Historic restoration of a multifamily residential building
Built in 1923 in the Classic Revival style, the Royalton Hotel was once an opulent, elegant hideaway in the heart of Miami’s Central Business District. Eight decades later, the hotel had become a rundown, faded eyesore. Nevertheless, the Royalton was designated a contributing building in the National Register Downtown Miami Historic District. The original front porch that was open to the street to catch the southern breezes, was enclosed in the 1970’s; and the lobby converted to retail stores and a restaurant, destroying all the elegant features – that is until a local developer teamed with a nonprofit housing group, and an experiences restoration architect, to create magic in Magic City.
Carlisle Development Group and Carrfour Supportive Housing joined forces in 2004 to acquire the Royalton. They retained Beilinson Gomez Architects P.A. to restore the structure and adapt the 100 room hotel into a 100-unit affordable housing residential apartment building for the formerly homeless.
From the start the project presented a number of challenges:
In order to determine the original appearance of the lobby and interior public spaces, we needed to do careful selective demolition of non-original walls, ceilings and floor finishes, as well as the fire sprinkler system. We discovered a small section of a decorative architectural ceiling, previously blocked up windows and doors, and remnants of the original decorative terrazzo floor.
Since the use was being changed from hotel to apartments, we were required by the Building Code to being the building up to current codes. This necessitated reinforcing all the existing exterior walls and floors that were constructed with hollow clay tile. This original construction did not conform to the wind load requirements for the hurricane zone.
In order to comply with the Florida Building Code, we needed to restore the 80 year old steel sash and wire glass fire rated windows for two reasons: The frames were structurally secured to the exterior walls which precluded removal, and the building was constructed on the property line on the sides and rear. Under the current building code windows could not have been placed on these elevations, but a solution of providing a fire sprinkler head over the interior side of the window was approved by the City of Miami Fire Department.
The Life Safety Code requires the addition of a second stair to provide a remote emergency egress for each floor. This presented a complex challenge because the stair needed to be located at the back of the building, and at the ground level a protected path needed to be provided to the street at the front of the building without passing through the building interior. The original arcade on the east side of the building that had been closed was reopened and restored to provide this path.
The fire sprinkler system, which had been installed only eight years earlier, had to be completely reinstalled to accommodate the new higher ceilings which matched the original ceilings. The original electrical and plumbing systems needed to be replaced, and air conditioning was retrofitted.
The existing structure offered a large challenge for accessibility. The entire structure was raised approximately 30” above the sidewalk level, and accessible only by steps. The problem was solved by lowering and ramping the arcade to provide a gracious and seamless accessible entry to the building.
In addition, during construction there were two hurricanes which disrupted the construction schedule and strained the project finances.
Yet the team persevered, bringing the building back to life as a restored historical gem. Completed in 2008, the historic rehabilitation of the Royalton returned the building to its 1920s grandeur, while offering state-of-the-art amenities including wireless internet, air conditioning, and historic architecture that makes it a proud place to call home. Historic preservation proved to be the catalyst for the success of this project.