The venerable Surf Club, among the last of the grand jazz-age Miami-area private clubs, is on the verge of a transformation that would restore the faded luster of its historic Mediterranean Revival building and crown it with a trio of crystalline hotel and condo towers.
The fast-moving plan, which goes to a vote at the Surfside Commission on Monday, comes months after the club afflicted by shrinking membership and growing maintenance costs agreed to a $116 million buyout by the Koc Group, a Turkish conglomerate.
In public hearings and forums leading up to Mondays vote, Koc and its local partners pledged to open the club and its facilities to the public for the first time. Their project also promises a fiscal windfall to Surfside, a once-sleepy beach town north of Miami Beach that is undergoing a wave of upscale beachfront development.
The ambitious plan has been embraced by preservationists, town leaders and the Surf Clubs 122 remaining owner-members in part because it would embark on a radical renovation of the landmark 1929 building. The developers propose to strip away substantial and unsympathetic later additions, including an entire service wing and a long wall along Collins Avenue that hides the club from view, and restore or recreate original murals, light fixtures and doors.
By the end, they say, the building will appear much as pioneering Miami architect Russell Pancoast designed it, both inside and out. Architect Kobi Karp, whose firm is handling both the restoration and the design of the new buildings, said the process was aided by the availability of Pancoasts original plans, which elucidate details as minute as moldings and doorknobs.
At the same time, the developer proposes to add significantly less building density to the 6-acre club property, which spans both sides of Collins, than allowed by Surfsides code, so that neither the historic building nor its low-scale Surfside neighbors will be overwhelmed by the new structures, supporters say.
The scale of the additions has nonetheless taken some long-time residents aback, and residents of an eight-story condo directly to the south, the Surf House, are mounting a last-minute campaign objecting to a service and garage entrance at 90th Street that would face their buildings front entrance. But there has been little public opposition to the project.
This deal was designed backward we really considered the relationship to the community and the members first, said Robert Zarco, an equity Surf Club member who, as its general counsel, negotiated what he described as a complex transaction with the developers. This group was the most amenable to preserving the history and heritage of the club.
That history has been long and colorful. The club, which opened in 1930, predates the founding of Surfside and was designed by Pancoast in the highly ornate, and authentically detailed and proportioned, high-Mediterranean style then in vogue, with high beamed and vaulted ceilings, majestic colonnades and massive fireplaces.
Though it lacked a golf course, it boasted a broad stretch of virgin beach and quickly established itself as an exclusive center of social activity, beach lounging, and dining and dancing for local grandees and equally grand winter visitors, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and, later, stars like Elizabeth Taylor. But its most famous guest, in 1946, indisputably was Winston Churchill, who spent his time at the club painting seascapes.