THE OLD KING COLE AND OTHER “LOST” MIAMI BEACH HOTELS: SOME WOLFSONIAN HIGHLIGHTS
This past Saturday, January 17th, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by local historian Carolyn Klepser held at the Art Deco Museum as part of the Art Deco Weekend festivities. Although many of Miami Beach’s Art Deco architectural treasures were saved through the efforts of Barbara Baer Capitman (1920-1990) and other like-minded preservationists, Ms. Klepser has recently published with The History Press a book titled: Lost Miami Beach. This book, and her slide show lecture-presentation on the 17th, focus on the earlier mansions, houses, hotels, and other Beaux Arts, Spanish-influence, and Mediterranean style buildings that were not so fortunate in ducking the wrecking ball.
One of the hotels briefly mentioned in the lecture was the King Cole. As we have a rare publicity photograph album of that amazing hotel, I thought that I would devote today’s post to disseminating a few more images of it, and a few of the other grand hotels that, alas, are no longer with us….
Although John Stiles Collins (1837-1928) had already cleared some of the mangrove swamps originally covering the barrier island in developing its agricultural potential, the island that was to become Miami Beach was undergoing another transformation in the nineteen-teens and -twenties.
IMAGE COURTESY OF THE MIAMI BEACH CITY HALL ARCHIVE
Carl G. Fisher (1874-1939), the real estate developer who helped finance Collin’s stalled bridge to connect the island to mainland Miami, had by this time bought up a great deal of property and begun to plant polo fields, clay tennis courts, and golf courses adjacent to a menagerie of new luxury hotels as part of his plan to re-envision Miami Beach as a winter playground for the well-to-do.
Between 1916 and 1919, Fisher had financed the construction of the Lincoln Hotel, and in January 1921 had opened the grand Flamingo Hotel and even managed to woo President Coolidge to stay there overnight.
Fisher had afterwards commissioned the architectural firm of Schultze & Weaver to build in 1924 the Nautilus Hotel.
This luxurious hotel was designed in the Mediterranean style, and included a number of Spanish decorative elements, including a baroque entrance, a curved parapet, and twin towers.
Never one to rest on his laurels, the following year Fisher hired architects Kiehnel & Elliott to build another Mediterranean-style resort hotel on the barrier island.
Completed in 1925, the three-story, 60 guest room King Cole hotel was built on the southern bank of Lake Surprise midway between Biscayne Bay and the Ocean.
An advertisement dating from the year it opened boasted that the hotel afforded “the finest of accommodations to a select clientele of approximately one hundred and fifty guests,” during the January to April winter season.
Another brochure from the period described the newest Fisher hotel as: “A distinctively superior hotel in the Spanish mode…on the edge of the new 18-hole La Gorce golf course and Nautilus polo fields…convenient contact beaches, hotels, clubs and sport centers…every room with bath…delightful roof garden, spacious verandas, beautiful dining room and lounge…clay tennis courts…making The King Cole a most popular winter home.”
Although the architecture was decidedly Spanish in influence, the interior paid tribute to the legend of Old King Cole with large oil paintings by Howard Hilder adorning the lounge.
The “rustic” dining room, was designed to evoke a nostalgia for the Middle Ages with its eleventh-century heraldic decoration.
Medieval motifs were also in evidence in other public spaces, while the guest bedrooms were tastefully decorated in a more modern style.
As noted in Carolyn Klepser’s lecture and book, during the Second World War, both the Nautilus and the King Cole hotels were temporarily converted into military hospitals; while the King Cole housed the Miami Heart Institute, the original building was torn down in August 1965.