BALANCE SHEET BLOG – HOLLYWOOD, FL


Great Southern Hotel: 2004
August 3, 2004, 9:56 PM
Filed under: Development, Downtown, Historic Preservation, Young Circle

August 3, 2004

“Razing of history may bust Hollywood’s boom”

This article, previously published in The Herald on 8/1/04, is posted here with the author’s permission.

By BETH DUNLOP

Downtown Hollywood has long been a place full of quirky captivations and naive sensibilities. It has a two-plus-block historic district along Hollywood Boulevard with buildings that date to the years before World War II — some of them relics of the city’s earliest boom years when Joseph Wesley Young of Indiana was building his dream town by the sea.

Young was an inspired planner of his city, and a product of his time. The 1920s were years of enormous faith in our ability to better our lives by making beautiful places for all to enjoy, and thus Young laid out a broad Hollywood Boulevard and created — as the city’s centerpiece — a 10-acre park of formal gardens, a grand plan and an extraordinary setting.

For a brief, halcyon period, Hollywood was a thriving boom town, and then, like much else in Florida, it fell to the bust — the early stock market fluctuations, the rail embargo on building supplies, the killer hurricane of September 1926. Young lost his real estate holdings on the courthouse steps in 1930.

UPS AND DOWNS

From then on, Hollywood had its ups and downs — architecturally speaking, at least — but much of the downtown remained relatively intact, a pedestrian-scaled shopping district with its own peculiar charm, not to mention the glorious potential of Young Circle and the broad sweep of Hollywood Boulevard. Artists and antiques dealers found it — though not in droves — and yet the trendy shops and shoppers didn’t follow, at least not in marked numbers. Downtown Hollywood kept a certain authenticity, its old coffee shops and stores selling dinettes or sundries, and added to the mix with newer establishments. The formula, or convergence of circumstances or the serendipity of it all, only added to the innate urbanism of the place, to its appeal.

These days, downtown Hollywood is hot, and it’s not just the weather. Young Circle, the city’s centerpiece, is under reconstruction as an ” Arts Park,” with a promising plan. One far less fetching new condo project, Radius, is under way, and suddenly, the developers are at the door. Most recently, the City Commission agreed in principle to allow one of the city’s most important historic buildings — the Great Southern Hotel, designed in 1924 by Miami architect Martin Luther Hampton — to be partially demolished to allow for construction of a 19-story tower housing 200 condominium apartments. At least two other projects are in the works, including one that would take with it another historic building, the Kington House on West Dixie Highway.

The city has hired the Miami architecture and planning firm Zyscovich to guide its development. In turn, Zyscovich has produced a 23-page ”Vision, Zoning and Design Standards” study that lays out a set of design standards that warrant good attention. Among the recommendations are that careful attention be paid to the pedestrian experience by providing shade — in the form of awnings, arcades, trees and more — and widening the sidewalk.

Hollywood has a downtown zoning that allows 15-story buildings — despite a recommendation by an Urban Land Institute task force that the height limit be lowered to preserve the pedestrian feel and scale. It has stayed, which of course means that the buildings will go higher, developers will get bonuses (as is the probable scenario in the Great Southern project) or argue hardship, and soon 15 stories will become 20, or more.

This means the details become ever-more important.

IMPORTANT IDEAS

Zyscovich’s plan also posits an important concept of a ”build to” demarcation, which would mean all new development around the circle would line up on the street. The plan also calls for the buildings to follow the curvilinear form of the circle and for towers to be set back from the street edge; it also suggests that additions to historic buildings should be ”discreet and barely visible.” These are strong ideas, and important ones.

But in the face of a rush to development, politicians generally grow weak. That is just one consideration here, that once one building is too tall, more will follow. In the Great Southern debate, even some preservationists have chosen to accept a compromise that will eliminate one of the city’s most important historic buildings, but they are wrong here, aesthetically and urbanistically. It just makes no sense.

The quaint core of downtown Hollywood should be left alone, and as prosperity takes hold (presuming it does) in the form of condo and office projects around the rest of the circle, it will grow in value naturally, without sacrificing architecture or history. It’s the proverbial goose that has laid the golden egg, and without it, Hollywood will lose its character. The city is at the point of being a chooser, not a beggar, now, and can ask for what it wants, can shape itself. The city should not be beholden to irrational — or excessive, if those are not the same thing, which in some cases they are — demands from developers. Hollywood is hot, after all.

CAMPED OUT

When Radius opened its sales office, potential buyers camped out overnight to be first in line — reminiscent of old photos of the 1920s land boom. Radius has great slogans — ”Once you’ve gone round, you’ll never be square again” and ”Don’t be square. Live the circle.” — but perfectly unexceptional architecture, blocky buildings on the usual podium, with a half-hearted tower at the corner where Tyler Street and Federal Highway meet Young Circle. It does not set any standard.

And those standards are all-important.

Downtown Hollywood could fulfill the vision of Young, or it could end up looking just like another suburban office park. The first step is to stop the Great Southern project cold and determine to preserve the city’s tiny historic core; without it, there’s no identity. The second step is to exact high standards of design for every new building that will line the rest of the circle, making sure that each one contributes rather than detracts.

Young’s ”City Beautiful” endured the tribulations of the decades, and today, it’s still possible to see his dreams and ambitions in three dimensions, as a city. But now we’re in a new boom, and far too little seems sacred any more, putting the ideals that created Hollywood, created Florida, at risk. Wouldn’t it be a crime if it is this boom that leads to the real bust?

Ms. Dunlop, who writes on architectural and related issues for The Herald, may be reached at bdunlop@herald.com
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