In 1922, the French-born Cincinnati resident Henri Levy purchased land from Carl Fisher—who, because of Levy’s Jewish heritage, would not partner with him in the development venture—in the northern reaches of Miami Beach. He named it Normandy Isle after his homeland in France. The project’s houses and apartment buildings were planned around three main components: a central business district punctuated by a Mediterranean-style fountain along 71st Street, a golf course in the northern portion of the property, and a grand hotel on the southeastern tip of the site. Three years after the real estate crash of 1926, Levy partnered with the federal government to join Normandy Isle to 79th Street on the mainland on what would be known as the 79th Street Causeway.
Two decades after Levy purchased the land, the Northshore Hotel opened on the site to “restricted clientele” (i.e., not black, not Jewish). The Mediterranean-style building seemed to struggle during the 1940s and 1950s as it underwent numerous remodeling and modifications and even a name change to the King Cole-Northshore Hotel. By 1961 the hotel was sold to Chicago-based developers Robert Blum and Robert Rautbord, who planned to tear down the existing hotel and construct a new apartment building known as the King Cole Apartments and Yacht Basin.
The plan of the new cast-in-place concrete building was laid out in a boomerang shape, with two straight bars of the building connected by an elegant curved central portion. Together the curved plan of the building and the curved edge of the island cup elaborate gardens, fountains, and a large swimming pool set over a raised parking garage. The yacht basin and a series of efficiency apartments called Lanais line the edge of the property on the bay. The entrance on the landside is notable for its green stone walls that run from the exterior of the building into the lobby and for the four monumental Nervi-esque concrete columns that form a continuous porte-cochere.
The most remarkable feature of the design is the outstanding glass facade that completely envelopes the building on all sides. Designed as a series of horizontal storefront elements resting on exposed concrete floor slabs, the facade features vertical aluminum “H-column mullions” typical of Miesian or Chicago-style buildings, which create a delicate play of light and shade across the building and provide additional structural stiffening for the walls. The building envelope hosts a pattern of single-hung windows, solid and translucent panels, sliding doors, and balconies. Along the bay side, the balconies form continuous lines that emphasize the horizontality of the building. On the land side, the balconies punctuate the facade and provide a rhythmic counterpoint to the taut continuity of the glass.
The new building was an immediate success. Between 1963 and 1969, its large restaurant, club, and bar that opened onto the yacht basin became a favorite hang-out of the Brat Pack and other Miami Beach glitterati. By 1970, the building was being advertised as an “apartel,” a new residential building type that combined the best of an apartment building and a hotel by offering short-term rentals, including airport pickup, car rental with the room, and maid service. In 1974, with the rise of the condominium ownership model in Aventura and elsewhere, what was then known as Arlen’s King Cole (for owner Arlen Properties), was transformed into its current state as the King Cole Condominium.
Nepomechie, Marilys. Building Paradise: An Architectural Guide to the Magic City.Miami, FL: AIA Miami, 2010.
Shulman, Allan T., et al. Miami Architecture: An AIA Guide Featuring Downtown, the Beaches, and Coconut Grove. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2010.