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Fate of the 68-year Old Collins Park Hotel on
 Miami Beach Seems Clear, Demolition

By Elinor J. Brecher, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Feb. 24, 2007 - Buddy, the state fire marshall's sniffer dog, was the only investigator eager to get inside the charred hulk of the old Collins Park Hotel Friday.

Everyone else -- including the 9-year-old yellow Labrador's handler, Det. Greg Gilkey -- was worried about the stability of the three-story building at 2000 Park Ave. that was gutted by a fire that began about 1 p.m. Thursday.

"We have to make the building safe," said Lt. Joe Schwartz of the state fire marshal's office. "That's our trick for today."

It took 33 Miami Beach firefighters in four engines, two ladder trucks and three fire-rescue vehicles -- with backup from the city of Miami -- until 7 p.m. Thursday to get the fire under control, said Javier Otero, Miami Beach Fire Department spokesman.

FATE SEEMS CLEAR

The fate of the hotel -- where George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez shot the 1998 action thriller Out of Sight -- seems clear.

Jaime Ruiz, who manages the Plymouth Hotel, a residence for New World Symphony musicians, said police advised him that residents should move their cars from the block.

"They're planning to demolish the building," he said.

The city hasn't issued a demolition permit, but authorities fear a collapse.

Otero estimated that temperatures inside had reached 1,200 degrees. He said that one firefighter sustained a minor neck injury.

Otero figured that department investigators probably won't wrap up at the vacant historic building -- designed by Art Deco architect Henry Hohauser -- until Monday.

Lillian Deuso, longtime desk clerk at the Barclay Hotel, a half-block south, has her own ideas about what happened.

HOMELESS PEOPLE

The neighborhood has many derelict buildings slated for demolition or, in the case of the Collins Park, redevelopment.

"Homeless people come in all these places," said Deuso. "The police take them out but the minute the cops go out, they go right back in."

When Rabbi Eliot Pearlson of Temple Menorah in Normandy Isle, heard about the fire, he thought: "Oy. It's the end of an era. . . . I shampooed every rug in that hotel every summer for five years."

His late father Ben was an upstate New York dairy farmer who moved his family to Miami Beach in 1963.

He and Eliot's older brother David bought the place in 1985, adding it to the family's small empire of Miami Beach hotels.

They include the Parada Hotel at 14th Street and Euclid, and later the Greystone, Adams, Tyler, Lord Charles and Gamshire hotels, all between 20th and 21st streets, Park and Washington avenues.

David, 54, once a Miami Beach commissioner, called the Collins Park "an architectural gem, one of the Top 10 Art Deco buildings in the city."

CLARK GABLE

A poster once hung in the lobby reading: "Clark Gable swept here." The Hollywood star had been billetted at the hotel during World War II, and mopped the floors.

Eliot, 47, said it was used in the 1995 movie Bad Boys. "They shot up the lobby."

"So much love and attention and caring went into [the Collins Park]," lamented Ben's widow, Sylvia Pearlson of Pembroke Pines.

Ben died in 1989. In 2001, the family sold the Collins Park and four other properties to G-2 Development, which planned to combine them into a single convention hotel.

The plan, which has proceeded in fits and starts, is on hold because of the fire.

FORMER VISITORS

The fire made David Pearlson -- now a Massachusetts developer -- nostalgic about the retired New York Jews who returned to the hotel year after year.

"I miss their values, their character, their integrity," he said. "If the rent was due on the first, they had to pay it on the 28th . . . It was like a family."

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Miami Herald

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