Travel

Miami today: tropic metropolis with new international vigor

DESPINA MESSINESI January 1 1980
Travel

Miami today: tropic metropolis with new international vigor

DESPINA MESSINESI January 1 1980

TRAVEL

FLORIDA

Miami today: tropic metropolis with new international vigor

BY DESPINA MESSINESI

Lured by big-name shops, luxe resorts—the whole world is now Florida-bound

Sun-warmed Miami and its flock of satellite communities never let me down. There, the unexpected is to be expected. My happy find, on a recent visit, was Bal Harbour Village, a small, compact resort town. Less than forty years ago, Bal Harbour was a scrubby desert north of Miami Beach spanning a sliver of a sandbar between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. Now, in the wonderworld of Miami where everything can happen and does, Bal Harbour has bloomed into a charming cosmopolitan resort.

Although this little community is on Miami's main traffic artery, Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour is amazingly sedate, totally apart from the glossy, touristy scene. Along this broad palm-lined avenue, Rolls, Ferraris, Cadillacs, and Mercedes-Benz are more numerous than taxicabs in New York City. As if drawn by magnets, most of the cars pull up at Bal Harbour Shops. Not surprising. Bal Harbour Shops is a sensational, fascinating complex. It's the star attraction of the resort, pulling monied shoppers from far-away Florida resorts as well as rich visitors from South America and Europe on Floridian holidays.

What I found especially appealing about the shopping complex at Bal Harbour was its small size and tropical-garden setting. Within a few yards, I spotted practically every internationally famous designer name. Bal Harbour is a shopping shortcut to the big-name establishments in New York, Paris, Rome, Milan, and London—and much more attractive and easy.

At the main gate, red-coated attendants wearing pith helmets direct the flow of traffic to a covered parking lot. Filled with shining vintage cars as well as the latest models, the garage is as fascinating as an automobile show.

Among the forty-four shops edging malls and a central courtyard, you can find everything: Cartier diamonds, Miss Grimble's chocolate cheesecake, designer jeans for tots at Jellybeans & Fiddlestix, facials at Georgette Klinger, plus superb clothes for men and women. Bal Harbour Shops provides innumerable thoughtful comforts: A covered walk shelters both visitors and shop windows from Florida's blazing sunshine. In the landscaped courtyard, there are tinkling fountains and benches under palms and hanging plants. Every time I looked, I saw a dozen gardeners at work wearing clinical white overalls and pith helmets. (Each sour-orange tree has a sign warning people not to pick the fruit, which is sprayed with insecticide.) To assist foreigners, there are two international hostesses who speak half a dozen languages between them. Dressed in lipstick red and also wearing pith helmets, these young women are easy to spot seated in a white kiosk or wandering around the grounds.

Touring Bal Harbour Shops, I had a field day. If only I had had a fat pocketbook, I could have filled several grocery carts. Alas, this was no supermarket, but a super-shopping mecca.

Without looking at the names of the shops—Ungaro, Gucci, Guy LaRoche, Ted Lapidus, Courrèges, Elaine, Dana Côte d'Azur, Tourneau, the watch shop—I easily recognized them by their distinctive decor. Each one looks like a smaller, transplanted version of the “mother” store, be it in America or Europe.

In Martha's, the largest specialty store on the mall, the collections of couture designers Valentino, Mila Schoen, André Laug, Christian Dior, and Yves Saint Laurent each have their own spacious section.

At Bal Harbour, Lillie Rubin's store specializes in feminine clothes, the trademark of all her other fifty-one stores spread across the United States from Florida all the way to California.

Alan Duddle is big on imported silk blouses, Italian-knit silk “chemises,” suits, bright cotton casuals, and fun umbreilas. The Twenty-Four Collection, a unique Florida establishment as fascinating as a bazaar, hung with art—paintings, African masks, all for sale—blends designer clothes for men and women, some furniture, and antique jewelry.

Au Courant, a mirrored optical shop with frames in hundreds of styles (plus frames made-to-order), has an intriguing video-cassette system: it tapes customers trying on eye-glass frames so that they can see themselves as they would like others to see them. At jewelers Greenleaf & Crosby, the showcases sparkle and glitter with elegant diamond rings, gold and diamond bracelets and necklaces, and knick-nacks in warm gold.

Two world-famous specialty stores, Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, anchor the two ends of the mall. In Florida's sunshine, I was startled by Saks's impressive range of winter clothing, their Revillon fur department and lively ski shop, in addition to the expected Adolfo and Ferragamo boutiques. In the Saks linen department, I spotted mosquito netting—which I had not seen around for ages—that South Americans buy and use.

Neiman's glass-domed roof plus its three glass elevators give the store a lovely feeling of airiness and views of blue sky. A vast Victor de Vasarely artwork—in several sections—called “Homage to the Hexagon” adds even more sparkle to Neiman's fantastic department of precious jewelry as does the eye-stopping forty-five-foot pastel mural, “Flamingo,” by Gene Davis in the women's shoe department.

“Filled with shining vintage cars . . . the garage at Bal Harbour Shops is as fascinating as an automobile show”

Unlike other big shopping centers where you become exhausted walking around, at Bal Harbour Shops, I never felt dog-tired or strained. Salespeople are attentive and shops uncrowded. Nonetheless, it's nice to be able to “drop out” for a snack or meal without leaving the mall. There, within view of one another, are two neat little places with bars. At Coco's—named after the great French designer Coco Chanel—lunch and dinner are served al fresco or in a contemporary interior. Specials: onion soup, desserts. At the Saucy Crêpe—decorated like an indoor garden—crêpes, non-crêpe dishes such as hamburgers, harp music at dinner.

The restaurant-restaurant of the mall is Tiberio's, an offshoot of the one in Washington, DC. Open for both lunch and dinner, it's a charming all-white place, with bowls of roses on pink tablecloths, good service, and food veering, naturally, towards Italian: delicious figs and prosciutto ham, marvelous pastas, sensational chocolate desserts.

Across the road from the mall, Bal Harbour's half dozen hotels and condominiums stand along the town's six-million-dollar beach—one mile long and three hundred feet wide—landscaped with sea grasses and palms. The new beach attraction is Vita Course, a series of do-it-yourself exercises with instructions and drawings on signs that serve as silent gym coaches.

The Americana Hotel of Bal Harbour puts on the only Las Vegas-lavish revues on Florida's Gold Coast. In the hotel's tall circular lobby, huge mosaic murals honor heroes of the Americas: Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, Sir Francis Drake, Juan Ponce de León, and Montezuma—the Aztec patriot in a brilliant feather headdress. From the Americana's large balconied rooms, the views of sailboats and ships give one the illusion of floating between Florida's big sky and the vast Atlantic.

Intrigued by the façade of recessed balconies of the new Balmoral apartment building, next door to the Americana, I popped in to see it. Behind the fountains and rose beds shielding the entrance to the Balmoral's dark-paneled lobby, I found impressive security measures: Sitting behind a crescent-shaped counter, a guard kept an eagle eye on a dozen or more closed-circuit television screens, as well as on me. Unable to see the real-estate broker to show me some apartments, I went on to Sea View, a hotel on the other side of the Balmoral.

From the outside, the Sea View looks like any other balconied hotel; but once you are inside, it has the gentle charm of small European hotels. No wonder its guests—well-known government officials, men in the financial world, and television celebrities—return year in and year out for several weeks. Although the rooms and suites are decorated in pale colors, each one is different. The hotel's breakfast room is sunny, cheerful with chintz; cabanas circle the pool which opens right onto the beach without that interminable walk to sand and sea. Sea View was a nice surprise.

The low-key Ivanhoe Hotel both looks and sounds like a European hotel. Its small pretty lobby with an oversize crystal chandelier buzzes with the sound of guests chatting in French, German, and British-English. What's even more surprising, the staff at the front desk answers back in kind.

The favorable foreign-exchange rate plus reasonable group airfares are obviously the reasons for this fresh avalanche of foreign visitors. In spring, a British tour operator will run five group flights a week—about seventeen hundred passengers—from the United Kingdom to Miami and back on Freddie Laker's fleet. Add to this figure all the other airlines carrying foreign visitors to Miami, plus us Americans. It's truly bonanza time for Miami. Reserve ahead is the idea.

Miami's vast open space always amazes me. Unlike many people who think of Miami as a crowded, overbuilt metropolis-by-the-sea, each time I go, I find some exciting new enclave of luxurious living spread over enormous tracts of virgin land.

Along the Intracoastal Waterway, ten minutes north of Bal Harbour (twenty minutes from Miami's airport), I drove to the Turn-airport), I drove to the Turnberry Isle Yacht and Racquet Club, an extraordinary new condominium resort. Turnberry Isle—about the size of New York's Central Park—until “yesterday” was merely scrubby marshland. Now, it has been transformed into a landscaped green oasis for its international residents.

Turnberry Isle so successfully fulfills the varied interests and comfort needs of its hundreds of residents, I had the feeling that its experienced developers must have used ESP in planning the community.

“James Bond would love the security system of Turnberry Isle”

In two tall towers, like sentinels guarding the Waterway, the North Tower apartments—with Giacometti's nine-foot-tall bronze sculpture, “Grande Femme Debout I,” in the lobby—are already lived in; those in the South Tower are almost ready for occupancy. Designed for Florida living, these apartments blend the functional and luxurious with incredible safety devices. None other than Rocky Pomerance, the former City of Miami Beach Chief of Police, designed the security system. Besides the twenty-four-hour manned gatehouse, automobile decals for cars' windshields to identify condominium owners, the front door of each apartment is monitored by computers and closed TV circuits that feed into a central security console. Special red panic buttons are also in the apartments for emergencies. (James Bond would love it.)

All two-bedroom apartments have balconies, kitchens opening onto breakfast nooks, and a fantastic Roman bath with whirlpool jets in the master bathroom. Valets park cars in covered garages, and each tower has a pool and tennis courts.

The Turnberry Isle Marina—with its own channel to the Atlantic and an attractive yacht-club pavilion—is a gem. Ninety-three boats as long as one hundred and fifty feet can berth at the dock here and find every nautical facility imaginable—including a ship's store, snack bar, crew's lounge, and room service to the boats.

Convenient both for Turnberry Isle residents and boat people, the Marina has four racquetball courts, a gym, health club, and beauty salon. In a separate building nearby, there are twenty-four hotel guestrooms, a bar, restaurant, and disco.

The green centerpieces of Turnberry—where egrets and pelicans strut proudly—are its two Robert Trent Jones-designed eighteen-hole golf courses. For the second year running, the well-known Elizabeth Arden cosmetic house has chosen the Turnberry Isle Country Club as the ideal setting for its 1980 Elizabeth Arden L.P.G.A. Golf Classic (February 7–10) to benefit the American Cancer Society of Dade County, Florida.

Tower residents travel to the attractive Country Club in Mercedes buses, in golf carts, or on their own steam. The design and decor of the Country Club with its forty guest rooms are unconventional, stunning, and in excellent taste: irregular-shaped windows—some long and narrow, others vertical or horizontal slits—frame views. In the dining room—partitioned with walls of potted plants—table-cloths are in earthy-colored paisley prints. In the bedrooms: Haitian straw area rugs cover glossy wooden floors, Haitian paintings hang on walls, furniture is rattan and wicker, television sets are huge, telephones small—Princess style.

Logically, the Turnberry Isle Country Club has an A-l pro shop; a famous golf pro, Julius Boros; a pool; luxurious locker rooms; sixteen tennis courts; and Fred Stolle, a two-time Wimbledon-winner is the Club's tennis pro.

The remarkable trees, shrubs, and flowers at Turnberry are not the result of a lucky “green thumb.” A crew of forty look after the greenery. Also, Turnberry has its own nursery at Delray for trees and tall plants, grows smaller plants in containers on the premises, and has a “shade house,” a kind of rest home, where plants are revitalized after being indoors or outdoors for a spell. I wonder, can Turnberry Isle also regulate the weather?