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Surfside collapse families seek solace at a hotel that was once a celebrity playground

by MADELEINE ROMANCE, MADELEINE MARR AND MARIE-ROSE SHEINERMAN | Jul 06, 2021

Tears, hugs, silence. Whatever they need.

The Sea View Hotel in Bal Harbour is a refuge at the ready, a haven for families of the Surfside collapse to gather in grief, gain some solace or just breathe the ocean air.

Mere blocks north of the Surfside disaster site, the beachfront property is providing a safe space as a place to rest weary souls waiting for news, any news, bad, good or unthinkable.

A huge red Verizon popup booth set up outside, one worker on the site explained, offers Surfside families a chance to make free international phone calls to loved ones oversees, cool off or charge electronic devices.

Back when the Sea View was built in 1948, there was just the sand and beach. One of the first hotels to pop up along Bal Harbour’s coastline, it was a glamorous beachside getaway for Hollywood big shots and VIPs that even predates the Bal Harbour Shops across the street. That upscale outdoor 16-acre mall was built in 1965 by visionary developer Stanley Whitman.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, former Sen. and presidential candidate Bob Dole was a resident. Others who frequented the popular oceanfront spot: news commentator David Brinkley and former Democratic national chairman and lawyer Robert Strauss, as well as former White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker, according to Miami Herald reporting in 1987.

In the 1950s, Bal Harbour — along with Miami Beach — was known as “America’s Riviera,” drawing old-school musicians and entertainers. Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack cohorts frequented the nearby Americana Hotel, which became a Sheraton before it was torn down. It is now the site of the St. Regis. In 1953, Arthur Godfrey thrust the oceanside village onto the world’s stage, broadcasting from the now defunct Kenilworth-by-the-Sea Hotel.

On Thursday, relatives of the missing boarded buses parked outside to head to the St. Regis, to meet with President Joe Biden, in South Florida to provide empathy and kind words as well as offer financial help.

On Friday, families still milled about the Sea View, continuing on their watch, awaiting word on their loved ones, and the Verizon truck still stood outside at the ready for families in need.

The families’ vigil continued Friday, when 22 were declared dead and dozens still missing.

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