The Hotel Leonard at 54 Ocean Drive was built in 1925 by the owner H.E. Glickman, who named it after his son Leonard. Across from Hardie’s Casino, it was designed by Pfeiffer & O’Reilly, as a three floor Spanish-Mission style hotel with a classic roof-line Mission parapet. It had 53 hotel rooms, all surrounding an indoor courtyard designed with ornate railings and decorative tile floors. By 1926, they had their own restaurant featuring home cooking.
Miraculously, after surviving the Great Storm of 1926, a benefit dance was held in November on the hotel’s rooftop garden for the “Cuban Hurricane Relief”. In 1929, a naturopathic doctor practicing out of the hotel, advertised “Sun Bathing, Massage and Salt Baths” on the rooftop, for nerve and stomach disorders. Unique to most of the hotels in South Beach, this hotel actually had a parking lot on the south side of the building. Also unique was Emanuel Reiss, who from 1934 stayed on as the longtime manager of the Leonard Hotel for the next 50 years.
In the 1930s, illegal gambling became very prominent in this area. Many a raid of gambling houses with bookies turned out to be residents of the Leonard Hotel. In 1940, a City permit was granted for the hotel to build 18 new apartments; six on each floor; and 17 hotel rooms. During the WWII years, the Leonard was not requisitioned for military housing, as classified ads still showed the hotel was open with rooms for rent at $10 a week. In the ’40s and ’50s, the Leonard became a favorite for dog track patrons.
Fast forward to 1986, South Beach had become over-run with crack dealers, drug addicts and prostitution. At the time, the hotel was purchased by brothers Tony and Kent Kay, who also had just bought the Clevelander Hotel, in hopes of turning the Leonard into a more-resort style hotel. However, in March of ’88, a Philadelphia lawyer, Ray Page and other investors offered the Kays $900K for the run-down building . Following the purchase, the crack addicts, prostitutes and transients were evicted. Renovation began with repainting the exterior in pastel shades of white, coral and blue. The new owners then applied for approval to add an outdoor cafe in front and a restaurant in the rear yard. In addition, they sought to build another 24 hotel rooms and 8 apartments that would replace the parking lot. The City approved the cafe but denied replacing the parking lot, stating “not providing any off-street parking…would have a negative impact…in an area that already has a significant shortage of parking”.
From a February 1989 Miami Herald article, “Preservationist Nancy Liebman is trying to focus some attention on the oft-neglected Art Deco relics at South Pointe by holding her upcoming Miami Design Preservation League happy hour at the Leonard Beach Hotel, a 1925 Mediterranean-style building. “It’s to make a statement about the building, one of the oldest hotels here on Miami Beach,” Liebman said. “We hope that one day it can be restored.”
In June 1989, fifteen artists, all of them part of an artists’ group from New York’s East Village, came to decorate rooms in the hotel. A deal was made with the new owner that in exchange for round-trip airline tickets and three rent-free weeks in the hotel, the artists would paint their rooms in their own original funky designs. From this project, the hotel gained national recognition and was photographed by many magazines, “At $25-$40 a night, a bargain for any oceanfront hotel in the trendy Art Deco District on Miami Beach. The New Leonard is a temporary home for surfers, artists, models and students – anyone with a taste for a hip lifestyle on a shoestring, and who can live without air-conditioning, telephones and room service.”
By 1992, German developer Thomas Kramer began purchasing large chunks of real estate in the South Pointe area. He proposed a remake of the Leonard Beach Hotel with all new construction, except for a restoration of the hotel’s 1928 facade and indoor courtyard. Before that, he would turn the hotel into a three story dance club designed by the legendary Norman Gosney, called “Hell”. With seven rooms dedicated to the Seven Deadly Sins, it was described as “an experience, a fantasy, a place to forget your mortal life and get lost in make-believe purgatory”. Two months later, a lawsuit was filed alleging structural problems that didn’t meet city and state codes, forcing the new club to be condemned. Many had the sentiment that Kramer was looking to have this historic hotel suffer the fate of “demolition by neglect” and by June 1993, the Leonard Beach Hotel sadly was demolished.