Miami developer Edward N. Claughton Jr. dies at 86

Thanks to a cluster of upscale high-rises and a luxury hotel on an island off the Miami River, Edward N. Claughton Jr.’s family name will always be associated with the building of modern Miami.

His father, Edward Napoleon Claughton Sr., bought Brickell Key in 1943 and renamed it. Father, son and Edward Jr.’s sister, Suzanne Schmidt, eventually expanded the original five-acre site to 44 acres by purchasing bay-bottom land, and finally, after decades in court, began building in 1975.

It’s now site of the Mandarin Oriental hotel and thousands of pricey condos.

Born on July 27, 1927, in Atlanta, Edward Jr. died Saturday at his home at the Hound Ears Club, a golf resort in Blowing Rock, N.C., which he and his sister once owned.

He was 86, and according to son Edward N. Claughton III, succumbed to complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

Edward Jr. joined the U.S. Navy in 1945 after graduating from Miami Senior High School. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a law degree from the University of Florida Law School.

He served in the U.S. Air Force Reservist until 1965, as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Edward III, a Coral Gables police lieutenant known as Chip, called his father “a character’’ who handed out cards to strangers bearing his business information on one side, funny sayings on the other.

Distracted by the card, the recipient — often a child — wouldn’t notice Claughton’s sleight-of-hand trick: producing a penny that he’d seemingly extract from the recipient’s ear.

Active in civic affairs, Edward Jr. headed Miami’s American Cancer Society chapter, served on the Orange Bowl Committee, and sat on numerous boards of directors. He was a deacon at Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables.

A savvy, forward-looking businessman, Edward Jr. took over the family’s holdings after his father died in 1955. Among the properties he bought was the Silver Sands Resort on Key Biscayne, for which he traded the Claughton ground lease of the Dupont Plaza Center. Each property was valued at $800,000.

He sold Silver Sands, site of the Eagles Nest — “the coolest bar in Miami,’’ according to Chip — in 1986, for $6.6 million.

At the Silver Sands, Edward Jr. delighted in hosting greased watermelon contests for kids. Whoever was able to catch and hold the Crisco-coated melon got to eat the first slice, Chip said.

The family owned a local movie-house chain that Wometco bought, and the old Urmey Hotel in Miami. As a young man, Edward Jr. also served on the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad’s board of directors.

He was a prominent Republican, close to President Richard M. Nixon and his Key Biscayne confidant Charles “Bebe’’ Rebozo, and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.

He was so conservative that he banned Budweiser beer from his hotels in 1963 because Anheuser Busch used hops from Communist Yugoslavia. In 1964, he fought racial integration in public accommodations and later ran unsuccessfully, twice, for the Florida Legislature.

In 1968, the family moved to an estate on Old Cutler Road, joined the Riviera Country Club, the Palm Bay, the Coral Oak Tennis Club, and the Coral Reef Yacht Club. Edward Jr. and then-wife Beverly also kept homes on Key Largo and in North Carolina.

It was at the Old Cutler house that the Claughtons hosted Agnew during the 1972 Republican national convention.

The Claughtons split two years later and divorced, after 24 years of marriage and three children, in 1976. Edward Jr. then married his current wife, Lois.

But the ensuing property settlement dragged on for two decades, making it what’s thought to be the longest such case in Florida history.

“It’s taught in law schools,’’ Chip Claughton said.

Chip Claughton said that his father’s most notable accomplishment is Brickell Key. It, too, was tied up in court for years, as Edward Jr. fought for the land under the water. He won, which allowed him to construct a bulkhead and a bridge to Southeast Eighth Street.

He ultimately sold most of the island to Swire Properties, and traded some of it for Hound Ears.

Chip called his father “a compassionate person, often stopping to greet anyone and everyone around him...From the busboy in the restaurant to President [Ronald] Reagan.’’

In addition to his wife, son and sister, Claughton is survived by daughters Lee Taylor of Indiatlantic, and Jeanie Claughton, of Miami.

Services were scheduled for Tuesday in North Carolina.

The family suggests memorial donations to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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