Battle Lines Drawn Over Old 'Miami Herald' Building
The Miami Herald's old headquarters on Biscayne Bay have been sold to a developer who wants to tear it down. Historic preservationists are working to stop the demolition, saying the hulking, boxy building is a prime example of Miami modernism architecture from the 50's and 60's. Demolition proponents — which include some prominent architects — say it's a clumsy building with no sense of style and not a "MiMo" design worth saving.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Now to Miami and a debate over one of the city's most recognizable buildings. It houses the Miami Herald. And for nearly 50 years, it has stood as a testament to the newspaper's importance. But now, the Herald is moving to smaller offices, a sign of the times, as papers cut back.
And Miami is deciding whether to tear the building down or declare it a historic landmark, as we hear from NPR's Greg Allen.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Every city, including Miami, has its beloved buildings. The Miami Herald building is not one of them.
ERIC KURZMAN: I don't have much appreciation for it.
ALLEN: Eric Kurzman owns a gallery and design firm not far the Miami Herald.
KURZMAN: I don't like the small windows, the boxiness of it. But my biggest issue is just the shape.
ALLEN: Since it was completed in 1963 on a prime piece of land overlooking Biscayne Bay, the structure has dominated the north end of the city's waterfront. It's a large rectangular structure, with the emphasis on large. Seven stories high, it covers an entire city block with space for offices, a printing plant, and room on the roof for six helicopters to land simultaneously.
Today, most of it is wasted space; an unpleasant reminder of the decline of the newspaper business and the downsizing of the Herald staff. The building has been sold and the new owner, a Malaysian developer, wants to tear it down.
Becky Roper Matkov says that would be a mistake.
BECKY ROPER MATKOV: Lots of people, years from now - if this building is totally leveled - will say, how did we let that building be destroyed?
ALLEN: Roper Matkov is the head of Dade Heritage Trust, a nonprofit group that's seeking a historic designation for the building that would prevent its demolition. She's used to fighting uphill battles to preserve historic buildings, but admits this battle is tougher than most.
On the sidewalk outside of the Herald, Roper Matkov points out elements of the building's midcentury modern design. There are enough tropical elements, she says, to identify it as Miami Modern, a distinctive style used in the design of the Fontainebleau, the Eden Rock, and other Miami Beach landmark hotels built in the '50s and '60s.
You can find some of that flamboyance and interesting design in the Miami Herald building, Roper Matkov says, only if you take the time to look.
MATKOV: Most people have only seen the Herald from blocks away. Or else they're driving too fast on the causeway. But once you focus on it, it really does have a lot of appeal.
ALLEN: On a walking tour around the building, she points out what she considers the high points: the metal sun grills that shade the windows, the mosaic tile detailing. Also, the dramatic porte-cochere, a three-story tall covering over the front drive.
MATKOV: And, of course, in that era of the '50s and '60s, you had this great canopy welcoming people to drive up a dramatic entry.
ALLEN: Dade Heritage Trust spent months preparing a study of the Herald building and presented it recently to Miami's Historic Preservation Board. It describes the design and chronicles the importance of the Herald and Knight Ritter in shaping the city's modern history. The board wasn't won over but agreed to consider the proposal.
The developer's architects, also at the meeting, called the Herald building an example of the dark ages in U.S. urban planning. It's not surprising that a developer would oppose historic designation. Less expected was the opposition to preserving the Herald building that came from other important voices in the neighborhood.
MIKE EIDSON: The Miami Herald building, to us, was always a misplaced factory in the middle of what we were tying to build, which was a vibrant cultural corridor.
ALLEN: Mike Eidson is chairman of one of the Herald building's closest neighbors, the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Since the Arsht Center was completed several years ago, this part of town - once desolate at night - has begun a transformation. A Spanish company is planning a big new commercial and residential development. A new art museum and a science museum are currently under construction.
Eidson says he and others involved in revitalizing the neighborhood always assumed the Herald building would eventually be torn down, and be replaced by a structure that would give the public access to the bay. Eidson calls himself a preservationist, but says the Herald building is not worth saving.
EIDSON: This was built in the '60s. We don't feel this like this makes an important architectural statement. If you stand back and look at it, it looks kind of like a Kmart. It's just a big square box.
ALLEN: That's part of the challenge of preservation in Miami - deciding what to save in a young city where history and the architectural legacy is measured not in centuries, but in decades.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.