Noted Miami architect Kenneth Treister’s 1973 Office in the Grove will not be considered for designation as a protected historic landmark, Miami’s preservation board decided on Tuesday.
The 7-2 vote came after a prolonged hearing in which the building’s owners, who have said they may redevelop the one-acre property, objected to designation, arguing it was not sufficiently distinguished architecturally to save.
A board majority said Treister’s building, though very good architecturally, and perhaps even important, was nonetheless not of “exceptional” significance — a high legal bar the building needed to clear because it’s less than 50 years old.
The vote likely puts an end to an effort by some prominent architects and preservationists to save the building, which many consider one of Treister’s best works. They contend the building is an important architectural landmark that fuses Modernist design with artistic embellishments depicting South Florida flora and fauna that tie it to the Grove landscape.
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Some board members seemed torn, saying their decision not to support designation might have gone the other way if the building had been over 50.
“If it’s exceptionally important, I don’t think we should struggle with it,” said board member David Freedman, a Coconut Grove attorney who once had an office in the building. “If it’s exceptionally important, we should know it.”
The pentagonal 10-story tower, which sits on a base consisting of a grassy berm and a prow-shaped wall decorated with depictions of South Florida flora, commands the corner of Southwest 27th Avenue and South Bayshore Drive. It’s regarded by some as a prime example of the one-of-a-kind, art-meets-architecture aesthetic espoused by Treister, also a trained artist, sculptor and photographer. Treister also designed the Gaudí-inspired Mayfair shops and hotel in the Grove, the expressionistic Gumenick Chapel at Temple Israel, and the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach.
The Grove building was nominated by the Florida chapter of Docomomo, an international organization that advocates for preserving Modernist architecture.
“The building is a treasure; it’s an elegant modern building that’s like no other,” Lisa Bennett, a volunteer attorney for Docomomo.
The nomination, which generated more than 500 signatures of support on an online petition, divided Miami’s preservation and architectural community. In addition to Docomomo, the Miami Design Preservation League and some leading architects, including Bernard Zyscovich, supported designation. So did billionaire businessman Norman Braman.
But the board of Dade Heritage Trust, which had placed the building on its list of 11 most endangered historic sites in Miami, instead voted overwhelmingly not to support the nomination, and some board members cited that in concluding not to support the designation.
The building’s owners, Mast Capital, hired prominent preservation architect Richard Heisenbottle and former Miami Art Museum director Terry Riley, a former curator of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to help make the case against designation. The city’s newly hired preservation officer, Warren Adams, concluded in a report that the building is not sufficiently distinguished architecturally to merit designation.
Treister, 87, is retired from the practice of architecture but continues to write books on architecture, to photograph and to paint. He quietly supported the Docomomo effort, noting that it’s one of the few surviving buildings he designed that’s mostly intact.