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Morris Lapidus

LAPIDUS, MORRIS (1902–2001), flamboyant Odessa-born architect who brought the ideas of Hollywood luxury to hotel design in Miami Beach during the 1950s and 1960s. In his lifetime he built 1,200 buildings and 250 hotels. His style was an adaptation of "form follows function," where the functions were glamour and fun. Castigated by the official architectural establishment, except for Philip Johnson, he persisted. Starting out from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, earning scholarships plus professional training in architecture at Columbia University, he began his career by designing commercial buildings and synagogues. He created store fronts with hidden lighting and curved glass windows that paved the way for better displays of merchandise. His first architectural commission, in 1954, was for the Hotel Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. More than 500 rooms were set on a quarter-circle curve. The lobby contained a terrarium with live alligators and an elegant stairway down from the mezzanine that featured women descending to the lobby while showing off their glamorous gowns and jewelry to the men waiting below. Lapidus believed that when people went on vacation, they wanted to indulge their fantasies of luxury. The ballroom, intended for a casino, could hold 9,000 people. Three Belgium chandeliers hung in the lobby, each one strung with 1,800 crystal strands forming circles or ovals depending on where you were standing. The movie Goldfinger was filmed there; Marilyn Monroe and JFK had suites in the penthouse. Soon after building the Fontainebleau, Lapidus built the Eden Roc and the Americana and then the Americana in New York. He said that he did not care if it was called Baroque or Brooklyn as long as it was glamorous. He went on to design hotels in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, the Catskills (Grossingers and the Concord), and overseas.

By 1985, his work was still criticized, so he closed his office and hired two trucks to cart away his papers, which he then burned. The Summit Hotel, a Lapidus building on 51st Street in New York, was under consideration as a landmark building in 2005. Now named the Metropolitan, it is one of the few remaining Lapidus buildings in New York and may be destroyed. Before he died at age 98 he started working again. His designs finally appreciated, the man whose vision of the American Dream was first formed at Coney Island and Luna Park believed that his ideals could serve as the model for 21st century architecture. Lapidus was honored by the Society of Architectural Historians in 2000 at the Eden Roc and he was named an American Original by the Smithsonian Institution's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in its first national design awards. He received this honor at the White House in 2000.


M. Lapidus, Too Much is Not Enough (1966).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.