from the Archives

The White House Hotel

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The White House Hotel at 15th Street and Ocean Drive was a three story, 178 room structure designed by Roy E. France in the Neocolonial or Georgian style. Meant to evoke the architecture of early America, this style was especially popular after the nation’s 150th birthday in 1926. Surprisingly, France built The White House in 1939, when Art Deco was more commonly the rage with architects of that time. A few years later in 1942, L. Murray Dixon, the architect responsible for many famous Miami Beach Art Deco hotels, also built a Neocolonial style hotel called The Betsy Ross at 1440 Ocean Drive.

Vintage 1940’s postcard of The White House Hotel

From the opening, The White House Hotel was a magnet for the glamorous high society crowd of the 1940’s. Miami Herald’s Social Notes and Social Calendar regularly announced the arrivals of celebrities, well-known affluent families and honeymooners that were vacationing at the hotel during the winter or summer seasons. For outdoor sports, there was swimming, fishing, horse and dog racing, golf, tennis and of course porch sitting! This beachfront resort was especially popular for the avid fishermen who competed in professional fishing tournaments. For indoor sports and attractions, there was always gambling and dances for debutants. An in-house barber shop was on site to make sure the men always looked their best. 

1940 Life magazine photograph of guests on the porch of The White House Hotel

Here is a fond memory about the hotel from Nicholas J. Matthews who served in WWII….”When I was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, I stayed at the White House Hotel briefly in September 1944. At the time, I was stationed at Daniel Field in Augusta, GA. Our football team was scheduled to play a game at the Orange Bowl against another military team located in the Miami area. It was a long bus ride, and we arrived just before midnight. We checked into the White House Hotel, which I recall was among many Miami Beach properties taken over by the US Government to house servicemen returning from overseas. We were tired and looking forward to an ocean swim. No one wanted to wait until the next day, so it was decided all forty of us would go for a midnight swim — naked. I don’t recall if we won or lost the game, but it remains a fond memory.”

1944 photograph of The White House Hotel. Inscription on back:  “Our home in Miami Beach, Fla.  September 29, 1944 to October 1, 1944.”; courtesy of Nicholas J. Matthews WWII soldier

In 1955, the 3rd Annual Square and Folk Dance Convention held in the Miami Beach Auditoriums, had all its participants staying at the hotel.

1955 article about Folk and Square Dance Convention participants staying at the White House Hotel

By the end of the 1970’s and 1980’s, sadly the White House Hotel had become one more of the dozens of dilapidated and neglected Miami Beach hotels. Instead of tourists, the area was largely populated by refugees from the Caribbean, and low-income elderly retirees, many of them Jewish survivors of the Holocaust .

1978 Color photo of The Betsy Ross Hotel on the left with the White House Hotel on the right; courtesy of the Andy Sweet Photo Legacy .

 In the early 80s, the hotel began having a series of mysterious fires. This excerpt is from a Miami Herald July 1982, article entitled “Officials Want Help With Fires; Owners Say They’ll Erect Fence”….”After battling the 10th fire in four days at the White House Hotel, Miami Beach firefighters want its owner to help stop an arsonist who seems bent on destroying the once-grand resort…Four firefighters have been injured in the deliberately set blazes at the {Hotel} , officials said. The four were treated for smoke inhalation, cuts and blisters…”This is my fourth fire in the last few days. I wish they would catch somebody already”…no one has been arrested for any of the arson attempts. The first blaze erupted about 6 p.m. Saturday when someone lit the mattress bedding and furniture in five White House rooms. The sixth fire was set in another of the hotel’s rooms later Saturday night, the seventh Sunday morning and the eight Monday afternoon. Two more blazes erupted in two hotel rooms around 9 a.m. Tuesday…Mayor Norman Ciment, one of the hotel’s former owners, said the current owners, Indeco Holdings have allowed the once elegant resort to become a “haven for derelicts”…Indeco plans to eventually demolish the White House and built a $75-million, 37 story high rise on the oceanfront site. Located in the middle of Miami Beach’s Art Deco district, the pyramid-shaped condominium would tower over its neighbors”.

MDPL’s flyer protesting the proposed height of a new high rise where the White House Hotel once stood.

Art Deco enthusiasts said owners of the White House Hotel could have prevented the fire that destroyed the once-grand resort. “I can’t imagine how they could allow 14 fires in one week and not have doubled the guards and removed all flammable materials,” said Barbara Baer Capitman, president of the Miami Design Preservation League. “It really looks like they wanted this to happen.” By 1983, the White House Hotel was vacant and boarded up and demolished in October after being declared a public hazard. 

Il Villaggio condominium now occupies the original site of The White House Hotel. The Betsy, originally called The Betsy Ross, stands as the lone surviving example of Florida Colonial Revival architecture on Ocean Drive.     

1974 Black and white photograph of The White House Hotel on the Ocean at 15th Street.

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

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