HPB Debates Demolition, Incorporation, Restoration of Old Buildings

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

HPB Debates Demolition, Incorporation, Restoration of Old Buildings:

in marathon session, ocean terrace approved

Two questions dominated this week’s twelve hour Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board meeting: When a contributing building is to be demolished, what should replace it and when incorporating one of the significant structures into new construction, how much of it should be preserved?
The tone was set in a four hour hearing of an application to demolish a structure at 819 2nd Street. The one-story building appears to have been vacant since 2010. Previously, it was a three-unit rental building that was deemed an unsafe structure following a fire in 2015. Following foreclosure, it was sold to its current owner in September 2017. Built in 1923, the architect is unknown.
While lamenting the loss of a contributing building, the Board was not opposed to its demolition given its deteriorated condition. However, there was strong objection to the new plans and a little controversy when Miami Design Preservation League Executive Director Daniel Ciraldo asked to cross-examine the experts brought in by the applicant with regard to the ability to save the building.

Rendering Courtesy Choeff Levy Fischman

The design by architect Ralph Choeff shows a modern, three-story structure of concrete, glass, and wood (above). Planning staff objected to the design and massing of the east elevation of the building, its front, calling it “inconsistent with the scale, character and context of the Ocean Beach Local Historic District”.
Board member Nancy Liebman said, “This is not really what that neighborhood was designed for.”
Ron Starkman, resident and Board member of the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association, said, “The design is beautiful." The question, he asked, “Is the design of this home so distinctive it is not compatible” with the neighborhood? He said buildings that replace contributing structures should not be “so distinct that they dominate the block”. Starkman read a letter from SOFNA urging the Board to continue the application for further consideration.
Historian Jeff Donnelly said it was not a question of old vs. new but rather the “context of the block” calling for a replacement structure that is “sensitive to the language of our district”.
Steve Sawitz, whose family owns Joe’s Stone Crab, wrote a letter of support and showed up in person to share his thoughts with the Board. Saying his family is “the largest single property owner South of Fifth and the proud owners of a truly historic building,” he welcomed the opportunity “to replace a blighted and unsafe building” with one that is “creative.”
“This is precisely what this area needs,” he said.
While he was not opposed to the demolition of the current building, Board member Scott Needelman said, what matters is how a replacement structure relates to the surrounding neighborhood. “This may be too distinctive” he said of Choeff’s design.
After hours of discussion, when the Board suggested following the staff recommendation for a continuance, tempers flared as owner Stephen Helfman expressed frustration at being able to get a Board of seven to agree on a design. Attorney Michael Larkin pressed for a straight up or down vote but when the Board’s legal counsel said it had the authority to continue the application against the objection of the applicant, the direction was set.
Helfman and Larkin implored the Board to give them guidance as to what they wanted. The Board struggled with that request but finally settled on the staff recommendation that the front façade needed to be addressed to be more compatible with the neighborhood. 

Courtesy Ocean Terrace Holdings

After the four-hour discussion on the single-family home, the Board then spent an equal amount of time on an ambitious project encompassing almost the full block of Ocean Terrace between 74th and 75th Streets. The project proposed by developers Sandor Scher and Alex Blavatnik of Ocean Terrace Holdings mixes new construction with the partial preservation of buildings along Ocean Terrace and includes multi-family dwelling units, hotel rooms, and ground floor retail and restaurant uses.

Architect Luis Revuelta said the project focuses on activation of 74th and 75th Streets and the pedestrian experience, highlighting a mid-block breezeway connecting the east and west sides of the block.
The proposal maintains all commercial activity on Collins Avenue while adding more retail on 75th Street.
Two hotels – the Broadmoor and Ocean Surf (top) – will be restored and connected to create one hotel.
Three buildings – 7430, 7410, and 7400 Ocean Terrace – will be repurposed as retail.
Revuelta discussed plans for 7420 Ocean Terrace, which would later became a sticking point in the discussion. The developers proposed demolishing the building and recreating parts of it to frame the main pedestrian entrance to the large residential tower (above) on the southeast quadrant of the site.
With regard to the tower, Revuelta said that location was the most appropriate. “Given the fact that the St. Tropez has been there for years standing all alone by itself, I think this building will provide a balance, a counterbalance, a framework and a gateway on 74th … it will be a very interesting way to identify North Beach.”
Architect Richard Heisenbottle, known for historic restorations, said that of all the buildings on the site, “There are three that are extremely special. The Broadmoor and Ocean Surf are in my mind really exceptional buildings.”
“One of the other really sweet buildings that I would call your attention to is Curry’s” at 7433 Collins Avenue, the site of the former Curry’s Restaurant. With regard to the restorations, he said, “We take less license with those buildings because we think they’re so special.”
Historian Jeff Donnelly contrasted the Ocean Terrace presentation with the earlier discussion regarding the home on 2nd Street. “You’ve just had an example of architects being able to take inspiration from the architectural features of the surrounding community and incorporate that inspiration – not imitation – the inspiration that they found there.”
“In my opinion,” he told the Board, “this project and what you do with this project will shape the future of historic preservation on Miami Beach just as the Loews project and the accompanying projects north and south of it shaped the future of Miami Beach.”
Miami Design Preservation League Executive Director Daniel Ciraldo said MDPL was in support of the proposal, in general. “We want to make sure this is an authentic preservation.” He noted the community investment in the project, “several years working together toward a vision for North Beach and Ocean Terrace is the cornerstone but we want to make sure it’s authentic.”
“If you will recall, the original project did propose demolition of almost all of the contributing structures so this really is an evolution and I think it’s a much bigger improvement than what could have been,” Ciraldo concluded.
The project nearly got hung up on the proposed demolition of the building at 7420 Ocean Terrace and the design for its replacement. While not arguing with a structural engineer’s report about it being an unsafe structure, the Board balked at allowing total demolition of the building without a satisfactory replacement design.
A compromise was finally reached in which the project was approved, allowing for the demolition of 7420 with conditions for the replication of the front façade using as much of the salvaged material as possible.
With the approval, the developers will begin to explore partnerships for a hotel flag. Scher told the HPB that the Days Inn brand will be removed from the façade of the Broadmoor Hotel which will be rebranded as the Broadmoor in about 45 days. The original hotel stationery was located, he said, and will be used to create the new branding.
425 16th Street

1600 Washington Avenue / 1601 Drexel Avenue / 425 16th Street: The day had been long by the time this project came up and the Board was not interested in a plan to demolish the 1938 Henry Hohauser designed building at 425 16th Street (above).
The Staff memo to the Board recommended the applicant retain the building in whole or in part, saying, "[I]t does retain a substantial amount of integrity and we don’t feel it should be demolished in its entirety to make room for a new project.”
Monika Entin, attorney for owner Paul Cejas, asked the Board for guidance on how best to do that so they could come back with plans that reflected the Board’s comments.
With only a few days to discuss ideas, Entin said the team believed they could incorporate a portion of the front façade into the interior of the building, potentially as an entrance to the apartments.
Board member Scott Needelman said, “I’m sure when that’s cleaned up you’re going to see one of the nicest buildings in the neighborhood. I think it should be more than a façade. A portion of the sides should remain.”
Nancy Liebman added, “The historic building must remain.” She said she was looking for “more than a slice” to be incorporated into the project.
Board member Jack Finglass told Entin, “Henry Hohauser is my favorite architect. I will never vote to demolish an entire building that is there. There is nothing wrong with it except it’s sitting. One could use it and renovate it and use it as part of another project. It is a gem of a little building surrounded by buildings that have no merit really whatsoever.”
“I’m tired of being asked to façade-mize everything,” He said. “‘We’ll leave you a piece.’ No. No. This is a very important little building and it should not be chopped or surgically altered or harassed in any way. There is no reason for it other than an owner wants to build something for economic gain and we’re not the Historic Demolition Board, we’re the Historic Preservation Board and I just can’t go along with the bastardization of this building.”
Board Chair Stevan Pardo urged the team to incorporate the building “in a meaningful way”. He told them they would not only get a “better reception”, but that it was “the right thing to do [with a] building by a renowned architect”.
Entin raised the challenges of incorporating a historic structure into “one uniform building that traverses the entirety of site” but said the next round of plans will “respect the historical structure and make a meaningful use of it.”
Liebman challenged her. “You keep referring to this as an appendage. This is a building that stands alone. At least look at how you can retain it. Don’t come back here and talk about a sliver or an appendage.”
Entin responded, “That is not our intent and our intent is not to give you a façade as Jack indicated earlier. It’s not to give you an appendage. It’s to make this one unified site that has retained a good portion of the historic structure and made good use of it.
“Maybe it could be the whole structure,” Liebman said.
“We're going to see what we can do to incorporate it in a meaningful way,” Entin responded.
The Board then approved a continuance until March.
Two projects viewed favorably and approved by the Board focused on restoration.
Courtesy The Weber Studio

727 and 735 2nd Street: The Board approved a restoration and new construction to connect the two buildings which sit in the middle of a four-building block. Attorney Matthew Amster said his client is trying to obtain all four buildings, but in the meantime, wants to create a 14-unit apartment-hotel with the two he now owns. This is the first U.S. project for the owner who is from Chile.
Architect Tom Weber proposed a glass addition to connect the structures which sit about six feet apart from one another. Constructed in 1925, the buildings will be restored based on the original microfilm drawings that Weber said the architects were “lucky” to find about midway through the process. Describing the 6 x 12 glass connector, he said, “The whole idea of the glass box has zero to do with anything contemporary. It’s the appropriate thing to do. It’s invisible … the whole idea is for it to completely vanish. To put any kind of stucco to cover the lobby feature just seemed inappropriate.”
The South of Fifth Neighborhood Association sent a letter of support.
Board member Nancy Liebman told the owner, “Having the middle pieces is important. The owners [of the other buildings] couldn’t possibly come and ask us to demolish those two end pieces. You have saved the whole block. It’s terrific. Thank you.”

1409 Washington Avenue

1409 and 1413 Washington Ave: Built in 1935 and 1936 respectively. Plans call for substantial demolition of two structures and construction of a 5-story ground level addition and a detached mechanical parking garage. Current use: residential with ground floor retail and commercial. Proposed use: hotel and restaurant.

Staff member Debbie Tackett said that while the demolition plan is substantial, “All of the significant features on the exterior of the building are proposed to be retained and restored.” The demolition is limited to the rear portion of the site. The interior of the 1409 building (above) will be substantially retained and restored and used as the hotel lobby,



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