A plastic surgeon and his reality TV star wife want to raze an iconic Star Island mansion. Preservationists want to protect it.
And now, an artist living in New York thinks he has a solution: He wants to buy the 1925 home designed by notable architect Walter DeGarmo and restore it to its original grandeur.
“It’s a prominent landmark, and it means a lot to me,” said Bryan “Mike” Latham, 37, a Miami-raised artist who splits his time between New York, Atlanta and Zurich. “I think the city would be changed if it wasn’t there.’’
There’s just one problem: the mansion is not for sale.
“This isn’t about money,” said Dr. Leonard Hochstein, whose wife Lisa stars on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Miami. “This is about a family home.”
Latham said Thursday by telephone that he offered to pay $7.6 million, the price the Hochsteins paid by buying the bank note on the home. They acquired the home in September, according to property records.
The battle over the Hochsteins’ home has brewed since December, when the star couple asked Miami Beach for permission to knock it down. The couple wants to build a 20,000-square-foot home, complete with a wine cellar and five-car garage.
The Miami Design Preservation League, a historic preservation group, filed an application to have the eight-bedroom, seven-bathroom home designated historic — a move that would bound the Hochsteins to preserve it.
“This is a house that has a lot of value for the community,” said Daniel Ciraldo, a member of the preservation league.
Located at 42 Star Island Dr., the home overlooks Biscayne Bay from a prime corner of the ultra-exclusive neighborhood, which has been home to Latin music star Gloria Estefan and pharmaceutical billionaire Phillip Frost. A white structure with long, narrow windows, the home can be seen from the MacArthur Causeway.
Hochstein said Thursday the home is crumbling. He said the house is 30 inches below the flood zone and is impossible to elevate. It has cloth electrical wires that have sparked three fires. There’s no functional plumbing on the second floor and no air conditioning.
“This is a house that should not be standing, and it’s dangerous,” Hochstein said.
The city’s Design Review Board must approve the Hochsteins’ plans. It will meet Feb. 5. The Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board won’t consider the application for historic designation until Feb. 12.
Latham, who put in the offer, said he read about the battle brewing over the home and felt compelled to save it. Latham said he remembers marveling at the structure from the Port of Miami, where, as a child, his grandfather would take him to watch the cruise ships setting sail.
“That house has been one of my particular favorites ever since I was a kid,’’ said Latham, who graduated from Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to tear that down.’’
The Star Island home wouldn’t be his first renovation job. In August 2010, Latham bought a neglected 19th century home known as “The Castle” in Atlanta and has spent years restoring it.
Boyd Coons of the Atlanta Preservation Center said Latham “saved” the home, which belonged to an eccentric millionaire and featured cannons, a garden and historic memorabilia.
“I think he’s an unusual person, and I honestly don’t know a lot about his circumstances,” Coons said of Latham. “But as I’ve said, we’ve seen significant progress on this building that’s very important to us. It’s making huge progress because of Mike.”
The Hochsteins have at least one city commissioner on their side. Jonah Wolfson suggested at Wednesday’s commission meeting that the city should prohibit the involuntary historic designation of homes on the Beach. His fellow commission members agreed to send the recommendation to the city’s Land Use and Development Committee.
But there’s a catch: The committee won’t take up the item until the day after the Historic Preservation Board is scheduled to vote on whether to accept preservationists’ petition for protection. And, the proposed rule may run afoul of a county provision that bans owner consent as a condition of historic designation — although Miami Beach city attorneys on Thursday said the proposal falls within the city’s power.
Meanwhile, Latham said in an email that he plans to persevere.
“I am completely undeterred,’’ he wrote. “I can help him find a more suitable property on Star Island to demolish or do as he pleases.’’
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