Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Villa Serena- Saved from the Wrecking Ball

Villa Serena was added to the Miami Register of Historic Places by the Historic and Environmental Preservation Board in December 2007. Constructed in 1913 Villa Serena is a notable example of Mediterranean Revival style architecture, built of steel-reinforced poured concrete and designed by August Geiger, an influential early Miami architect who had also designed the Miami Woman's Club, and the Dade County Courthouse (with Anthony Ten Eyck Brown). It was about to be sold to a foriegn investor that intended to tear it down to build yet another modern mansion on the bay. Apparently, a new buyer has since appeared that is interested in preserving and renovating it.

This palatial estate is located between Brickell Avenue and Biscayne Bay, at 3115 Brickell Avenue, and takes full advantage of both the street and the bay with facades of equal prominence and architectural beauty. Its Mediterranean characteristics include the prominent courtyard formed by the extension of the wings, the low, tiled hipped roofs and prominent parapet, intricate cast ornament in a basket weave pattern, and decorative details such as wrought iron railings and decorative tile imported from Cuba.

Villa Serena was the winter home of famed orator, lawyer, and three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and his wife Mary. Bryan is best known as the prosecutor in the famous Scopes Monkey trial opposing the teaching of evolution. However, he was also a life-long peace advocate and a staunch supporter of women's suffrage and worker's rights. Bryan, a fundamentalist Christian, became a key figure in Miami, as a spokesman for George Merrick's Coral Gables Corporation, and as a lay leader of the Presbyterian church.
In Miami, he hosted "Sunday schools" that served largely as a tourist attraction in the former Royal Palm Park, now Bayfront Park, that drew about 16,000 listeners. Coral Gables founder George Merrick paid Mr. Bryan $100,000 to speak daily at the Venetian Pool on topics such as the value of Florida real estate and he is credited with the idea of creating a local pan-American university: the University of Miami.

Monday, January 7, 2008

News of the Bizarre- The Dumb leading the Crazy

Chavez Grants Interview to Supermodel Naomi Campbell, AFP Says
By Matthew Walter
Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez has given an interview to British supermodel Naomi Campbell, which will be published in an issue of the men's lifestyle magazine GQ, Agence France-Presse reported.
Campbell describes Chavez as a ``rebel angel'' in the article, according to AFP, which cites excerpts that were released in advance.
During the interview, Chavez said U.S. President George W. Bush was ``completely crazy,'' and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice worked for a ``genocidal government,'' according to the news service. The Venezuelan leader also said he thinks Bush wants to kill him, AFP said.
Campbell and Chavez also discussed fashion, pop music and the British royal family, the news service said. Chavez said he admires Prince Charles, and that Cuban President Fidel Castro was one of the world's most stylish leaders, according to the news service. Chavez said he was open to posing topless for photos, as his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has done, and asked Campbell to feel his muscles, AFP reported.

Although this news item doesn't have anything to do with Miami's past, I just couldn't resist publishing it! While I am sure these two have provided plenty of fodder for comedians everywhere, two items stand out. Firstly, Chavez certainly seems well prepared to determine whether Bush or anyone else is completely crazy. Secondly, how did Prince Charles work himself into the conversation? I wonder which muscle Campbell was invited to feel?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Sepy Dobronyi- The Grove's Last Royalty

On Sunday I went with the family for lunch at Scotty's Landing and then we all trooped over to see the King Mango Parade on Main Highway. Suddenly I see Baron Joseph De B. Dobronyi dressed in his Tyrolian best being driven down the street in a convertible in honor of his status as "famous resident" of the Grove. It brought back a flood of memories. I first met Sepy way back in 1964 when my best friend in High School took me over to his house on Ye Little Wood. My friend lived on El Prado and had somehow ingratiated himself with the famous Baron of the Grove. Baron Dobronyi lived in a house he had designed in the shape of a charging bull that still stands and where he still lives. Imagine our surprise as 14 year old kids to walk into what for all appearances was a swiss chalet complete with crossed skis over the giant mantelpiece. Among all the great stuff laying about this mansion, I was most impressed with a gold statue of a naked Ava Gardner that apparently had been one of his many conquests. We later learned that Sepy sculpted the statue and was one of the great playboys of the western world. To us Sepy was the coolest guy we had ever met and I can tell you his record still stands with me. How cool? Well, he even had his own custom made cigarettes with cork filter and his coat of arms! Super cool!

Many years later, I mentioned him to a friend who worked with me on Wall Street and to my surprise he had met Sepy while skiing in Switzerland! He had impressed my friend just as much as he had me! He was that charismatic. Sepy got around and rubbed elbows with all the Paris Hiltons of his day. He had wonderful stories. Born in Hungary in 1922, he was a military pilot during World War II, escaping the Russians by traveling on foot to Austria, and eventually to Sweden. In Sweden he learned jewelry making and sculpting and was forced to emigrate after some scandalous liaisons with royal figures there. From there he went to Cuba where he hung around with Hemingway and visiting celebrities like Errol Flynn and John Wayne. One of these, a young and not-yet successful Hugh Hefner, who probably modelled himself after Sepy, later convinced Sepy buy his property in the Grove to which he fled in 1961 after Castro came to power. Hefner featured Sepy in the August 1956 issue of Playboy, for his sculpture of Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg, whom he was dating at the time.

During the 60's and early 70's, Sepy's home was the sight of an almost continous party where anyone who was anyone visiting Miami had to go. Sepy hosted many celebrities such as Frank Sinatra when he was filming his "Tony Rome" detective movies here in Miami, part of which was filmed at his home. This led to his home being used for other films such as "Lenny" the 1974 movie documentary about Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman. But what people remember most is that Deep Throat, probably the most famous porn film of all time, featuring the luscious Linda Lovelace was filmed at Sepy's home. Ferenc Dobronyi, one of his two sons, remembers what it was like to grow up in Miami as the son of the Deep Throat guy. “Miami in the ’70s was a party,” he says. “It was a helluva experience. When I would go over to his house, there were naked people everywhere — Playboy models, movie stars. He knew how to charm the pants off anybody.” Amen to that! He has managed to charm the pants off everyone, but he has been most successful at literally charming the pants off a cadre of beautiful women!