Miami Motel Stories Announces New Partnership

When Juggerknot launched Miami Motel Stories: Little Havana last October, we didn’t just want to make a bold statement. We wanted to completely change the conversation. MMS debuted at the Tower Hotel, one of Little Havana’s iconic and forgotten buildings, with a mission to broadcast our city’s stories on a completely different frequency. And the 305 heard us loud and clear. By the end of an extended run, around 3,000 people had roamed the halls and entered the hotel rooms-turned-intimate stages of the Tower. We like to think we inspired a new crowd of the “theater curious.”

Theater takes place in real time. It can’t be bought, sold, hung on a wall, re-read or remixed. This is doubly true for the site-specific theater we do, so for the second installment of Miami Motel Stories, we needed a visionary developer and a risk taker – someone who can see beyond a fast buck to the long-term economic and social value of preserving the past and channeling it into present-day stories. We also needed someone willing to temporarily suspend renovation and let a coterie of actors, designers, and eventually, audiences take over the space. Sound impossible?

Enter Avra Jain, founder of Vagabond Group Consulting.

Avra is a bad ass. If there were a superpower for developing groundbreaking restoration projects, Avra would sport that cape with style. She’s as comfortable negotiating a multi-million-dollar contract as she is donning a pair of overalls and evaluating a work site. Educated as an industrial engineer, Avra has produced an award-winning documentary about homelessness in New York City, she traded on Wall Street for fourteen years, and more recently, she’s been at the forefront of revitalizing MiMo, short for Miami Modern, the historic district that runs along Biscayne Boulevard from 51 to 77 street.

Before we knew how to make MMS happen, we knew we had to work with Avra. Luckily, the stars aligned and we’re thrilled to announce that Gold Dust by Selina, (formerly Hotel Blu) is the new site for Miami Motel Stories. Purchased by the Vagabond Group this year, the fifty-eight-unit, U-shaped hotel located at 7700 Biscayne Boulevard, features the original open-air verandas with cat walks, roman brick details, and an elevated trapezoidal pool deck. Built in 1957 by Maurice Weintraub, this architectural gem even houses a speakeasy.

Biscayne Blvd - File 4

We enlisted writer Mia Leonin to sit down for a one-on-one with Avra. Check it out:

You’ve been at the forefront of the movement to revitalize MiMo. You even moved into the neighborhood yourself. What draws you to Biscayne Boulevard?

Biscayne Boulevard captures that post World War II 1950 and ’60s era car culture. Before I-95 was built, US1 was the highway to the Magic City with neon signs flashing, “Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!” Just talking about it makes you smile. Miami is a young city and this sort of tropical midcentury modern architecture is a big part of our history.

What’s unique about Gold Dust (formerly Motel Blu)?

Typically, motels in the ’50s and ’60s were built around the parking lot. You drive in. You drive out. Gold Dust was built around the pool, which made it a more luxurious property at the time. It still has the street-level coffeeshop, the original pool, and a speakeasy on the lower level. They refer to it as a speakeasy, but it was a lounge. The Playboy Club was across the street from Gold Dust. The story is that people would go to the Playboy Club and afterwards to Gold Dust speakeasy. There were many rendezvous at the speakeasy.

It sounds glamorous.

When venues like the Vagabond and Gold Dust opened, there were announcements in the newspaper. Managers dressed in tuxedoes to greet guests. There are still people around who are old enough to say, “I saw Frank Sinatra on the boulevard.”

Honestly, it’s crazy to imagine that level of panache on Biscayne. Many Miamians associate it with seedy motels, drugs, and prostitution:

Yes, that’s part of the story too. When we bought the Knoxon Motel next door to the Vagabond, the front office had a sign that said, “No refunds after five minutes. It actually had said ten but they whited it out and put five.” The construction of I-95 diverted traffic from Biscayne and by the ’80s, it had fallen into disrepair.

Gold Dust is also on the Little River. How does that figure into its history?

We think the Little River connection makes the property special. In the old days, advertisements made references to “Pull your boat up.” Just up river from us is the Manatee Bend Park. And without giving too much away, I know Tanya and the Juggerknot team will be staging some of the performances on the waterfront.

Your commitment to restoration has proven that it can contribute to the economic health of the neighborhood. MiMo is flourishing with restaurants, shops, families, and young professionals. How does theater, Juggerknot, and Miami Motel Stories play an important role in this transformation?

I think preservation is a public benefit. We don’t just save buildings. We preserve moments in time. We are the gatekeepers to these historical moments, but Juggerknot retells the stories. They are going to tell the MiMo story whether it happened at Gold Dust, the Vagabond, or the Playboy Club. It’s not just about one property. It’s the whole area from the 1950s to the present. A huge Cuban immigrant population identifies with the boulevard. At one point, Little River was a Bahamian town. Remember, black musicians like Sammy Davis Jr. couldn’t stay on the beach because it was segregated, so they stayed on the boulevard.

Our job is to recreate the postcard. Juggerknot’s goal is to tell the whole story and I think Biscayne Boulevard has the full Miami story.

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