“Her reputation precedes her. Part style icon, part boutique hotel, part tropical oasis, she’s in a class all her own. And rumor has it she’s back and poised to redefine her past as a legendary MIMO gem on historic Biscayne Boulevard. She is The Vagabond Hotel. And she’s waiting for you”
The eagerly awaited re-opening of The Vagabond Hotel finally happened this week. Located at 7301 Biscayne Blvd, the MiMo-style motel was designed by Robert Swartburg, architect of the famed Delano in South Beach, and originally opened in 1953 in what is now known as the Miami Modern Biscayne Boulevard Historical District.
After Interstate 95 was completed in the late 1960′s, the area was bypassed by tourists and The Vagabond fell into disrepair. Through the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Vagabond hosted a variety of short-lived commercial ventures including a farmer’s market. In 2003, the motel was designated a historic landmark, and in 2006, the City of Miami established the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historical District. This prompted a former owner to attempt restoration – gutting parts while saving many of its original finishes, including terrazzo floors and Dade County pine ceilings – before losing it all to foreclosure. The former historic building sat empty until Avra Jain took a chance on the iconic motel.
“We’ve had so much community support, it’s been great,” said developer Avra Jain, who purchased the property for $1.9 million. “It’s a good place to be because of the neighborhoods.” Much of the 5 million dollars needed for the restoration was raised through a previously untried “transfer of development rights” (TDR) program established by the Miami 21 zoning code in 2010. According to the Miami Herald, “the program allows owners to sell “air rights’’ — meaning development rights they can’t use because of historic designation — to developers looking to build bigger in high-rise districts such as downtown. The revenue, which can amount to millions of dollars, must then be plowed back in full into renovation of the historic property.”
The November 2013 Miami Herald article also describes some of the extensive restoration:
The Vagabond’s multi-million-dollar makeover, overseen by architect Dean Lewis, will restore the kitsch-edged 1950s verve that made the motel the gem of the boulevard in its heyday…
Its glorious neon signs are being restored. The mermaid mosaic at the bottom of the swimming pool has been faithfully reproduced using tiles brought from France. A new open-air Cabana Bar will stand by the pool. The interiors will be done up in mid-20th Century Modern style by designer Stephane Dupoux.
Original wood salvaged from the second story has been used to restore the ground floor, and a restaurant (set to open in October) with a sunken bar will be located in the former lobby area. Outside, the restored fountain with its sirens and dolphins again beckon travelers from Biscayne Boulevard, while the classic 1950′s old-fashioned futuristic canopy will shade the entrance. In addition to the pool area, there will be an outdoor dining area complete with deck games. There will also be a retractable screen behind the pool-side bandstand for outdoor movies.
“Some might call it fate. Some might call it love. Whatever you call it, when it’s all over, you’ll still be smitten. Yes, she’ll be the one that got away. But, hey, better to have loved and lost, right? Besides, you’ll always have Miami.”