This July 2021 we honor what would have been the 76th birthday of Leonard Horowitz. Leonard Eugene Lazar Horowitz was a young furniture designer from New York, who created window displays for Bloomingdale’s and studied architecture. At the time, he also created a modular-wedge furniture system that earned him awards, but not much money. The furniture was first featured in a 1978 Playboy, ironically the same issue that had an interview with the anti-gay activist Anita Bryant.
When Horowitz was 29, his father cut him off financially telling him he would have to pay his own way from now on. In addition, his father was never completely accepting of the fact that Leonard was openly gay. This prompted him to move to South Beach to live with his mother. In Miami, he met and formed an unlikely bond with Barbara Baer Capitman, who was thirty years his senior. They both shared a passion for preservation, design and Art Deco buildings. Horowitz helped Capitman co-found the Miami Design Preservation League in 1976.
However, Leonard Horowitz’s contribution went well beyond that. Wanting to save the beachfront from flashy excess and to highlight its building’s unique design features, he created a pastel color palette to be used for painting South Beach’s weathered, forgotten buildings. “I formulated my palette on the basis of sunset, sunrise, the summer and winter oceans and the sand on the beach, which used to be much more golden,” he said. “They all are natural sources, and they are the same ones that the original designers used. Within them are an infinite variety of pastels.”
Horowitz presented his palette to the director of community development and asked if they could try out the colors on the white monotone Friedman’s Bakery on the corner of 7th and Washington Avenue. The initial reactions weren’t too positive, but Horowitz eventually won the community over. In 1982, Friedman’s Bakery was featured on the cover of Progressive Architecture magazine.
As a result, South Beach became a popular backdrop for photo and model shoots as well as TV shows like Miami Vice. In 1985, the Breakwater hotel was chosen by photographer Bruce Weber, for an iconic photo shoot & commercial for Calvin Klein’s perfume “Obsession”.
Thereafter, Horowitz’s tropical colors attracted international attention, as Art Deco building after building were restored in his pastel palette. Sadly, four years later in May 1989, Horowitz died from complications of the AIDS virus at age forty-three. “Without Lenny, the Art Deco District would not have the same kind of vitality, imagination and aesthetic,” said developer and close friend Tony Goldman. Thirty-one years ago on March 10th, 1990, a special ceremony was held by the City of Miami Beach to name 11th Street and Ocean Drive, “Leonard Horowitz Place”.
We recently spoke to Leonard’s step brother Marc, who remembering his brother said, “Growing up with Lenny and his brother Steven was a blast. I was 8 years his junior. Lenny treated me like a real brother. He could always make me laugh. Lenny deserved to be more successful. I think naming a street after him was a true honor to him. I went to South Beach with my wife 3 years ago to see the street sign and I was very moved. Thank you for recognizing Lenny for all the creativity that was inside of him and finally got to be realized.”
In 2016 Savino & Miller Design Studios won the competition to design a new LGBT crosswalk for Ocean Drive. Inspired by Leonard Horowitz’s color palette and his work in developing the Art Deco District into the iconic neighborhood it is today, it was installed in October 2018 on the west-side corner of 12th Street.