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Vagabond Motel on National Register of Historic Places

Read the original article on the Miami Herald Website

George Washington didn’t sleep at the Vagabond Motel in Miami or down a Bora Bora at Fort Lauderdale’s tiki-fantasia Mai-Kai Restaurant. But that didn’t keep either of the kitschy-cool 1950s landmarks from making it onto the National Register of Historic Places. Both were nominated for the honor by the state of Florida, which announced Monday that the sites were among seven additions from the state to the federal register. The list, selected by the National Park Service, recognizes the most significant buildings and places across the country. The honor comes as both the Vagabond and the Mai-Kai enjoy a resurgence.

The Vagabond, which reopened last fall after sitting vacant on Biscayne Boulevard for years, has been recast as a chic, retro-hip boutique hotel, dining spot and hangout. All its original details, including its signature neon sign and frolicking-nymphs-and-dolphins fountain, were fully restored. The motel is also designated historic by the city of Miami and sits within the larger and also resurgent MiMo-Biscayne Historic District.
The Mai-Kai, which is actually just over the Fort Lauderdale city line in Oakland Park, retained its full kitschy charm nearly unaltered despite several expansions and an extensive renovation a decade ago necessitated by damage from Hurricane Wilma. Its Polynesian revue and large drinks, which reputedly use the same recipes devised by tiki-craze originator Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s, are enduring lures for tourists and locals.
The inclusion of the Vagabond and the Mai-Kai on the register reflects their iconic place in popular South Florida culture, and cements growing recognition of the abiding importance of Mid- Century tourist-oriented roadside architecture to the region’s development.
Both were designed by prominent South Florida architects who worked in the style now known as Miami Modern, or MiMo. Though, to be sure, there’s nothing Bauhaus about the Polynesian- inspired, thatch-roofed Mai-Kai, its neon sign is very much in the tradition of the 1950s roadside South Florida attractions that so many people recall fondly.
“The architecture behind them has that sexy curb appeal to catch people as they’re driving by,” said Teri D’Amico, an interior designer and co-coiner of the term MiMo. “It’s American history when it’s down here, because so many people traveled here and remember them. It was the adventure of getting away from home.”
The Mai-Kai, which advertises itself as the longest-running tiki-theme restaurant in America, is also be one of the last surviving originals from the decades when they were all the rage, D’Amico said.
“It is a classic,” she said. “That represents our tiki, and there’s very little left. And that one building can represent that whole era.”
The Vagabond, from 1953, was the work of Robert Swartburg, a versatile architect also responsible for the earlier Art Deco Delano and Clevelander hotels on South Beach.
The Mai-Kai, which opened in 1956, was designed by Fort Lauderdale MiMo master Charles McKirahan, who designed the Bay Harbor Islands apartment house, now under threat of demolition, that served as the main character’s home in the hit cable-TV series Dexter. Serving as a Mai-Kai consultant was legendary Japanese-American woodworker and furniture maker George Nakashima, whose own home and studio in Pennsylvania is also on the National Register and is designated a National Historic Landmark as well.
Other Florida sites added to the National Register include the Rogers Park Golf Course in Hillsbourough County, designed and built during segregation by African American caddie and golfer Willie Black; the one-room rural Strickland School, near the Georgia border in Leon County, from 1888; and St. Petersburg’s Mediterranean-style Sunset Hotel of 1915.

Iconic MiMo gem Vagabond reopens – Miami Herald

[button colour=”accent” type=”standard” size=”medium” link=”http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/08/23/4305358/iconic-mimo-gem-vagabond-reopens.html” target=”_blank”]Read the original article with photos on the Miami Herald website[/button]

A once seedy neighborhood may become Miami’s coolest destination as the old Vagabond — a landmark of Miami Modern design — reopens after an extensive makeover.

The renovated Vagabond Motel is now open for guests on Thursday, August 21, 2014. CARL JUSTE / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI
AVIGLUCCI@MIAMIHERALD.COM

Two arching jets of water at the corners of the azure swimming pool keep a steady gurgle going. Palms and an angular canopy shade the expansive bar from the summer sun. On three sides, guest rooms brought back to the jazzy pizazz of a bygone era look out into the lush pool garden.

Poolside at the latest South Beach haute spot?

Try Biscayne Boulevard, Daddy-O.

After years of false starts and dashed hopes, the boulevard’s iconic but long-idled Vagabond Hotel, nee Motel, is again open for business under its starry-neon pylon sign. And the treasured exemplar of Miami Modern design is now probably far groovier than it ever was in its glory days in the ’50s and ’60s, when it offered affordable drive-in lodging to vacationing families.

This updated version of the 1953 Vagabond, the result of a multimillion-dollar restoration, has a decidedly grown-up vibe, designed as it was to serve as an oasis for the resurgent, gentrifying neighborhoods that surround it. Not to mention an appealing alternative to the attitudinal, and pricey, hotels across Biscayne Bay.

“We’ve had so much community support, it’s been great,” said developer Avra Jain, who snagged the vacant property a year and a half ago for $1.9 million. She has since embarked on renovations of another half-dozen motels in the boulevard’s historic MiMo district, which she’s betting will become the city’s newest, coolest destination. “It’s a good place to be because of the neighborhoods.”

To say the Vagabond’s reopening defines a sharp turnaround from the boulevard’s dodgy recent past as a haunt for hookers and drug salesmen might be an understatement. To make it abundantly clear that it’s a new day for the Vagabond and the boulevard, Jain has instituted a strict no-cash, no walk-ins policy. “And no hourly rates,’’ she joked.

The Vagabond, designed by Robert Swartburg, the well-known architect of South Beach’s Delano Hotel, had long before descended into near-decrepitude when it last admitted a guest some eight years ago. New owners tried to keep it going with a clothing shop and a farmer’s market while they gutted the building in readiness for restoration that never came, foiled by the economic collapse.

The motel’s resuscitation is also vindication for city officials and local residents who have long tried to engineer a comeback for the boulevard, Miami’s signature drag, and its defining MiMo motels and buildings, often in the face of substantial skepticism.

The once unappreciated MiMo style, a South Florida version of modernist building design playfully adapted to the subtropics, has increasingly gained popular, political and academic recognition, particularly in Miami and Miami Beach, as a distinctive architecture worthy of preservation — though efforts to salvage MiMo buildings in Fort Lauderdale and Bay Harbor Islands have floundered because of opposition from elected officials.

Fans of the Vagabond credit a set of city policies: designation of a protected historic district along the boulevard north of 53rd Street, restrictions that controversially capped heights of new construction at 35 feet, and the enactment of a program allowing owners of historically designated buildings to sell “air rights” to finance renovations — which Jain used to renovate the Vagabond.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, who helped cut the ribbon during the Vagabond’s boisterous, crowded reopening on Monday, called its revival “exciting.”

And because of Jain’s example, there’s more to come, Regalado said. Investors, including some with “big New York money,” he said, are looking at the boulevard. So are owners of creative businesses, retailers and even more restaurateurs, she added.

“We’re getting the coolest people coming to the boulevard,” she said.

For Jain, though, the Vagabond is only the start.

Down the street, she has bought the South Pacific, with its landmark leaning facade, and the adjacent Stephens, whose former courtyard is now getting a curved new glass facade — designed by D.B. Lewis, also the Vagabond’s restoration architect — to house a Starbucks. She’s also purchased the Bayside Motor Inn 20 blocks to the south, with plans to convert it into small boutique offices.

She also owns the Royal, next to the Vagabond. It’s in the initial stages of a gut renovation, after which its 24 rooms will be added to the Vagabond’s 45 rooms.

She’s far from alone. Across the boulevard, hot restaurant operators 50 Eggs are restoring another old MiMo motel to house their headquarters and test kitchen, and new restaurants are popping up in nearby storefronts.

Not that anyone could possible be confused about the Vagabond’s wished-for clientele in any case. A tall hedge screens off the pool garden from the boulevard, and the entry courtyard has new gray-brick pavers and an exact reproduction of the Vagabond’s original Jetsons-era cloud-and-stars sign next to a new bike rack.

The bright rooms and furnishings, all by design star Stephan Dupoux, mix tropical colors and MiMo geometrics with touches of mid-Century Danish style.

Out front, the Vagabond will again have a sit-down restaurant — a casual seafood diner — once build-out is completed, probably in October. By this weekend, when Jain expects to have a liquor license in hand, the bar and pool patio — which is fully wired for sound and Jain calls the “heart” of the hotel — should be in full swing.

“This place will be packed on weekends,” said real estate agent Lyle Chariff as he toured the Vagabond with Jain and some clients who are considering leasing in one of her other MiMo buildings.

His business partner, Mauricio Zapata, who lives in adjacent Belle Meade, said the Vagabond will be a convenient, easy-on-the-pocketbook place to put up visiting friends.

That’s just what Jain and business partner Joe Del Vecchio are hoping will happen. Right now, rates for the surprisingly spacious rooms run from $139 a night, smart TVs and Cuban breakfast pastries included.

Though the revived Vagabond first admitted paying guests on Monday, Jain describes the opening as “soft” — meaning there’s been no big promotion or marketing yet — to allow its efficiently bustling staff of 20 to iron out any kinks. Still, she said, some rooms have already been booked for the Art Basel Miami Beach fair in early December.

The job of restoring the Vagabond has been so intense, Jain said, that the fact that it’s actually open seems unreal. But like the dream of seeing people strolling to dinner along the boulevard, she and Del Vecchio said, it’s actually happening.

“It’s a really healthy moment for the boulevard,” Del Vecchio said.

Read the full article on the Miami Herald Website

Design-Milk.com – The Belvedere House

The Belvedere House is a single-family residence by Shulman + Associates located on Rivo Alto Island along the Venetian Causeway between mainland Miami and Miami Beach in Florida. I love the view from both the ground and the roof deck.

From the architects:

The island’s long, narrow, waterfront lots inspired the design of a linear structure, sited to create a protected sideyard garden along its north side.  On the other side, the house is sheltered from the traffic and the overhead power lines along the Causeway.

The site is divided longitudinally into two zones: garden and house. Within the linear garden landscape is a sequence of outdoor rooms: a drive court, a bridged entrance over a carp and lily pond, a two-story porch and outdoor living room, a lap pool/jacuzzi and, finally, a dock in the waters of Biscayne Bay.

The belvedere is the focal point of the site, creating vertical relief from the horizontal flow of spaces progressing from the street out to the Bay. On the ground level, it forms a covered entrance to the interior atrium and lookout over the pool area. On the second level, it provides an outdoor living room that features a spiral stair to the roof deck and views of the water and surrounding cities.

The main entrance to the house, just off the belvedere, includes a 2-story interior atrium with a spiral stair at its center, a sculptural element that binds both floors and each side of the structure. The house takes advantage of its long, narrow massing to create an indoor sequence of high-ceilinged spaces that are naturally lit in the daytime and cross-ventilated to allow comfortable interaction with the outdoors. French doors on its North, East, and West sides allow the house to be opened completely to the garden, patio, and Bay.

This design capitalizes on the opportunities offered by its difficult site and explores the expression of “indoor-outdoor” living in Florida.”

See the original article and photos>

Miami Herald 11.03.13 Vagabond Motel

Kitschy, cool Vagabond Motel coming back to life on Biscayne Boulevard’s MiMo district

BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI
VIGLUCCI@MIAMIHERALD.COM
After years in a sad limbo behind a construction fence, the sirens and porpoises at the marvelously waggish Vagabond Motel are looking decidedly chipper under a fresh coat of paint. The re-plumbed fountain will soon come back to life along with the rest of the iconic but long-dormant motel, which has come to symbolize the fortunes of the fledgling Miami Modern historic district on Biscayne Boulevard.

The reopening of the fully restored 1953 MiMo landmark, set for Dec. 5, could mark a significant milestone in the slowly gathering revival of the boulevard along the city’s Upper East Side.

The Vagabond’s newest owner, developer Avra Jain, is buying four more of the dozen or so historic but rundown MiMo motels that define the district. She has ambitious plans to turn them into a collection of boutique hostelries and dining and lounging spots for locals and visitors looking for distinctive, affordable alternatives to South Beach.

“The boulevard is at the tipping point,’’ Jain said as she led a tour of the bustling, still-unfinished Vagabond restoration. “The demand is there. This isn’t contrived. If you change the motels on the boulevard, you change everything.’’

Read The original article here>