Friday, July 10, 2015

The McAllister Hotel was Miami's first high-rise hotel

Miami Daily Metropolis, Jan. 18, 1920.


Miami Herald
December 3, 1987

The McAllister Hotel sits empty, windows broken out, hallways still, lobby bustle-less, ghosts its only guests.

What was Miami's first high-rise hotel and once the city's largest is reduced to waiting for a raze in a paint job that manages to combine the color brown with those of bottled Thousand Island and French dressings.

It wasn't always so.

In 1912, Emma Cornelia Hatchett McAllister, a wealthy widow from Fort Gaines, Ga., bought a half-block of bay-front property at Flagler Street and Bayshore Drive.

It was not until 1926 that Bayshore would be renamed Biscayne Boulevard, bay bottom sand would be sucked up to fill in Bayfront Park, and the corner would find itself as the central intersection of downtown Miami.

The widow decided to build a hotel there in 1915. Royal Palm Park was across the street to the south. A three-story, clapboard home was to the north. The Elks Club was just down Flagler to the west. And to the east was Elser Pier, sandy beach and the lapping waters of Biscayne Bay.

Concrete was poured in 1917. By 1919 seven stories were up when the widow McAllister ran out of money.

New owners arrived and the show went on, and in 1920 , during the post-World War I boomlet, the hotel, named for madam founder, opened its first of three wings for the winter season. It was spectacular.

The ground floor contained street-level shops with striped awnings. Second and third floors were shaded porches where guests could sit in rockers and take in the breeze off the bay. Potted palms, tile floors.

Later, the new hotel was so popular that it had a problem keeping towels. Guests liked to steal them, using towels to cushion bottles of bootleg liquor, readily available in Prohibition Miami after being smuggled in from Cuba and the Bahamas. Management began offering corrugated cardboard for guests with a taste for wrapping.

In its heyday, the hotel used 4,800 towels one month and spent $15,000 a year to replace soap in rooms. A third wing was finished in 1925. Finished, the McAllister had 10 floors, 550 rooms. For the 1927-28 season, advertised guaranteed rates were $6, $8 and $10 for a single and $8 and up for a double. European plan, meals not included.

City leaders decided they wanted a boulevard named Biscayne in front of the McAllister . They proposed filling in the beach front, creating a park. The hotel 's owners were not amused. They fought the idea.

The city promised to outlaw buildings on the park side of the street. Eventually, the hotel gave in. Its frontage, just 50 feet from the beach, was gone. It was suddenly moving inland. By 1926, its fortunes were moving in decline.

The park was built, and in 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt was set to make a speech there, joined by Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. McAllister porches were jammed with people who witnessed the near assassination of the president-elect and the death of the mayor.

During World War II, the Navy took over, using the hotel as a billet for enlisted men. There went the neighborhood from 1942 to 1945.

Undated photo of the McAllister Hotel under construction.
(Note notations in margins)
Click here to enlarge.

Aerial view of downtown Miami with new
McAllister Hotel. (1920)

Miami Daily Metropolis, Jan. 10, 1920.

Miami Daily Metropolis, Dec. 30, 1920.


McAllister Hotel with cars parked on sand. (1925)
Click here to enlarge.


Looking west on Flagler Street. McAllister Hotel is
in center of photo. (1931)

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