The Great Motel Revival

The retro cool—and modern appeal—of Miami’s newly restored Vagabond.

Up and down Biscayne Boulevard, neon motel signs glowed with ads for vacancies, pools and air-conditioning. It was the 1950s, and for the first time, families had cars, cheap gas and paid vacation days to road-trip down U.S. Route 1. On their way, travelers surely passed the Vagabond Motel. Designed by B. Robert Swartburg of Delano fame, the Vagabond, opened in 1953, was the epitome of Miami Modern, or MiMo, style, with playful futuristic archi­tecture that reflected America’s postwar optimism. But eventually roadside motels gave way to chains, and air travel became accessible, so the Vagabond itself became vacant. Through the years, many thought to buy the property, but it was developer Avra Jain, a New York transplant, who finally took it on in 2012, recruiting family and friends to go in on the $2 mil­lion purchase. During a 13-month renovation, Jain updated the motel’s midcentury features, including retiling the pool’s mosaic mermaid and spending $65,000 on neon, while adding updates like French drains and hurricane windows. The reborn Vagabond opened in August, but Jain isn’t done yet. She has bought four more motels and three other buildings along the boulevard, all of which she plans to develop into ho­­tels, retail spaces and offices, while keeping them true to MiMo. “MiMo is important for Miami history and culture,” Jain says. “We’re bringing back neon in a big way to remind people of this colorful time that made the area special.”

Rooms start at $150; 7301 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-400-8420; thevagabondhotel.com.

 

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