Heartbreak Hotel

It's the end of an era on Hollywood Beach, where small, cheap motels are all that stand in the way of another playground for the wealthy

"You have two types of hotel owners," Welsch explains. "You have the types who won't reinvest in their hotels, and [in the current market] they will have the hardest time, because people won't pay $200 to stay in a place that has dirty linens and stained furniture and sagging mattresses when the hotel should be charging $50 a night."

Welsch suspects that rundown joints have no agenda except sitting on property until a developer approaches with a handsome offer. Until that day, there's little incentive for a motel owner hoping to cash in to make improvements. Which explains the more dilapidated lodgings on the beach.

"Then you have operators who want to make a living and improve the properties," Welsch says. He puts the DeSoto inns in this category. "We have put a good deal of investment into our properties, and we're in it for the long haul. We have appreciated in beauty, in charm, due to the investments we've made. Those investments were not made to make it more attractive to a developer."

The view from the Ocean Palms (following images) beats the view on Pierce Street, where Eileen Miller's 27 years as a motel owner are coming to an end, courtesy of the Hollywood Grande.
The view from the Ocean Palms (following images) beats the view on Pierce Street, where Eileen Miller's 27 years as a motel owner are coming to an end, courtesy of the Hollywood Grande.

Location Info


Hollywood Beach

Johnson Street and Michigan Street
Hollywood, FL 33019

Category: Parks and Outdoors

Region: Hollywood

The motel owners who have put off improvements because they intend to sell are sheepish about admitting it. When asked whether the owner of an eyesore on the beach's south end had been approached by developers, the manager smiles broadly: "No, but he's waiting for that day."

Reached at his Miami phone number, the owner says he'll sell "when the price is right." But he denies that this has caused him to be lax in maintaining the property.

Conceivably, the innkeepers who want to weather economic forces so they can stay could form a political action committee and lobby for public policies that might save them. It's Neuwirth's belief, for instance, that motels like hers are an "endangered species" and that, if city and state officials really want variety on South Florida beaches, small motels are entitled to some special environmental protection.

But since the small operators have all had to trim expenses, they've taken on more housekeeping and bookkeeping work themselves, leaving less time for political activism.

And there may be more subtle forces at work. Even the inns that are immaculately maintained may be tempted to cut their losses and sell at the first generous offer. In that climate of suspicion, solidarity is elusive.

"It's hard to tell who really wants to be here," Neuwirth says. "I think we're few and far between. If we were a unified group of small property owners who wanted to stay here, we probably would be organized and have more clout to get what we wanted, but I don't think that's the case."

To see an ocean disappear, head south on Hollywood Beach's Broadwalk. It's the one enduring, egalitarian stretch of South Florida beach; but as the Broadwalk crosses Georgia Street, it turns almost imperceptibly west, ducking behind hedges and then motels to connect with Surf Road for several blocks until finally it crosses Iris Lane and runs smack into a condominium wall. Egalitarianism has to end somewhere.

From here, the privileged are invited to the gleaming lobbies of high-rises like the Ocean Palms and the Diplomat, where condos and hotel rooms afford panoramic views of the ocean.

The unprivileged are invited to play in traffic. Relegated to Ocean Drive, joggers suddenly find the sidewalk so narrow that they must dip into traffic lanes to pass walkers. The rising sun vanishes behind the row of towers, and the sea is gone — concealed behind the imposing façades, accessible only through the back patios of the luxury high-rises.

Inside those buildings, one suddenly feels very far from Hollywood. The "grand entry foyer" of the Ocean Palms is all black marble, and the mirrors hanging on the wall are as big as the pools in Hollywood Beach's small motels. The Ocean Palms' own pool, which is flanked by a tennis court and surrounded by dozens of fountains and 20 private cabanas, is somehow waveless on a windy day, with water that assumes the color of champagne, flowing into a whirlpool that during high tide seems to hover over the surf.

Every one of the high-rise's 240 units boasts a view of both the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. All were sold in 2003 and 2004, before the South Florida housing bubble burst.

The showers are made of marble, the cabinetry is Snaidero Italian, the refrigerators all Cohler Sub-Zero. From a 15th-floor suite, called "The Atlantic," the ocean's expanse seems to fill more than 180 degrees of the horizon. For about $5 million, you can find out whether the 40th-floor penthouse affords a view of the Bahamas.

Because city codes restrict the number of residential units that can be built per acre of real estate, high-rises built in Hollywood's near future probably won't have as many condos as the Ocean Palms, nor will they likely go as high as its 40 stories.

But in terms of style, the new generation of Hollywood Beach development will more closely resemble the Ocean Palms than the Atlantic Sands. "The people that own single-story motels or two-story motels will never sell at a price that will make two- to four-story development viable," says Scott Roth, a spokesman for Ocean Palms. "It will have to be ten- to 20-story buildings — at a minimum."

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