Star Island manse spared wrecking ball — for now
A hedge fund couple will have to wait a little longer before they can replace a 13,681-square-foot, 1920s-home on Star Island with a modern 9,178-square-foot home.
The Miami Beach Design Review Board postponed a decision on approving the project until Nov. 3. The reason: they want to give Wayne and Wendy Holman more time to explore ways to save the current house at 31 Star Island Drive, even though the Holmans don’t want to keep it.
Wayne Holman, founder of Ridgeback Capital Management, and his wife Wendy, formerly of Ziff Brothers Investments, bought the house and the 60,735-square-foot lot from Sam and Roni Jacobson for $18.8 million in June 2014 because of its lush landscaping and because it was next door to their modern 16,438-square-foot home at 31 Star Island Drive. The Holmans bought 31 Star Island Drive for $28.1 million from fellow hedge funder Jarrett Posner in April 2014.
Wendy Holman said she and her husband want to use a new one-story home designed by architect Kobi Karp as a residence for their parents and their children.
“One of the things we didn’t want was a very large house next door,” Wendy Holman told the board. “I really didn’t want something that is excessive.”
The Holmans’ lobbyist also testified that the interior has been thoroughly altered. “The home underwent some significant renovations in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s,” said Eric Zichella, principal of P3 Management, N.A. As a result, the original interior now has a tasteless, 1980s décor, Zichella said. One room, he added, was a bit scary. “There may have been a troubled youth in there at one time,” Zichella said. “There were black walls, black carpet… and I don’t know if there were Satanic stuff on the walls.”
But several preservationists rushed to the house’s defense. Within a couple of days, Daniel Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League managed to collect 165 signatures from people wishing to preserve the house. Ciraldo also uncovered evidence that the home may have been among the first homes built on Star Island when it was built as early as 1920. The home was also built for Cecil Fowler, a prominent business partner and friend of Carl Fisher. Although the original architect isn’t known, an addition to the home was built in 1926 by Walter DeGarmo, Florida’s first registered architect, Ciraldo said.
Other local preservationists decried the multiple demolitions of pre-World War II homes all over Miami Beach. “Destroying [history] is a crime against humanity,” said Dina Knapp. “When ISIS does it, we call it terrorism. When contractors do it, we call it capitalism.”
Hernando Caicedo grew up in 31 Star Island Drive until his family sold the house to the Jacobsons for $4.2 million in 1998. Caicedo admits some of the recent alterations inside are “gaudy,” but he believes that can easily be fixed. “They [the Jacobsons] did some alterations, but they kept the soul of the home intact,” says Caicedo, who now lives in Edgewater. “This is a house that is very dear to me … and if we keep tearing down places, Star Island is just going to have a bunch of white homes with giant windows.”
Under Miami Beach law, demolition permits for architecturally significant pre-1942 homes can’t be granted until the new structure design is approved by the Design Review Board. (Homes designated as historic by the city can’t be demolished or altered until approved by the Historic Preservation Board.) The DRB also can’t object to the home’s demolition, but it can insist that the client examine all possibilities to preserve it.
Most DRB members felt that the Holmans didn’t examine those possibilities. DRB member Annabel Delgado pointed out that the application sought the preservation of a tennis court on site as well as a tree house, but not the house.
Karp says the Holmans are willing to let anyone who wants it to take the house away from the site. But they don’t want it. “It basically sits in a way that doesn’t work for the family,” he said.