Surfside, the small beachfront resort town long architecturally overshadowed by its southern neighbor, Miami Beach, has taken a step into the design limelight with a new historic district — a collection of nine nearly intact late-Art Deco and Miami Modern apartment buildings on a single block of Collins Avenue.
The Collins Avenue Historic District, drawn up by Miami-Dade’s office of historic preservation, won the unanimous approval of the county preservation board on Thursday. Each of the nine buildings is by a noted mid-20th century Miami architect; they date to between 1946 and 1957, a key period in Surfside’s development.
“It is the last Collins Avenue block that retains its original mid-century construction,” the county preservation office said in a report, calling the buildings an “excellent sampling” of the architecture of the period, much of it lost to demolition and redevelopment.
The vote marked the fourth historic designation for a town that until recently had not a single official landmark, and where political leaders had been at best lukewarm about county efforts to identify and protect a shrinking stock of architecturally distinctive mid-century buildings along Collins and Harding avenues. The new district occupies most of the 9000 block of Collins and Harding.
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The first building to be protected was the Surf Club, the grand 1930 Mediterranean-style private club now under renovation with a massive glassy addition by star architect Richard Meier. That project was the subject of long negotiations between the developer and the county preservation office, headed by Kathleen Kauffman.
Then, amid a wave of threatened demolitions and new development, residents of two modest beachfront buildings requested and won designations, while the county board designated another, a late-Deco structure, on the other side of Collins.
That came amid a growing battle over historic preservation in Surfside and neighboring Bay Harbor Islands, which has one of the most extensive collections of MiMo buildings in South Florida but, like its neighbor, had none designated as historic. Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman, who represents the municipalities, emerged as a vocal foe of designation in the towns, and demanded a moratorium on new ones.
The Miami-Dade commission controversially overturned one of the two beachfront Surfside designations after a single resident appealed, but the other two designations stand. The developer of the Surf Club project now plans to renovate the beachfront Seaway Villas after settling a bitter dispute with condo owners and build a new residential tower next door.
Attempts to designate Bay Harbor buildings, however, have stalled because of determined opposition from town officials and some residents and land owners. On Thursday, designation of the widely admired Bay Harbor Club, the MiMo building that was home to the lead character in cable TV’s “Dexter,” failed to win designation on a 4-4 vote by the preservation board.
But preservationists celebrated the new Surfside district, which includes MiMo and earlier Streamline Moderne (a late Art Deco style) buildings, though property owners — some of whom objected to the designations — could still appeal to the county commission.
The district includes six buildings by architect Gilbert M. Fein, two by South Beach Art Deco master Henry Hohauser, and one each by Edward Nolan and Russell Pancoast, who was also the architect of the original Surf Club, considered a masterwork of the South Florida Mediterranean style.