The plaster nymphs seem unnaturally downcast behind the fence at the Vagabond Motel, the dimmed leading light of Biscayne Boulevard's fledgling Miami Modern historic district. After years of frustrated stabs at renovation, the droll '50s drive-in hotel sits vacant, a victim of over-large ambition and foreclosure.
Yet just a few blocks south, the husband-wife team of Walter Figueroa and Shirley Diaz put the finishing touches on their tenderly refurbished motel, a far less attention-grabbing but still significant exemplar of the MiMo style by architect Norman Giller.
The New Yorker has its original name back after years as the Davis Motel, and with its restored lobby and terrazzo floors, new mid-century-style furnishings, and resplendent new neon signs, it will be the star attraction of the MiMo district's third annual street fair Saturday.
Nearly four years after the city of Miami bestowed historic designation on 27 long-neglected blocks of upper Biscayne Boulevard, the pace of progress is starkly uneven along the district, best known for its cheery if rundown mid-21st century MiMo motels.
Signs of verve abound: Despite a deep recession, the district has become a thriving restaurant row, with tasty and tasteful food both high and low from the pricey star-chef fare of Michy's to Ver Daddy's taco stand -- and lots in between, catering in large part to the gentrifying single-family neighborhoods that flank the boulevard.
Though retail shops have struggled, new services pop up regularly:, from pet-grooming, and hairstyling, to dry cleaning and, since December, a gleaming new workout gym, Biscayne Boxing, in a smartly restored 1940s MiMo building.
And, of course, the famed, historic Coppertone Girl sign that once hung in downtown Miami was restored and installed in the district at the end of 2008. Like Diaz and Figueroa of the New Yorker Motel, a handful of hopeful property owners have embarked on modest but winning renovations. A Haitian-American couple, Thomas and Jocelyne Hider, converted a small Art Deco gem of a hotel into a loft residence for themselves, with a soon-to-open antique store, Memoires, on the ground floor.
Developer Michael Luis painstakingly renovated a low-scale MiMo apartment building just off the Boulevard at Northeast 74th Street and Sixth Court after the recession killed plans for a new mid-rise.
But for every culinary and preservation success, there is a vacant storefront or seedy liquor store or dilapidated motel, still catering to the diminishing traces of the drug and sex traffic that once plagued the entire district.
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