The Eden Roc Hotel reigns as an architectural masterpiece and personifies a shining moment in Miami Beach history. It has a tremendously full and brilliantly fascinating history, which is the reason I chose to write about it. Being a history buff, I am enamored of the wondrous beauty of most legendary landmarks.
When we’re talking passover hotels, establishment with a long and full past, carry an added element which appeals to the romantic in me. Spending a night in there, feels like an infusion if will, with the past, the personalities that frequented it. A highly elevating experience, that. It goes far beyond the comfortable luxury of any new hotel, however grandly and tastefully furnished…this is Magic, with a capital M.
Miami Beach’s Eden Roc may not be as old as some of my favorite old hotels around the globe, but in the 60 years it has been around, it has packed enough history, victories and controversies, to be the subject of books and films.
Two partners, Harry Mufson and Ted Novack built the San Souci hotel together and then proceeded to begin on the most ambitious project of their career. They bought a large piece of land and began the process of building the most exciting hotel ever built in “The Magic City”, a.k.a. The Fontainebleau. The architect they hired initially was fired for lacking ‘the some special’ they were looking for, which is when they turned to an unlikely architect, Morris Lapidus.
Lapidus was a relative newcomer to hotel design. He was the architect behind some landmark department stores such as Macy’s and Saks Fifth Ave, both of whose which are brilliantly impressive to this day.
For over 27 year Lapidus specialized in merchandising and has never worked on a hotel before he first met with Novack and Mufson. Nevertheless, he was certain of his ability to produce the most extraordinary design, something unique, and very captivating. They were caught up in the innovative passion coming from Lapidus, and went on to hire him after their first meeting.
While Fontainebleau was being built, Harry Mufson bought up the Warner Estate, which belonged to one of the Warner brothers, and realizing the deepening estrangement between himself and Ted Novack, asked Lapidus to build him a hotel far superior to the Fontainebleau.
“None of that French stuff, that’s for kids” he said. I want splendor and luxury and Lapidus is quoted as saying _”I wanted them to fall on their faces when they saw it”!
He proceeded to travel to the exquisite Antibe’s Eden Roc in France for research. The hotel which was a favorite vacation spot for the Kennedy’s and other international luminaries. He didn’t wish to copy it, just drink in the impressions, bought Venetian Glass, statues and marble with the picture of the grand new hotel fully formed in his mind.
When he was done with his prep, Lapidus went on to design a hotel that was thought by many to be a grand Hotel in the style of the Italian Renaissance. Morris Lapidus resented being classified as belonging to any school of design. He claimed over and over that The Fontainbeau wasn’t French nor the Eden Roc Italian or baroque. “I design in my own style, simply an expression of my own ideas, not the ideas of any school or movement. And now that nobody can name the style of my design, architects from all over want to copy me”
The opening of the hotel was a huge success. It was 1956 and word spread and the place became a magnet for the greatest celebrities of the era. Anyone, from Liz Taylor, Sammie Davis Jr. Jerry Lewis, Mike Todd, Lucille Ball, Dezi Arnez, Ann Margret, Lena Horne, Katharine Hepburn, Tracy, Groucho Marx, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the list is endless.
Celebrations for movie openings such as mega star Liz Taylor and husband Mike Todd’s “Around the world in 80 days, were held at the Mona Lisa room, just off the grand lobby.
At Harry American Bar, which became the hottest night club in town you’d see familiar faces from wall to wall. Liberace, Joe D’maggio, the Bogarts, Jackie Gleason, Esther Williams were just some of the people who frequented the club and danced the night away. There’s murals by artist Al Hirshfeld, featuring all these celebs, and it can be still seen today.
Even the entertainers were world class – the likes of Harry Belafonte, Jimmy Durante, Milton Berle and Nat King Cole. How I wish I was there…oh well I’m here now and I can go there and soak up the atmosphere where these giants were having their own belle epoch.
In 1962, past partner, present enemy Novick, who now owned the Fontainbleau decided to build a 17 story tower, facing the adjoin Eden Roc. Just a brick wall with only one window, his own suite’s, called then and now ‘the spite wall’ to express his envy and displeasure at the superior success of his former partner’s success.
Unfortunately, the tower threw shade onto the swimming pool each afternoon and blocked the views partially. Until 2008, pre 300 million dollar renovation, the wall was some visitors were forced to look at from their balcony.
Now the hotel has expanded much higher sporting over 650 rooms, several pools beside the ocean where nothing can block the sun and an ingenious placement of glass panel instead of the sold balcony walls, so patrons can look out at the Atlantic or/and Biscayne Bay.
The society for historic preservation is keeping an eagle eye on the change because anything designed by Morris Lapidus holds a place of great importance to retain the authentic, organic feel of Miami Beach. They believe it’s a symbol of the finest hours of the city—and it should be preserved to the greatest extent possible.
The guestrooms and ballrooms, spa though new, they made sure to follow the spirit of the Magician who created the legendary hotel in the first place.
I will be there come what may! And that’s a promise to myself…