from the Archives

Remembering the Campaign to “Save the Senator!”

Read Time: 3 mins

Thirty-three years ago in October 1988, one of the foremost Art Deco hotels built in 1939 in the historic district, was sadly demolished. Designed by the prolific Art Deco architect, L. Murray Dixon, this three story structure at 1201 Collins Avenue featured a Tripartite facade design with a stepped ziggurat parapet roofline. Continuous eyebrows rounded the corners of every floor, porthole windows could be seen lined above the third floor as well as horizontal banding below the second and third floor windows. The lobby desk shown below was made from locally sourced Florida keystone and the floors were original terrazzo.

LOBBY, VIEW TO NORTHWEST – Senator Hotel Apartments; Courtesy of Library of Congress
LOBBY, VIEW OF DESK – Senator Hotel Apartments; Courtesy of Library of Congress

HOTEL POOL AND DECK, TAKEN FROM WEST – Senator Hotel Apartment; Courtesy of Library of Congress

Back in 1987, MDPL led a determined fight to stop the demise of the beloved iconic Senator Hotel. A campaign to “Save The Senator” was launched with regular meetings and protests lead by MDPL’s founder Barbara Baer Capitman and other local preservationists. Protestors sometimes made strong statements by actually chaining themselves to the front door of the hotel.

Miami News editorial photograph with the caption “Protesters chained to Senator Hotel”

MDPL’s efforts delayed the demolition of the Senator for more than a year. The public outcry that was created resulted in the Miami Beach’s City Commission passing a strengthened local preservation ordinance that could block future demolitions. On the morning of October 12th, the day of the demolition, Barbara Baer Capitman despondent and refusing to leave, had to be escorted off the porch by police.

Barbara Baer Capitman being escorted off the porch of the soon to be demolished Senator Hotel, by Sergeant Chuck Press when she refused to leave.

A handmade sign saying “Is The Senator Worth Saving? sit down & think about it”, was originally displayed on the northeast corner of the porch of the hotel. Just prior to the demolition, it was removed by Dennis Wilhelm, one of the original pioneers of MDPL. 

Handmade sign, marker on foam core with the inscription: “Is The Senator Worth Saving? sit down & think about it”. Courtesy of Wilhelm/Kinerk Collection.

Other items were removed from the premises by preservationists while the demolition was ongoing over several days. Some were able to preserve pieces of the original glass from the lobby windows, displaying etched images of flamingos underneath palm trees.

Vintage 1970s photograph of the Senator Hotel at 1201 Collins Avenue.

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

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A City Embraces Preservation (1986)

Read Time: 2 mins Barbara Baer Capitman, founder of the Miami Design Preservation League and monumental leader in the movement to save Art Deco, fought tirelessly for the preservation of Art Deco in the 1970s and 1980s. But it wasn’t until about 10 years into the effort that preservationists began to be taken seriously at the local level.

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