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Al Capone's old house sparks debate in South Florida

Capone
Posted at 5:50 PM, Nov 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-29 18:30:07-05

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Miami Beach is home to one of the largest Art- Deco buildings from the last century, including Al Capone's house and the fight to preserve these buildings here and around the country.

“I grew up here in Miami Beach in an old house from the 1930s. I was always so fascinated by the older architecture,” said Daniel Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League.

It was a late morning in Miami Beach when I met Ciraldo at the Art Deco Center in Miami Beach. He’s eager to explain what they do at the Design Preservation League.

“This talks about the main styles that we have in Miami Beach. Art-Deco being one of the predominant styles that we want to protect, but there’s also Mediterranean and mid-century modern,” said Ciraldo.

Yeah. He loves architecture. And he loves Miami Beach.

“What makes Miami Beach the state's number one beach for vacation destinations? We strongly believe it’s the arts and culture, the architecture, and the melting pot of different diverse visitors,” he said.

But Ciraldo and the MDPL have taken on a new fight. They want to preserve a house as a historic site.

“It sits on a man-made island in the middle of Biscayne Bay. And it was one of the first homes built on this island, Palm Island, in 1922,” he said.

The house that sits at 93 Palm Avenue had a very infamous owner. Notorious, bootlegger, mobster, and tax avoider, Al Capone.

“A lot of people will tell you he was a very bad person, and he was, but he also played a real role in the history of our city,” said Ciraldo.

The house was purchased over the summer by a developer who quickly applied for a demolition permit. That’s when Daniel and the MDPL stepped in.

We reached out to the owner but were told he had withdrawn the demolition application because they had sold the building.

The fight to preserve the Capone house and Miami Beach is emblematic of what different parts of the United States are grappling with as the country continues to build.

“Some of these sites which are historic, maybe recognized more so in the future,” said Scott Montgomery, an art history professor at the University of Denver.

“It’s not that old. We still have a memory there. But these places may become storied. They already are storied,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery researches music venues of the ‘60s and beyond. He’s worried that in the pursuit of development and profit, we may cast our history aside.

“My favorite cautionary tale is of the medieval walls of Florence, Italy. They tore the walls down to make circuit roads, to modernize and build it up,” he said, “But, since then, I think most of the city of Florence has lamented the loss of these walls that were part of its identity, part of its medieval charm.”

Ciraldo wants to make sure that Miami Beach doesn’t walk down a similar path.

“We have seen a big increase in applications to demolish historically significant but unprotected homes. In the last 15 years, there have been almost 300 of these homes that have been approved for demolition,” said Ciraldo, “It’s such an important part of our history. It would almost be like cookie dough ice cream and taking all the cookie dough out and just being left with vanilla. If we lose all of these homes to big white boxes, what set us apart from any other city?”