Many important events and national conventions took place at Bal Harbour's hotels, and the Americana Hotel - which became the Sheraton Bal Harbour in 1980 - was an ideal location. Designed by Morris Lapidus and built by the Tisch family in the 1950's, it was one of the most glamorous resorts in South Florida. The Americana hosted three nationally televised AFL-CIO Constitutional Conventions - in 1961 with President Kennedy at the podium, in 1967 with President Johnson, and 1971 with President Nixon. The Sheraton was President Clinton's favorite hotel when in town, and one of the venues for 1994's Summit of the Americas.
Likewise, the discreetly luxurious Sea View Bal Harbour Hotel has drawn its share of notables, from David Brinkley, Bob Dole, Howard Baker, Hubert Humphrey, Tip O'Neil, Thomas Dewey, and Boris Yeltsin to the likes of Debbie Reynolds and Bob Dylan and many Latin American television stars.
At the same time, a quiet residential community was evolving with lovely homes and apartments bringing newcomers each year. In 1947, the Church by the Sea was built, designed by Miami architect Russell Pancoast. Community activities for families, such as arrival of a truckload of snow so that children could play and build snowmen, became part of the Village tradition.
In 1957 real estate developer Stanley Whitman (with a vision that few understood), purchased sixteen acres that were originally planned as the site 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 tremendously 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 parking structure. Despite resistance to his ideas and many obstacles, the Shops opened in 1965 with thirty 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 forty years in business, Bal Harbour Hops is recognized as the industry leader and, according to Women's Wear Daily, is the "number one most productive shopping center in the United States." 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.
A major challenge that South Florida has faced through the years is the erosion of its beaches through storm and hurricane damage. The Village Council, realizing the importance of maintaining beach quality, was aggressive in exploring and researching options for restoration projects that were ahead of their time. Their initiatives were innovative and many neighboring municipalities followed this lead.
In 1968 the Council passed a resort tax initiative (an effort Stanley Whitman is credited with spearheading). This successful venture established critical resources for the Village's multi-million dollar beach restoration efforts. It provided funds for maintenance and enhancement of the Village through the taxation of tourists. As a result (and at no cost to Bal Harbour residents), major landscaping and beautification projects continue to be carried out and maintained each year.