Miami Beach`s Grand Dame - A Bit of History

25th Mar 2002

Miami Beach, FL—For 42 years, the Eden Roc has graced Miami Beach’s pristine Golden Mile at 45th Street and Collins Avenue.  Its 1950s and 60s hey day established it not only as a legendary landmark, but as South Florida’s premier resort property sought by many of the nation’s top entertainers and celebrities. 
Today, with the completion of a $24 million restoration, the Eden Roc continues its reign as the Grand Dame of Miami Beach, successfully luring some of the happening crowd away from South Beach, according to New York Magazine.  As with most great monuments, it is surrounded by a tremendous amount of history, and in some cases, controversy.
The Eden Roc was originally designed by famed architect Morris Lapidus, who also designed the Fontainebleau next door and the Americana Hotel, which is known today as the Sheraton Bal Harbour.  Lapidus was a virtual newcomer to hotel design, specializing in the design of retail store-fronts.  His curvy, innovative hotel designs were widely criticized and, though considered daring at the time, today earn the 96 year-old Lapidus national acclaim and numerous speaking engagements in which he always insists his best revenge on his critics is outliving them.  He recently released his autobiography entitled: Too Much Is Never Enough.
Lapidus revolutionized store design and merchandising from 1929 to 1949 for stores such as Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.  He figured he could do the same with hotels when a friend approached him with the challenge of designing his first hotel: The Fontainebleau.  Though an architect had already proposed a design for the hotel, owners Ben Novack and Harry Mufson were not pleased.  They wanted an exciting hotel, and after their first meeting with Lapidus, he was commissioned as the associate architect on the Fontainebleau project.
“I convinced them to let me design the Fontainebleau from scratch,” Lapidus said.  “I told them I would change everything from the entrance to the interiors.  I didn’t like the original designs any more than they did.”  The Fontainebleau was completed in 1954 on an oceanfront expanse of land formerly known as the Firestone Estate. 
Next door to the north, Mufson bought the Warner Estate, which belonged to one of the Warner Brothers, with a promise to build an even grander property:  Eden Roc.  Along with this promise came a new enemy, former partner Ben Novack.   
Lapidus was again commissioned by Mufson to design the Eden Roc.  “I don’t want any of that French stuff you used at the Fontainebleau.  That’s for kids,” he said.  “I wanted people to come in and fall on their backs,” says Lapidus.
As research for this project, Lapidus traveled to the very elegant Eden Roc in France; a favorite vacation spot for The Kennedys.  While touring Europe, he purchased statues, marble, and Venetian glassware for use in designing the hotel that would later be deemed a vision of the Italian Renaissance. Through the years, many industry veterans have attempted to identify Lapidus` style with a particular school of architecture.  But Lapidus distinguishes his style from all others. 

“In my opinion, the Fontainebleau was not French and the Eden Roc was not baroque.  It was just my style,” says Lapidus.  “A style which is simply an expression of my own ideas, not an expression of a particular school of architecture.  I developed a style that nobody can name, but which architects around the world are today attempting to copy.”
Completed in 1956, the Eden Roc was Lapidus` most lavish design, attracting a steady stream of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Lena Horne, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ann Margret and others.  It became the favorite on Miami Beach, successfully claiming the limelight from the Fontainebleau next door. 

The ultra elegant Cafe Pompeii hosted premier entertainers, including Harry Belafonte, Milton Berle, Georgia Gibbs, Johnnie Ray, Roberta Sherwood and Nat King Cole who performed at the very popular nightly supper shows.  Cafe Pompeii was also renowned for serving fine American and Chinese cuisine, and featuring continuous dancing from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.  Today, the Cafe Pompeii is the Eden Roc’s 10,000-square foot Grand Ballroom.
Located just off the Grand Lobby next to the Cafe Pompeii, was the Mona Lisa Room.  This is where many celebrities dined and enjoyed Continental gourmet cuisine in an elegant candle-lit atmosphere. String musicians Maxie Fransko and Rasha Rodell strolled playing continental favorites.  The Mona Lisa Room was also the site for a private party honoring Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd for the premier of the film `Around the World in 80 Days.`  Today, this historic room still enjoys its original name serving as one of the resort’s ballrooms.  An original Mona Lisa Room menu was recently discovered and preserved during the Eden Roc’s 1997 renovation.
Located just off the pool deck was Harry’s American Bar.  Named after the property’s owner at the time, Harry Mufson, this became the hottest nightclub in town offering an informal setting where elites such as Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Durante, Groucho Marx, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Gleason, Esther Williams, Liberace, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway and others frequently danced the night away!  Painter Al Hirshfeld captured the essence of these entertainers at the popular nightclub in a famous celebrity caricature mural on the walls of the establishment.  Today, Harry’s American Bar has been re-created at the lobby bar with whimsical drink menus and cocktail napkins featuring the famous cartoons that Al Hirschfeld created for the original bar.
In 1962, an envious Ben Novack created what is today known in the community and the legal books as the Spite Wall, a 17-story building on the northern edge of the Fontainebleau property line.  Novack erected the 365-room structure with the sole purpose of casting a shadow over the Eden Roc’s pool area by noon during the winter months.  He was successful.  The structure had no windows or balconies facing the Eden Roc, except for one:  Ben Novack’s apartment.  Out of the Spite Wall controversy came the construction of the Eden Roc’s second pool located seaside on the northeast corner of the property. 

Today, with the completion of its lavish restoration, the Eden Roc is set to shine brilliantly once again.  Newly restored guest rooms and ballrooms, new restaurants and a nationally-ranked spa will continue to place the legendary property among the best on Miami Beach. 


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