A. Lionel Bosem, pre-boom South Beach hotelier, dies of MS

A. Lionel Bosem was studying architecture at the University of Florida in the 1950s when his father died, so he came home to Miami Beach and took over the family’s hotels.

In those days, establishments like the Bosems’ New Floridian, Biscaya, President Madison, Pancoast Plaza (now the Helen Mar) and Coronet catered to Northeastern retirees, and were more like assisted-living facilities than tourist resorts.

By the time the South Beach rebirth began in the late 1980s, Bosem was out of the hotel business. He’d been a partner in the Rubin-Zilbert Memorial Chapel, served as the Miami Beach Planning Board chairman — and served a year in prison on charges related to withholding employee pay.

He’d also become devoutly religious, started a Jewish Burial Society, and affiliated with the Chabad Lubavich movement.

Born Arie Yehuda Bosem in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 15, 1937 — two years after his family fled Germany, where Adolf Hitler had been elected chancellor — he died Wednesday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. He was 76.

Dr. Marc Bosem, one of his two sons, said that his father suffered from multiple sclerosis, and had been quadriplegic for a decade.

He said that when the family got to Israel, they changed the name from Gewurz, the German word meaning “aromatic spice,’’ to Bosem, a name with similar meaning in Hebrew. From Israel, they went to Montreal, where his father grew up.

For a time, Bosem ran The Miami Beach Weekly newspaper and had political ambitions. Both ended in the mid-1970s when Bosem got into trouble for keeping tenants’ security deposits at the Coronet Retirement Hotel, and for serving non-kosher food: specifically, non-kosher liver.

His fall from grace began after he served as planning board chairman in 1978. A 1983 Miami Herald story noted that Bosem was “in the forefront of Miami Beach economic change in the 1970s,’’ and a “Beach power. He breakfasted with Steve Muss, developer and owner of the Fontainebleau Hilton Hotel. His attorney was state Rep. Barry Kutun.’’

Bosem “was on the cutting edge of Beach development,’’ the story said. “He tore down his family’s aging luxury hotel, the Fleetwood, at 800 West Ave., and put up an apartment high-rise, the Plaza 800.’’

He was “flashy,’’ the story said, and worth millions.

Son Marc, a Weston ophthalmologist, said that in the 1980s, his father had “a midlife crisis, and got involved in the wrong side of politics and the law...He said that he kind of got too big an ego, then he discovered Judaism. Every day for rest of his life he put on tefillin’’ ritual leather boxes containing prayers, strapped to the arm and forehead.

“He paid his dues and did a heroic thing to make himself right.’’

Bosem went to prison in March 1983, got out in July 1984 and moved into the Deauville Hotel, which friends owned. His 16-month incarceration was the longest in history up to that time stemming from federal minimum wage standards violations.

The case began in 1980, when U.S. District Judge Jose Gonzalez ordered Bosem to pay $188,649 to employees at his former property, the Biscaya Retirement Hotel, 540 West Ave., following a Labor Department investigation. When Gonzalez sent him away for contempt, he still owed $100,000 and said he couldn’t pay because of drug problems.

After Bosem filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the judge dropped the contempt charge. Bosem left court that day happily accompanied by two ex-wives, one of them Ellen Gache, the mother of his sons.

The same quality that made him successful caused his downfall, said Marc.

“The one thing that makes him wonderful is he could persevere, but he was stubborn.’’

He began showing symptoms of multiple sclerosis in the 1990s, and according to his son, faced it philosophically.

“He was always in a rush and tried to do too much, and he said it was God’s way to tell him to slow down,’’ Marc Bosem said. “But he was keeping his chin up, and it’s inspirational that with everything he went through, he kept on going.’’

In addition to son Marc, Bosem is survived by son Sanford Bosem, of Miami Beach, and a sister, Sara Abelson, of Montreal.

Funeral services will be held at noon Thursday at Beth David Memorial Gardens, 3201 NW 72nd Ave., Hollywood.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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