“IT IS AN UGLY BUILDING”
A SOUTH BEACH LANDMARK
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
“What do you think of that building?” I asked three nicely dressed teenaged fellows standing together on the curb waiting for their parents to return to their rental car, as I pointed at the Portofino, South Beach’s landmark building.
“It is an ugly building,” one said as they squinted at it.
“That is the Portofino. It was built by a German named Thomas Kramer.
“We are from Germany,” another said matter-of-factly.
“Kramer was an unusual German. He had a bar called Hell nearby, where he posed as the devil, greeting people in a red cape and black bikini bottom.”
The boys were interested, but were at a loss for words because they did not know what I was up to, so I continued.
“Kramer initiated the development of the south point of Miami Beach from a poor man’s paradise to a conspicuous display of wealth. Siegfried Otto, a tax evader, asked him to hold nearly two-hundred million dollars for him. He put half of it into Miami Beach real estate. Of course he burned a lot of it on parties and girls. He was unable to return all the money to Otto’s heirs, and went teats up.”
“Bankrupt, flat broke.”
So what do you all think of his building now?” I asked, thinking I might have altered their perception with my tale of the rise and fall of a German developer.
“I like the orange stripes, but it is an ugly building,” said the third teenager, and the others nodded in agreement.
“Around here, with all these newer steel and glass buildings, it is politically incorrect to appreciate the Portofino, to say even one good thing about the postmodern design. Rich people want to live in modern glass boxes nowadays, so developers have lots of money to pay off the politicians who say they are preserving local history, and the local people suck up to them too. I mean, what do you think of this new, wavy glass building?”
“I like it,” one said.
“Very good looking,” said another.
“Well, the curve is about the only arty thing to it. The Apogee over there has a slight curve in front. More of the same, a slatted look with slabs jutting out into balconies, and way too much glass.”
“Glass is good. You can see out. You have more light.”
“Look at that tall building up the drive there. It is called GLASS. Again we see lots of glass and slabs. Art is dead. We are left with a skeleton. It bores me. What do you think?”
They were unanimous in their appreciation of the “very good” design.
“The city has a board to preserve history here. A board member who badmouthed the Portofino said she was totally for GLASS because it is great.”
“She was right,” one brother emphatically confirmed.
“It is too tall so the architect said it will practically disappear because the glass is fritted and so on, and for residents it will be like living in cubes of water.”
“Yeah, a pattern is baked into the glass that is supposed to work magic, and there is kind of an upward design, so as you look higher the building is supposed to become part of the sky or whatever. I am coming to see it disappear when it’s finished.”
“Wow, I wish we could be here. We are returning to Germany next week.”
At that juncture their parents arrived. I advised the young men to become architects as they piled into the car, and wished them all a pleasant stay in Florida.
I took another look at the Portofino, over my shoulder, as I walked home. I am beginning to like it more and more as I tire of the modern internationalist style. Maybe it is an ugly duckling that will become beautiful. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.