Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 12, 2010

A Tower Room at Eden Roc

In yesterday’s post, we landed in Miami, Florida, and made a beeline for Miami Beach. We were not, I must point out, on the storied “South Beach.” The Fontainebleau, site of yesterday’s article, is a couple dozen blocks north of South Beach.

(I forgot to mention yesterday that, as we crossed the water from mainland to Miami Beach, we did quote the famous words of noted intellectual, Dr. B. Bunny, “Miami Beach, at last!”)

Today, our visit to The Fontainebleau done, we’ve waited in the nifty lobby while the valets shoved a couple of Bentleys and Aston Martins out of the way to allow them to pull our Wayback Machine up to the steps. We hop in, turn right onto Collins Avenue and immediately turn right again into the entrance of The Eden Roc, next door. Our mission is to continue our examination of two of Morris Lapidus‘ iconic Miami Beach hotels. Having heard about these hotels all my life, I’m eager to see the second of them. The Fontainebleau did not disappoint, and now we’ll check out the scene at Eden Roc. If you missed yesterday’s Fontainebleau visit, CLICK HERE.

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A bit of background. Soon after The Fontainebleau went up, the business partners who owned the place split up. One stayed, the other immediately put together a deal to erect a competing place of equal grandeur and glamor, and hired the same architect they’d had for Fontainebleau, Lapidus. Lapidus at this point was already a seasoned, experienced designer of hundreds of retail stores who had generated a lot of notice for his daring design at the Fontainebleau. It’s interesting to think what must have been in his mind as he sat down at the drawing board to, essentially, compete with himself, next door to his most recent creation! He obviously would not recreate exactly his controversial curvilinear sweep of Fontainebleau, but what WOULD he do?

Miami, at the time, while much smaller than today, was not a brand-new place. Miami Beach was more sparsely populated than now, especially that far north, and just beginning the enormous building boom that would ultimately line Florida’s barrier islands with hotels and condos nearly the entire length of the state. The city, proper, was replete with architecture in late Victorian, Beaux Arts, and, especially, Art Deco styles. Art Deco had prevailed in the early days of development a few dozen blocks away in South Beach. If you want to see countless examples of Art Deco incorporated into every type of building from private residences to civic establishments to grandiose hotels, you’ll want to book a couple of weeks in Miami. You’ll never see it all, but you’ll have a great time.

As he began his work, Lapidus was working at a time when the moderne aesthetic, dominated by the European Bauhaus mindset, prevailed and, for the exterior of Eden Roc, he applied some of those qualities.

Against the Fontainebleau’s curving shape he counterpoised a squarer, streamlined style.

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I like to point out those subtle angles on the fascia of the balconies: to my eye, evoking both Art Deco and Bauhaus in a brilliant manner.

If you read only a little about Lapidus, you learn that he was all about creating an impact; he had the mark of all great designers who want to create a dynamic, unmistakable impression, and, when you enter Eden Roc, you see that he didn’t fail to do so in the lobby.

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Nothing spare or Bauhausian about this: that’s the lobby bar. He used the big, open lobby to situate a key gathering spot, similar to his approach at the Bleau Bar, though executed very differently here. Lapidus loved decoration and detail, and he followed his muse here, as he had next door at the Fontainebleau.

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Those are brazilian wood flutes striping the columns that lead up to the scalloped canopy. Now, the entire Eden Roc, like its next-door neighbor, has been recently redone from top to bottom, with a new tower built on grounds that once was outdoor space. But the essential details, like this canopy over the lobby bar, is the original, restored.

The original lobby bar was different. It was located over against the wall, to the right as you enter.

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Glamor? Oui!

The interior style of The Eden Roc is every bit as notable as that of the Fontainebleau.

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While the Fontainebleau probably retains the prime reputation as the playground of celebrities, the Eden Roc had its share of high life. It had some stunning showrooms in which all the stars of the day performed to the late-night supper crowd. You can still book a meeting into the Mona Lisa Ballroom, named after Nat King Cole’s big hit, because he was the first African-American to perform there.

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I mentioned that part of “Goldfinger” was shot at Eden Roc. You can still have a drink in the Cabana Beach Club bar.

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I regret that my budget was limited, so I was unable to have the casting director arrange for bikini-clad lovelies to swim past the portholes that look into the pool. And, since it was 9:15 in the morning, I had no martini, neither shaken nor stirred.

The next photo gives you an idea of the side-by-side location of Fontainebleau, foreground, and Eden Roc.

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The hotel is named after the fabulous Hotel Cap du Eden Roc in Antibes, France. According to my expert research assistant, Jackie, it was Lapidus’ favorite hotel.

Morris Lapidus had a long career and designed hundreds of buildings. He’s a genuine American success story, immigrating as an infant from Odessa with his parents, and becoming a recognized force in architecture. He had a long life, 98 years, and was still alive to consult on the refurbishing of both of these hotels, 50 years after they were built. I have to say, though, that if one bows too much to the Cult of the Auteur, one imagines that The Architect wanders out onto a bare piece of ground, surveys the land, conducts the soil engineering, draws all the plans and breaks out every detail, and then singlehandedly directs the construction. In few other fields does the work of hundreds of other crafts and services get so submerged by the name of one person! Take this perspective to near the point of insanity and you get … Ayn Rand!

As I mentioned, The Eden Roc has had a very recent extreme makeover, including the construction of an additional guest room tower. The Fontainebleau boasts that they spent a billion dollars, and I have no reason to doubt it.

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Eden Roc’s owners may have spent somewhat less, but the results are positive; they’ve carried a lot of the original theme successfully into another century and even uncovered a few old details that had been previously obscured.

I hope you’ve enjoyed yesterday and today’s brief trip in the Wayback Machine to the swingin’ Fifties. but These are just two outstanding examples of architecture that’s worth a look in Miami and Miami Beach. It was a genuine treat to see so much of the past still with us.

For the title of today’s post, please credit Donald Fagen and Walter Becker — “Steely Dan” — from their song, “Brooklyn.”

© Brad Nixon 2012, 2017

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