Lately, procrastination seems to be my middle name, so instead of completing my page long "to-do" list, I've spent a better part of a morning browsing the photo archives at the Library of Congress. Judge me if you must, but the LOC's online collections are INCREDIBLE. Anyway, as I aimlessly wandered the digital aisles, I came across these pretty remarkable historic photographs of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.
A little background, you ask?
After purchasing the oceanfront estate of tire magnate Harvey Firestone in 1952, New York developer Ben Novack set out to build the biggest and most luxurious resort in Miami Beach. Situated on Collins Avenue in the heart of Millionaires' Mile, Novack's Fontainebleau redefined the postwar styling of the American luxury hotel and became a hallmark of Miami Beach's unique brand of white, curvilinear modernism (known as Miami Modern).
Designed in 1954 by Russian-born architect Morris Lapidus, the Fontainebleau stands as a 15-story crescent towering over the sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. Horizontal ribbons of blue windows stretch the length of the curved exterior, offering contrast to the stark, white concrete walls. Surrounding the iconic C-shaped building, elaborately planned grounds include bubbling fountains, extensive formal gardens, and the famous pool and cabana. As part of a thoughtfully conceived landscape, these features provide a processional feeling to the Fontainebleau, the midcentury temple of Miami tourism.
While the exterior of Lapidus' design is (somewhat) restrained in its use of ornament, the interior of the hotel displays the architect's propensity for lavish dynamism. Lapidus designed the lower floors as spaces that would impress, excite, and flatter hotel guests. Opening as a stage set, the lobby features sweeping curves, grand views, gold accents, and his signature black bowtie marble floors. These elements soon became a signature of Miami Modernism (MiMO) and emblematic of bourgeois tastes in the booming American economy. (Did I mention the Fontainebleau served as the set for 1964's Goldfinger?)
In the strong postwar economy, the Fontainebleau found immediate success. Its design made Lapidus' career, and the architect went on to construct a number of high profile hotels, including the neighboring Eden Roc. Primarily known for its bold, daring aesthetic and over-the-top interiors, Lapidus' work, which received critical backlash for being a kind of gilded Bauhaus kitsch during his career, has enjoyed resurging popularity over the last few decades. The Fontainebleau remains one of his most significant works, not to mention one of the most famous hotels in the world. In 2008, the property underwent extensive renovations and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
So enjoy the irresistible "old Miami" glamour of Morris Lapidus' Fontainebleau Hotel this Wednesday morning. Taken just a year after construction in 1955, these photographs offer a unique view of the hotel enjoyed by so many well-heeled visitors over the last sixty years.
Note- This set of photographs is part of the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection available at the Library of Congress. Photographer Samuel Gottscho (along with his son-in-law William Schleisner) specialized in architecture and landscape photography and produced a large volume of work published in high-profile publications, including Architectural Record, House Beautiful, and The New York Times.
You can see the full online collection here.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.