Star Island mansion recommended for historic preservation

Miami Beach's design review board previously approved mansion for demolition

Courtesy ofWalter DeGarmo Collection, HistoryMiami
Courtesy ofWalter DeGarmo Collection, HistoryMiami

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The city of Miami Beach's historic preservation board recommended 42 Star Island for historic designation Tuesday, but the mansion could still be demolished.

The city's design review board previously approved plans allowing "Real Housewife of Miami" Lisa Hotchstein and her plastic surgeon husband Leonard to demolish the mansion and build a two-story home. The couple argues the mansion is structurally unsafe.

The waterfront mansion built in 1925 is a Miami Beach landmark visible from the McArthur Causeway. The celebrity couple who now own it have called its railroad car style floor plan too old fashioned for the needs of a modern family.

The latest battle ground in the months-long fight by preservationists to save it was Tuesday's Historic Preservation Board meeting.

"Why do you have a historic preservation board if you can't preserve historic houses?" member Jo Manning asked Tuesday.

"What are we doing here if we don't do this?" Board Member David Wieder told his colleagues. "We should preserve it and hold our heads up high that we've done so."

They voted to recommend to the Planning Board that 42 Star Island be designated as historic. The planning board now will meet on the issue and make their recommendation to commissioners.

It was a victory for activists but a pending one. Miami Beach's Design Review Board already approved the Lochsteins' plan to demo it and build a brand new two-story home. The Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) appealed that decision to circuit court.

If the court upholds the Design Review Board's decision, then the preservation process is moot.

That may explain why Lisa Hochstein sounded so confident on Twitter when she posted, "Silly preservationist continue to dog and pony show today about our home. Today will result in no consequence, they love wasting their time."

She may think it is a waste of time but the fight, which has gained national attention, has highlighted Miami Beach's challenges when it comes to historical preservation. The city's mayor has temporarily halted the planning board from issuing demolition permits for homes of architectural significance built before 1942. That stay expires in late November.

The same category of homes are also now the subject of a new proposed ordinance which aims to offer incentive programs to entice homeowners to opt for renovation rather than demolition. The first reading of that ordinance is Wednesday.

Preservationist Daniel Ciraldo equates their quest to save historic single-family homes like the Lochsteins' to the Art Deco preservation movement of the 1970's and 1980's.

"The time is now to strengthen our preservation laws," Ciraldo told Local 10's Christina Vazquez, "and ensure that these beautiful homes that really characterize Miami Beach are saved."

Famed architect Walter DeGarmo designed the home in 1925. DeGarmo was the State of Florida's first registered architect and credited with designing several iconic South Florida structures to include the Douglas Entrance in Coral Gables. He also built Miami's first high-rise hotel, the McAllister, in 1916. DeGarmo died in Coconut Grove in 1952.

History Miami shared with Local 10 two of DeGarmo's original elevation drawings of 42 Star Island, a home that the New York Times even mentioned in a 1933 article about Miami's social scene.