Notable Miamians in their summer finery flocked to the grand opening of the Vagabond Motel on Monday to view the magical transformation of this once boarded-up motel into a sparkling example of historic chic.
Clustering around the lush greenery, they enjoyed hors d'oeuvres, cocktails and a poolside jazz combo, their talk centering on Avra Jain, the powerhouse Miami developer who specializes in discovering and renovating shabby, but charming, historical properties into showplaces.
Built in 1953 on Biscayne Boulevard, Jain envisions the Vagabond as central in her plans to create a trendy but historically preserved neighborhood. "The Vagabond just called to me. It’s a spectacular piece of property, and, with its size and set up, it's the perfect boutique hotel," she said, likening the 45-room motel to Miami Beach's trendy Standard hotel.
It certainly took someone with vision to uncover this gem under the years of neglect. Once a shining example to the area’s Modernist architecture known as Mimo, the Vagabond seemed destined for the wrecker's ball. But Jain changed the motel's destiny, and on Monday night, Miami Mayor Tomás Pedro Regalado was among those praising her foresight. "Avra is changing the face of the upper Eastside. She took what was an eyesore and turned it into a hidden paradise," the mayor said.
Brian Schriner, dean of the FIU College of Architecture + The Arts, agreed. “I’m thrilled to be part of the relaunching of the Vagabond. It’s nice to see this place come back to life, said Schriner. " It’s important to preserve the intent of these historical places by making them contemporary to meet today’s needs,” he added.
But Maria May was perhaps the visitor most entranced. Nearly 54 years ago she and her husband Hugo fled Cuba with their three daughters, the eldest only four years old, and their nanny. They took no money, but Hugo had stashed a $2,000 check inside his shoe, as cash would have tipped off the Havana airport authorities of their plan.
Their flight was delayed and when they reached Miami, the banks closed. The family traveled up and down Biscayne Boulevard seeking a place to stay, but all the hotels turned them away. “Look, the Vagabond Motel! This is the place for us because we’re all vagabonds now. We have no country and no home, so this is where we’re staying,” Maria recalled her husband exclaim when he saw the hotel’s sign.
Indeed, the Vagabond’s owners warmly welcomed them. But, as the decades passed, the family became heartsick as they saw their beloved Vagabond deteriorate. But on Monday night, Maria, and her two daughters, Lillian and Marlene, was among those rejoicing in the motel's return. "This is a bittersweet night for us," said Maria, whose husband had passed away. But, she added, "I am very glad that I was able to come back with my daughters to see this."
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