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First the Neglect, Then the Destruction PDF Print E-mail
Written by Karen-Janine Cohen, Special to the BT   
March 2018

Glasshaus, a unique MiMo building, has fallen into disrepair

A Glasshaus_1few years ago, the iconic MiMo building at 8000 Biscayne Blvd. was looking good. It had been fixed up and painted by its owner, Jack Michel, M.D., who ran his Centros Medicos Las Americas clinic from the ground floor. Photographers, film crews, and event planners clamored for access to its glassed-in top floor, dubbed Glasshaus Studios, and the rooftop swimming pool.

But now the former Admiral Vee Motel, named for a famous racehorse, has fallen on hard times, just as neighboring Biscayne Plaza (now known as Midpoint) enjoys a modest renaissance.

The clinic is gone, it’s only remnant a tattered canvas sign flapping in the wind. Hurricane Irma shattered several of the enormous glass panels that enclosed the studio, leaving the interior exposed to the elements. Visitors have their choice of red, blue, or black graffiti, stark against the building’s dingy white paint. The first floor is shuttered, though one panel is loose, giving a glimpse of abandoned desks. A disconnect message greets anyone trying to phone the studio.

What its future is, no one knows, as Michel, who records indicate still owns the structure, did not return calls or e-mails. But the building’s state is upsetting to those in the neighborhood who care about preserving Miami history.

“I’ve lived in the area for a number of years and have watched Biscayne Plaza change,” says Alisa Cepeda, president of the MiMo Biscayne Association, which works to preserve the unique architectural character of Biscayne Boulevard. Of 8000 Biscayne, she says, “What we noticed in the past was quite a bit of photo shoots and parties. It was much better maintained.”

Glasshaus_2

Brett Hufziger saw the decline firsthand. The photographer, who specializes in architectural and interior design work, rented space at Glasshaus for a year, leaving in the fall of 2016. While the studio was busy when he first arrived, other parts of the structure remained run-down, he says: “It was kind of a weird, spooky building.”

When the photographer overseeing the studio died, Hufziger relates, rentals became sporadic. He noted that the owner did invest in infrastructure, and every once in a while, sprucing-up would occur. Prospective renters dropped by, talking about alternative uses for the building’s various spaces. But nothing came of it.

Hufziger, who lives in North Bay Village, is saddened by the recent deterioration. “I’m upset to see it there, not being repaired,” he says. “I’m a preservationist of sorts. I appreciate mid-century modern. I like the history of it.”

Midpoint shopping center is just on the edge of the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District, which stretches from NE 50th Street to NE 77th Street. Official designation for the district came in 2006, after years of work and persuasion in order to save the so-called Miami Modern architecture, which defines the area. Attempts to push the district north to include both the 1954-built plaza and 8000 Biscayne faltered, faced, as it was, by opposition from the plaza’s then owners, Green-East Ltd. #2, and others.

Glasshaus_3At first glance Midpoint may not seem like anything special. But with its odd pedestrian tubes and interior parking, it has a story to tell. It was designed by then University of Miami School of Architecture Dean Robert Fitch Smith, who crafted it as a nod to America’s growing love affair with the auto.

Meanwhile, the Admiral Vee, built in 1957, was the namesake of a Belmont Stakes contender who was himself a relative of legendary racer Man o’ War. The motel was reportedly designed by Maurice Weintraub and was erected just as racing became a rage in Miami. Indeed, the popularity of the plaza was in part due to its location on 79th Street, giving visitors and motel guests a straight shot to both the beach and Hialeah Park Racetrack.

The Admiral Vee passed through several iterations before Michel bought it in 1995 for $350,000, fixing up the building and resurrecting the studio and pool area.

Meanwhile, things began looking up for Biscayne Plaza, bought by Global Fund Investments and MMG Equity Partners for $12 million in 2013. While the plaza’s clientele draws primarily from the nearby working-class neighborhoods, the addition of a CVS drugstore, designed to fit in with MiMo architecture, and a YouFit fitness club are bringing in new customers as well.

Yet it’s far cry from what the former owners once had in mind. Green-East seriously pursued schemes to transform the plaza into a mixed-use high-rise development, which would probably have meant significantly changing, if not destroying, much of its MiMo character. But in a Great Recession irony, the commercial real estate market collapse meant a reprieve for the plaza, which drowsed along until Global Funds came a-courting.

Still, the day will eventually come when it’s time to re-imagine the plaza, says Doron Valero, Global Funds managing partner.

Glasshaus_4“We all recognize this is at the causeway [to Miami Beach], and that 79th and Biscayne is a big intersection,” Valero notes. Miami will continue revitalizing urban development, and that would include the plaza. “Eventually, the best use will not be only retail,” he adds. “One day we will start to plan on how to use these 16 acres in the best way for the city, the neighborhood, and us, and it will include live, work, and play.”

Valero also says he’d be happy to join forces with Michel to include the Glasshaus, if that time should come.

Meanwhile, Michel may have more pressing issues on his mind. He is president and chairman of the board of Larkin Community Hospital, which a few years ago acquired the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. That facility is currently the subject of civil lawsuits and a criminal investigation after 14 residents died during and after Hurricane Irma.

Back in Miami, there have not been any recent attempts to have 8000 Biscayne designated as historic, according to Warren Adams, historic preservation officer with the City of Miami Planning Department.

Yet the building’s deterioration is being noticed. “We would not like to see anything else demolished -- or neglected so that it has to be demolished,” says MiMo Biscayne Association’s Cepeda, who underscores that the association would be pleased to work with other stakeholders to give the old Admiral Vee the happy ending of a new beginning.

 

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