Les Beilinson, South Beach architect/preservationist, dies after surgery



Les Beilinson grew up in Miami Beach during its post-World War II glory years.

Later, as an architect, he became a leader of the movement to preserve the city’s Art Deco heritage as an original member of the Historic Preservation Board, and a hands-on savior of threatened structures.

Born Nov. 7, 1946, Les Dennis Beilinson died Friday at Mount Sinai Medical Center of abdominal surgery complications, according to son-in-law Peter Johnson. Beilinson, a Miami Beach Senior High School and University of Miami graduate, and veteran of the U.S. Reserves, was 66.

He lived all his life in his hometown.

Beilinson’s restoration projects included some of South Beach’s most famous landmarks, including Española Way, Essex House, the Marlin, Edison, Breakwater, Park Central, Century, Shore Park, Traymore, Tiffany, Ritz Plaza, Imperial Hotels and Betsy Ross.

“The majority are shoeboxes with wood-frame construction on the inside and front façades and small public lobby spaces,” Beilinson told the American Institute of Architects in 2010, when the group’s Miami chapter named him Historic Architect of the Year.

“Many were severely deteriorated with a lot of sagging,” he said. “The concrete had a high salt content that deteriorated the steel bars and beams reinforcing it — I looked at some of these buildings and I didn’t know what kept them standing.”

In her book, Deco Delights: Preserving The Beauty and Joy of Miami Beach Architecture, preservation pioneer Barbara Baer Capitman noted just how important Beilinson’s projects were to the Art Deco legacy.

“Without saving the great hotels and theaters and storefronts, the district would never exist as we know it,” she wrote. “With the protection of the wonderful architecture, we have seen the other aspects of the district remain and indeed blossom.”

Said Beth Dunlop, editor of the architecture magazine MODERN: “Les Beilinson was an early believer in both the beauty of the Art Deco District and the power of historic preservation to transform and elevate communities. Throughout the years, he played a critical role in safeguarding our precious heritage.”

He designed Miami Beach’s News Cafe and Armani Exchange store, early landmarks in the South Beach rebirth.

An expert on wood-frame construction, Beilinson didn’t confine his efforts to Miami Beach.

With Jose Gomez, his business partner since 1997 in Beilinson Gomez Architects, he worked on Overtown’s historic Lyric Theater, Freedom Tower, Hialeah Park, and the Opa-locka and Coral Gables city halls.

The firm also designed high-end residences and took on several quirky challenges.

In 2010, Beilinson designed a 23-foot arched structure supporting a football that spanned Ocean Drive to commemorate 10 Super Bowls in Miami.

He used steel recycled from the Orange Bowl and Dolphin stadiums.

In 2008, he affixed 46 blue marlins to the exterior of a building on the west side of Interstate 95 at 85th Street, transforming a porn video store into Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply.

In Broward County, the firm designed Fort Lauderdale’s Vintro Hotel and Modani furniture showroom.

In a statement on Saturday, Jose Gomez said: “Les was my mentor, friend and partner. He was also a pioneer and visionary who played a key role in restoring South Beach to its glory days, starting in the late ’70s when he and a handful of architects and historic preservationists fought developers’ plans to raze much of South Beach.

“During ensuing years, Les was instrumental in helping preserve South Beach history, with more than 200 projects to his credit. It is safe to say that without Les, South Beach would not be what it is today.”

Beilinson “established a culture of integrity, excellence and an unparalleled commitment to client service in our firm,” Gomez added. “He set protocols, secured resources and nurtured talent to allow us to deliver a wide range of architectural services for generations.”

Les Beilinson is survived by Sherry G. Beilinson, his wife of 43 years, daughter Tory Johnson and son David Beilinson, both of New York.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Temple Beth Sholom, 4144 Chase Ave., Miami Beach.

The family suggests that instead of sending flowers, friends make memorial contributions to the Miami Design Preservation League.

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