Fontainebleau Through the Years

The death of the heir to the Fontainebleau Hotel fortune has sparked a twisted blame game as the victim’s wife and stepdaughter accuse each other of his murder. Plus, VIEW OUR GALLERY of the Fontainebleau through the years.

Ray Fisher, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images; AP Photo

Ray Fisher, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images; AP Photo

Designing the Fontainebleau

Morris Lapidus, whose Orthodox Jewish family had fled Russian pogroms when he was an infant, designed the Fontainebleau in 1953 as an antidote to stuffy, clubby WASP bastions. Florida’s grand hotels “made the middle class and New York Jews feel out of place,” says Lapidus’ son Alan, also a hotel architect. “My father got his impression of elegance from the movies—like Busby Berkeley musicals. He designed the Fontainebleau for immigrants who had earned their money and wanted to show off.” The Fontainebleau opened in 1954 and is considered the most significant building of Lapidus’ career.

Getty Images; Sam Shere, Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Unlikely Inspiration

Lapidus conceived of his ideas for the Fontainebleau each morning as he traveled to Manhattan from his home in Flatbush. The hotel’s interiors combined 27 colors, and it had a “Staircase to Nowhere,” which, in reality, led to a cloakroom where dinner guests could leave their coats. “If you create a stage and it is grand,” Lapidus once wrote, “everyone who enters will play their part.”

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Fun in the Sun

Lapidus designed a semi-circular complex of cabanas with a cat-shaped pool at the center for families and children. Artist and designer Michele Oka Doner once noticed a photo of the Fontainebleau in Lapidus’ home and pointed to the cabana the Oka family had occupied when she was young. “[She] recalled how she loved to swim in that pool, surrounded by the sweeping embrace of the cabanas and surging waves and sounds of the sea,” Lapidus wrote.

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The Bellboy

The Bellboy, the 1960 comedy written by and starring Jerry Lewis, was the first of many movies to be shot at the Miami Beach hotel. Actor Alex Gerry played the part of the obsequious Mr. Novak. Lewis would film at the Fontainebleau during the day and perform at the hotel’s nightclub after dark.

Everett Collection

Greeting the King

In 1960, a series of four bi-monthly Frank Sinatra specials sponsored by Timex were taped from the stage of the Fontainebleau’s Grand Ballroom and aired on ABC. The series is most remembered for the " Welcome Home, Elvis" episode, which was taped only weeks after Elvis’ return from the Army in March 1960. Years later, Nancy Sinatra remembered the show fondly: “I was 18 years old and in love with Elvis, totally in love with Elvis,” she said. “[It] melted my heart to meet him in person.”

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Bond Goes to the Beach

A sweeping aerial shot of the Fontainebleau follows the opening credits and accompanies John Barry’s “Into Miami” intro in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger. The first scene takes place in one of the hotel’s 250 double-decker cabanas, where Margaret Nolan gives Sean Connery a massage while a team of shapely women water-ski on the Olympic-size swimming pool.

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Sinatra Performs

The Fontainebleau was the backdrop for the 1967 movie Tony Rome, starring Frank Sinatra and Jill St. John. The detective film follows the adventures of Miami private investigator Tony Rome, played by Sinatra, as he tries to locate an heiress’ missing diamond pin. Scenes were shot during the day at the Fontainebleau, and Sinatra performed at the hotel at night.

AP Photo

A-List Reopening

A new generation of VIPs arrived at the legendary hotel in November 2008 to celebrate the hotel’s grand reopening after a $1 billion reinvention and expansion. Singer and songwriter Robin Thicke entertained a star-studded audience that included Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, A-Rod, Chloe Sevigny, Gwyneth Paltrow, Venus and Serena Williams, Kate Hudson, Paris Hilton, and Seal.

Lynne Sladky / AP Photo

A New Era

The renovation took an architectural masterpiece into the 21st century with more than 1,504 new guestrooms and suites outfitted with Apple technology, 22 oceanfront acres, 11 restaurants and lounges—including a Chocolate Indulgence experience—and a 40,000 square-foot spa with mineral-rich water therapies, and co-ed swimming pools. The design team preserved or recreated many of Lapidus’ original design elements, including the circular ceilings, bowtie design motifs, and famed “Staircase to Nowhere.”

Alexander Tamargo / Getty Images

Fashion’s Night In

Usher kicked off the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show as part of the Fontainebleau’s grand reopening. Decked in angel wings and bedazzled lingerie, more than 30 supermodels strutted down the runway to Usher’s live performance in 2008.