Battle Brews Over Historic Preservation of Miami’s Art Deco Buildings

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A battle is brewing in Miami between those trying to preserve the county’s art deco buildings and those who want to modernize the bustling city. 

According to a report by The New York Times, art deco property preservationists are campaigning to preserve the city’s historic buildings by “pushing hard to bolster historic preservation laws” and consequently ruffling “wealthy property owners and potential buyers” looking to renovate certain buildings and homes. 

One example of this back and forth is well-known plastic surgeon Dr. Leonard M. Hochstein and his wife, a Canadian model, Lisa, who purchased a neo-Classical home built in 1925 by Walter DeGarmo on the iconic Star Island for $7.6 million in a foreclosure proceeding last year and want to demolish the property to make room for a new 20,000-square-foot mansion. 

According to William H. Cary, the assistant planning director for Miami Beach and the former preservation director for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, “We have reached a tipping point on Miami Beach where we are losing entirely too many pre-1942 single-family homes. It appears it could begin to have a dramatic impact on changing the character of Miami Beach’s residential areas.” 

The Hochsteins submitted design plans to the City of Miami Beach for the renovation of their home, according to The New York Times, and when the Miami Design Preservation League found out about the demolition plans, a member “filed a request to designate the house at 42 Star Island Drive as historic” to protect the home. 

Hochstein said, “The house is not habitable, and renovating it, while keeping the shell, is also not possible. It’s not a home that can be preserved. If this home was a historic home, I wouldn’t have bought it. To go and try to do this after the fact, against my will, is really unsettling.” Hochstein told The New York Times that he has contacted 22 of the 32 Star Island homeowners and “none objected to the house demolition, considering its state of disrepair.” 

Public historian for the Miami Design Preservation League, Jeff Donnelly, said, “We are not saying that every single property should be designated historic, but there should be a public process to determine it.” 

Negotiations between the Hochsteins and the city’s Design Review Board continue. A decision is expected to be made in February. 

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