History-rich Edison A Stately Reminder Of Deco Days

By Dan Moffett
01-27-2002
 

As I walked toward the Edison Hotel, I understood why it has been the friendly sentry of South Beach for close to 70 years.

Standing tall on the corner of 10th Street and Ocean Drive, its strong vertical lines cut a sturdy expression of early Art Deco - before streamlining and neon came into rampant vogue, back when function still mattered more than form.

A good thing because the hotel's function through the years has been remarkable. I entered the lobby and couldn't resist recalling the Edison as it was when Glenn Miller's music and Chesterfield smoke filled the bar.

Built across the street from the city's main beach entrance, the hotel opened in 1935 and immediately became the public gateway to the ocean. When World War II began, it became the gateway to military service for thousands of recruits, including Clark Gable.

The Army took over the
Edison in 1942 and most of the other Miami Beach hotels and apartments. About a half-million Air Corps servicemen stayed in the city during basic training. By war's end, legions of GIs had passed through the Edison's arched verandas.

Today the Edison offers an alternative South Beach experience, drawing old soldiers in American Legion caps into the stereotypical mix of in-line skaters, tank-topped tourists and European fashion freaks.

The hotel had a struggle to survive, however. It fell into disrepair with many of its neighbors in the 1970s and came close to mortal bankruptcy in the '90s. Fate dealt the
Edison another chance in 1996 when partners Steven Levinson and Judith Berson bought the building and began a three-year renovation.

For Berson, a retired vice president of
Broward Community College, the project held special meaning. Her father, Dudley, was one of the Army privates who trained in Miami Beach, staying at the nearby Sheldon Hotel. Berson has filled her office with World War II memorabilia and since 1999 has invited veterans to return to the Edison. Three years ago, she put together her "Sand in Our Boots" reunion at the hotel, and about 100 World War II veterans and their wives returned.

Even more attended a reunion last December, and many non-veterans turned out for a Pearl Harbor Day parade. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks turned loose a wave of patriotism and revived an appreciation of the city's wartime past and those who served the nation.

Today the Edison bustles to an eclectic beat, and I heard it all during my weekend stay - sometimes the sounds of 1940s big bands, sometimes
Miami salsa or DJ hip-hop.

The
Edison has on its patio a Planet Hollywood All-Star Cafe that draws sports fans off the street, and if I'd sat at a table long enough, I would have had a shot at an autograph. Miami Heat coach Pat Riley and some of his players stop by on occasions, and so have Tiger Woods and an assortment of athletes and entertainers.

Most of the 60 rooms have at least a partial ocean view, and my full view was somewhat diminished because the windows can't be opened: No ocean breeze allowed. All rooms have refrigerators, and two penthouse suites have kitchens.

The Edison was built between 1933 and 1935 by Morris Zarrow, a Russian immigrant from Albany, N.Y., who worked as a tailor before turning to construction in
Florida. Zarrow's architect was Henry Hohauser. Often called the father of the Miami Beach Art Deco Design Movement - or the Sultan of Streamline - Hohauser designed more than 300 buildings here.

Berson wrote a 32-page book called The Life and Times of a Deco Dowager that chronicles her hotel's rich history. She says veterans will always receive a special welcome at the
Edison.

They always have, after all.

Weekend Getaways are reviews by The Palm Beach Post staff. Hotels and resorts are reviewed anonymously and all expenses are paid for by The Post.

IF YOU GO

The Edison Hotel, 960 Ocean Drive,
Miami Beach 33139. Call (800) 961-9076.

Accommodations: Winter Rates end May 31: Grand suite $320; junior suite $279; deluxe oceanfront $215; superior $165. Summer rates range from $152 to $290. Ask about Internet specials.

A good place to eat: The Planet Hollywood All-Star Cafe by the pool often offers discounts to hotel guests. Ask for coupons at the front desk.

Directions: Take I-95 south. From I-95, take I-395 east (across MacArthur Causeway) to
Miami Beach. Causeway becomes 5th Street. Continue on 5th Street to Collins Avenue. Turn left (north) on Collins and drive five blocks to 10th St. Turn right on 10th Street. Entrance to the Edison is on your right just before Ocean Drive.

BEST BETS

Cross the street for tourist relief: The city of Miami Beach operates a tourist information center directly across from the Edison Hotel. An impressive array of tacky souvenirs (flamingo ashtrays for $10 and killer alligator post cards for 50 cents), maps and brochures can make even a native Floridian feel like a tourist. Art Deco Walking Tours start here.

Watch a game: If you're ticketless for any major sporting event, odds are you're not shut out. The massive screen in All-Star Cafe on the patio will give you an up-close-and-personal view. And you can dip into the pool at halftime.

Center of the action: The Edison's location is unsurpassed on Ocean Drive. The biggest decision a guest has to make for food or entertainment is whether to turn right or left on exiting the front door. Either way, there's plenty to do - and only a short walk away.

 

The Palm Beach Post