Española Way

View looking west along Española Way in Miami Beach. Photo Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

There is more to South Beach than art deco. One of SoBe’s best kept architectural secrets is a Mediterranean Revival thoroughfare nestled between Washington and Pennsylvania Avenue. On this edition of Learning from Miami, we invite you to explore the architecture and history of Española Way.

Española Way was a collaboration between two wealthy real-estate developers, Newton Baker Taylor (N.B.T.) Roney and William F. Whitman. In 1922, Whitman purchased a parcel of land at the northern edge of what is now South Beach and named the area “Whitman’s Spanish Colony.” Three years later, Roney purchased the property from Whitman and renamed it “The Spanish Village Corporation.” Roney was inspired by artist’s colonies in other major cities like Paris and New York and wanted to bring the same bohemian vibe to Miami Beach. He hired architect Robert A. Taylor to design a small Mediterranean revival village. Taylor used design elements from French and Spanish architecture such as stucco walls, carved wood, and intricate ironwork to assemble the buildings.

Miami Beach’s weather and beautiful beaches attracted many wealthy and celebrity residents. But large sums of money also attracted organized crime and prostitution. By the end of the 1920’s, Española Way became a winter retreat for gangsters. Notorious mobster Al Capone was known to have a gambling establishment at the Clay Hotel on Española Way. By the early 1940’s, America was preparing for WWII and Española Way experienced a new transformation. Soldiers were housed in the area’s hotels for training by the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command.

In 1979, The National Register of Historic Places designated Española Way a historic location as part of the Miami Beach Art Deco District. In the 1980’s Española Way really began to flourish when the Española Way Art Center was created and brought visual artists to the neighborhood. Another milestone in the revitalization of Española Way happened when real estate developer Linda Polansky met community activist Barbra Capitman in the early 1980’s. Capitman was so passionate about restoring South Beach that she inspired Polansky to renovate Española Way.

Polansky purchased the entire south side of Española Way, extending from Washington Avenue down to the end of Drexel Avenue. Polansky’s first order of business was to convert the Clay Hotel into a partial youth hostel. She wanted the hotel to stand out, so she had the building painted a bright peach color. At the time, production designer Mel Bourne was location scouting for Miami Vice when he spotted the Clay Hotel. Bourne encouraged Polansky to paint all the buildings peach, giving Española Way its “updated” look. Twelve episodes of Miami Vice were shot on location at Española Way.
In May 2017, the City of Miami Beach invested and finalized a $2.5 million revitalization project on the pedestrian-only street. Today, Española Way is experiencing a renaissance, living out the intentions of those who built it nearly a century ago.

-Ursa Gil

Resources

http://www.floridabuilding.org/fbc/commission/FBC_0819/Acc_Adv_Council/401/401_1_HIST_SIGNIF_ClayHotelHistoricResourceReport11-29-16.pdf

Harris, Ginger, et al. “Espanola Way: A Very Different South Beach.” South Beach Magazine, 20 Nov. 2016, www.southbeachmagazine.com/espanola-way/.

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