from the Archives

French Casino Nightclub

The French Casino nightclub at 1235 Washington Avenue was built in 1934. Later converted to a motion picture house in 1937 by noted architect Thomas Lamb, it was renamed Cinema Casino Theatre. The rear lobby (which was surrounded by a large artistic mural) had comfortable sofas to sit in while guests waited for the show to begin. Much of the auditorium was decorated in reds with a Seminole Indian theme. Throughout the 1950s-60’s, it became a one dollar theatre that ran double feature MGM film classics.

In the 1970’s that area of South Beach had become badly declined and subsequently the theatre closed in 1977. The owners wished to demolish the lobby in ’78 and convert it into three separate stores. Local preservationists stepped in, including Barbara Baer Capitman and Leonard Horowitz, but were unsuccessful in their campaign to stop it. In 1983, they stepped in again and stronger efforts were made to secure the restoration of the lobby to its original grandeur. After a $3.5 million restoration of the Art Deco Cinema Theatre it became Club “Z”, with some of the original Art Deco elements still retained including the fantastic balcony. This new club would be patronized by thousands of young visitors and locals every weekend. Grace Jones, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, and Miami Sound Machine were just some of the entertainers that performed there.

Over the next couple of decades new owners, along with new names for the club such as Deco’s Nightclub and Level, changed hands frequently. In 1994, rock icon Prince, owned the club and called it Glam Slam. In 1996, after a drug raid the Miami Beach Police shuttered the club and it never really rebounded. However in 1997, Prince headed to Glam Slam after his Jam of the Year Tour performance at the Miami Arena for a post-performance blow out. Years later, on March 18, 2006, Prince performed at the then-Mansion Nightclub.

One patron fondly remembered when the club was called Paragon and had two swimming pools installed on the stage, embellished with mirrors above it. Dancers would dive into the pools and swim around, like an Esther William’s movie. In 2004, the space was to be reopened by The Opium Group and renamed the Mansion. It had a long run of music and parties for the next eleven years. In 2015, ownership changed hands again and became the Icon nightclub. However, it shut down officially after only nine months of business. The last known club at this location was the Copa Room Miami, that closed its doors a couple of years ago. Currently the space is vacant and for lease.

Shown are archival photos of the interior and exterior, both in black and white and color, as well as a Z Club postcard invite and membership card.

1970’s photograph of exterior of Cinema Theatre at 1235 Washington Avenue
“Save Art Deco The Cinema Theatre” sign; courtesy of the Kinerk-Wilhelm Collection
Color photograph of the interior a few years prior to being gutted for Club Z/Club 1235
Near the stage were two murals depicting Seminole Indians; photo courtesy of Woody Vondracek
As one entered the lobby on the right were two doors with etched glass; photo courtesy of Woody Vondracek 
1984 invite to see Grace Jones perform at Club Z; courtesy Kinerk/Wilhelm Collection
Club Z membership card; courtesy Kinerk/Wilhelm Collection
Color photograph of the interior lobby with painted murals and original Art Deco chandelier from the Barbara Baer Capitman Archives.

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

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