“Broadcasting live from Miami Beach, it’s The Jackie Gleason Show.” Well, no, actually, it’s the 34th Annual Graphics of the Americas show, coming from the Miami Beach Convention Center. As I write this early on Thursday morning, the show has yet to officially open, but the whole shebang kicked off last night with the Graphic Arts Leaders of the Americas (GALA) awards. The show organizers always try to pick some sort of exotic South Florida location for the GALA gala—last year, it was the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens across the bay in Miami proper. This year, it was at the Fontainebleau Resort (né Fontainebleau Hotel).

Congratulations to Manual Grañen Porrúa of the Miguel Angel Porrúa publishing group, recipient of the Young Entrepreneur award; Hans H. Wegner of National Geographic, recipient of the North American GALA Award; and Juan Carlos Sacco of MULTILABEL Argentina S.A., recipient of the Latin American GALA Award.

Although it has changed hands and been given many facelifts over the years (like many of the people in Miami Beach), the Fontainebleau Hotel was built in 1954 on the site that had been the location of the fairly palatial home of the founder of the Firestone Tire Company. (So if you find events at the Fontainebleau tiring, that could be why. Ahem.) The decision by hotelier Ben Novack to build a hotel on the site challenged the zoning restrictions in place at the time but, like most things in Miami Beach, massive amounts of money got around them. The building was designed by architect/designer Morris Lapidus, although both Lapidus and Novack feuded bitterly to their respective dying days over who actually designed the place. Essentially, Novack and Lapidus hated each other’s guts.

The most distinctive feature of the Fontainebleau was (and remains) its curved exterior and the decision to fill the interior with as much stuff as possible without regard for taste. It was a mélange of architectural and decorative styles that was intended to simply be impressive, overwhelming, or, depending whom you asked, tasteless. (They had attempted to get the famous marble statue Winged Victory, but upon seeing that it had no head, Novack was reported to have complained, “For $10,000 I want a head!” Not the most sophisticated of folks, these.)

The white tiles that comprise the lobby floor are imprinted with black bowties, which is said to have been Lapidus’s idea, since he was known for wearing bowties, although both Novack and Lapidus claimed that it was a coincidence. Yeah. Curiously, the menu does not include bowtie pasta.

If you have ever seen the James Bond movie Goldfinger, the opening scenes takes place at the Fontainebleau. (I was also told by a guy on the Tri-Rail train coming down from Ft. Lauderdale that the scrapyard just north of Miami was where James Bond’s car was crushed into a cube in Goldfinger. Funny how that’s not on any movie location tours.)

Another distinctive feature of the Fontainebleau is its infamous “spite wall.” In 1956, Novack’s partner/bitter enemy Lapidus designed the Eden Roc Hotel, which was located next door to the Fontainebleau. For a variety of personal reasons, Novack despised the Eden Roc, so, owning the land just to the East of the Eden Roc, Novack had a tower annex built onto the Fontainebleau solely designed (though he would deny it) to block the sun from hitting the Eden Roc’s pool. (The side that faced the Eden Roc had no windows or any other features; it was simply a blank wall.) Ergo, the Eden Roc had to build a new pool on the roof. There were various legal squabbles over vertical property rights for years that the Fontainebleau inevitably won.

In the 1950s, the Fontainbleau was the playground of stars like Frank Sinatra, who performed at the hotel gratis (nobody is entirely certain of the details of the arrangement, but I suspect there was a “broken kneecap” clause in his contract). The story also goes that the only thing Sinatra ever paid for were the hookers. (By the way, for more about the Fontainebleau and Miami Beach in general, I recommend the just-published book Fool's Paradise: Players, Poseurs, and the Culture of Excess in South Beach by Steve Gaines.

Miami Beach in general, and the grand hotels in particular, have died and been resurrected a variety of times since then. Today, the Fontainebleau lacks some of its original glamour, and seems more hip and trendy than truly luxurious. I was struck the most—in addition to the massive phalanx of parking attendants outside, whose sole purpose it seems is to prevent people from driving into the lobby—by the large lobby bar, which looks like nothing else than the interior of some kind of large spacecraft. (The Scotch list includes a 12-year-old Glenferengi. Ahem.) A central pillar bathed in purple light rises from the center of the circular bar area, and a ramp of bottles ascends the pillar (but not too high). Pastel lights illuminate abstract elliptical carvings on the ceiling, and the floor is a grid of blue light, which has the effect of walking on an ice cube tray. It kind of reminded me of an Electric Light Orchestra stage set circa 1977. Turn to stone indeed.

Elsewhere, the hotel’s famous “stairway to nowhere” still exists (Winchester Mystery House eat your heart out), although it appears that now it goes somewhere. That’s progress, I guess.

The Fontainebleau Hotel today is now the Fontainebleau Resort, of which there is another in Las Vegas. I was told earlier in the day by Katherine O’Brien of American Printer, that many years ago in northern Illinois there was a Fontainebleau (“fon-TAHN-bloo”) Putt-Putt miniature golf course. I do not know if this is now also part of the Fontainebleau Resorts family. My calls to the management have yet to be returned...

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