Missing Miami: The Bal Harbour Yacht Club

This photograph by famed architectural photographer Ezra Stoller shows the clubhouse floating above pylons and a central staircase and the dramatic, wrap-around terrace.

Missing Miami: The Bal Harbour Yacht Club

Text John O’Connor       Photos Ezra Stoller

Decades before the term “environmentally friendly” came into vogue, architect Alfred Browning Parker was creating organic, modernist homes and commercial structures for the new, postwar, South Florida life. Although wildly prolific, having designed over 6,000 projects during his long career, Parker spent much of his time focused on single family residences of indigenous design, usually passively-cooled and always with a strong relationship to their sub-tropical settings. Locally, many of these homes still stand, including a large number of commissions built in Coconut Grove, a few in Miami and two outstanding examples in Fort Lauderdale.

As Bal Harbour was just starting to develop, (it had no postal code and was considered part of Miami Beach until 1957) Browning was commissioned to design a clubhouse for the Bal Harbour Yacht Club. Built in 1953, the stunning, open structure was a minimalist jaw-dropper from the day it opened. Parker won an Honorable Mention award from the American Institute of Architects in 1955 for the raised, steel-reinforced concrete structure. Truly elegant in every sense of the word, Parker’s design paid attention to the sun, wind and rains of South Florida, and played off its stunning location on a -- then undeveloped -- stretch of water where Biscayne Bay turns into the Intracoastal Waterway. The structure was not extravagant in any manner, but was pure bliss, nonetheless. Deep overhangs from the poured concrete roof cooled a 90-foot long verandah, set with nothing more than folding ‘director’s’ chairs and low tables. Four bays of approximately 20-feet each featured huge, floor to ceiling Persiana doors, a Parker signature, usually custom made from mahogany in Cuba, pre-revolution. These doors had wooden, jalousie-style openings with operable glass to allow in a full breeze, while shading the sun midday. The interior was a sea of gleaming terrazzo in five foot squares divided by bronze spacers and had a huge fireplace with tall, seamed copper hood as its main focal point. Pictures taken by famed architectural photographer Ezra Stoller in the mid 1950s show a breezy space with bamboo-framed sofas and surfboard-shaped coffee tables. Games tables were sprinkled throughout, for a thousand evenings of gin & tonics and Canasta while listening to the breeze in the palms just outside.

Sadly, the clubhouse was demolished in 2001, just a few years before Parker's work was rediscovered by architectural historians for its outstanding quality. Frank Lloyd Wright himself recommended Parker for recognition as an American Institute of Architects Fellow in 1959. Parker was the only architect Wright ever recommended for the prestigious Fellowship.

JOHN T. O'CONNOR, Editor-In-Chief

JOHN SPEAR, Associate Publisher

HILARY A. LEWIS, Senior Editor

JILLIAN WHITAKER, Associate Editor

SUE NEIDUSKI, Operations Manager

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