Friday, March 20, 2009

The Landmark Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach

The hotel's historic 1950's Chateau building has retained the signature Lapidus curve that defines the east elevation overlooking the poolscape and the ocean beyond.
by Augustus Mayhew

Built in 1954, the Fontainebleau Hotel's original chateau building remains and after a $1 billion renovation the resort now features 1,500 rooms, new condo towers, eleven restaurants and lounges, a 40,000-square-foot spa and meeting spaces for 3,000 visitors.

Built in 1954, the Fontainebleau Hotel's original chateau building remains and after a $1 billion renovation the resort now features 1,500 rooms, new condo towers, eleven restaurants and lounges, a 40,000-square-foot spa and meeting spaces for 3,000 visitors.
Two months ago the Fontainebleau Hotel, "the most pretentious hotel in the world" according to its architect, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, giving its designer, Morris Lapidus, a level of regard he never enjoyed during his lifetime.

Lapidus, whose autobiography was aptly named, "Too Much is Never Enough," was a Columbia School of Architecture graduate who spent years designing storefronts and retail displays before rendering his masterpiece, the Fontainebleau, a decorative Mid-century Miami Modern (MiMo), ersatz Versailles Provincial, now transformed into today's au courant Viva Las Vegas style.

Following its November red carpet Victoria's Secret-Mariah Carey opening and during Art Basel, I heard grumblings that the hotel's grand opening was less than grand, causing guests to leave with a suitcase full of Fawlty Towers anecdotes.

Nevertheless, during my recent daytime visit the Vida restaurant was jammed, not only every table filled but the food looked sensational, the cabana flat panels were tuned on and guests appeared to be enjoying themselves, the chaise lounges full. Surprisingly, there is more of the original than I expected, and although I tend towards Key Biscayne and Coral Gables more than Miami Beach, the Fontainebleau provides a central Collins Avenue getaway for cold weather escapees, close enough to the all-night South Beach scene yet far enough where you can actually sleep. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lapidus several times, outspoken, irreverent and self-deprecating, and though much of his playful interior visual slapstick is gone, I think he would like the 21st-century Fontainebleau.
When not watching one of the cabana televisions, guest can look at themselves in a new addition with a reflecting glass facade.
Lit by three Swarovski chandeliers, the view looking towards the hotel's entrance across the Bleau Bar's translucent fiber-optic flooring made to make you think you are walking on water .
After shopping, maybe sushi downstairs at Blade before a night out on South Beach.
From the Bleau Bar and main lobby looking south across the new shimmering Lapidus-inspired bowtie floor tiles towards the walkway connecting the hotel with the condo hotel and the condo tower.
The sweeping curved terrazzo walkway from the resort's entrance, connecting the old hotel with the new condo tower. and condo-hotel. The new 37-story condominium must have a view of Las Vegas, where a new $4 billion Fontainebleau Hotel is scheduled to open in 2010.
The grand staircase entrance to the poolscape.
The view from the new arrival area overlooking the pool and the ocean.
Solo Cafe & Patisserie caters to every weakness, offering "iconic pastries."
With its polished bowtie tile floor, the central lobby's reception desk is to the left and the Bleau Bar to the right.
The Fontainebleau's 1950's playful nude fountain tableau is probably too racy to ever be approved today.
The Lapidus "cheese wall" has been preserved along the Collins Avenue facade. A little shopping in the hotel's concourse for just the right resort look.
The hotel's corporate executives pause for a moment of chat on the Fontainebleau lobby's famous Staircase to Nowhere, now transformed into a floating cruise ship gangway floated above a marble planter with bromeliads and mother-in-law tongue plants.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew


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