Marie Raines fondly remembers her grandfather Anton Skislewicz (pronounced Ski-sleigh-vitch). In fact, she has many vivid memories from her childhood of relaxing at her grandparent’s home on Biscayne Bay, watching boats sail by and enjoying the beautiful sunsets. Growing up, she never realized what an important architect her grandfather was to the fabric of Miami Beach’s Art Deco history. Skislewicz was the architect of many Art Deco apartment buildings, private homes and hotels throughout the 1930s and the early 40s; including the Breakwater Hotel (1939), the Plymouth Hotel (1940), Ocean Surf (1940), the Kenmore Hotel (1936) and the Lord Balfour Hotel (1940).
During our interview with Marie, it was made evident that her grandfather never took his work home with him. Plainly stated, “Yes, he loved his work, but he kept his professional life separate from his home life. He was a very humble man and never thought he was a big deal anyway. He had many interests besides architecture, such as stamp collecting since he was a young man and reading the Wall Street Journal everyday. I remember he always tried to engage with me on something that I would be interested in rather than what he found interesting; such as a funny article on bubble gum he just read”.
After some digging, we discovered Skislewicz’s background probably was the inspiration for many of his Streamlined Moderne buildings that evoke visions of sleek luxury cruise liners. Born in Croatia in 1895, his family immigrated to Vienna when he was a child. In 1922, he graduated from the University of Vienna with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in Naval Architecture and designing ship engines. Subsequently, he worked in Oslo for the leading shipbuilders of Norway.
When Skislewicz was 28 years old, he bravely boarded a steamship in Sweden by himself, heading for his new home in the United States. His first work in the U.S. was with Lidgerwood Mfg. Co. in Brooklyn, NY designing ship capstans and winches. Thereafter, he worked with several firms from 1924-1928 as an architect, planning and designing hospitals and churches. In 1926, he married Eloise Knox Porter and in 1929 became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Skislewicz then attended Columbia University and earned his Bachelor of Architecture with honors.
By 1931, he and his family moved to Miami and by 1934 he became a registered architect of Florida. He began his successful career of designing Art Deco structures which continued strong for the next eight years. Everything changed in 1942 as the country entered into WWII and work was hard to come by so the Skislewicz family moved to Washington, DC to focus on the war effort. As relayed by his granddaughter, after the war ended, he was able to resume working as an architect. The family relocated again to Houston, Texas where he began designing large corporate offices and shopping malls. A decade later, they moved back to Miami where Skislewicz finished out his career until his retirement in 1965, at the age of 70. Fifteen years later he passed away. Marie recalls, “My grandfather always taught me to love life, stay curious and be open to learning.”