April 28, 2015

The Restoration of Al Capone's Miami Beach Mansion

  • By: David Weible
The two-story pool cabana

photo by: MB America

The two-story pool cabana is on the edge of Biscayne Bay. A spiral staircase leads to the top floor which comprises two, mirror-image large rooms -- one bedroom and one full bathroom.

Prohibition is dead, gone, and if this blog is any indication, ain't coming back (thank God). But the former home of Al Capone, the Prohibition era’s most notorious bootlegger, was recently resurrected.

Al Capone’s 1922 Miami Beach mansion was bought by architecture firm MB America back in April 2014 for a cool $8 million -- actually not that bad of a price! -- and has largely been restored to its former glory.

The property's historic landscaping

photo by: MB America

In order to protect the property's historic landscaping, most of the restoration work was done by hand instead of with machines.

The Colonial/Neoclassical hybrid property on Miami Beach’s Palm Island waterfront was built in 1922 and bought by Capone in ’28 for $40,000. The 6,000-foot main villa is accompanied by a two-story cabana on the property’s waterfront and a gatehouse on the street, as Capone wanted protection from both directions. The notorious gangster passed away in the gatehouse’s second-floor master bedroom in 1947.

The property also includes a pond with a lighthouse and a bridge made of red coral –- because why not, right?

The property includes a gatehouse, main villa, and two-story cabana

photo by: MB America

The property includes a gatehouse, main villa, and two-story cabana.

Restoration work started in December 2014 and will finish early this summer, in time for Miami Beach’s centennial celebration. The total price tag will be somewhere in the $2 million range.

Work on the main house started from the bottom -- it took 10 days to pump water out from around the structure’s support pylons. Efforts then moved to the first floor where the layout and spaces were kept intact. Of special importance was refurbishing the house’s original light fixtures and its first-floor bathroom, complete with tiles, toilet, and sink from the Capone era.

The property's small bridge, lighthouse, and grotto

photo by: MB America

The property's small bridge, lighthouse, and grotto are all made from red coral.

Another critical point of the restoration, according to MB America, was to find a balance between bringing the structures up to modern building codes and respecting the site’s history, flavor, and look -- inside and out.

MB America went to great lengths to preserve the property’s historic landscaping. To avoid the impact of heavy machinery on the grounds, much of the restoration work was done by hand.

Architects worked to balance the historic character

photo by: MB America

Architects worked to balance the historic character of the property with modern building codes.

The site’s original pool -- once one of the largest in South Florida -- also remains, though its water level no longer rises and falls with the tide.

A few items still remain on the to-do list, including the reconstruction of what was once a large dock servicing the property. Once the finishing touches are complete, the house and grounds, now known as 93 Palm, will be leased out for photo shoots and film productions.

Given its new use, my only question is ... Where was this restoration back in 1998?!

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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