Miami-Dade County

Haunted? 5 vacant buildings cast a scary shadow across South Florida

A broken soiled linen bucket sits in front of the graffiti-covered hotel named The City Inn, 679 NW 79th St., just off Interstate 95. The hotel, which was once a Holiday Inn, has sat vacant for years.
A broken soiled linen bucket sits in front of the graffiti-covered hotel named The City Inn, 679 NW 79th St., just off Interstate 95. The hotel, which was once a Holiday Inn, has sat vacant for years. Miami Herald Staff

They loom over city blocks and haunt South Florida. Windows smashed. Hallways dark. Doorways boarded up or padlocked.

Their shadowy presence gives neighbors the creeps.

Do ghosts prance inside? Do screams of hospital patients past reverberate across stripped-bare operating rooms? Do long-ago drunken nights echo off hotel walls?

What truly lurks inside the abandoned and vacant buildings of South Florida might be better left to mystery and the spiders that spin their webs inside.

In some cases, little is known about the history of the buildings, only what has been left in the wake of time.

Don’t bother going inside for a Halloween thrill — some of these buildings that have shadowed communities for years are now being renovated or cleared as the local economy continues to get friendlier for buyers and developers.

Perhaps one of the most well-known vacant structures is Miami Marine Stadium, which has been shuttered for more than two decades. Damaged after Hurricane Andrew, the stadium, which hosted powerboat races and concerts, has been closed since 1992. Recently, a group called the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium has worked to save the Virginia Key landmark.

Other long-time abandoned properties are also on the road to redemption.

A long-haunted Hollywood mall is finally making way for a new Walmart. A creepy downtown Hollywood hotel will soon be incorporated into a new mixed-use project. Plans abound for an inhospitable hospital haunting South Beach.

“Buildings become a target for demolition when they become abandoned,” said historian Paul George. “It’s a shame because many of these buildings tell stories about South Florida.”

Some of these buildings hit people in the face: the vacant hotel off I-95 on the edge of Liberty City. The towering remains of a high-rise hospital in the middle of the Golden Glades Interchange. Others are tucked inside neighborhoods or main thoroughfares including an old dive-bar across from Miami International Airport.

Here is a look at some of the buildings haunting our ‘hoods:

GREAT SOUTHERN HOTEL: A NEW LIFE AWAITS

1. The Great Southern Hotel, built in the 1920s by the city’s founder to house construction workers, is about to undergo some serious surgery.

Vacant and dilapidated, the building has sat for more than a decade, casting a dark shadow over Hollywood’s downtown. Inside, the once practical hotel building has been reduced to shattered glass, broken fixtures, cracked walls and a caved-in roof.

But the property’s owner, Block 40 LLC, has big plans: a 19-story mixed-use residential and commercial project, while preserving some of the original structure. The long-awaited project, in the works for years but stalled because of city restrictions and lawsuits, is now awaiting permits. The hope is to start work by year’s end.

Separate buildings added through the years have already met the wrecking ball.

“It’s an old building that is in a terrible state of repair,” said developer Chip Abele Jr.

Abele said that part of the challenge has been the desire by some to preserve the building for the sake of history. “It’s been a horrendous management effort since we’ve owned it.”

Time has not been friendly to the the building, attracting trespassers and vagrants looking for a thrill or a place to hide.

Hollywood Vice Mayor Patricia Asseff said the building was “a mess” with “rodents, pigeons and who knows what else living inside.”

“It needs to be gutted,” she said.

Hollywood’s Community Redevelopment Agency director Jorge Camejo said the building is “facing a number of challenges,” and a makeover of the building, at the gateway to downtown, is in order.

“It’s a building that has great potential and it’s a shame to see it deteriorate before your eyes,” he said.

PARKWAY HOSPITAL: FROM HEALER TO ‘CREEPY’ EYESORE

2. It’s hard to miss — the graffiti-covered, 11-story building that is an eyesore for drivers getting on the Palmetto Expressway at the Golden Glades Interchange.

With only a banner for Star Group General Contractors, there’s no trace of what the building was in its former life — an acute-care hospital.

Inside, the building can be confused for a haunted house, said Shellie Ransom-Jackson, the director of development services and code compliance for the city of Miami Gardens.

“You don’t know if anything is going to fall on your head, there’s a musty smell and it’s just creepy,” she said. “That’s why I wouldn’t go anywhere but the main entrance.”

Constructed in 1972, the building opened in 1974 as Parkway Regional West with 307 beds. It closed in 2002 and has since sat vacant, attracting vagrants and other trespassers — even though the property is surrounded by an iron fence.

Miami Gardens City Manager Cameron Benson said the city has tried for years to get the previous owner to make changes. Ransom-Jackson said deed restrictions on the property may have stalled the efforts.

Meanwhile, the building fell into disarray. Police have nabbed trespassers. Liens mounted to nearly $2 million for code violations.

The new owner, BSD of Miami Gardens, has already begun planning to resurrect the building. Trustee Yaniz Nakash said the company will gut the building and then build commercial and residential units.

“This is the center of Miami in a way, the biggest intersection,” he said. “Every way you come down, you’re going to see our property.”

THE PILOT HOUSE: DIVE BAR TO DESERTED NUISANCE

3. Tucked across Northwest 36th Street from Miami International Airport sits a small building with a burned-out neon sign: “The Pilot House.”

In its prime, the building served as a bar for airport workers, said Heike Greenwood, a flight attendant for Pan American World Airways before the company went out of business. Greenwood, 73, said she didn’t go to the bar much because the gritty atmosphere mostly catered to pilots and mechanics.

“It wasn’t up to flight attendant standards,” she joked.

Tex Ziadie, director of building and code compliance for the city of Miami Springs, remembered going to the bar a few times to play pool. In the ’70s, Ziadie said the building was split in half, with the bar on one side and a Chinese restaurant called Hong Kong Garden on the other.

Toward the end of the bar’s era, Ziadie said it turned “pretty shoddy” and remembers visiting the bar for code violation issues a few times.

Those memories are all that remain of the bar, which has sat vacant in the 4900 block of Northwest 36th Street since 2008.

“Ultimately if things keep going the way they’re going, it’s going to become an unsafe structure,” he said. “It’s a detriment to the city for it to just continue.”

It’s now owned by James F. Perry & Company, a real estate broker trying to sell the building, along with some surrounding properties, to a developer.

“Ideally, somebody will buy and redevelop it, and it will be nice for the community,” he said.

CITY INN: VIOLENT CRIME HAUNTS EMPTY HOTEL

4. Just as Miami’s skyline becomes visible from Interstate 95, so do the skeletal remains of a hotel.

The red sign on top of the roof reads “City Inn” in white letters, but that time in the building’s life is gone, replaced by missing windows, walls covered in graffiti, a cracked plastic laundry bin with “soiled linen” painted on one side.

The 10-story building, built in 1969 and located at 679 NW 79th St., started as a Holiday Inn, then became a Days Inn in 1986. The owner foreclosed on the building four years later and it became the City Inn.

During the time the hotel passed through ownership, the neighborhood surrounding it eroded into one of poverty and crime. In 1986, robbers forced a man to jump off his balcony after stealing $14,000 worth of gold jewelry and cash in Room 302 of the 198-room hotel. As recently as 10 years ago, a man strangled a prostitute in Room 615 with her own leather belt and shoe straps.

A journalist who stayed at the City Inn for a night in 2008 and wrote about it for the Biscayne Times described it as cockroach-ridden and filthy.

“No matter what name has hung outside … prostitution, drugs, and crime have always found their way into the hotel,” he wrote.

The old hotel is now owned by MNK Hospitality LLC as of last year. Massimo Nicastro, one of the owners, said the building will become what it was at the start — a Holiday Inn. Nicastro said the company will renovate the building’s skeleton when the project starts in the next two months.

The hotel is set to open in November of next year.

“I think it’s going to be the start of a revamp for the neighborhood,” he said.

SOUTH SHORE HOSPITAL: A PAINFUL TRANSITION

5. At the gateway into Miami Beach, a battered hospital looms over drivers on busy Alton Road.

The South Beach Community Hospital, founded in 1968 as South Shore, provided almost 200 beds for Miami Beach’s mostly elderly residents. But as the Beach transitioned from God’s waiting room in the 1960s and 1970s to a shopping and nightlife hub in the 1990s, the handful of hospitals lost patients.

Now, only Mount Sinai remains, and South Shore has sat vacant at 600 Alton Rd. for almost a decade with damage from Hurricane Wilma in 2005 still clinging to the facade. A 2012 story on the website Abandoned Florida shows hospital beds, X-ray machines and even an MRI scanner scattered throughout the dilapidated building.

The building’s owners — Crescent Heights, a Miami-based development company headed up by Russell Galbut — have gone through numerous plans for the hospital. Crescent Heights bought the property in 2004 and changed it from a non- to a for-profit hospital. Then, two years later, the hospital closed after going bankrupt.

In 2009, the owners brought plans to the city to turn the controversial property into a luxury retail complex. Galbut did not return calls for comment.

Miami Beach historian Seth Bramson said he believes Galbut’s ideas for the site are promising.

“Russell has great plans for it,” he said.

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