Commission to review 'McMansion'

Real Housewives of Miami's Lisa Hochstein, husband ask to demolish 1925 Star Island mansion

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter
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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Plastic Surgeon Dr. Leonard Hochstein and his reality television personality wife Lisa want to demolish an iconic 1925 mansion on Miami Beach's famed Star Island to construct a 2-story home preservationist Daniel Ciraldo dubs a "McMansion".

The matter is on the agenda Tuesday afternoon for Miami Beach's Design Review Board.

READ: Design Review Board memo concerning 42 Star Island Drive

The "Real Housewives of Miami" couple first brought this issue to city leaders in December and according to a staff report, about a month later "submitted plans entitled 'Hotchstein Residence,' as prepared by Kobi Karp Architecture." They bought the 49,511 square foot lot in a foreclosure proceeding.

Hotchstein wants to tear it down to construct in its place a 2-story home with a guest house on the front portion of the property and a new 2-story guest house and/or gym at the rear of the property.

The staff report describes the historic mansion this way: "The existing house was constructed in 1925 and designed by architects Degarmo & Varney. It is unfortunate that this classic three (3) story 1925 Miami Beach grand residence, designed principally by Walter Degarmo (b. 1876), one of the most distinguished architects to practice in South Florida, will be lost rather than retained and properly restructured to meet structural deficiencies, and restored to its exceptional original design. As a reference to the stature of Walter Degarmo's design work, Mr. Degarmo designed the Community Church, located at 500 Lincoln Road, for Carl Fisher in 1921."

That said, the long report ends with them recommending that the board accept Hotchein's application with  11 extensive conditions. You can read those by clicking on the report here.

The Hotchsteins apparently find the 1925 home too old fashioned. The home has a linear so-called "rail road-type" floor plan which means you enter one room from another, "only one room in depth (in order to maintain through ventilation in the decades before the advent of air conditioning), the architects found it unrealistic to satisfactorily address the lifestyle requirements of the modern family," the staff report says.

"The retention of the wonderful existing Walter Degarmo-designed structure would require a home owner whose lifestyle could match the restoration of the home to its original unique floor plan, its distinctive architectural design, and its simple grandeur. The Design Review Board does not have the regulator authority, however, to require this approach."

Apparently the Hotcheins also hired an expert to say the building is structurally unsound. Based on some of the samples collected by the professional engineer they contracted, the home should have tumbled just years after being built in 1925, a stunning finding the staff report notes with a bit of humor. 

On January 8, 2013 Reymundo J. Miranda, P.E. submitted a report entitled "Additional report with Chloride Test Results. While staff and the Board have not received a structural evaluation report undertaken in this manner before, which attempts to analyze the anticipated life expectancy of concrete in the existing structure based upon chloride tests, staff is not in a professional position to challenge the conclusions reached by the professional engineer. Staff would note with surprise, however, that the anticipated  life expectancy from the samples taken is estimated to be between 1 2/3 years to 65 2/3 years, from the date of original construction. Based upon this analysis, it would seem amazing that the entire structure, which is 88 years old, would not have collapsed two or more decades ago."

Although the staff report does not include renderings of the Hotcheins' vision for the waterfront property, it can be inferred from the print description that the aesthetic is a bit, shall we say, gaudy, as compared to the classic architecture of the existing home. Under "Staff Analysis," the report explains how Hotchstein has worked with staff, "to reorganize the site plan to be more consistent with the nature of the Neoclassically-influenced architectural style selected for the main residence and accessory buildings."

This included rotating the proposed structures to enhance views and compliment the wedge-shaped lot.

"With regards to revisions to the architecture, the floor plans for the three structures have remained largely the same as previously presented to the Board, however, at staffs' request, the intensity of ornamentation has been somewhat reduced for the main residence in order to allow the major architectural elements of the columns and balustrades to more gracefully carry the architectural style selected. Additionally, the height of the accessory buildings needs to be reduced to improve their classical proportions as well as allow them to be visually subservient to the main residence."

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