Top 10 Buildings You Should Know in Miami

Written by Lloyd Jackson

Freedom Tower, Miami

By Lloyd Jackson

Number 10 - Freedom Tower
600 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami

Built in 1925 to house the offices and printing plant of the Miami Daily News, formerly the Miami Metropolis, the city’s first newspaper founded in 1896 with the help of Henry Flagler. Designed by New York-based architectural firm Schultze and Weaver, which also created the Roney Plaza in Miami Beach, the Biltmore in Coral Gables, and the Breakers in Palm Beach.

Tri-partite scheme features a three-story base embellished by decorative elements made of pinkdyed cast stone and striated with artificial veining. Above a twelve-story tower sits an elaborate two-story cupola. The design, like that of its local brethren, takes inspiration from the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain.

The newspaper, now defunct, remained in the building until 1957. Five years later, the General Services Administration utilized the structure as the Cuban Refugee Center through 1974; hence the nickname “Freedom Tower.” Developers the Terra Group acquired the building and proposed attaching it to an immense condominium, to the chagrin of many preservationists. In December of 2005, the company donated the Tower to Miami Dade College but still plans to build a 62-story building behind it.

The Barnacle in Coconut Grove

Number 9 - The Barnacle
3485 Main Highway, Coconut Grove

Designed and constructed in 1891 by yacht designer/boat builder Ralph Middleton Munroe (a.k.a. the Commodore) who moved to South Florida from New York. The oldest home in Miami-Dade County still on its original site, it is now part of the state-park system.

A three-sided veranda wraps a square-plan structure, which features rooms oriented around an octagonal dining area. In 1908, the entire one-story, wood-frame house was raised to provide more living space via a new ground floor made of rusticated concrete blocks. Taking inspiration from the marine life form that is its namesake, the house has a center vent in its flared hip roof, which creates a chimney-like effect expelling hot air. The front entrance faces a long, rolling lawn that stretches east toward Biscayne Bay. At the edge of the property, near the water, is a small boathouse where Munroe lived while constructing his home remarkably suited to South Florida’s tropical climate.

Villa Vizcaya

Number 8 - Vizcaya
3251 South Miami Avenue, Coconut Grove

Completed in 1916 as a winter home for International Harvester farm equipment heir James Deering. The site originally consisted of 180 acres that included a working farm on the west side of South Bayshore Drive. Over the course of 10 years, more than 1,000 workers built the compound and 70-room Italian Renaissance villa designed by F. Burrall Hoffman, with landscape work (formal gardens) by Diego Suarez and interiors by Paul Chalfin.

The house has a central courtyard surrounded by loggias connecting four towers. The design encourages cross-ventilation, a necessary concession to the local climate. The garden behind the southern end of the house features a grand raised casino to block glare from a lake there. On the east bay-facing side, a large stone barge embellished with classical statuary floats in the bay and functions as a breakwater against storms. The complex is now a public museum owned by Miami-Dade County.

Saxony Miami Beach

Number 7 - The Saxony
3201 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

Resort hotel financed by Chicagoan George Sax and designed by architect Roy France in 1948. Its nods to the then-emerging International Style include rectangular volumes and integrated rooftop signage; an open fire stair clad in blue-green terra-cotta tile; and a segmented façade allowing views of the ocean or street below. Other pre-midcentury features: a stair-step canopy drop-off area and liberal use of Crab Orchard Stone as a decorative element. A shining star of the competitive hotel scene until 1954 when it was eclipsed by Ben Novack’s Fontainebleau, the Saxony is now poised for a comeback as the thematic centerpiece of a larger development that will surround it.

Centrust Tower

Number 6 - Centrust Tower
100 S.E. Second Street, Miami

Built in 1986. The brainchild of David Paul, chairman and CEO of CenTrust Savings Bank, the faceted, telescoping 46-story tower, stretches 585 feet in the air. Designed by Pei Cobb Freed Partners, Architects, the edifice boasts more than 1 million square feet in floor area and a special executive perk: a helipad for emergencies—or to beat traffic.

The iconic quarter-round structure with three setbacks and striped string courses was one of the city’s first buildings to be brightly illuminated by night. It is now known as the Bank of America Tower at International Place.

Number 5 - El Jardin
3747 Main Highway, Coconut Grove

Built in 1917 by architect Richard Kiehnel as a winter residence for Pittsburgh Steel president John Bindley, the house is considered the earliest example of Mediterranean Revival architecture in South Florida. Rectangular, shell pink, oriented around a central courtyard, embellished by arches and Cuban-style barrel tile, the structure boasts elaborate applied decoration created by many of the same craftsmen who worked on Vizcaya just down the street a few years before. Stone that comprises the decorative details was made to look old with artificial veining. Low walls of oolitic limestone surround the enormous swimming pool, which has a long tunnel underneath. Acquired in 1962 by the Convent of the Sacred Heart and turned into the Carrollton School for girls, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated historic by the City of Miami in 1983.

Number 4 - Espirito Santo PlazaEspirito Santo Plaza
1395 Brickell Avenue, Miami

Designed by Kohn Pederson Fox (KPF) for the Portuguese banking concern Grupo Espirito Santo, the 36-story glass tower opened in 2004. Contains offices, condominium residences, and a luxury hotel—the Conrad Miami. The parabolic archway worked into the building’s facade of aquatoned glass is meant to indicate a gateway. The soaring Water Court atrium, reached via the lobby escalator, is a serene space embellished by green-tinted glass, light toned stone, aluminum, and bamboo plantings, and is reminiscent of New York City’s Seagram’s Building and Lever House.

Number 3 - Scottish Rite Temple
471 NW Third Street, across from Lummus Park, Miami

Designed between 1922 and 1924 by Kiehnel and Elliott. The first Miami structure thought to show characteristics of the Art Deco style, features stylized geometric exterior ornamentation incorporating influences from Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Roman, Meso-American, and Spanish Colonial architecture. In the front of the building, Egyptian and Classical elements can be noted on the four imposing columns, which support a quartet of menacing double-headed eagles, a symbol referring to the highest degree of Scottish Rite Freemasons.

Number 2 - The Venetian Pool
2701 DeSoto Boulevard, Coral Gables

The public, municipal swimming pool, opened on December 13, 1924, and originally was the quarry from which developer George Merrick obtained “coral rock” for his planned subdivision known as Coral Gables. When the quarry became an unattractive rock pit, Merrick enlisted the talent of his artist uncle/and Coral Gables collaborator, Denman Fink, to transform it into a stunning Venetian lagoon with loggias, waterfalls, and observation towers. In the years following its opening, the 820,000-gallon pool, fed by underground artesian wells, was home to beauty pageants, starstudded aquacades, and orator/attorney William Jennings Bryan extolling the virtues of investing in Coral Gables real estate. The city of Coral Gables acquired the pool in 1927 after the South Florida land boom went bust.

The Venetian Pool

Number 1 - Bacardi Headquarters, USA
2100 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami

Baqcardi Headquarters

Designed in 1963 by architect Enrique Gutierrez from the Puerto Rican firm Sacmag International, the eight-story-tall tower is made of reinforced concrete. Steel cable-and-pulley system allows the structure to endure strong shocks of tropical storm-force winds. Cobalt blue-and-white mural on the north and south walls is made of 28,000 hand-painted, glazed, 6-by-6-inch ceramic tiles, with a marble border. Created by Brazilian artist Francisco Brennand, the mural features a floral design.

Across the plaza, the two-story annex (above) cantilevers out 24 feet on each side of the central core and rises 47 feet in the air. It was designed in 1973 by Cuban-born architect Ignacio Carrera-Justiz, now practicing in Coral Gables. The four multi-colored glass curtain walls (not windows) are made from colored glass bricks manufactured in Chartres, France. The repeating abstract design, depicting the story of rum production, is by German artist Johannes Dietz.