Miami Beach: 1959 Vs. 2012

By Tanner Cormier

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We take a look at some of the most famous Miami Beach hot spots in 1959 and what's become of them.


Fontainebleau Hotel

Then: Founded in 1954, the famed Fontainebleau was the jewel of the Collins Avenue crown and came to typify mid-century American resort culture. Designed by Morris Lapidus in the neo-Baroque style—Lights! Color! Visual excess! —the hotel opened with 514 rooms and several lounges, and became the hub of Miami Beach nightlife and culture. The Fontainebleau hosted world-famous entertainers like Frank Sinatra (who did a two-week residency in 1961) Elvis Presley and Dean Martin. So well-rooted was the hotel that it successfully beat down a 1959 injunction to prevent the construction of a new tower that would block sunlight from reaching the grounds of the neighboring Eden Roc. The Fontainebleau was so famous, in fact, that it could get away with charging tourists (aka, non-guests) a fee for just a view of the hotel and grounds.

Courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection and Flickr

Now: The Fontainebleau has suffered periodic bankruptcy scares since the 1970s, as well as a drop in status from its Hollywood glory days, but the famed hotel has nonetheless remained open throughout the years and changes in ownership. In 2008, a half-billion-dollar upgrade allowed for two new towers, bringing the hotel to 1504 guest rooms and a section of condos. But 2009 was a hard year for the hotel, for which cultural cachet is still king: a 2009 Wall Street Journal article detailed further debt problems carried by the Fontainebleau’s parent company, casting doubt on the future of the once prosperous resort. Two-thousand-nine also brought the murder of Ben Novack Jr., son of the hotel’s original owner, and his wife, alleged to have arranged the crime, awaits trial while Novack’s family argues over who gets the inheritance. Most recently, the Fontainebleau has made headlines for providing setting to an altercation between LeBron James’ mother and a hotel parking attendant. Classy stuff indeed.

Eden Roc

Then: Another Lapidus design, the Eden Roc (of aforementioned “don’t steal my sunshine,” fame) opened in 1956 and was immediately dubbed—by its owners—the Grande Dame of Miami Beach. Much like the Fontainebleau, Eden Roc has a rich history of celebrity guests and entertainers. Hollywood legends like Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart made multiple stays. The resort’s many cafes, lounges and restaurants were venues to acts like Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole, who performed in a popular nightly supper show in Café Pompeii. Several episodes of I Love Lucy were filmed at the Eden Roc hotel.

Courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection and Flickr

Now: The formerly glamorous and steeped-in-status Eden Roc is now a Marriot. Though it’s still calling itself the Grand Dame of Miami Beach, and retains some of its heyday mystique, Eden Roc Renaissance Miami Beach just doesn’t have the same ring. Nonetheless, the decades have passed relatively happily at the Eden Roc, though rear-view mirror malice seems to have crept in. A certain corporate website details the envy-driven construction of Fontainebleau owner Ben Novack’s “spite wall” in 1962: a 17-story tower with no windows and no balconies (save for those leading to Novack’s own apartment) that blocked out the noontime sun from the Eden Roc’s main pool. But the Eden Roc has emerged from the darkness with the construction of its own tower—21 stories—and a brand new pool, complete with rise-to-set sunlight.

The Deauville

Then: Members of the Rat Pack may have performed at those other Morris Lapidus hotels, but this Morris Lapidus hotel (trend?) is where the famed fivesome actually holed up. Once owned by a five-time married American actress-slash-princess (seriously known as Lucy Cotton Thomas Ament Hann McGraw Eristavi-Tchitcherine), the Deauville could possibly have been the most MIAMI! of all the Miami Beach hotels. Case in point: on the day the Beatles landed in Miami from New York to the likes of 4000 fanatics, they immediately hopped on over to the Deauville and gave their second-ever American performance, broadcast straight from the hotel’s Napoleon Ballroom on the Ed Sullivan Show. Princess Lucy for the win.

Courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection and Flickr

Now: Watch out, the stars still roam the Deauville Beach Resort: They’re hosting WrestleReunion 7 this April. Much like the Eden Roc and the Fontainebleau, the Deauville has survived through the years with a number of ownership changes, some tumultuous. In 1949, Princess Lucy died of an apparent overdose and a race to claim ownership of the hotel began. The property had been in litigation for 8 years (7 of them prior to Princess Lucy’s death), when a New York hotelier put in a winning bid. The hotel lives, but the legend seems to have died with its most famous owner.

The Beachcomber Club

Then: One of the more boisterous clubs in Miami Beach, The Beachcomber offered a number of entertainment choices over the years. Early on, they put on risqué burlesque shows for the after-dark crowd. But the Beachcomber found its stride in music and comedy, becoming a favourite for entertainers like Martha Raye, who made several stints during the winter seasons and made headlines when she collapsed before going on stage. Clubs like the Beachcomber, The Latin Quarter and Copa City helped to put Miami Beach nightlife on the map, and drew in the crowds that allowed for the many resorts to flourish.

Courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection

Now: The Beachcomber Club no longer exists, having been replace by an empty lot. As popular as it was, the Beachcomber was no stranger to drama. A 1949 fire gutted the club to the tune of $25K, and though it reopened, the Beachcomber Club was never able to regain momentum. With the rising popularity of Miami Beach resort culture, and the decision by most hotel owners to open in-house night spots, the independent club scene began to falter. The Latin Quarter was obliterated in flame, and the Copa Club shut its doors in the mid-1950s. The Beachcomber followed suit, and passed away into Miami Beach history.

While you've got Miami on your mind, check out Beach Bunnies of the 60's. Find out about the most powerful Mafia boss you've never heard of in Cigar City Crime. See 1950’s Miami Beach come to life, watch the trailer for Magic City.


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