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Old coral house allowed to get older

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http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/local/10210720.htm

SOUTH BEACH

Old coral house allowed to get older

A historic but structurally damaged coral-rock house, nestled in the heart of South Beach, was given a delay in plans to raze it.

BY NICOLE WHITE

[email protected]

One of Miami Beach's oldest buildings -- a coral-rock house built in 1918 -- has a temporary reprieve from the wrecking ball despite claims by the building's owners that it is beyond repair and should be demolished immediately.

The one-story house at 900 Collins Ave. is one of four coral-rock houses left in the city and among its five oldest structures. It was built by Avery Smith, who historians say operated the first ferry service from the mainland to the city.

Members of the Miami-Dade County Unsafe Structures Board agreed Wednesday that the city's historic preservation board should have one last shot at reviewing the building to determine what, if any, measures could be taken to save it.

The decision was lauded by preservation activists.

'HISTORIC' STRUCTURE

''This is one of the foremost historic structures in the city,'' said former Miami Beach Commissioner Nancy Liebman, a preservationist who attended the meeting.

''That building has been there longer than any other structure, including the Art Deco buildings,'' she said. ``This city should do everything to fix it.''

But owner Ivor Rose's attorney, Eileen Chafetz, argues that it should be demolished.

''It is a danger to the public,'' Chafetz said at the Wednesday board meeting. ``Not only is it in imminent danger of collapsing, it is in the process of collapsing.''

The debate over the coral house underscores an unending battle in Miami Beach over how best to preserve historic buildings in a city that is rife with new development.

The house, nestled at the corner of Ninth Street and Collins Avenue, has survived the many incarnations of South Beach.

In its life span, it has served as an apartment complex, a 24-hour diner, even a high-end spa.

On Aug. 5, the city building department deemed the house structurally unsafe. An inspection revealed that the concrete lining and support walls were crumbling and that the roof had partially caved in, said Mohammed Partovi, the city's structural engineer.

TWO OPTIONS

Rose's construction contractor and associate, Michael Stern, said in August that a company recently signed a three-year lease on the property, and the structural problems were found when the walls were being refurbished.

Rose faced two options: renovate the property or seek a demolition permit. He says the house can't be saved.

Until the building's fate is decided, the Unsafe Structures Board has asked the city's building department to secure the structure while the historic preservation board reviews its options.

The preservation board will look at feasible alternatives to demolition, said Gary Held, an assistant city attorney for Miami Beach.

''If there are no alternatives to demolition, then the board will consider what conditions should be imposed as part of demolition,'' he said.

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