Friday, January 17, 2014

Kenann Building and its Chateau Madrid: singular in architecture and nightlife memories

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By Jane Feehan

Fort Lauderdale's Kenann Building, the cylindrical landmark structure at the northwest corner of Federal Highway and Oakland Park Boulevard was completed in 1964. Builder and realtor Kenneth G. Burnstein entertained an idea for such a structure long before it was set to blueprints by architect F. Louis Wolff.*

Historically, builders shied away from round structures because they were thought to be more expensive to construct, restricted usable space, and were tough to get loans for.  Burnstein, 32 years-old at the time, admitted it took longer than usual to land a loan for the eight-story office building but he was successful in obtaining one in New York.

Ground was broken for the building, named for Burnstein and his wife Ann, on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Seven stories were dedicated to 1,000 square-foot offices. Each floor had its own air conditioning unit.  Burnstein claimed the structure offered 30 percent more usable space than did conventional construction.

When completed, the building featured a circular entrance of reinforced concrete that tapered vertically to a singular round pylon, similar to that used by Frank Lloyd Wright in his design of the Johnson Wax headquarters built in 1940. The lobby included two cypress trees four-stories tall, and a large pool with waterfalls, plants and fish.

Construction also included a colorful, external 60-foot vertical mosaic, a South Florida design element popular in the 1960s and 70s. According to Tropical Magazine (Oct. 2012), the mosaic, with images of swordfish, ocean waves, and tropical palms, holds the distinction of being the “best mid-century mosaic from Fort Lauderdale to Miami.”

Other than for its design, the Kenann Building evokes memories among many for its eighth floor nightclub and dining venue, Chateau Madrid. For 20 years the night spot, opened by John and Diane Bachan, was the place to go for top-tier entertainment including Rosemary Clooney, Buddy Greco, Tony Martin, and Louis Armstrong. Armstrong played there for one week in 1966, including New Year’s Eve. Revelers could have dinner and be entertained by Armstrong for $25 per person.  (Trivia: the club was also managed by Philip Zaslavsky, once manager of Wolfie’s on Sunrise Boulevard and later part owner of Durty Nelly’s. He died in 1991.)

Fortune changed for Burnstein, who first came to Fort Lauderdale from Mobile, AL in 1957. He became the target of several investigations. The realtor reportedly died in a plane crash during the 1980s. According to legend, only his severed finger was found.

After Burnstein’s death, the Kenann Building slid into disrepair; tenants left. In 1991, investors purchased the property for $1.3 million. Architect Dan Duckham redesigned the landmark and included a second level attachment that resembles a satellite that has since been occupied by various restaurants and nightclubs.

The Kenann Building, with its colorful past and blend of Wolff and Duckham architectural features, still holds a special place in Fort Lauderdale's pastand its present. Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

* F. Louis Wolff and wife Jean established an endowed scholarship for the School of Architecture at Florida Atlantic University in 2002.

Miami News, June 28, 1964
Miami News, Dec. 27, 1966
Miami News, Oct. 11, 1991
Tropic Magazine, Oct., 2012

 Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Chateau Madrid, Fort Lauderdale architects, film researcher, 

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