The Claridge Hotel began its life in 1930 as El Paraiso Apartments, with 18 units and two hotel rooms, designed by local architect Martin L. Hampton. The original owner, William Taradash, was a prominent Miami Beach realtor in the 1920s and ‘30s, with an office in the Taradash Building (later remodelled as the Sterling Building) at 933 Lincoln Road.
The Claridge occupies the southeast corner of Block 24 of the Oceanfront Subdivision, plotted by the Miami Beach Improvement Company in 1916. This was the realty company founded by Miami Beach pioneer John Collins and his family for the purpose of developing some of Collins’s extensive land holdings as a seasonal ocean resort for the upper-middle class of the 1910s-’20s.
The architect, Martin L. Hampton, was born in Laurens, South Carolina, and educated at Columbia University in New York. He had travelled extensively in Spain and was a master of the Mediterranean Revival style, which he adapted to the Florida landscape after settling in Miami in 1914. He designed numerous buildings in Palm Beach, Miami, Coconut Grove, and Coral Gables as well as in Miami Beach. Unfortunately, many of his finest Mediterranean-style buildings here, such as the grand Pancoast Hotel on the ocean at 2nd Street and the Good Hotel at 41 Street, were demolished when the style fell out of favor.
Still surviving, along with the Claridge, are:
- Hampton Court Apartments (1924), 2806 Collins Avenue.
- Hampton Building (1926), 940 Lincoln Road.
- Old City Hall (1927), Washington Avenue and 11th Street.
- Beach Castle (1938), 4210 Collins Avenue.
Later in the 1930s and ‘ 40s, Hampton went on to produce some fine examples of Art Deco architecture as well, including the Embassy Hotel at 2940 Collins Avenue and the Ocean Spray (Carol Arms) at 4130 Collins Avenue.
An early advertisement from a 1931 periodical for El Paraiso Apartments indicated that the swimming pool (enclosed on the ground floor, according to building plans) was filled with sea water. The fully- equipped apartments had refrigerators and cooking facilities; rentals ranged from $ 1600 to $ 3700 for the season, which was generally November to May.
Sometime in 1938 the El Paraiso Apartments became The Claridge Hotel. This part of the record is missing from the building card, but clues come from elsewhere: an advertisement for the El Paraiso was published in the January 8, 1938 Sunday Pictorial, but in December 1938 an order was placed with the Teich Postcard Company of Chicago for 12,500 postcards of the Claridge Hotel. 3500 Collins Avenue is listed as the El Paraiso Apartments in the 1938 Polk’s City Directory but as the Claridge Hotel in the 1939 edition.
Photographs of the interior and exterior of the Claridge Hotel in 1940 are found in the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection of the Library of Congress. They include views of the lobby, dining room, guest room #2 09, and the famed indoor salt-water pool.
An Illustrated listing in the 1942. Florida Hotel and Travel Guide shows that even at that date, this neighborhood was known as “the fashionable North Beach section,” secluded from the “downtown” area of Lincoln Road. Rooms were now rented at daily rates rather than by the season, with prices of $6- $12 single, $7-$15 double during “high season” and $3-$7 single, $4-$10 double at other times, but the hotel was still apparently closed from May to November.
From 1943-44, the Claridge is documented as one of the approximately 300 properties in Miami Beach that were leased by the U.S. Army-Air Forces during World War 11. Miami Beach was transformed into a training camp for about 500,000 troops over the course of three years; hotels served as barracks, restaurants became mess halls, and new recruits drilled on the streets, beaches, and golf courses. This particular neighborhood, though, from 24th to 42nd Streets, served as Redistribution Center #2. Here, returning combat veterans at the close of their service spent two to three weeks for “R&R” as their records and payment were finalized and they were either discharged or reassigned. Many had been missing in action or prisoners of war; it is said that some GI’s returning from action in the Pacific refused to stay in oceanfront rooms because of unpleasant memories. Perhaps they found refuge at the Claridge.