Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Florida History: Morris Lapidus - architect of Miami gaudy or ...

Fountainebleau today 
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By Jane Feehan

Once mocked by critics, architect Morris Lapidus (1902-2001) designed 250 hotels and 1,200 other buildings throughout the world. Among his most noted buildings were the Fountainebleau Hotel (1954), Eden Roc Hotel (1955) and the Americana (1956) - all in Miami Beach.*

Lapidus was a retail architect whose first Miami Beach hotel commission was to complete the Sans Souci Hotel in 1949 (another architect began the work). He was known for his use of whiplash curved facades, bright colors, and heavy adornments. His was a blend of French provincial and Italian Renaissance styles, leading some of his peers to call his work “boarding house baroque,” even “pornography.”

When he saw the Fountainebleau, Architect Frank Lloyd Wright exclaimed it looked like an “anthill.” That didn’t bother the Russian-born Lapidus who said, “I’m flattered. An anthill is one of the greatest abodes nature ever perfected.” Critics said he was pandering to the public. “My critic is the masses,” Lapidus answered. “I design for them. Let’s stop educating the human race. Let’s just make them happy.”

And he did make the masses happy. Among its many “gaudy” features, the Fountainebleau (once called “America’s grossest national product”) was known for its staircase to nowhere. It actually led to a cloak room from which people could descend dramatically in all their jewels and other finery to an admiring audience.  His Americana Hotel kept alligators in terrariums to remind tourists they were in Florida. “What I try to do is to create buildings which give people a sense of exhilaration and enjoyment,” Lapidus explained in a 1959 interview.

Architects today take a kinder view of Lapidus. Some call him the first post-modernist architect. He may have been ahead of his time, especially with pedestrian-friendly Lincoln Road Mall opened in November, 1960. Spanning several blocks, the outdoor mall was closed to traffic and accented with pools, fountains, shelters, gardens and tropical foliage.

Whatever critics think of him, Lapidus, who lived on Miami's Venetian Causeway until his death in 2001, will be remembered by his creed: “Even a doghouse or a birdhouse should have an adornment.”

*Fountainebleau Hotel - Listed year 2008 in National Register of Historic Places.
                  Open today: 
Sans Souci - now the RIU Florida Beach:
Eden Roc  - now a Marriott Renaissance Hotel –
Americana imploded 2007
Miami News, Sept. 3, 1959
Miami News, Nov. 26, 1960
New York Times, Jan. 20, 2001
LA Times, Jan. 20, 2001

Tags: Miami Beach history, Miami Beach architect, architect of Fountainebleau, architect of Eden Roc, architect of Americana, Lincoln Road architect, Miami Beach in the 1950s, Frank Lloyd Wright, Miami Beach hotels of the 1950s, film industry researcher

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