The dream village that was envisioned over 70 years ago, thrives today, elevating tourism in South Florida with exclusive shopping in Miami, and sought after hotels in Bal Harbour nestled in an enclave of pristine beaches and select restaurants.
Bal Harbour was born of a vision, and this focus on the possibilities has defined this community, making it an internationally renowned destination. Today, Bal Harbour hotels are some of the most sought-after venues in Miami, because of the location, alongside white sand beaches, and the commitment to service that defines time spent in Bal Harbour.
The vision for this paradise began in 1929 when Miami Beach Heights, a Detroit-based real estate development corporation purchased the raw land. Headed by industrialist Robert Graham, with associates Carl Fisher, after whom Fisher Island is named, and Walter O. Briggs, Miami Beach Heights began the task of crafting a new community.
Their insight inspired them to hire one of the leading urban planning firms of the 20th century, Harland Bartholomew & Associates, to design the Bal Harbour Village. From the beginning, the Village was envisioned as a modern community that would maintain exceptionally high standards, provide superior services and foster civic pride. The development was halted during World War II, when the land was leased to the US Military for $1 a year.
Following the war, on August 14, 1946, Bal Harbour Village was incorporated and development began in earnest. The Village was first called “Bay Harbour,” a name that was soon discarded as not properly defining a community with oceanfront property. A new word was created, taking letters from “bay” and “Atlantic” to create “Bal.” Thus Bal Harbour, a new town encompassing bay and ocean, was named.
In December 1946, the first hotel, Kenilworth-by-the-Sea, opened for business. Described as “ultra-modern,” the 160-room ten-story Kenilworth promoted the concept of “luxurious leisure.” Over the next decade, a total of nine resorts would line the Village’s beachfront — the Sea View Hotel, the Bal Harbour, the Balmoral, the Ivanhoe, the Colony, the Singapore, the Beau Rivage and the Americana. These world-class resorts attracted a steady stream of upscale clientele. In the 1950s, Bal Harbour and Miami Beach were considered America’s Riviera, a magnet for the era’s top musicians and entertainers. Count Basie and Guy Lombardo could be seen having drinks at the Ivanhoe’s Pump Room Lounge. Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack frequented the Americana’s Carnival Supper Club.
In 1953, Arthur Godfrey brought considerable media attention to the area when he was the first entertainer to televise nationally from Bal Harbour. He broadcast to his radio and television audience, estimated at between 40 and 60 million, from the Kenilworth Hotel. Other television personalities would follow, including Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan. Bal Harbour’s hotels quickly became the chosen destination for countless dignitaries, celebrities, and presidents.
In 1957, real estate developer Stanley Whitman, possessing a vision that few understood, purchased 16 acres that were originally planned for a gas station and grocery store. “Only my mother believed in my plan,” stated Whitman of his concept for creating a luxury shopping mall. At the time, the once elegant and upscale Lincoln Road had declined and Whitman was adamant that a new high-fashion center located in Bal Harbour could thrive.
Further bucking trends, he insisted that the mall be open-air, including lush landscaping and a parking structure. Despite resistance to his ideas and many obstacles, the Shops opened in 1965 with 30 upscale, mostly New York-based tenants. The venture was immediately successful and soon thereafter, Whitman enticed Stanley Marcus to open his first Neiman Marcus outside of Texas. Saks Fifth Avenue and other high-end retailers followed suit. Bal Harbour was the first mall location for Cartier and Bulgari and the first ventures outside of New York for Louis Vuitton, Prada and Sergio Rossi.
Today, celebrating more than 50 years in business, Bal Harbour Shops is recognized as the industry leader and Stanley Whitman is now widely acknowledged as the Walt Disney of luxury retailing, having created his own magical kingdom, the ultimate destination for shoppers. Bal Harbour Shops has become a role model for developers and continues to be a key element in defining Bal Harbour Village’s style and elegance.
From the beginning, Village founders thoughtfully master-planned this model community and it has evolved into an internationally renowned destination.