A History of the Royal South Beach Hotel by
Judith Berson-Levinson, Ed.D.
The Royal was born in 1936 when Polly Lux de Hirsch-Meyer built eight ground floor store units on Washington Avenue and 8th Street, leased them and then added the upper floors of the Royal Hotel two years later. Miss Lux was a “Viennese beauty” from Pittsburgh, who was glorified by Florenz Ziegfeld in the late 1920s and went on to become a successful developer after she retired from the Ziegfeld Follies (The Miami Herald, June 2, 1940). She moved to Miami Beach with her mother and brother and $20,000 including an inheritance from her father and $6,000 from the sale of her Broadway lingerie shop. With guts and gumption she became the first licensed female contractor in Florida. The Royal was her third hotel project, preceded by the Imperial and Majestic on Ocean Drive and later followed by the Triton on Collins and 29th Street. Within eight years, she had amassed an estimated fortune at $300,000 by successfully building, buying, leasing and selling properties. The Miami Herald reported that she had “courage, a capacity for hard work, a natural and friendly manner, and simple tastes… a shrewd business woman but feminine to her finger tips.”
She later married Baron de Hirsch Meyer, a local attorney, philanthropist and generousbenefactor of Jewish causes, who had built his own fortune in the South Beach hotel business. Baron was a native of Wisconsin who came to Miami Beach in 1925. Baron was his name, not a royal title, but this did not stop Polly from signing into European hotels as the ”Baronness” de Hirsch Meyer.
According to local legend she became an overbearing, pompous woman in her later years, however in her defense, she continued the philanthropy and gave generously to many charities following her husband’s death in 1974. He was one of the original founders of City National Bank, Mt. Sinai Hospital, the University of Miami Law School and the Miami Beach Bar Association. The main tower of Mt. Sinai is named after them because of his, and later her, generous gifts. During her widowhood, Joey Carr (nee Cohen) gave up his career as a producer of TV commercials to be her companion and escort. When she died, she left him nothing. He sued her estate, claiming he was entitled, but he lost. The court basically threw him and his nonsensical suit out, saying, in effect, “you’re not entitled to a share of the estate because you dated her!”
When Polly built the Royal, she chose Henry Hohauser as the architect for the ground floor. Hohauser also designed many hotels such as the Edison, Henry, Collins Park, Governor, Miami Beach’s first bank building at 601 Collins Avenue, the synagogue that currently houses the Jewish Museum of Florida, and hundreds of apartment buildings, hotels and private homes. Two years later, when she added 46 hotel rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors to create the Royal Hotel, the architect she selected was L. Murray Dixon, who also designed the Tides, Victor, Raleigh, Ritz Plaza and hundreds of hotels, buildings, and residences. The Royal holds the distinction of having been designed by two of the most prolific Art Deco District architects of the late 1930’s and early 1940s.
The Royal is located within the Flamingo Park Historic District, as well as the Miami Beach National Register Architectural District (commonly known as the Art Deco District), and it is listed as a “contributing structure” in the Miami Beach Historic Properties Database. When the district was designated in 1979, it became the youngest district to ever receive this recognition. The significant original architectural features of the Streamline Moderne structure include the distinctive glass block corner extending to third floor, cut corner entry, extended eyebrows, and
horizontal stucco relief pattern.
Originally the main entrance to the Royal Hotel was at 758 Washington Avenue. It was distinguished by a marquee extending over the sidewalk and led into a spacious lobby in the rear. Later the front section of the lobby was converted to a retail store. A postcard advertised the new Royal as “The Aristocrat of the New Miami Beach Hotels,” offering “OPA rates of $2.50 and $3.00 per day and $7.50 and $10.00 per week per person, double occupancy.” (OPA was a WWII era federal agency that set ceiling prices on almost everything, ranging from shoes to food to clothing to hardware to hotel rooms). Through the years, many popular businesses were located in the Royal’s commercial units including Beer Barrel (1940s), Chungking Restaurant (1940s), Lux Restaurant, Farr’s Havana Tours (1930s), TEB’s Coffee Shop, Buster’s Restaurant and Lee Ann Pharmacy before it moved to its current location on Washington and 10th Street. The owner of Teb’s was the uncle of Norman Giller, a prominent post-war architect. Tebs originated the concept of delivering food to construction job sites. Current tenants include Paesano’s Italian Ristorante, Royal Bar & Cigar Lounge, Origin Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar, and a scooter shop.
During World War II, the Royal Hotel was one of approximately 300 buildings and hotels that were taken over by the Army Air Corps Technical Training Command to serve as barracks, mess halls, offices, and classrooms for cadets training go overseas to fight for our nation’s freedom. As many as four to six cadets slept in bunk beds in each hotel room. Young soldiers filled Miami Beach and many returned after the war to live, to visit or to retire many years later. The Royal Hotel has been a proud sponsor of Sand in Our Boots: Miami Beach WWII Veterans Reunion and Recognition Events, coordinated by Berson-Levinson and held annually on Pearl Harbor Day since 1999.
In 1999, local developers Steven Z. Levinson and Judith Berson-Levinson purchased the building with the intention of renovating the abandoned hotel floors, which had been vacant for nearly eight years. The Levinson Group did a complete renovation including the restoration and repair of the terrazzo lobby floor and Spanish tile on stairs that had been hidden under marble installed by the previous owner, replacement of the neon “ROYAL HOTEL” sign on the glass brick on the corner of the building, removal of a false ceiling in the lobby to reveal the original molding, repair of the second floor Sun Deck, hallways and restoration of guest rooms including Italian marble floors, all tile bathrooms, new individual central air conditioning, updating of all electrical, plumbing, fixtures, etc.
While the extensive restoration was in progress, a national hotel operator leased the hotel and created the futuristic interiors that have received international acclaim. The designer was Jordan Mozer of Chicago whose work includes the House of Blues, Mirage Resorts and Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Universal Studios, and Barney’s New York. Mozer created a “fusion of past, present and future,” combining the 1930s character of the classic building with the latest in technology to create an experience that transports guests through time. The “Jellyfish at Night” carpeting was designed to create an aura of fantasy, leading guests toward their rooms where they are “wowed” by the unique, custom-designed furnishings which have been called “functional works of art.”
Those with a keen eye for design agree that Mozer’s “digital throne” (which can accommodate a computer keyboard and revolving flat screen TV) pays homage to Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair, developed for the lobby and reception areas of Copenhagen’s Royal Hotel in 1958. Each room at the Royal South Beach contains high tech amenities such as a digital safe, high-speed Internet access, remote-controlled central air conditioning, and a CD player. The Royal is featured in several books including “Cool Hotels,” “Fodor’s Guide,” and “Best Designed Hotels in North & South America,” plus numerous magazines and newspapers throughout the world such as Architectural Record, Detour, Travel & Leisure, Wallpaper, the New York Times, and the Miami Herald.
The renovation was completed in 2000 and the hotel opened for the Memorial Day millennium celebration, however delays in opening and insufficient funding forced the operator to close their doors within four months. The Levinsons reopened the hotel in May of 2001 and have been running it since then, marketing it as a residence hotel to meet the needs of extended-stay guests seeking short-term rentals by the day, week and month. The hotel now provides a home-away-from-home for models, artists, entertainers, film producers, yacht brokers, business executives, students and tourists from all over the world. When the Levinsons offered the unique units for sale as condos in 2003, the result was a record breaking sell-out in less than one week! The new Royal South Beach Condo Hotel is a wonderful example of a deco dowager rising like a phoenix from the ashes of neglect.
Rev. October 25, 2003