from the Archives

The Biscaya Hotel

The Biscaya Hotel was a 134,000 sq. foot Mediterranean ten story structure (built in 1925 originally as The Floridian Hotel, which at the time replaced the Miami Beach Allison Aquarium) located on the north side of MacArthur Causeway. The Biscaya was the last remaining hotel that was made up of the trio of luxury bayside hotels of their day. The others, the Flamingo and the Fleetwood were demolished during the 1950’s and the 60’s.

The Spanish touches for the building included a tile roofed tower with cast-stone embellishments and a domed ceiling rotunda decorated with murals in the lobby. As The Floridian Hotel in the 1920’s, it was a bustling location for wealthy tourists. Celebrities like Clark Gable as well as gangsters like Al Capone were regular repeat guests.

During WWII, like so many other Miami Beach hotels, the Floridian also served as barracks. After the war, it became a retirement home and subsequently in 1959 went into foreclosure. Its new owner re-named it the Biscaya but by 1977, because of the economic downturn and serious crime wave in South Beach, it closed for good.

Ten years later, the owner had plans to restore the hotel and retained Beilinson Architect for a $7 million restoration. Because of a long moratorium by the City on the development of buildings in the area south of 6th Street, he was denied. When the City ordered the building to be razed because of its severe deterioration, preservationists were angered. Barbara Baer Capitman, along with other Miami Design Preservation League supporters, mounted a several years long campaign to save the structure that was the last remaining example of these grand bayside hotels. The final attempt in January 1987 to save the building happened when a last-minute court order stopped demolition, however a bulldozer had already begun its work.

Ultimately their efforts were not successful and on March 15, 1987, the iconic 62 year old building was demolished after a federal judge finally ruled the structure was beyond restoration. It was a sad day for preservationists, when two hundred pounds of explosives were used so the building would implode, meaning it would fall in on itself.  

Currently the space is occupied by The Bentley Bay Condominium at 540 West Avenue, that opened in 2005. Shown is an archival photograph of Barbara Capitman and supporters protesting at the Biscaya Hotel, photos of before and during the start of the demolition, and a photograph from Mark Duwel of military servicemen using the hotel for training exercises in the 1940’s. 

Photo of Biscaya from Biscayne Bay before the demolition
Photo of Biscaya during the start of the demolition
Photo from Mark Duwel of military servicemen using the Floridian Hotel for training exercises in the 1940’s
Barbara Baer Capitman with supporters protesting the demolition of the Biscaya Hotel

What would Miami Beach be like without Historic Art Deco, Mediterranean, and MiMo buildings?

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