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Designed by Morris Lapidus, The Americana's Architectural Pedigree
 Could Not Save it from Implosion; Once a Jewel in
 Miami Beach's Heyday
By Luisa Yanez, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 18, 2007 - John F. Kennedy slept there in the final week of his life.

Frank Sinatra and his "rat pack" -- Dean, Sammy, Joey, and Peter -- held court at its Carnival Supper Club.

And there were the hundreds of thousands of tourists, who strolled through the Sheraton Bal Harbour hotel's majestic and mosaic lobby during its half-century existence.

Come Sunday, it all becomes part of the past. The hotel, which opened to the public in 1956 as the Americana, will come tumbling down.

The planned demolition of the 645-room hotel with its unique gardens and passageways, will take only seconds and will clear the way for an even more ritzy 350-unit condominium and a 250-unit "ultra luxury" St. Regis Hotel owned by Miami's Related Group and Starwood Hotel & Resorts, which had kept the Sheraton name.

For Miami-Dade, the hotel at 9701 Collins Avenue marks yet another loss on the local architectural landscape.

Designed by famed architect Morris Lapidus as part of his trilogy of hotels on Collins Avenue -- The Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc were his other two creations -- the Americana was an early showcase hotel for the Tisch family, which owns the Loews hotel empire.

"The Americana was a jewel in the Beach's heyday, which stretches from the late 1940s to the early 1960s," local historian Paul George said. "When you entered the hotel, you knew it was a special place," George said. "But for me, it represents the discovery of tourist of the north end of the Beach, something that happened after Word War II."

The Americana opened its doors in 1956, the same year Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, actress Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco and Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House.

Bal Harbour and Miami Beach were considered America's Riviera, a magnet for the era's celebrities and high society -- and the hotel was one of the most glamorous resorts in South Florida.

As one of Miami-Dade's few large union hotels, the Americana hosted three nationally televised AFL-CIO constitutional conventions during the 1960s and '70s that featured Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

Kennedy, in fact, stayed at the hotel four days before his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

In the end, not even the hotel's historic past or architectural pedigree could save it from an implosion. Although it was a Lapidus creation, it underwent extensive renovations and make-overs -- and renamed the Sheraton Bal Harbour in 1980.

Today, even preservationists agree there was little of the Lapidus touch -- curves and angles -- to win it a historical designation, sealing its fate.

Controlled Demolition of Baltimore, which recently knocked down the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas and the Everglades Hotel in downtown Miami in 2005, will do the honors.

"The buildings are loaded up," Mark Loizeaux, company president said Friday. "It should be another perfect job."

A combination of dynamite and the more powerful linear-shaped charges have already been strategically placed in the three structures to be knocked down -- two towers, one 17 and the other 12-stories and both made of concrete, and an addition built of steel that will require the stronger hit, Loizeaux said. At 7 a.m., Sunday, the first explosion will be set off.

Nicole Lewis, spokeswoman for the owners, warns those thinking of getting up early to watch the implosion may be disappointed with the view. "The streets and beach will be closed to 96th Street," she said.

The best place to watch may be from the sand, between 91st and 95th streets. Bal Harbour Shops across the street from the hotel will not be open to the public.

Traffic northbound on Collins Avenue will be redirected westbound on 96th Street through Bay Harbor Islands. Vehicles traveling south on Collins Avenue will be redirected north at 108th Street. Collins Avenue will be closed for about 30-45 minutes. Residents of nearby condos, like the Balmoral and Majestic, have been told to close their windows, put up shutters and turn off air conditioners to avoid drawing in dust. Loizeaux said the building will be hosed down before the blast to decrease the dust cloud.

For George, it's a sad day. "There are so few of these hotels left and still we have no system in place to try to rescue them."


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