The mansion, on an island off the coast of Miami Beach, suited the Prohibition-era crime leader: pearly white walls, a pool party cabana, and a boarding house for armed guards on the payroll to look out for their boss, Al Capone.
In 1928, a 29-year-old Capone paid $40,000 for the house, which for a while served as a sunny retreat from the bitter Chicago winters. The mobster was convicted three years later of tax evasion and spent six and a half years in federal prison.
After being released from Alcatraz in ill health due to paresis, a partial paralysis due to syphilis, he lived in the house on the island until his death in 1947. The once feared boss of the Chicago mafia died of cardiac arrest in a spare room.
Now the house in the exclusive neighborhood on Palm Island, in Biscayne Bay just west of Miami Beach, is being wrecked.
That possibility pits conservationists against two real estate developers who bought the house, saying the house has structural problems and is not worth saving because of Capone’s violent legacy.
The house’s possible demolition, reported by The Miami Herald, comes weeks after Capone’s granddaughters announced an auction of his belongings to be held in October.
Capone’s wife, Mae, sold the house in 1952, and several people have owned the property since then, according to Elle Decor, a home magazine.
“I don’t think it’s something to celebrate,” said Todd Glaser, a real estate developer who, along with investor Nelson Gonzalez, bought the house for $10.75 million. He compared its conservation value to that of Confederate statues, which many people label as divisive symbols of racism. “It’s not worth saving because it lived its life,” Mr Glaser said. “The house is a hundred years old.”
People who see historical and cultural value in the house, such as Daniel Ciraldo, disagree.
“He was by no means a saint,” says Mr. Ciraldo, the executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving key buildings in the city. “But at the same time, we think his house is part of our city’s history: the good, the bad and the ugly. And we don’t think it should be torn down and replaced with a McMansion.”
The house could sell in its current condition for $16.9 million, Mr Glaser said. Otherwise, he and his business partner will ask for about $45 million if they build a modern two-story house with eight bedrooms and bathrooms, a jacuzzi, a sauna and a spa.
The gated home at 93 Palm Avenue sits on 30,000 square feet, is surrounded by palm trees and overlooks the water. Tour boat workers, Mr. Ciraldo said, often yell at passengers, “This was Al Capone’s house!”
Mr Glaser said a few people have asked him not to tear down the house. One person asked if they could keep the “93” sign on the front gate.
“It’s bizarre how much fame this house is getting because of the owner of the house,” Mr Glaser said, adding that the house has flood damage and is one meter below sea level. “It’s humiliating.”
The conservation competition has been caught off guard by news of the house’s possible demolition, Mr. ciraldo.
Now there is a meeting with the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board on September 13, where residents can provide input.
The board did not respond to emails asking for comment Monday.
An online petition to preserve the Capone home had more than 300 signatures Monday night. Mr Glaser says he has received “an enormous amount of support” from people who agree that the house should be torn down because Capone does not deserve a memorial.
Mr. Glaser said he tore down the property that used to belong to Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced sex offender who sexually abused girls, and replaced it with a new home.
He has sent 265 letters to all residents of Palm Island and nearby Hibiscus Island, asking if they support the demolition. He said he had heard from some that the house attracted unwanted visitors.
“They say, ‘We bought on this gated island and we don’t want this traffic,'” Mr Glaser said.
Mr. Ciraldo believes the house is part of the ‘DNA of our city’.
“I think it’s pretty clear that Al Capone had an impact that can be felt to this day,” he said. “The audience gets a chance to respond to what they’re feeling.”