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November 25, 1902|
|Died||January 18, 2001
Miami Beach, Florida USA
|Alma mater||Columbia University (B.A., Architecture, 1927) |
|Buildings||Fontainebleau Miami Beach
|Projects||Lincoln Road Mall|
Morris Lapidus (November 25, 1902 – January 18, 2001) was the architect of Neo-baroque Miami Modern hotels that have since come to define the 1950s resort-hotel style synonymous with Miami and Miami Beach.
Early life and career 
Born in Odessa in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine), his Orthodox Jewish family fled Russian pogroms to New York when he was an infant. As a young man, Lapidus toyed with theatrical set design and studied architecture at Columbia University, graduating in 1927. Lapidus worked for the prominent Beaux Arts firm of Warren and Wetmore. He then worked independently for 20 years as a retail architect before being approached to design vacation hotels on Miami Beach.
After a career in retail interior design, his first large commission was the Miami Beach Sans Souci Hotel (opened 1949, after 1996 called the RIU Florida Beach Hotel), followed closely by the Nautilus, the Di Lido, the Biltmore Terrace, and the Algiers, all along Collins Avenue, and amounting to the single-handed redesign of an entire district. The hotels were an immediate popular success.
Then in 1952 he landed the job of the largest luxury hotel in Miami Beach, the property he is most associated with, the Fontainebleau Hotel, which was followed the next year by the equally successful Eden Roc Hotel and the Americana (later the Sheraton Bal Harbour) in 1956. The Sheraton was demolished by implosion shortly after dawn on Sunday, November 18, 2007.
In 1955, Lapidus created the Ponce de Leon Shopping Center near the plaza in St. Augustine, Florida. The anchor store, Woolworth's, was the scene of the first sit-in by black demonstrators from Florida Memorial College in March, 1960, and in 1963 four young teenagers, who came to be known as the "St. Augustine Four" were arrested at the same place and spent the next six months in jail and reform school, until national protests forced their release by the governor and cabinet of Florida in January 1964. Martin Luther King hailed them as "my warriors." The Woolworth's door-handles remain as a reminder of the event, and a Freedom Trail marker has been placed on the building by ACCORD, in its efforts to preserve the historic sites of the civil rights movement.
The Lapidus style is idiosyncratic and immediately recognizable in photographs, derived as it was from the attention-getting techniques of commercial store design: sweeping curves, theatrically backlit floating ceilings, 'beanpoles', and the ameboid shapes that he called 'woggles', 'cheeseholes', and painter's palette shapes. His many smaller projects give Miami Beach's Collins Avenue its style, anticipating post-modernism. Beyond visual style, there is some degree of functionalism at work. His curving walls caught the prevailing ocean breezes in the era before central air-conditioning, and the sequence of his interior spaces was the result of careful attention to user experience: Lapidis heard complaints of endless featureless hotel corridors and when possible would curve his hallways to avoid the effect.
The Fontainbleau was built on the site of the Harvey Firestone estate and defined the new Gold Coast of Miami Beach. The hotel provided locations for the 1960 Jerry Lewis film The Bellboy, a success for both Lewis and Lapidus, and the James Bond thriller Goldfinger (1964). Its most famous feature is the 'Staircase to Nowhere' (formally called the "floating staircase"), which merely led to a mezzanine-level coat check and ladies' powder-room, but offered the opportunity to make a glittering descent into the hotel lobby.
- "My whole success is I've always been designing for people, first because I wanted to sell them merchandise. Then when I got into hotels, I had to rethink, what am I selling now? You're selling a good time."
During the period before his death, Lapidus' style came back into focus. It began with his designing upbeat restaurants on Miami Beach and the Lincoln Road Mall. Lapidus was also honored by the Society of Architectural Historians at a convention held at the Eden Roc hotel in 1998. In 2000, the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum honored Lapidus as an American Original for his lifetime of work. Lapidus was quoted saying, "I never thought I would live to see the day when, suddenly, magazines are writing about me, newspapers are writing about me."
His son, architect Alan Lapidus, who worked with his father for 18 years, said, "His theory was if you create the stage setting and it's grand, everyone who enters will play their part."
In 2001, Morris Lapidus died due to a heart failure at the age of 98 at his Miami Beach apartment. Morris Lapidus' wife of 63 years, Beatrice, had died in 1992.
Critical reception 
Lapidus designed 1,200 buildings, including 250 hotels worldwide. The architectural establishment largely ignored his work, subsequently characterizing it as kitsch. Th
A 1970 Architectural League exhibit in New York began the serious appraisal of his work. Lapidus tried to ignore the critical panning, but it had an effect on his career and reputation. He burned 50 years' worth of his drawings when he retired in 1984 and remained personally bitter about some aspects of his career. He was rediscovered in the post-modernist era: his autobiography Too Much is Never Enough, 1996, takes a shot at modernist guru Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's dictum 'Less is more.' According to his German biographer Martina Duttmann, he has always been more highly regarded in Europe than in the U.S., where the comparable jet-set futurism is designated "Googie". Today, books published by the AIA such as 'Architect's Essentials of Starting a Design Firm' 2003, refer positively to Morris Lapidus' works.
List adapted from Works in Lapidus autobiography.
- Whitman (Co-op apartments)75 Henry St., Brooklyn, NY 1968
- Martin's Department Store, Brooklyn, New York City 1944
- Bond Clothing Stores flagship store, 372 Fifth Avenue at 35th Street, New York City, 1948
- Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami Beach, 1954
- Eden Roc Hotel, Miami Beach, 1955
- Aruba Hotel, now Radisson Aruba Resort, Aruba, 1955
- Americana of Bal Harbour Hotel, Miami Beach, 1956 demolished 2007
- Deauville Resort, Miami Beach, 1950's
- Golden Triangle Motor Hotel, Norfolk, Virginia 1959-60; interiors only
- Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, 1960
- Sheraton Motor Inn, now Chinese Consulate, New York, 1959
- The Summit Hotel, now Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel, New York, 1960
- Ponce de Leon Hotel, later Hilton San Jeronimo Hotel, now Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza Hotel, San Juan, 1960
- Congregation Shaare Zion, Brooklyn, New York, 1960
- Richmond Motel, Richmond, Virginia, 1961
- The Americana of New York Hotel, now Sheraton New York, New York, 1961
- The Americana of San Juan Hotel, now InterContinental San Juan, San Juan, 1961
- International Inn, now Washington Plaza Hotel, Washington, D.C., 1962
- Capitol Skyline Hotel, Washington, D.C., 1962
- 1800 G Street NW, Washington, D.C., 1962
- El Conquistador Resort, Fajardo, Puerto Rico, 1965
- San Juan Intercontinental Hotel, now El San Juan Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1965
- 1100 L Street NW, Washington, D.C., 1967
- 1425 K Street NW, Washington, D.C., 1970 since remodeled
- Portman Square Hotel, London, England, United Kingdom 1967
- Temple Menorah, Miami Beach, 1962 (remodeled)
- TSS Mardi Gras, 1975
- TSS Carnival, 1975
- Carnival Cruise Lines Terminal Building, Port of Miami (Dodge Island), Miami, Florida, 1975
- Lausanne Apartments, Naples, Florida, 1978
- Grandview at Emerald Hills, Hollywood, Florida, 1981
- "Morris Lapidus / Mid 20th Century Historic District", City of Miami Beach Planning Department, July 14, 2009
- "Radisson Hotel (Golden Triangle Hotel)". Society of Architectural Historians, SAH Archipedia. "As designed by Anthony F. Musolino, a long driveway, flanked by two curving ramps, leads to the motor entrance; there was once a circular fountain at its center. Glass curtain walls sheathe the thirteen-story V-shaped tower. Behind the tower, two motel-like wings stretch to the rear of the site with a pool at their center and parking spaces around their perimeter. In contrast to the relatively staid exterior, the hotel's interiors were the work of Morris Lapidus"
- Photos and highlights of Lapidus' career.
- Sketch of Lapidus' career.
- Frances Loeb Library: Bibliography.
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