Emilio Estefan on Cardozo Hotel renovation: “I wanted to make something like I feel when I go to my house”
Four years, $15 million and the passion of its celebrity owners are bringing a fresh attitude — and smart new interiors — to Miami Beach’s historic Cardozo Hotel.
“The whole thing is new,” said Emilio Estefan (yes, that Emilio Estefan), who owns the hotel with wife Gloria. “Bathrooms, floors, air conditioners. That’s why it took us four years. I said if we’re going to do it, let’s do it first class.”
When the Ocean Drive landmark reopens May 15, return visitors will find a world of crisp whiteness: new marble floors, interior columns covered in creamy mosaic tiles, couches swathed in white. But there’s no starkness here; accents like wooden lounge chairs and white candles are designed to create a relaxed ambience. (You are on vacation after all.)
It’s all a far cry from the dark furniture, wood paneling and animal print headboards of the Cardozo’s previous iterations.
Built in 1939 and named after Benjamin Cardozo, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice, the three-story, 41-room hotel sits on a corner lot overlooking Lummus Park and the ocean beyond. Henry Hohauser designed the hotel, along with several other South Beach art deco inns including the Park Central Hotel (now the Celino South Beach Hotel), Essex House Hotel (now Essex House by Clevelander) and The Webster Hotel. The Cardozo Hotel was among the first historic Miami Beach hotels to be renovated in the early 1980s.
When the Estefans bought the hotel in 1992, many questioned the investment.
“People said, ‘Why are you buying on Ocean Drive? It’s all old people,’ ” Estefan said. “Everything changed and you have to go with the changes. Ocean Drive represents Miami, it’s a perfect example of what Miami is all about.”
Since the ‘90s, the Estefans have upgraded the hotel twice as the neighborhood has transformed around them. The hotel has served as a movie set several times under the Estefan’s ownership. Scenes from the 1996 movie “The Birdcage” were shot at the Cardozo, as were some from the 1998 movie “There’s Something About Mary,” the 1999 movie “Any Given Sunday,” and the 2008 movie “Marley & Me.”
Because the hotel is historically designated, no changes could be made to the facade. Rooms remain their original size with the exception of a third-floor penthouse suite. All have been updated with new floors, tiles and furnishings in soothing neutrals.
With the help of Miami-based architect Aldo Ducci, the Estefans incorporated pieces from their personal furniture and art collections into the hotel’s design. In the first floor private meeting space sit patio chairs from their Miami Beach home along with a floor to ceiling silver mirror that was a prop for music videos. Art from local and international artists — a metal sculpture imitating mangrove roots behind the front desk, a framed black-and-white multimedia work in the private meeting room —abound.
“I wanted to make something like I feel when I go to my house,” said Emilio Estefan. “We travel all over the world and we know things that work and things that don’t work. It has to be simple, comfortable, great beds, great showers.”
Estefan says he is at the hotel nearly every day working on finishing details. The third floor penthouse suite — four rooms combined into one that spans the entire width of the hotel — is his favorite. He designed sliding glass doors that allow for more space in the bathrooms A black and white rug of his sits in one of the common areas.
Also new to the hotel is BiCE Cucina, an international Italian restaurant chain, which opened in the first floor in April. The restaurant is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and room service to hotel guests. The restaurant’s doors open up to a wraparound porch that sits on Ocean Drive. The Estefans hired Benchmark, a global hospitality company, to manage the hotel this year. Benchmark also manages the Estefan’s Vero Beach, Florida hotel, Costa d’Este Beach Resort and Spa.
The Cardozo’s reopening is part of a larger trend to preserve and update Miami Beach’s art deco hotels. Historic hotel renovations constituted the majority of the city’s hotel openings in 2015 and 2016, according to Ernst & Young. That trend has slowed down slightly, but there are still more renovation openings to come, including the 1940s Raleigh Hotel and the 1930s Lennox Hotel.
Room rates at the Cardozo Hotel start at $239 per night.
A previous version of this story misstated the name of the architect on the project. His name is Aldo Ducci with Arkiteko Co.