associate with Albert Anis in 1950 and was also a protégé of master MiMo architect Morris Lapidus. In fact, all three collaborated on the Nautilus Hotel (now the Riande, 1825 Collins Ave.) in 1950 and a year later on the Biltmore Terrace hotel.
Grossman and Lapidus partnered in designing the DiLido Hotel in 1953. Influenced by both Anis and Lapidus, Grossman would go on to design the Seville hotel in 1955, the 593-room Deauville in 1957, and the Doral Beach hotel. He also exported the MiMo style in designing the original Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and the Acapulco Princess Hotel in Mexico.
Henry Hohauser (1889–1963) was born in New York City and educated at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He came to Miami in 1932 and practiced architecture in Miami Beach for over 20 years, becoming one of the area’s most prolific architects. His firm designed over 300 buildings in the Miami area, and he is “generally credited with being the originator of modernism in Miami Beach.
Just a few of Hohauser’s well-known buildings in South Beach are the Park Central Hotel, Colony Hotel, Edison Hotel, and the Cardozo Hotel. His work in North Beach spans the period from 1937–1954, including examples of Moderne and Post-War Modern apartments.
Notable structures include the White Apartments at 405 76th Street and Good House at 530 75th Street.
Morris Lapidus (1902–2001). Emigrating from Russia to New York as a child, Lapidus graduated from Columbia University and started his career in New York in retail design. Masterpieces of consumer psychology, his storefronts featured inventive shapes, curvilinear forms, and receding show windows to draw in shoppers. He first came to Miami Beach in 1929 on his honeymoon.
After World War II, he returned here to pursue his ambition to design hotels, trading salesmanship for showmanship. His first major project was the interior of the Sans Souci hotel for fellow New Yorker Ben Novack and his partners, Harry Mufson and Harry Toffel. More interior work followed on the Algiers, Nautilus, DiLido, and Biltmore Terrace hotels. In 1954, as rezoning was underway, Novack again hired Lapidus to design an entire hotel project on the site of the soon-to-berazed Firestone estate: the Fontainebleau, which according to author Howard Kleinberg became “Miami Beach’s most favored, most adored, most panned, most reviled hotel.”
In the following year, Novack’s partner Harry Mufson hired Lapidus to design the Eden Roc Hotel next door to the Fontainebleau, resulting in legendary turmoil but also another landmark hotel design. Even before the Eden Roc opened, Lapidus won a commission to design the Americana hotel in Bal Harbour for the Tisch brothers. This magnificent structure was severely altered over the years and demolished in 2008.
Lapidus’ next major project was the conversion of Lincoln Road to a pedestrian mall in 1960. Shortly after that he began the Seacoast Towers buildings for Alexander Muss. Elsewhere, Lapidus designed the Americana (now Summit) Hotel in New York City, resort hotels throughout the Caribbean, and finally the Daniel Tower Hotel in Israel.
Lapidus eventually became one of Miami Beach’s most beloved architects. His approach to design can best be summed up in the titles of two of his books: The Architecture of Joy and Too Much Is Never Enough.
Robert M. Little came to Miami from Philadelphia in 1925. He worked for Robert A. Taylor (designer of Roney’s Spanish Village on Española Way) before forming his own practice in 1933. He rose to prominence as a residential architect in Miami Beach prior to World War II, with many of his buildings in North Beach. After the war, he worked more frequently in Miami and is best known for his work on the Merrick Building at the University of Miami.
MacKay & Gibbs Frederick Alton Gibbs (1910-1991) was born in Miami and studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. He returned to Miami and worked in association with Henry Hohauser from1934 – 41.