Landmark Tripod Structure in North Beach Proposed for Demolition

North Shore

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Landmark Tripod Structure in North Beach Proposed for Demolition:

Owners reconsidering after community pleas to save it

When plans were filed to demolish the tall white tripod structure that has stood for more than 50 years at 71st and Harding, local community members began a campaign to save it. While the structure isn’t historic, it is a highly recognizable landmark in what is now the Town Center, an area envisioned to revitalize North Beach. Following the community reaction, the owners are now exploring a compromise with Miami Beach officials.
According to the application submitted to the Design Review Board (DRB), the owners don’t have plans for new construction, just demolition of the old pylon. When those plans became public, neighborhood activists began contacting City Commissioners to intervene. In an unusual move, the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) sent a letter to the DRB recommending the application be continued and urged the City to explore ways with the property’s owners that the pylon could be retained and incorporated into a future development project “in a manner consistent with the North Beach Master Plan.”
While not a protected building or landmark, supporters of retaining the structure point to the what they say is the intent of the Master Plan to preserve it. [Story continues below.]


In the Master Plan document, the caption under the illustration above reads, “A fully built out Town Center could look like this.”

The text goes further: “The iconic MiMo structure at 301 71st Street is a landmark of the area, originally built to hold an electronic sign displaying the date and time. It now acts as a sculptural representation of the stylistic spirit of Miami Modern. The plan envisions this structure reclaimed as part of a new building on the same site, using a similar strategy to the identical structure which was preserved atop the Rockwell night club in South Beach.”

Both the North Beach building and the one at 743 Washington Avenue served as branches of the Miami Beach Federal Savings and Loan Corporation, later Financial Federal Savings Bank, according to Jeff Donnelly, public historian of the Miami Design Preservation League. The branch on 71st Street was built in 1952 and the South Beach location followed five years later, Donnelly said. Formerly home to South Beach hotspots Les Bains and Chaos, the space is now occupied by the Rockwell Miami nightclub which plays up the pylon on its website. Edwin T. Reeder designed the buildings. [Story continues below]

Old postcard image of Financial Federal Savings South Shore Branch, 743 Washington Avenue

Following the outreach to Commissioners to find a way to maintain the structure, City Manager Jimmy Morales addressed the issue in a Letter to Commission, noting that the 55-ft tall pylon was not part of Reeder’s design. “When the existing bank building, designed in the midcentury modern style of architecture, was originally built in 1952 it did not include this pylon structure,” Morales wrote. [Emphasis his.] 
“According to city records, an alteration and addition permit, under a different architect, was approved in 1966 and included, among other minor interior alterations, the installation of the pylon structure. It is important to note that the original architectural role and function of the pylon sculpture was to extend signage well above the roof lines.” The spire was designed by architect Herbert Mathes.
“… the subject property at 301-317 71st Street is not located in a locally designated historic district, nor is it an individually designated historic site,” Morales wrote. “Accordingly, the role of the DRB in this application is to review the proposal to remove the pylon and decide whether it should be replaced in some form. The DRB does not have the same authority as the historic preservation board (HBP) to prohibit the demolition of a structure.” (The Washington Avenue pylon at the Rockwell Miami nightclub is within a historic district and under the HPB’s jurisdiction.)
Morales cautioned, “Finally it is important to note that an appeal of a DRB decision would go directly to the City Commission. As such, it is important for the City Commission to consider its role as an appellant body in any discussions pertaining to this DRB application.”
Originally on the agenda for this week’s DRB meeting, the owners have since asked to have the item continued so they can seek a potential compromise. The property is owned equally by Donald Kahn, Joel Piotrkowski, and Marsha Green. While they declined to be interviewed, developer Matis Cohen, a leader in the development of the Town Center spoke with RE:MiamiBeach about the next steps. 
Describing the owners as “pillars of the North Beach community for over 40 years,” Cohen said, “They are sensitive to the urging of some members of the community and will be asking for a continuance of their plan at the upcoming DRB. They’re hopeful that the City Manager and Commission will reach out in the next couple of days to explore options which will solve some of the problems they have with their property in the same vein as the City has been providing incentives for the International Inn in return for incorporating the structure into their new development.” In that case, the HPB began the process of historic designation against the owner’s wishes. The owner has since been working with the City to gain new development rights in exchange for not fighting the designation.

Like Morales, Cohen emphasized the building is “not a contributing structure and it’s not in a locally designated area.” As a result, he said, “The City has no legal basis to stop the property owner from demolishing.”
The challenge for the owners, Cohen said, is how you build around the pylon “so it’s interesting and economically viable.” Setbacks with additional height may be one way to accomplish that, he said, “But designing the building around a tower like this is very challenging.”
One of the activists who’s looking for a solution is North Beach resident Kirk Paskal. Paskal served on the North Beach Master Plan Steering Committee and currently sits on the Historic Preservation Board. He raised the issue at the June HPB meeting and asked his colleagues to support the letter to the DRB.
In an email to RE:MiamiBeach, he said, “There are many creative ways in which this can be done successfully – for everyone's benefit – as outlined and illustrated within the Plan.” 
Noting the “robust package of incentives” which included height and FAR (Floor Area Ratio or density) proposed in the plan and approved by voters, he wrote, “The plan's vision for the retention of the pylon (which has a small footprint relative to the buildable lot) to be incorporated into a new (and larger) structure on the same lot seems like little to ask relative to the many incentives and benefits provided by way of the plan.”
“Ensuring that this widely celebrated symbol of North Beach's MiMo identity, history and allure can carry forward and have new life as an integral part of the renewed vision for Town Center is an important component of keeping the balance and integrity of the Plan,” Paskal said.
A meeting did take place this week between the owners and City officials to begin the dialogue. The item, which can be found here, will be open and continued at this week’s DRB meeting.

Images below taken from the DRB filing, show the current conditions at the site along with how it would look without the pylon structure.

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