Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Miami Today on 8/25/1983 by Barbara Baer Capitman. It is reprinted below as part of our ongoing archives digitization project. The original article title is: “The rediscovery of Miami Beach: Many Miamians are finding charm in grand, old houses”
Children of founding families who went to Beach High…South Americans…designers…performers…new millionaires are rediscovering the estates and palatial homes built in the early part of the century on Miami Beach and its islands.
The rediscovery is causing a new boom in real estate prices and bringing a new love affair with the trendy styles of the period as buyers of art Deco and resort-style Mediterranean houses steam-clean Key stone, replace barrel tiles, and seek out original antiques for the spacious rooms.
Esther Jackson and Phyllis Pesaturo who are moving from a contemporary ranch home at the California Club to a V.H. Nellenbogen 1939 art Deco house on Flamingo Drive are typical of preservation-minded buyers. Esther, known to the design community for her PR firm ADS, says “The people moving to the Beach are now the young, stylish, aggressive crowd.”
She is removing wings added to the house in later decades that spoiled its pure architectural lines, she says.
Behind many of the sales that range from $200,000 houses to estates of more than $2 million is the oldest residential real estate firm on the Beach, Wimbish.
With the slogan, “Wimbish for Waterfront,” a 27 year old dynamo, Carlos Justo is bringing in Latin American doctors and bankers.
“I love this city, and I love the way it used to be. The residential sections are still equal to any place in Palm Beach or Coral Gables, “ he says. He then reads off the names of the great tycoons who first built the magnificent homes on Star and Palm Islands, and Sunset I and II.
Explaining that Carl Fisher intended to create a Venice of Biscayne Bay by dredging islands such as Star and Palm, and creating a haven for the industrialists, he drives over the bridges, past the guard houses, and down the tropical garden streets.
On view will be Carl Fisher’s $5 million estate on Bay Road and other island houses. Estates built by a who’s who of modern industry; Champion, Firestone, Allison, Kresge, Snowden, cox and Vanderbilt.
Probably the most successful liaison between the young influentials now buying houses and the realtors is a defender of the Art Deco District, Susan Rothchild (her husband is the writer, John Rothchild). Ms. Rothchild, a member of the Board of Miami Design Preservation League, has found Miami Beach City Attorney Lucia Allen Dougherty her Mediterranean house on Pine Tree Drive.
She has sold houses to Beth Dunlop, architectural writer for the Miami Herald, and her husband William Farkas, planning director for the City of Ft. Lauderdale Downtown Development. When the couple’s baby, Jason, was on the way, they decided it was time for Bill to do the commuting and moved from Ft. Lauderdale to North Bay Road, across the street from Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees.
Barbara Condos, an old friend of the Rothchilds, moved from New York to Pine Tree Drive, to live in winter and write her second book, a memoir of her years in fashion and design. She was married last spring in her Deco setting to investment banker Jerry McCallion.
Says Ms. Rothchild, “They are moving here from the Gables. It’s cooler—and there is more value. Prices may be steep but they are still cheaper.”
Walter Dartland, consumer officer of Metro-Dade, and his family are moving to Alton Road, to a beautiful 50s house from South Miami.
Bob Kuechenberg’s house on Star Island, thought to be designed by an Addison Mizener disciple, is priced at over $2 million. It joins—says Carlos Justo—a group of island homes that offer delights glimpsed only through the wrought iron gate and over the stone walls. There are tiled arcades, fountains, bright blossoms, views of water—the Intracoastal or bay, spacious gatehouses.
On Palm Island, Dr. and Mrs. Manuel Rico-Perez choose an Italian villa of a house with beamed ceilings, iron grills, imported tile and 250 feet of bayfront.
One recent buyer was Ronald Molko, the Art Deco developer of the recycled 30s Promenade and the Sheridan on 41st Street. Mr. Molko has spent money lavishly on his North Bay Road house, adding tennis courts, a bath house pavilion, new broad porches, and an interior designed by Cindy Mufson. The gardens form a splendid area for entertaining. Mr. Molko is a graduate of Beach High, where his classmate was Mayor Norman Ciment. He returned to the Beach from Kendall.
Mickey Wolfson also grew up on the Beach in a beautiful house on North Bay Road built for this parents, Colonel Mitchelll and Frances Wolfson, at the beginning of the century. A party for the Bertha Abess Foundation this spring, had the notable guests sitting under the trees with the rear façade as an almost operatic setting, and dancing on the terrazzo patio around the fountain.
Other children of founding Beach families who now own their own homes in the residential district include Carole Wien Portier, who has divided a charming townhouse complex with the distinguished designers, Charles and Camille Lehman; David and Linda Nevel (his father Joseph, owns Pershing Auto) and Diane and Isaac Camber. Diane, Director of the Bass Museum, returned from life in Lafayette, Tex. in the 70s to buy back her parent’s house on Sheridan.
Still others affecting the development are designers such as Leonard L. Horowitz (whose father, Irving Horowitz, is with Shearson, American Express on Miami Beach) Richard Hoberman, a leader in MDPL’s restoration and an economic development specialist, who also grew up on the Beach in a classic Mediterranean suburban house on Sheridan Avenue; the Miami Design Preservation League’s Ton Luyk, Florence Pion, and of course, the redoubtable Edith Irma Siegel, and her daughters Renee Marshall, and Carole Posner.
They are bringing to the Beach the new high style, family or suburban year-round living of our time. The new islanders, with their worldwide sophistication, should affect the insular politics of the Beach and bring new breadth to the libraries, museums, theatres, and other cultural resources.
With all this restoration going on, there is a new note—compatible contemporary new buildings as well. Like the Grove or the Gables, Miami Beach is seeing an infusion of stunning new houses—some of which like that designed by Charles Harrison Pawley on Sunset I or the house planned by young Octavio Robles for Alton Road, these new homes are designed to blend well with site and surroundings.
Barbara Baer Capitman is president of the Art Deco Societies of America Inc. and of the Miami Design Preservation League. She, too, lives on Miami Beach.