from the Archives

The Biscaya Hotel

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The Biscaya Hotel was a 134,000 sq. foot Mediterranean ten story structure, located on the north side of MacArthur Causeway. Originally built in 1925, as The Floridian Hotel, it replaced the Miami Beach Allison Aquarium. 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 as well as celebrities such as Clark Gable, and regular repeat gangsters like Al Capone. In fact in the glory days of gambling, on the top floor it contained a secret casino/speakeasy, where it was said that Al Capone was privileged enough to receive a partial cut of the profits.

During WWII, like so many other Miami Beach hotels, the Floridian was converted to temporarily barracks for training of soldiers. After the war, it became a hotel again, however in 1959 it went into foreclosure.

The Biscaya was the last remaining hotel that made up of the trio of luxury bayside hotels of their day. The two others, the Flamingo and the Fleetwood were demolished during the 1950’s and the 60’s. In the late 60s/early 70s, the Biscaya was purchased and turned into an unofficial old folks home and to some degree a flop house.

The owners got into legal troubles for misclassifying the use of the building as a hotel and it closed down in 1977. In addition, because of the economic downturn and serious crime wave in South Beach, it languished as a vacant structure for a decade. Ten years later, the owner drew up plans to restore the hotel and retained Beilinson Architect for a $7 million restoration.

Because of the long moratorium by the City on the development of buildings in the area south of 6th Street, plans for the restoration were denied. When the City ordered the building to be razed because of its severe deterioration, preservationists stepped up. Barbara Baer Capitman, along with other Miami Design Preservation League supporters, mounted a campaign to save the structure. The final attempt in January 1987, to save the building happened when a last-minute court order called to stop the demolition, however a bulldozer had already begun its work.

Ultimately their efforts were not successful and on March 15, 1987, after a federal judge finally ruled the structure was beyond restoration, the iconic sixty-two year old building was demolished. 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 1987 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
1987 Photo showing Barbara Capitman with Don McGinley and Thorn Grafton (background), at protest to save the Biscaya Hotel.

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

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