Old is the New New

 Old is the New New

Miami’s Vagabond Hotel Pays Homage to the Charm of a Bygone Era

 by Jack Raplee

When people think of Miami today, they envision luxurious modern hotels and high-rise condominiums, vast stretches of beach and palm trees all with an occasional flamingo sighting. While, that may be a generally accurate picture, it’s nonetheless one that fails to reflect the city’s history as a much sought after oasis for people across the United States.

Much of Miami’s development began in earnest after World War II, so there isn’t much “old” in the city…. at least not when compared with northeastern cities like Boston, New York or Philadelphia. Still, structures and neighborhoods remain that harken back to those early days ahead of the current real estate boom of the 21st Century.

In the 1940s and 50s, air travel was far less common than it is today. Vacationers generally boarded a train or packed into the family La Salle for a road trip. In the days before Interstate highways, Miami bound road warriors would invariably end up on US Route 1 which becomes Biscayne Blvd. once in city limits. Along the boulevard, drivers encountered a neighborhood peppered with small, charming, roadside motels that sought to entice travelers with bright and bold neon marquis with signage boasting amenities such as Color TV, and/or Air Conditioning.

Over time, development became more larger scale and moved closer to the beach and the bay, and these roadside lodgings began to fall into disrepair and, in some cases, disrepute. The allure of their glory days began to fade amid, cracked walls, chipped paint, and seedy clientele, a trend that, at face value, certainly appeared hopeless.

That blightful era is essentially forgotten today in light of the neighborhood’s remarkable revival. The strip along Biscayne Blvd. and the surrounding area is now known as MiMo (Miami Mid-Century Modern) and is recognized as an historic district.

At the center of MiMo’s revival (and essentially the impetus for it) is the Vagabond Hotel.

“This neighborhood completely turned around in only a matter of about three years,” explains Avra Jain, founder of the Vagabond Group. She saw the potential in the Vagabond Hotel (the marque still reads “Motel” in keeping with its heritage) when she purchased the property in 2012, fully renovating it to its current high-end status. “MiMo has reinvented itself into a charming, welcoming place that people want to come to again.”

Of course, the Vagabond Hotel, while maintaining its vintage decor and warmly retro atmosphere, is nonetheless a fully modern facility, complete with in-room WiFi and state-of-the-art flat screen televisions. “Our renovation of the Vagabond Hotel really set the bar for the rest of the community.” Today, the Vagabond Hotel boasts 60 percent direct booking and appears to corporate clients as well as families and young adults.

While the Vagabond Hotel has received national historic recognition, MiMo and some adjacent neighborhoods have been helped by being given “Historic District status. This, according to Jain, has enabled the neighborhoods engage in restoration without the threat of losing the very atmosphere that makes them so attractive. It also explains the distinct absence of high-rise modern condominiums or hotels and bland, antiseptic strip malls.

“The renaissance here has spread,” she continues, explaining how other hotels along the strip of Biscayne Blvd. have undergone or are currently undergoing renovations as well. “Often, a high-end restoration can actually cost more than building new structures.”

In all, Avra Jain maintains a realistic optimism for the foreseeable future, not only for the Vagabond Hotel, but for the neighborhood at large. Unlike many modern real estate developers who recognize demographic changes and subsequently bulldoze the very things that bring about those changes only to replace them with luxury housing, MiMo and the Vagabond Hotel will continue to be at the forefront of making maintaining the newness of the oldness and keeping this area of Miami a “go to” spot for years to come.


For more information on the Vagabond Hotel, visit: www.thevagabondhotelmiami.com.