The Miami Beach Art Deco movement lost one of it’s most vigorous supporters with the passing of architect and preservationist Les Beilinson, who has spent the last 35 years revitalizing the Art Deco District building by building.
Beilinson who died last Friday after abdominal surgery was 66. He has lived on Miami Beach since the age of 5, attended Beach High and the University of Miami, where he became an architect.
It wasn’t until the late ’70s when he worked with Barbara Capitman that his love for vintage buildings came into it’s own and he became the preservation architect of the Art Deco District and an original member of the Historic Preservation Board. Together he and Capitman fought developers’ plans to knock down the district, building by building. If it weren’t for Beilinson’s love for the old architecture of the 30′s, there would be no Art Deco District today.
Beilinson often spoke fondly of his and Capitman’s mission and passion for preservation.
“Barbara was very driven, knew what she wanted and she persevered to get it. She was the first one to see these old 1930s buildings as a resource for Miami Beach – and she was convincing.”
Beilinson would go on to preserve more than 200 projects including renovations of the Espanola Way Hotel, Essex House, Marlin, Edison, Breakwater, Park Central, Century, Shore Park, Traymore, Tiffany, Betsy Ross, Ritz Plaza and Imperial Hotels. Then there’s the Lyric Theater, Opa Locka City Hall, Coral Gables City Hall, the Old Fire and Police Station in Coral Gables and Merrick Manor.
Most recently, Beilinson’s firm completed a historic renovation of the renowned national landmark Hialeah Park. There’s News Cafe, Armani Exchange, the Super Bowl arch over Ocean Drive, Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply on I-95, the Vintro Hotels in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Modani’s furniture showroom, Miami’s Mayfair Hotel, Omphoy Hotel in Palm Beach and custom residences and sculpture park at Altos Del Mar. You can’t walk down Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue or Lincoln Road without benefiting from his work. That’s just a fraction of the many projects, which earned his firm dozens of accolades and awards over the years.
Capitman, in turn admired Beilinson’s talent and in her book Deco Delights: Preserving The Beauty and Joy of Miami Beach Architecture, she discussed his huge contribution to South Beach.
“Without saving the great hotels and theaters and storefronts, the district would never exist as we know it,” she wrote. “With the protection of the wonderful architecture, we have seen the other aspects of the district remain and indeed blossom.”
And even in the end, Beilinson’s legacy of preservation and giving lives on. His family asked that instead of sending flowers to honor him, friends should make memorial contributions to the Miami Design Preservation League.