Demolition plan looms over mosaic murals from 70s in South Beach

The giant, mosaic murals on the side of the old Wells Fargo building at the corner of Lincoln Road and Alton Road depict scenes from American history.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Giant murals on the side of the old Wells Fargo building, at the centric corner of Lincoln Road and Alton Road in South Beach, depict scenes of U.S. history.

An artist’s intricate work, exemplary of an ancient technique, used tiny pieces to create whole images on the building’s walls — and it could all be lost during demolition.

“These are magnificent murals - mosaics,” Artist Emilio Romero said. “They were done in 1971 by Enzo Gallo.”

Gallo’s son, Dr. Julio Gallo, said the murals depict the American Dream and were created for the international community of Miami Beach. His body of work includes several monumental sculptures. His Christopher Columbus sculpture is at Port Everglades and stained-glass windows at Temple Beth-David in Miami.

”My dad was Italian and he moved to Cuba, and he immigrated to this country,” Dr. Julio Gallo said.

Enzo Gallo was born in Padula, Italy. His parents were marble artisans. He moved to Havana to continue his studies in architectural engineering, but he ended up studying fine art instead. He also worked in Carrara, Italy. When Fidel Castro took power, he moved from Havana to Miami. He eventually opened his own marble floor-and-fixture business and art studio in Broward County.

Historic Byzantine mosaics inspired him for most of his career. On Monday afternoon, chain-link fencing surrounded the abandoned building where his art has been on display to the public for more than half a century in Miami Beach.

“When you see the mosaics, they are different manifestations of the American flag and how it persevered through American history,” Dr. Gallo said about the art in South Beach.

Officials said the building will be demolished to make way for new mixed-use development. Local 10 first reported the fate of the murals in 2015, when the demolition plan was confirmed. At the time, a representative from development company Crescent Heights said there was an interest in preserving the mosaics.

”Since then, there’s been no action,” said Daniel Ciraldo, Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League later adding, “Look, we try our best but this is a non-historic district, it’s a building we’ve tried for advocacy for years.”

The building itself is not historic, but preservationists like Ciraldo believe the 1971 artwork does have value. A spokesperson for the City of Miami Beach told Local 10 that there is no date yet on the demolition.

Asbestos abatement still has to be completed.

”When there’s a will there’s a way, and our hope is that through public outreach and outcry that someone will come forward with the knowledge of what to do,” Ciraldo said.

”We know we need to destroy some things in order to advance, but don’t destroy creativity or wonderful murals,” Romero said.

Local 10 News reached out to CitizenM Hotels, which plans to build a hotel on the property.


About the Author:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.