If Miami Beach demolishes Deauville, Florida loses history

OPINION AND COMMENTARY

Editorials and other Opinion content offer perspectives on issues important to our community and are independent from the work of our newsroom reporters.

Miami Beach has issued an order to demolish the historic Deauville Beach Resort, and we all will be the poorer for it.

If the 1957 hotel where the Beatles once played is demolished, as now seems likely, we’ll be losing a piece of our South Florida history that simply can’t be replaced. No replication of the original structure, which Miami Beach city code authorizes the Historic Preservation Board to require, can fill the void left by such a landmark.

It’s been a long, sad road to get here. After an electrical fire and damage from Hurricane Irma closed the hotel in 2017, the city of Miami Beach tried to force the owners to make repairs through the county’s Unsafe Structures Board. A lawsuit followed in 2019, when the city sued the owners, Deauville Associates, for failing to meet minimum maintenance for historic buildings. Fines of $5,000 a day have mounted up — at least $1.7 million worth. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told the Editorial Board that the owner’s conduct has been “shameful, if not tragic.” And still, the building kept deteriorating.

There were resort taxes left unpaid and liens filed. The owners indicated at one point that they didn’t have enough money from insurance to pay for the needed repairs. There was talk of trying to save the Napoleon Ballroom, at least, where the Beatles performed for a few thousand people and a vast television audience in 1964. A group of Beatles fans organized over social media to rally support to reopen the hotel, perhaps in 2024, the 60th anniversary of that show.

Now the city’s building official, after another inspection of the property, has issued a demolition order for the hotel, calling it an unsafe structure. The city hopes to knock it down before the start of the hurricane season June 1. Despite cries that the owners should not be allowed to profit from neglect, they may well do so.

Florida has long sold itself cheap when it comes to its own history. With so many transplants from other places, there is little shared sense of what defines places such as Miami and Miami Beach, despite preservation strongholds like South Beach’s Art Deco district. Floods of new money continue to remake the landscape. This region is a frontier, and that has often been a strength.

But there comes a point when reinvention turns into devaluation. And the loss of the Deauville will only contribute to that creeping sense that, blinded by boatloads of cash and the promise of something new, we are allowing developers and money to erase our past. It has to stop.

There are still some who hope it’s not too late to save the Deauville. We really want them to be right. But, either way, it’s time to find new ways to preserve our history. Or else Miami Beach and our broader community will be changed, as the Beatles might say, “forever, not for better.”

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This story was originally published January 20, 2022 2:13 PM.