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Discover the style of The Balfour Hotel Miami Beach’s South Beach architecture. Designed in 1940, it exudes Miami Beach style in the South of Fifth neighborhood and the Art Deco District.

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The Balfour Hotel Miami Beach, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2023, dates back to 1940.

Located along the famous Ocean Drive, The Balfour Hotel Miami Beach has offered guests a truly memorable vacation experience for close to a century. Its history is quite extensive, too, harkening back to an era when Miami Beach itself was rapidly becoming one of America’s best holiday destinations. The hotel was specifically among the many beachside getaways constructed throughout the city before World War II. Thanks to the tireless promotional work of real estate developer Carl Fisher, Miami Beach cultivated a considerable reputation for its azure shoreline and tranquil climate. As such, dozens of hoteliers flocked to the region to create their own fantastic hotels and resorts that could cater to the growing number of tourists allured by the local environment. The Balfour Hotel Miami Beach debuted toward the end of this massive period of construction, originally opening its doors as the “Lord Balfour Hotel” in 1940. Renowned Croatian architect Anton Skislewicz oversaw the building’s design, having crafted many other outstanding structures throughout Miami Beach around the same time. (A graduate of Columbia University, Skislewicz had actually moved to the city due to the numerous building projects that were initially available at the end of the 1920s.)

Skislewicz used Art Deco architectural motifs to craft the building’s gorgeous appearance, believing their sleek, modern forms to accurately encapsulate the cultural milieu of 20th-century America. But unlike his colleagues, he also wanted the design to feature an element of functionality. Skislewicz thus built the hotel around an innovative u-shaped foundation that ensured all the guestrooms would have equally attractive views. Furthermore, the gorgeous courtyard that the unique layout made doubled as a popular public meeting space right in the heart of the hotel! In the years that followed, the Lord Balfour Hotel continued to be one of the most popular places to stay in Miami Beach. Its wonderful amenities and fantastic location within the city’s South of Fifth neighborhood attracted countless guests for generations. Future owners endeavored greatly to protect Skislewicz’s amazing Art Deco designs, too—a practice that has remained intact well into the present. Indeed, the current proprietors completed an extensive series of renovations in 2021, which brilliantly reinvigorated every historical facet of the building’s architecture. Now known as the “The Balfour Hotel Miami Beach,” this future of this fantastic historic hotel has never looked brighter.
  • About the Location +

    The history of Miami Beach is a rather spectacular tale, starting with a failed coconut farm. Long considered to be a marshland of little value to most real estate moguls, land speculator Henry B. Lum decided to take a chance on developing the sand bar opposite Miami. He specifically noticed a few palmtrees growing along its shoreline and believed it to be the perfect place to cultivate coconuts. In 1881, Lum gathered a group of Northeastern investors to help him start his nascent coconut farm. Lum and his associates quickly attempted to plant some 334,000 palm trees in an orderly manner, although they soon gave up and planted them in an increasingly irregular pattern. His team had even resorted to throwing coconuts into the water and allowing them to drift aimlessly back to shore to plant the trees. But the combined effects of the coconut’s long germination period and the state’s inhospitable climate for largescale coconut horticulture quickly made Lum’s project a financial calamity. By 1889, Lum and his family—who had moved out to the sand bar—decided to abandon the whole venture.

    One of Lum’s partners—John S. Collins—had not given up on the endeavor. In 1896, Collins left his native New Jersey for Florida in order to revive Lum’s coconut reserve. An avid horticulturalist, he was committed to salvaging Lum’s project in some way. Upon arriving at the sand bar, Collins noticed something peculiar about the spot. Pine and palmetto trees had sprung up not too far from Lum’s former coconut farm, revealing that the area had access to a wealth of freshwater. He quickly realized that citrus plants would thrive at the location and spent the next ten years acquiring the land for such an endeavor. Collins dreamed of growing avocados, as its market in the United States was virtually non-existent. But a serious logistical problem soon emerged, making it incredibly difficult for the New Jerseyite to transport his produce across Biscayne Bay. To resolve the situation, Collins immediately began developing a massive wooden bridge. Unfortunately, he exhausted all his available money right before the bridge was completed.

    The mammoth construction project was rescued by Carl Fisher, a prominent vehicle parts merchant from Mississippi who had relocated to Miami upon the suggestion of a friend. Impressed with Collins’ tenacity, Fisher loaned the aging farmer some $50,000 to finally finish the bridge. But Fisher had an ulterior motive for helping Collins. Taking notice of the sand bar’s tranquil location along the Atlantic coast, he believed that it was a brilliant spot to develop as a luxurious vacation community. Fisher formed the Alton Beach Realty Company, which subsequently flattened the western half of the sand bar that Collins had yet to plant. Some of the earliest roads appeared, giving what would become Miami Beach its first street grid. By 1915, Fisher had opened a spectacular hotel, as well as two accompanying office buildings and a personal villa that cost him $65,000 to construct. The city of Miami Beach was thus born.

    Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Carl Fisher continued to champion the development of Miami Beach as a prestigious vacation getaway. A master publicist, he successfully advertised the serene qualities of the area to a national audience. Fisher even sponsored the creation of the Miami Beach News Bureau to push stories of the area’s tropical appeal. Soon enough, countless hoteliers flocked to the region to open their own establishments along Miami Beach’s gorgeous coastline. They, in turn, hired renowned architects to design their impressive venues, such as Henry Hohauser, L. Murray Dixon, and Albert Anis. Some of the earliest structures reflected Mediterranean architectural influences, although they gradually gave way to the sleeker Art Deco design principles that swept through the nation at the height of the Roaring Twenties. At first, the city sported a variety of massive hotels. But those eventually were joined by smaller, more durable stucco buildings in response to both the Great Miami Hurricane and the financial hardships of the Great Depression.

    In just a matter of decades, Miami Beach quickly rivaled its sibling city across the bay in both prominence and luxury. America’s entrance into World War II briefly stopped Miami Beach’s initial wave of commercial development, though. The war also marked the end of the proliferation of Art Deco architecture throughout the city, signaling the beginning of a new era in Miami Beach. But when droves of American G.I.s returned home en masse in the late 1940s, the local travel industry surged once more. The neighborhood of South Beach especially became the center of attention among local travelers, making it the most exclusive district within the city. Miami Beach has since continued to be one of the nation’s most famous holiday destinations. It has access to stretches of warm white sand and azure water. Celebrities frequent the city while on vacation, too, and some of the finest restaurants and storefronts call the area home. Even some of the country’s most noteworthy cultural landmarks reside inside Miami Beach, including The Bass, the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, and the Miami Art Deco District.

  • About the Architecture +

    The Balfour Hotel Miami Beach stands today as a terrific example of authentic Art Deco architecture. Art Deco itself is still one of the most famous architectural styles in the world. The form originally emerged from an architectural desire to break with past precedents. Instead, professionals within the field aspired to forge their own design principles based on modern concepts. More importantly, they hoped that their ideas would better reflect the technological advances of the modern age. As such, historians today often consider Art Deco to be a part of the much wider proliferation of cultural “Modernism” that first appeared at the dawn of the 20th century. Art Deco as a style itself first became popular in 1922, when Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen submitted the first blueprints to feature the form for contest to develop the headquarters of the Chicago Tribune. While his vision did not win over the judges, they were widely publicized, nonetheless. Architects in both North America and Europe soon raced to copy his form in their own unique ways, giving birth to the Art Deco movement. In fact, the international embrace of Art Deco had risen so quickly that it was even the central theme of the renowned Exposition des Art Decoratifs in Paris a few years later. Professionals the world over fell in love with Art Deco’s sleek, linear appearance, defined by a series of sharp setbacks. They also adored its geometric decorations that featured such motifs as chevrons and zigzags. But despite the deep admiration people felt toward Art Deco, interest in the style gradually dissipated throughout the mid-20th century. Many examples of Art Deco architecture survive today though, with some of the best located in such places as New York City, Chicago, and, of course, Miami Beach.