Category Archives: MiMo District

MiMo District Adaptive Reuse: Uva 69

Uva 69 is a quaint euro-style cafe located on Biscayne Boulevard and 69th street. The popular cafe’s interior is modern and gives little sense of the origin of the building it resides in, which is a Mediterranean style structure built in the 1920’s. Although the building is not MiMo per say, it is located in the Upper East Side’s MiMo District and is a fine example of adaptive reuse. The building’s main (lower) space is where the restaurant is situated.

The construction on Biscayne Boulevard and unsightliness of its surrounding is covered by a banner ad and blinds surrounding the dining area. Once inside, the cafe’s decor and ambiance captures the attention–not what’s outside. In addition to the restaurant below, there is office and gallery space upstairs. The unassuming old structure has been excellently adapted to suit rather than hinder the evolution of the Upper East Side. Importantly, it serves as an example of use-innovation in area now designated to preserve and adapt the use of MiMo-era motels.

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MiMo Motel Adaptive Reuse: The Vagabond Motel

Image: Vagabond Motel with Transit Shop clothing store (right side)

With the Mimo designation now intended to preserve the strip of funky motels along Biscayne Boulevard, the potential of adaptive reuse has been brought to question. It has been reported that motel owners are getting innovative with their properties. The motel use has become incompatible with development/economic conditions on the ground. Increasingly, restaurants and new businesses are popping up in and around the Boulevard along the Mimo corridor. Not long ago, it was discussed here that retail may be one of the likely reuses–following in the track of the Collins Avenue shopping district where Art Deco apartment complexes and hotels have been transformed into retail stores. On 74th street and Biscayne Boulevard there is what may be one of the first examples of reuse in the form of retail with the Vagabond Motel.

Image: Transit Shop clothing store. It is so out of place that it almost looks like a mock-up of what a store could be like in the area.

Image: What appears to be the leasing office/sales center, or main entrance

Image: Vagabond Motel Parking

This type of reuse is expected to continue as a pattern along Biscayne Boulevard. The Vagabond Motel example serves to demystify the notion of converting motels into anything but outposts of sleaze and vice.

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MiMo District Motel Owners Think Different

Last year, I did a brief report on the newly designated MiMo District (On Biscayne Blvd. from 50th to 77th street). Today, the Miami Herald reports on motel owners in the district changing plans for their properties. The article cites the area’s transformation from “seedy strip to hip urban corridor”. I like the idea behind the area’s MiMo designation. It is intended to protect the city’s architectural past while at the same time encouraging people to invest in new ideas and building uses. According to the article, motel owners are planning new office and retail spaces in their establishments. If the area’s revival picks up steam, then it may draw architecturally conscience tourists and visitors.

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MIMO Money

Mimo (My-Moe), short for Miami Modern architecture, is becoming quite the alluring architectural style for new construction. In fact, when looking at Miami Beach’s most well known Mimo buildings, one easily realizes that almost all of them are undergoing impressive and expensive transformations.

The Fontainebleau Hilton (built in 1954) has long since been a staple of the tourism industry in Miami Beach and is under going a monumental $1 billion renovation. Its neighbor to the north, the equally historic landmark Eden Roc (built in 1956), is currently undergoing a $110 million renovation. Both properties are Miami Modern. But that’s not all; Miami Modern buildings throughout Miami Beach are getting pricey face lifts. The Mimo designed Carillon (built in 1957) is becoming the centerpiece of the new luxurious Canyon Ranch Residences—a project estimated at near a half billion dollars in cost. In the last couple of years, the DiLido (built in the late 1950’s) was transformed into the Ritz-Carlton South Beach. The project’s cost is estimated to have been near $200 million. The Mimo-designed Macy’s on Lincoln Road is getting a well deserved renovation. The Casablanca on the Beach is getting a $5.5 million 40-year recertification. The Shelborne has undergone a multi-million dollar renovation. There is a Mimo casualty though, the Sheraton Bal Harbour (built in 1965) is to be eliminated to make room for the St. Regis Resort and Spa. The project’s cost is estimated to be $1 billion.

Overall, Miami Beach’s Mimo structures are getting lots of money pumped into their restoration and in some cases expansion. The Carillon, Fontainebleau, Eden Roc, and Sheraton Bal Harbour are all undergoing enormous expansions where the old Mimo structures serves as an architectural centerpiece. Just like Art Deco served to reinvigorate South Beach during the 1990’s. Today, Mimo is doing the same for the Mid and North Beaches. Although most of the projects are featuring new residential and hotel units, there are others, like the Casablanca, which are under going the required 40-year recertification process. Built from the mid-1950’s to the mid-1960’s, all of the Beach’s Mimo-era buildings are at that point in their lifespan where either there is a 40-year recertification or a complete renovation of the building. This explains why many of the Mimo buildings are more or less simultaneously being transformed. Currently, hundreds of millions of dollars either have been or are being invested into preserving and expanding Mimo structures. Mimo, unlike Art Deco, is unique to Miami. Architectural history is amalgamating with the future and the money is the glue that sticks them both together. Mimo is in the money.

Read More about Mimo on BoB: Mimo Motels

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MiMo District Motels

I have always noticed the long string of old motels on Biscayne Boulevard between 36th street and Miami Shores. I just never imagined that they would have architectural value. According to Miami 21 officials they do. And, their value is worthy of preservation. Now, there are aspects of the Miami 21 plan that I’m not altogether happy with, for example, height restrictions that may not be compatible with Miami’s urban evolution, but overall the plan is good and necessary. So, I decided to inspect the area through a more critical lens—my camera. Please pardon the glare in some of the images.

It was surprising to see how many lots are for sale up and down the Boulevard among these motels. The motels are as funky and colorful as they have always been. It is hard to see what the future has in store for this area of Biscayne Boulevard. The area between 50th and 90th streets is in between a few established and valuable neighborhoods to the north and south (Bay Point, Morningside, and the Design District to the south; Miami Shores to the north). The Biscayne Boulevard MiMo District bisects Little Haiti.

The question is: how will the MiMo District benefit new development? Will it further spur or deter it? The Art Deco District on Miami Beach certainly helped spur new development along the peripheries of the district near Alton Road, on West Avenue, on Collins Avenue, and in the SoFi neighborhood, so the there is a precedent of success. The difference is that Miami Beach has had a long history of tourism. This area has not. The Art Deco District is bordered by one of the best beaches in the country. The MiMo District is not. There is a much larger collection of historic buildings in the Art Deco District than in the MiMo District. So is the precedent valid? Yes. Is it strong? Probably not.

It is not clear how development in the MiMo District will materialize except to say that the phenomenal construction activity to the south will definitely have a positive ripple effect to the north. Also, it isn’t clear what uses these buildings will afford their owners under the new guidelines. The buildings are protected, but surely the city doesn’t want them to remain cheap motels. In the Art Deco District, some buildings primarily on Collins Avenue from 5th street to 9th have catered to national retail tenants. Others have become restaurants and lounges, pizzerias, gelaterias, and less established retail stores. The remaining have, for the most part, remained hotels. Will MiMo motels follow suit and afford their owners and the neighborhood such an array of uses? The likelihood of that happening any time soon is low.

On another note, the Miami21 plan restricts height throughout much of the MiMo District and that doesn’t seem like a logical way of attracting new developers. The Bank building does offer an interesting vision of what could be an encouraging glimpse into the future of this urban district, but it is only one new building. Hopefully, it will set the precedent for future development along this corridor, which until recently was a blight spot on the city’s neighborhood mosaic, but may eventually become one the city’s most remarkable.

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What’s Mimo?

Make Way for Mimo

by Sarah Churchville
photographs: Joseph Brown

Seacoast Towers

In William Gibson’s 1980s cyberpunk classic “The Gernsbach Continuum,” the protagonist finds himself transported to an alternate reality created by nostalgia for the future that never was—the technotronic future of the Jetsons, where robots fold the laundry, the economy prospers, the children are safe, and the family hovercraft swoops past gleaming city infrastructures.

By the 1980s, this romantic future had already proven itself an abortive dream emanating from a nostalgic past. But after WWII, in an era of prosperity and optimism since unparalleled, the dream was only beginning. Automobiles with soaring fins tacitly sliced through the air with graceful ease; sparkling new appliances promising to alleviate housework appeared in every kitchen. The combination of affordable automobiles, increased disposable income, and more leisure time proved irresistible, and Americans began to vacation as never before.

Fontainebleau
North Tower

Perhaps nowhere was the postwar craving for the futuristic more evident than on Miami Beach where, during the 1950s and 1960s, wildly inventive hotel designs emerged to satiate the requirements of the prosperous new middle-class on vacation. Resort area architects attempted to realize through their buildings what we of a more cynical age now concede to be science fiction. These architects created a unique futuristic look in Miami Beach that became known as Miami Modern—MiMO.

The name MiMO was created two years ago by Randall Robinson, a planner with the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation, and Teri D’Amico, an interior designer and adjunct professor of hotel design at FIU, to refer to the hotel architecture of Greater Miami built between 1945-1969. The most famous architect of this style is Morris Lapidus, whose Fontainebleau, Eden Roc, Seacoast Towers, Deauville, and Di Lido, although typically considered Art Deco, are actually prime examples of MiMO.

Naturally, the idea of MiMO did not spring up from the sea full-fledged; it has its roots in the Bauhaus movement of early 20th-century Germany, as propounded by architects and designers whose ideas soon made their way overseas: Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Marcel Breuer. Their conception was in its own way also nostalgically futuristic: they dreamed of streamlined, non-ornamental buildings that were comfortable, functional, and could be enjoyed by the working class, whose values, the Bauhaus school sentimentally believed, had not been corrupted by the overwrought aesthetic of the bourgeoisie. How wrong they were.

West Avenue
South Beach

The pure Bauhaus vision failed in the United States on every level: working-class people certainly didn’t have the means to engage the services of a Bauhaus architect, and the booming middle-class was intent on showing off its money with as many flourishes as possible. After WW II, elite college campuses clamored for the Bauhaus style, known as Modern (Le Corbusier designed a building for Harvard, Breuer for Vassar), but elsewhere architects began adapting Modern to the prevailing mood of their clients. In Miami, this meant ornamentation galore, but in clean, geometric forms: Tropical Art Deco, a combination of streamlined moderne and the art deco of 1920s Paris.

At first glance, it can be difficult to differentiate MiMO from Art Deco. “We fall into a little bit of a trap when we make these distinctions,” admits Robinson of the MBCDC. “Anything old and vaguely decorative is called Art Deco.” Although there seem to be many similarities, MiMO comes closer to Modern in its use of certain features like asymmetry; kidney-bean and oval shapes and curves; carports with angular, amoeba-like, or winged shapes; semi-circular driveways at the entrance rather than front porches; and brise-soleils (sun shades).

Although South Beach is almost exclusively filled with examples of Art Deco, some MiMO buildings do exist: the Miami Beach Fire Station Number 1 (11th and Jefferson), the 1688 Meridian Building, The Penguin Hotel (1418 Ocean Drive), The Shore Club (1801 Sunset Harbor Drive), The Di Lido (155 Lincoln Road), and Burdines (17th and Meridian). For the most part, however, MiMO architecture tends to congregate in mid and North Beach, Sunny Isles Beach, and Bay Harbor Islands.

One architect who bridged the Art Deco-MiMO gap was Albert Anis, who created such Art Deco South Beach landmarks as the Clevelander, the Savoy, the Leslie, the Waldorf Towers, the Avalon and the Winter Haven before he moved on to his equally dramatic yet more organically shaped MiMO hotels of mid-beach, the Royal York (5875 Collins Ave.) and the Bel-Aire (6515 Collins).

The Carillon

Both hotels were recently the subjects of community protests against developers and calls for preservation, to date without success — the Bel-Aire’s façade has already been destroyed. Although preservationists are fighting the good fight, they are hampered by three harsh realities: (1) the current building code allows for far taller buildings than are currently standing, which is a boon for developers (2) The National Register of Historic Places, which would need to certify MiMO buildings in order to protect them from the wrecking ball, is unlikely to list properties younger than 50 years old unless they show “exceptional significance,” and (3) MiMO architecture is not universally considered to be of “exceptional significance.”

Even MiMO architect Morris Lapidus has weighed in against preservation; he was quoted in The New York Times as saying of the Bel-Aire, “Try living in a hotel like that. They were nice hotels for their time, but that time has passed.” Architect Norman Giller, who designed The Carillon (6801 Collins Ave.), lamented to The Miami Herald, “I think something needs to be done. It’s a crime the way [The Carillon’s] just sitting there. It’s an eyesore.” This particular eyesore won a Hotel of the Year award in 1957 for its distinctive glass façade and accordion wall in the ballroom. More than 40 years later, it stands abandoned.

Fortunately for Giller, Robinson, D’Amico, and other would-be MiMO saviors, Miami Beach has a history of vigorous design preservation, and many of its most staunch preservationists are also politicians. The fight to save Art Deco is still relatively fresh in the minds of many commission and city council members, and they are likely to look with a favorable eye on pleas to save the old MiMO façades.

In the meantime, nostalgia for the future lives on in Miami Beach, where we have the good fortune to be living in our very own Gernsbach Continuum.

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