The Bacardi building is adorned with blue and white mosaic tile on the side depicting a blue and white tropical paradise. If you live or visit Miami, it's a worth a drive by.
Stay tuned to this blog for more updates on the fate of the Bacardi treasure. And I'm not just talking about gold rum.
BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI
Miami is moving to designate the famed, mural-adorned Bacardi headquarters on Biscayne Boulevard as historic, an action that would bar demolition or alteration of the landmark blue-and-white tiled tower and its square-annex companion.
The surprise action, initiated by Mayor Manny Diaz, comes as Bacardi USA gets ready to vacate the buildings -- its corporate home since 1963 -- for new headquarters in Coral Gables later this year. The impending move has prompted broad concern over the fate of the distinctive buildings, which some preservationists and architects regard as the most architecturally distinguished and historically significant of the 1960s in Miami.
The city's historic preservation board has legal authority to protect buildings without regard to owners' wishes, and it routinely does so. The city is moving unusually quickly.
Preservation officer Ellen Uguccioni has asked the preservation board for authorization to move ahead with the designation process. A vote is set for April 7.
If the board agrees, Uguccioni said, she hopes to return within 30 days for a second and final hearing. That requires a full report analyzing the buildings' historic and architectural significance and making a case for their preservation.
Some fans of the buildings say their merits make the preservation case a virtual slam-dunk.
Bacardi has not commented on its plans for the buildings. A corporate spokeswoman Thursday declined to address the potential designation, other than to say Bacardi first learned of it this week in a letter from the city.
''We have the best intentions for our buildings,'' Bacardi spokeswoman Patricia Neal said. ``We're looking at a variety of options, but I don't have anything to add beyond that.''
If Bacardi objects to the historic designation, it could appeal a preservation board decision to the City Commission. Commissioners in the past have been reluctant to overturn decisions by the preservation board.
Diaz could not be reached for comment Thursday. Uguccioni said she did not know whether the mayor had communicated with anyone at Bacardi regarding the designation.
The city's alacrity has surprised even some supporters of the building's designation.
Ivan Rodriguez, a member of an informal group of architects and preservationists who have been exploring ways to enlist Bacardi's support for preserving the buildings, said none knew about the city's plan to seek designation.
Though the group was hesitant to petition for designation without speaking first to Bacardi executives and family members, Rodriguez said he welcomes the city's action.
''It's definitely a very positive move on the part of the city,'' said Rodriguez, former preservation director for Miami-Dade County.
``At the same time, I think it's equally important to initiate a dialogue so the Bacardi administration can see the preservation of the buildings is not an obstacle for them, whether they decide to retain the buildings or sell them.''
Designation qualifies historic structures for grants, tax and zoning breaks and other incentives designed to promote renovation and reuse, he noted.
In a preliminary report, Uguccioni called the ensemble of Bacardi buildings ''one of Miami's most iconic'' and a Modernist masterpiece.
''Although relatively young to the cityscape of South Florida, the Bacardi Building's presence along Biscayne Boulevard has become a de facto landmark, and must-see part of many a visitor's itinerary,'' she wrote.
Though the oldest of the two, the 1963 tower by Cuban-born architect Enrique Gutierrez, is a few years short of the 50-year threshold for consideration for designation, Uguccioni wrote, the exceptional significance of the ensemble -- including the 1973 annex by Coral Gables architect Ignacio Carrera-Justiz -- warrants their immediate preservation.
That significance extends to the headquarters' role as an emblem of the early influx of Cuban refugees into Miami after the Revolution of 1959 and the new cultural landscape it foreshadowed, she wrote. Bacardi moved its corporate operations to Miami after Fidel Castro's government seized its Cuban assets and operations in 1960.