In the short-lived television series “Magic City,” the protagonist — 1950s-era Miami hotelier Isaac Evans — is practically run out of a private, elegant “bathing club,” which refuses to welcome Jewish guests or allow Jewish members.
What a difference 60 years makes.
Today, many of these members-only clubs are still in existence. And not only do they admit racial and ethnic minorities — many are actually owned by them. And this includes three of the region’s most storied clubs — the Bath Club in northern Miami Beach, the former Bal Harbour Beach Club and the Surf Club in Surfside — whose current owners are transforming these iconic locales into some of the area’s choicest, most upmarket real estate.
The owners are as cosmopolitan and diverse as Miami itself. At the Bath Club, a private club founded in 1926, African-American developer R. Donahue Peebles is creating The Bath Club Estates, a condo building with 13 full-floor units ranging from 5,700 to 10,305 square feet.
Peebles, who went under contract for the site in 1998 — and already erected the sold-out Bath Club condo tower atop it — was actually the first black member of the original Bath Club, which admitted him back in 1996. His new Estates feature architecture by local firm Arquitectonica paired with customized interiors schemes from four notable international designers: Alison Spear, Jennifer
Post, João Armentano and Alexandra Champalimaud. Price tag for the units: $8 to $32 million.
Meanwhile, in Bal Harbour, Argentine finance and real estate entrepreneur Eduardo Costantini is developing Oceana Bal Harbour on the site of the former Bal Harbour Beach Club. A sprawling, 28-floor complex also designed by Arquitectonica, the project will include 240 homes set on 5.53 waterfront acres with interiors by Italian design legend Piero Lissoni and original artwork by the likes of Jeff Koons.
A renowned art collector in his own right — and the founder of Buenos Aires’ Museo de Arte de Latinoamericano — Costantini has a long history of developing luxury communities near posh Punta del Este in Uruguay, and he’s also behind the first Oceana project in Miami’s Key Biscayne. At Oceana Bal Harbour, the homes will range from 1,900 to just over 19,000 square feet, with prices from $3 to $30 million.
Finally there’s the Surf Club, where Lebanese-American investor Nadim Ashi is creating perhaps the most ambitious project of them all. Opening in 2016, the Richard Meier and Kobi Karp-designed complex will include 150 private residences along with the 80-room Four Seasons Hotel at Surf Club on a 9-acre beachfront parcel. Meier’s two new modernist towers will both flank and integrate the existing 85-year-old Mediterranean-style property — whose original public spaces will be transformed into restaurants, lounges and a ballroom. The Surf Club homes measure 1,400 to 7,800 square feet and range from $3 to $35 million. And 40 of its original, tropical-moderne cabanas are also under restoration and will be available for rent — much like during the Surf Club’s heyday.
Both the Surf Club and The Bath Club Estates have preserved their Jazz Era club buildings; at Oceana, the club itself was long-ago demolished, though its spirit of luxury and exclusivity inform Arquitectonica’s new design.
Whatever their exact set-up, all three projects clearly benefit from the scale and sophistication of the bathing clubs’ concept and legacy — not to mention hundreds of feet of oceanfront real estate.
“We knew that the contrast between the existing building and Karp and Meier’s new towers would be truly fascinating,” says Ashi, whose project will include interior-design schemes by Paris-based Joseph Durand and New York’s Shelton, Mindel & Associates. “We’re restoring the key interiors, keeping much of the historic furniture and returning the old club to its original splendor.”
Of course, pairing historic architecture with newly built contemporary design comes at great cost and effort. Both the Surf Club and Bath Club Estates had to undergo rigorous review processes by local preservation boards.
In the Surf Club’s case, Kathleen Slesnick Kauffman, Historic Preservation Chief of Miami-Dade County, was particularly impressed by Ashi’s efforts to not only retain and restore the original complex, but also reuse and return it to much of its historic function.
“The developers have consciously chosen to place the original Surf Club at the center of the entire project,” Kauffman says. “Not only does this add value to potential owners, but it allows the original public spaces [i.e., lobbies, restaurants, and ballrooms] to remain open to the public in a way that they haven’t been for many years.”
For Bath Club owner Peebles, who helped secure that facility’s local landmark status in 1999, this sense of civic responsibility is particularly meaningful. After all, back in the “Magic City” days, Peebles wouldn’t have even been allowed entry into the club — let alone ownership.
Today, this kind of historic preservation reflects not only Miami’s illustrious past, but its cosmopolitan and progressive present and future.
“There was such a strong sense of satisfaction and pride in redeveloping the Bath Club,” Peebles says. “The process truly shows how far America has evolved … and why it’s so critical to preserve our own history.”
Source: New York Post