Fort Lauderdale Beach Residents Race to Save Historic Buildings From Demolition

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Charlie Esposito has lived in his home on Seville Street off A1A on Fort Lauderdale Beach for the last decade. He’s always marveled at the sharp corners, striped paneling, and asymmetrical chimneys and staircases of the neighborhood’s 1930s architecture.

But a few days after Miami-based Key International purchased three parcels on Alhambra Street (just behind his home) last week for $9.6 million, a demolition truck was seen on site. Esposito rushed to file an emergency injunction in court last Friday to halt the bulldozers.

“It’s really beautiful and a combination of Art Deco and Art Moderne,” Esposito tells New Times. “We belong to our neighborhood and we have to act before it's too late to do anything.”

Esposito, who moved to Fort Lauderdale Beach in 1981, has spent the last year urging the city's Historic Preservation Board to recognize the buildings. OTO Development plans to demolish the structures to build a 10-story, 175-room AC Hotel by Marriott. The Historic Preservation Board ruled 8-to-1 that the property known as Villa Torino be protected, but a quaint single family home from 1936 awaiting a hearing was demolished before that could happen. Esposito was shocked when city commissioners ignored the board’s recommendation and unanimously rejected historic preservation status last July. Soon after, Esposito and Erika Klee, another neighbor, sued the city and petitioned to have the commission's judgment reviewed. They hoped to save Villa Torino and another 1938 building designed by architect Courtney Stewart (who also designed the Coca-Cola bottling plant on Andrews Avenue) from suffering a similar fate.

For months, they didn't make much progress. But when Esposito and Klee saw a demolition tractor on the site and learned developers had applied for a demolition permit, they sprang into action. Their attorney, Ralf Brooks, put in an emergency injunction for a final ruling.

The injunction states that “final ruling is needed on an emergency basis because the building, which Petitioners allege is historic, could be demolished before the court issues a final ruling.”

It’s not just the demolition. Since the buildings were constructed in the 1930s, Esposito is concerned about the environmental impact of any asbestos that will be released if bulldozers pummel the structures down. When a quaint single family home was demolished last summer, Esposito remembers a cloud of dust (and possibly asbestos) sweep down the street. He hopes that the city requires environmental impact studies before they grant any application, which could buy Esposito more time.

“We’re just outgunned here,” Esposito sighs. “It’s as if the city’s laws were designed for the developers trying to make Fort Lauderdale look more like Miami.”

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