The Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach c1950/60s
Postcard courtesy eBay
The Fontainebleau Hotel
at 4441 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida was designed by Morris Lapidus for Ben
Novak, the owner, and opened in 1954. Once the Fontainebleau opened the
in-crowd nightspots gradually moved up to the ocean-front hotels along
Collins Avenue from about 30th Street up thru 65th Street, and from 1954
thru 1960 there was a major shift northward for the Miami Beach
Elvis at the rear of a train enroute to Miami - March
Enjoying a reputation as the area's top resort hotel, it was a favorite stopover for notables such as Frank
Sinatra, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Judy Garland, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Marlene Dietrich, Debbie Reynolds
among many others and every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. The resort's famed crescent shape is set amid 20 lush tropical acres and accented by a magnificent grotto-style pool with cascading waterfalls. Its classic guest rooms afford spectacular water views and some are equipped with private
The Hotel has been the setting of films like "The Bellboy,"
starring Jerry Lewis, "Goldfinger," starring Sean
Connery as James Bond and "Scarface" that featured Al Pacino
as gangster Tony Montoya. Whitney Houston sang Dolly Parton's "I Will
Always Love You" from the Grand Ballroom in the 1992 movie "The
Bodyguard." The Grand Ballroom was the biggest in Miami with
a stage and capacity of 2200 people. In 1960 the series of
four bi-monthly Frank Sinatra specials sponsored by Timex were taped from
the stage of the Grand Ballroom and aired on ABC television. The
series though, is most remembered for one episode which was Frank's
Elvis" party taped only weeks after Elvis'
return from the Army in March of 1960.
Frank and Elvis rehearsing at the Fontainebleau
Photo courtesy Elvis Day by Day
Frank was no fan of rock 'n' roll music and had had a few choice words to say about it in the past.
In an oft-quoted remark to a Paris magazine in 1957, Frank Sinatra
declared, "Rock 'n' roll smells phony and false. It is sung, played
and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its
almost imbecilic reiteration, and sly, lewd, in plain fact, dirty
lyrics...it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned
delinquent on the face of the earth." But whatever the reason - ratings ploy or simply to placate his teenage daughter - Sinatra was feeling gracious enough to invite Presley to join him on his show.2
In fact he had sent his daughter Nancy to greet Elvis upon his arrival
from Germany at McGuire
Air Force base in New Jersey with a box of custom tailored shirts.
Elvis, Scotty and D.J. with local musicians at the Hotel Fontainebleau - Mar
Just weeks after Elvis' discharge, Scotty and DJ
reunited with Elvis again and proceeded to Nashville for their first
session at Studio B. Bill Black chose not to return. After recording two ballads, "Stuck on you" and "Fame
and Fortune," Elvis and the band boarded a train in Nashville and headed
south to Miami on March 21st. Scotty remembers seeing people lining the
tracks along the way. The trip was supposed to be secret, but Colonel Parker, in
an effort to get publicity, called every small town along the way. At
some stops Parker got Elvis to stand on the back platform, like he had
seen some presidents do, and wave to the cheering crowds.3
Elvis and Scotty onstage at the Fontainebleau -
Mar 26, 1960
When they reached
Miami on the 22nd, they checked in to the Hotel Fontainebleau. For
the rest of the week they rehearsed for the show. Asked if he has changed
his mind and set aside his very pronounced views about rock 'n' roll (a
music "for cretinous goons"), Sinatra side stepped the question,
responding, "The kid's been away two years, and I get the feeling he
really believes in what he's doing." The television show was taped
at 6:15 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom on March 26, 1960 but it wasn't
broadcast until May 12th, almost six weeks later. Elvis performed the two new songs recorded in
Nashville and duets with Frank in a mutual reversal of roles, on both
the host's "Witchcraft" and his own "Love Me Tender."4
Frank Sinatra's Welcome Home Party for Elvis Presley
The Frank Sinatra Timex Show - March 26, 1960
courtesy Classic Television Internet
Broadcast 12th May 1960
Directed by Richard Dunlap
Running Order (From IMDB):
It’s Very Nice (performed by Frank Sinatra)
Frank’s Time Machine (Frank Sinatra and Joey Bishop)
Witchcraft (performed by Frank Sinatra)
Timex promotional segment
Come On Bess (performed by Sammy Davis Jr.)
Oriental Wedding Celebration
Leona Irwin and the Tommy Hansen Dancers
Sammy Recalls the Oscars (Sammy Davis Jr.)
Shall We Dance (Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford)
Timex promotional segment
Fame and Fortune (performed by Elvis Presley)
Stuck on You (performed by Elvis Presley)
Love Me Tender/Witchcraft medley (performed by Frank Sinatra and Elvis
Timex promotional segment
Love Makes You Feel So Young (performed by Frank and Nancy Sinatra)
Let’s Dance (Nancy Sinatra)
Goodbye (Frank Sinatra)
Concerned about mounting expenses, Colonel Parker hired
a bus to carry the group back to Memphis. It was the only
appearance/performance the band would make that year but Scotty and DJ
would soon after make their final appearance in an Elvis film in
GI Blues, which coincidentally featured Sinatra's current
girlfriend, Juliet Prowse. Over the years other more modern hotels
and properties were built, and restored boutique hotels entered the
market as the Fontainebleau gradually lost its luster and many changes to the property occurred.
In March and April of 2006, items of all sorts from the Fontainebleau
were sold so the hotel could be renovated. Kitchen and banquet
equipment, 7,000 dishes, carpeting, early menus and silverware embossed
with the hotel's name, even furnishings for a suite known as the "Goldfinger
Suite" were sold in the liquidation. Sale items were priced to sell
fast, with some costing as little as 25 cents.5
In November of 2008, the Hotel held a grand reopening
attended by star studded guest list after a $1 billion renovation and
expansion which included an 18-story, 286 all-suite tower constructed on
the south end of the property. The 1,504-room complex includes a
world-class 40,000-square-foot spa, 11 restaurants and lounges, 58
meeting rooms totaling 107,000 square feet, 42,000 square feet of
pre-function areas and 51,000 square feet of space for hosting a variety
of outdoor functions.
The Fontainebleau's famed "Staircase to Nowhere"
AP Photo by Lynne Sladky
The grand lobby's original white-and-black
bow-tie floor pattern was recreated out of new materials, and its
furrowed columns were preserved and refurbished. So too was the
Fontainebleau's famed "Staircase to Nowhere," which historically led to
a small coat room just above the lobby. Belles and beaus would take an
elevator up, check their coats and descend the stairs for a grand
entrance. The coat check is gone — not a terribly sensible feature in
the tropics, anyway — but the runway remains.6
After the opening party,
the Fontainebleau hosted the
Victoria's Secret lingerie show — the
footprint of careful calibration to recreate its sexy, stylish past and
to become once again relevant, a new place to be for a new generation of
pretty and cool.6
Through the efforts of members of the FECC
and the Sinatra
Family Forum we were able to connect with Stan Musick who was the
Fender bass player that performed with Elvis, Scotty, and D.J. for the
Sinatra show at the Fontainebleau along with Anselmo Sacasas on piano
and an, as yet, unnamed upright bass player. In May of 2009 he had
this to say about it, "Joe Comfort was the bass player with Nelson Riddle,
I loaned him my upright bass for the session, but the photos shown were from the band that Scotty Moore hired for the session. I'm sorry to say that I don't remember the name of the upright bass player next to me in the photo.
As I recall [and it's a long time ago], nobody on the band seemed to be familiar with the other musicians.
Elvis stayed at a penthouse in the
Fontainebleau Hotel and since I was a new addition he asked me to come up and say
hello and to discuss his music. I spent an hour or so with him and he turned out to be a gentleman and a really likable young man. Since he just got out of the service, he had a tendency to call every male, "sir" and I reminded him that he was no longer in the service and he laughed really hard.
I had a wonderful time with him. When I told him that I played bass on a USO Tour in Germany and that we appeared at his Army Base where he was stationed, he actually remembered the show.
As a local musician, I played bass on many different occasions in the
Fontainebleau Hotel. I remember playing in the La Ronde room with a large orchestra for Eddie Fischer when he was on top of his career. Also, I remember playing [at the
Fontainebleau] with an orchestra from New York [can't remember the name] as a tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt [she was still alive at that time]. This is where I met Joe Comfort, the bass player with Nelson Riddle's orchestra. I believe it was the night before the Timex show and he came up to me and remarked how he liked the way my upright bass sounded. He then proceeded to tell me that he wasn't allowed to bring his upright bass [from California] and he had rented a plywood upright bass from Ace Music here in Miami. He wasn't happy with the plywood bass so I said he could use my upright bass for the Timex Show. That's how we became friends.
In 1972 I was musical director at the Playboy Plaza Hotel in Miami Beach and I remember having 32 musicians for Tony Bennett and my orchestra also played for Liza Minelli, Sammy Davis, Diahann Carroll, Mitzi Gaynor and others. I'm now 80 years old and am lucky enough to still be healthy.
May 11, 2009
just to add, Scotty has said
he did not hire anyone or know anyone there. He just spoke to them
briefly during rehearsal and the show. It's likely that additional band
members were the responsibility of and arranged through the Colonel, Tom
Diskin or their contacts. He added that Elvis did not call him “sir”
because of being in the service. He called everyone m’am and sir
because his mother taught him that when he was very young and he
continued to do so all the years Scotty knew him.
The Return of the Fontainebleau
Miami Beach’s Landmark Hotel Reopens After $1 Billion
By Debra Wood
The landmark Miami Beach hotel, the Fontainebleau, once
synonymous with panache and frequented by Frank Sinatra, Elvis and
Marilyn Monroe, has reopened after an extensive renovation and again
Paris Hilton, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson attended a recent
reopening party at the resort.
“It’s a different glamour today, but it still has the intensity and
freshness of the 1950s with a 2008 look,” says Donald F. Wolfe, a
partner with Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates of Miami, the
designer of the $1 billion renovation and expansion project for
Fontainebleau Resorts of Miami Beach and Nakheel Hotels & Resorts of the
United Arab Emirates. The owners did not respond to requests for
information about the project.
“The goal was to update and preserve an iconic piece of architecture on
Miami Beach,” says Rick Lee, senior vice president of HKS, the architect
of record. “The owners wanted an up-to-date piece of architecture that
would revitalize the property and at the same time respect its
historical significance. That was a challenge.”
City of Miami Beach officials have praised the result.
“We’re glad to see it reopen,” says William Cary, who is the assistant
planning director for the city and was significantly involved with the
project’s design and final construction. “It has quite a sensational
impact when you walk into the space.”
Senior city planner Debbie Tackett, calls it spectacular.
“The new and old work well together,” she says.
Recreating a piece of history
The Morris Lapidus-designed, crescent-shaped, Miami Modern-style hotel
opened in 1954. It ushered in an era of pizzazz as celebrities and those
who wanted to rub shoulders or say they stayed at the same hotel flocked
to the oceanfront resort.
“[Lapidus’s] purpose in life was to create a sense of delight for the
users of his architecture,” Cary says.
The Fontainebleau gradually lost its luster as other, more modern
lodging properties and restored boutique hotels entered the market. Over
the years, many changes to the property occurred. The Versailles hotel
tower and ballroom, designed by A. Herbert Mathes, was started about
three years after the curved Chateau building opened, and the Versailles
connected to the Lapidus structure, altering its original appearance.
“When the Fontainebleau opened, the critics were not kind, and [Lapidus]
was disturbed by the critiques,” Cary says. That led Lapidus to destroy
almost all of the original drawings, plans and renderings.
The city had access to a poor photocopy of some plans. The team and city
relied on old black-and-white photographs, speaking with people and
examining the original fabric to determine how the property looked soon
after it opened. For instance, pulling up carpeting allowed the team to
trace out original walls and reception desks.
“When you put all of these things together, you get back closer to what
was originally there, but I would refrain from calling it a detailed
restoration,” Cary says. “In order to restore, you would have had to
remove those later connections to the lobby.
“Basically, it was a matter of restoring elements that were in areas
where they could be re-created and reinterpreting them in a more modern
sense. Morris Lapidus always said, ‘I create my architecture for the
people of my time.’ We felt it was truest to his vision to redefine his
Cary says Lapidus felt preservation should be left to the people using
The city’s historic preservation staff deemed several components of the
original hotel as significant, including the stairway to nowhere and
columns in the lobby. Some of the original tiles on those columns could
not be repaired, so the team re-created the effect with new materials.
Most of Lapidus’ bowtie floor had been destroyed after hotelier Stephen
Muss bought the property out of bankruptcy during the 1970s and put in
escalators to a commercial floor below. The current renovators used a
computer-generated plan to replicate the floor and install new tiles.
“Where we could, we tried to maintain the original, and where could not,
we replicated it as best we could,” HKS’ Lee says.
State building codes required some modifications. Cary says that codes
prevent any stairway to have openings between rails of more than 4-in.
The marble-treaded “stairway to nowhere” had an open metal railing
system with a hardwood rail.
“It was impossible to retain that the way it was,”’ Cary says. “We had
to allow a system to be designed which installed vertical glass plates
along the steps.”
Interior designer Jeffrey Beers International of New York returned the
reception desk area to its original location. However, this time instead
of wood, the panels behind it feature blue-grey mirror glass with a
polished nickel frame offset from the wall.
In the sunken garden lobby, about three steps down from the main lobby
and overlooking the ocean, the historic preservation board approved the
introduction of an illuminated blue glass floor with fiber-optic
lighting beneath it and an elegant polished-nickel and glass chandelier.
“It creates a dramatic effect,” Cary says. “Lapidus was about effect.”
In certain areas, the team expanded the property and replicated certain
architectural elements, such as a waved-formed canopy above the doors
from the lobby to the pool area, which had been altered more than two
The team created a three-dimensional survey of the main and secondary
ballrooms, the lobby and the nightclub areas using laser scanners to
identify existing components. HKS imported that into its CAD system.
“Without that information, we would be guessing where specific walls
were, unless we went out there and pulled a tape measure,” Lee says.
“Even if we were to do that, we would not come up with an accurate CAD
depiction of the space.”
The current design team, including structural engineer Walter P. Moore
and Associates of Austin, Texas, contacted the original structural
engineer, Jacques L. Clarke of the former Oboler & Clarke of North Miami
Beach, to learn how he designed lateral bracing for the concrete-frame
and block Chateau building.
“By today’s standards, some of the things he did were innovative,” Lee
The guest rooms
Crews gutted the upper floors and re-created 846 guest rooms and suites
in the original two buildings—the Chateau and Versailles.
“I don’t know that many people want to relive the 1950s style,” Lee
says. “They were updated to current thinking.”
Fontainebleau Resorts added 658 junior suites in two new all-suite
towers, also designed by Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates. City
officials reviewed all of the designs.
“The opening event and seeing the spaces being used again in a way they
were originally intended to be used would have been a great thrill for
Lapidus,” Cary says. “There is no other venue like it, not only in Miami
Beach but, possibly, in South Florida. It redefines glamour.”
Team Box Owner: Fontainebleau Resorts, Miami Beach, and Nakheel Hotels &
Resorts, United Arab Emirates Design Architect: Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates, Miami Architect: HKS, Dallas Interior Design: Jeffrey Beers International, New York Structural Engineer: Walter P. Moore and Associates, Austin,
Texas Forensic Engineer: Wiss, Janney, Eltsner Associates, Northbrook,
Ill. Contractor: Turnberry Construction, Aventura, Fla.