People Saving Places: Juan Pablo D’Onofrio and the Nassau Suite Hotel

Read Time: 5 mins

Editor’s Note: The month of May is Historic Preservation Month across the USA – spearheaded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Preservation Month theme is “People Saving Places” to shine the spotlight on everyone doing the work of saving places—in big ways and small. Do you have a local place or person that you’d like us to feature? Contact us here.

About the Nassau Suite Hotel

Location: 1414 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL

Official Website: https://nassausuite.com/

Historic Status: Designated as a Contributing Building to the local Collins Avenue / Ocean Drive Historic District. Designated as a Contributing Building to the National Register of Historic Places (Miami Beach Architectural District)

Architect of original building: Albert Anis

Year of Original Construction: 1936

Managed by: Alquimia Hospitality Group

Architect of new building addition: DN’A Design & Architecture

Historic Postcard, Nassau Hotel

Interview with Juan Pablo D’Onofrio, President, Alquimia Hospitality Group

Juan Pablo D’Onofrio, President, Alquimia Hospitality Group

What initially drew you to this Art Deco property, and what personal or historical significance does it hold for you?

We acquired the Nassau Suite hotel in the year 2000. We were immediately hooked by its location and the fact that the property included an empty lot adjacent to it (which at that time acted as a parking area for hotel guests). We saw a lot of potential in the redevelopment of the property, which would only take place 17 years later!

Above, the beautifully-restored facade of the hotel after an extensive historical renovation and expansion

In 2009 we acquired another Albert Anis art deco gem, the Leslie Hotel on Ocean Drive. When going through the history of both properties we found out that they were both originally developed by the same owner (Mr. Edward J Singer, 1936 & 1937) and, of course, the same architectural team. We love to think that throughout history, both the Nassau Hotel (currently Nassau Suite) and the Leslie Hotel (originally, the “Edsinger”) were always meant to be paired! We have been very fortunate to have redeveloped both, assuring the properties a sustainable path to the future.

What were some of the most significant challenges you faced during the restoration process, and how did you address them?

In the center of all restoration efforts lies the tradeoff between preserving the original features of the building’s legacies and being able to reach modern day comfort standards and current building code requirements. It is undoubtedly an effort that requires that all stakeholders sit in the table. All ideas need to be brought to the test. The guidance of the City of Miami Beach’s Planning and Zoning department and the approval process by the Historic Preservation Board are central to producing a valid compromise. 

At the Nassau Suite Hotel we had the additional challenge of creating a new building side by side with the historic unit. We wanted to produce an avant garde structure that allowed for a clear dialogue of the eras, without any of the buildings opaquing each other. We are very happy with the end result.

Above: Rendering of new addition (left) and restored Nassau Hotel (right). Credit: DN’A Design & Architecture
Above: As part of the restoration and expansion project, a rooftop deck was added with a footbridge connecting between the historic and new buildings. A rooftop pool was placed atop the new building’s roof. A true oasis in the heart of South Beach!

Art Deco is known for its distinctive style and artistic flourishes. Could you highlight any unique features of your hotel that you have worked to preserve or restore?

Yes! The Nassau lobby had many features that were well documented and worthwhile restoring to its original conceptions: a decorative fireplace and built in mirror of ribbed masonry, a beautiful curved staircase, our porthole windows, our ceiling’s patterns. Everyone should stop by to take a look!

How has the community responded to your efforts to preserve this historic property?

We have been blessed by the community response. As part of our redevelopment process, my wife and I opened a new organic-based, healthy eating restaurant named Blue Lavender Cafe & Market. We want to push hard to change the vibe, mood and narrative of an area known for junk food, alcoholic excesses, and making the news for all the wrong reasons. That is why we began a counter-cultural crusade in South Beach or, how we like to call it, the “Blue Lavender Revolution.” A happy place revolution of well-being and healthy habits! Our community of residents is central to this effort and we welcome them all with open arms and a wonderful lavender cappuccino!

Looking towards the future, what are your long-term goals for the hotel, and how do you plan to continue preserving its historical and architectural integrity?

Being not only the developers but the Hotel operators as well, it is in our best interest to keep the highest maintenance standards on the property. We have operated the Nassau Suite hotel for more than 20 years and we really look forward to another 20!

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