WGBS Building on Brickell Avenue (1965-2013)

Miami Today Building in 2013Cover: Miami Today Building in 2013

When the Storer Broadcasting company selected the northwest corner of Brickell Avenue and SE Eighth Street to build a new studio for WGBS in 1964, there were seventeen radio stations vying for the loyalty of South Florida radio listeners. In addition to WIOD and WINZ, WGBS was one of the market leaders in Miami and surrounding area, transmitting what was considered a MOR genre, or middle of the road brand of harmonic vocals with light orchestral arrangements, a style later rebranded as soft adult contemporary.

It was WGBS’ popularity and growth that prompted Storer to construct a new office building and studio to support the changing technological needs of a contemporary radio station. The parent company encouraged WGBS to design and construct a colonial-styled brick building to provide a consistent look with the corporate office located on Bay Harbor Island. Once it opened in December of 1965, the WGBS building provided a unique departure from the rapidly disappearing residences of the past, and the new commercial glass towers that were constructed along Brickell Avenue during the decades that followed.

Storer Broadcasting Corporation

Speedene Gasoline Sign

Figure 1: Speedene Gasoline Sign

Years before George Storer and his partner, J. Harold Ryan, formed their broadcasting conglomerate, the pair founded the Fort Industry Oil Company in 1927. The petroleum company was established to build and operate service stations in Toledo, Ohio, for the Speedene gasoline brand.

The Fort Industry service stations thrived based on a business model of constructing their facilities near train depots to allow them to fill their tanks directly from the depot to avoid the transportation cost that their competitors were forced to pay. This provided them with a two to three cent cost advantage which allowed for their company to thrive financially.

As part of the promotion of their service stations, the partners placed ads on WTAL, Toledo’s most popular radio station at the time. The ads were so effective in driving business to their stations that Fort Industry purchased a stake in the radio station in 1928. As part of the investment agreement, the station agreed to change their call letters from WTAL to WSPD, “Speedy AM”, in honor of the gasoline brand.

In 1931, Fort Industry decided to shift the focus of their operation and sold all of their oil interests to concentrate solely on broadcasting. By 1937, they bought full control of WSPD, and had added several other stations from around the country to begin building a broadcasting conglomerate. They focused on buying stations from big markets like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. It wasn’t until 1944 that they broke into the South Florida market when they purchased WGBS.

WGBS Purchased by Storer in 1943

Peter Connors in WGBS Studio in 1965

Figure 2: Peter Connors in WGBS Studio in 1965

More than a decade after Storer Broadcasting sold off its oil interests to focus on building their radio broadcasting empire they entered the South Florida market when they purchased WGBS in April of 1943. In August of 1948, Storer Broadcasting announced the launch of WGBS-FM which served as the companion and simulcast partner to their AM counterpart.  This broadcasting entity made history by becoming the first 50,000-watt radio station in Florida.

In 1953, WGBS signed an agreement with University of Miami to air special events, such as baseball games and the university symphony orchestra. WGBS-FM proved to be an important broadcasting entity during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 by keeping residents informed of the hour-by-hour developments of this well documented geo-political emergency. In 1959, the station introduced the “total information news” formula, which focused on original news reporting in addition to music.

From its launch in 1944, the headquarters for WGBS was located on the second floor of the Mayfair Theater at 1605 Biscayne Boulevard. The Mayfair was a Wometco theater which opened in December of 1932 with the billing as an “intimate new theater that is intended to create the atmosphere and hospitality of a well-appointed English manor home” according to a Miami Herald article published on December 15, 1932, shortly before the opening of the cinema.

The article went on to say that the theater would be outfitted with “the latest and most perfect type of sound equipment, the RCA High Fidelity,” and, according to Sydney Meyer, the general manager of Wometco, was the same equipment that was selected for the new Radio City Theater in Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The installation of modern sound equipment in a contemporary facility was instrumental in attracting WGBS to lease the second floor of the theater for its offices and studio when they began operations in 1944. The station would continue to operate out of the Mayfair Theater until their move to Brickell in 1965.

Storer House Constructed in 1954

Rendering of Storer Building on Bay Harbor Island

Figure 3: Rendering of Storer House on Bay Harbor Island

After conducting business in Miami for a decade, George Storer decided to move Storer Broadcasting Co’s corporate headquarters to the Greater Miami area, when he announced the construction of the Storer House on Bay Harbor Islands. The new building cost $350,000 to construct and was the central operation of their national radio and television stations. By 1954, Storer had already begun to expand their broadcasting portfolio to include television as well as radio.

The company relocated seventy office employees from Birmingham, Michigan, in early September of 1954. The building was described as a classic design consisting of 14,000 square feet of floor space. The three-story colonial structure consisted of general offices on the first floor, executive offices on the second, and a penthouse office suite on the third level, which included a conference room, legal offices, executive dining room and gallery.

The building was designed by John Volk of Palm Beach, and construction was overseen by structural engineer Richard Belsham from Miami. The address of Storer’s corporate headquarters was 1117 Kane Concourse on Bay Harbor Island.

BBQ & Craft

WGBS Constructs New Building in 1965

Exterior of WGBS Building in 1965

Figure 4: Exterior of WGBS Building in 1965

A decade after Storer Broadcasting moved into their new headquarters on Bay Harbor Island, WGBS decided it was time to update their offices and studio. By the mid-1960s, operating out of the second floor of an aging theater building was less than ideal, which prompted WGBS to construct a modern new building equipped with the technological advancements that were missing at the Mayfair Theater.

In an article published in the Miami Herald on June 22, 1964, WGBS announced a $1 million project to move their offices and studio to the Brickell neighborhood, and to construct of a new transmission tower in South Broward. The northwest corner of Brickell Avenue and SE Eighth Street was selected as the location of the new office building. In the same article, Bernard Neary, the general manager of the station, announced that the address for the new office will be 710 Brickell Avenue. The 710 portion of the address was particularly relevant given that that number happened to be WGBS’s position on the radio dial.

WGBS’s parent company requested that the building be designed in a similar colonial-style architecture to their corporate office on Bay Harbor Island. The plans provided for a two-story building designed in a neo-colonial style. The project to construct the building was scheduled to begin in August of 1964, but delays pushed the ground-breaking which delayed the completion of the building until late October of 1965. The cost of the project was $600,000, which included land acquisition, construction, and equipment. WGBS employees began moving into the new office building during the Halloween weekend of 1965, which was completed in time to allow the station to begin broadcasting from their new studio by November 1st. The move-in date provided employees a month to settle into their new office space and studio before the official building dedication which was scheduled for early December.

Dedication of WGBS Building

WGBS Proclamation in Miami Herald on December 6, 1965

Figure 5: WGBS Proclamation in Miami Herald on December 6, 1965

When WGBS scheduled their grand opening, they did it in style over the course of an entire week. The Storer Broadcasting Corporation commissioned the writing of a song called “Make Ours Miami,” to present to the City of Miami during the opening dedication ceremony. The song was written by the team of Hugh Heller, Allyn Ferguson, and Jacques Wilson.

The station also got official recognition from the various levels of government when the city, county and state municipalities declared the week of December 6, 1965, as “WGBS Week.” The week began with a formal dedication on the evening of December 6, followed by tours of the new facility. More than 700 invited guests attended the formal ceremony which was conducted in a large tent pitched in the back of the new building. George B. Storer Jr., Storer Corporation’s CEO, Stanton P. Kettler, president of Storer Broadcasting, and Bernard Neary, the WGBS’ general manager were all on hand for the opening ceremony. The formal opening spanned two days, with the second session attended by executives and on-air personalities from WGBS’ six sister stations in the Storer chain.

The tour of the facility revealed that the building consisted of 10,000 square feet and cost about $35 per square foot to build. This was a significant cost per square foot but most of the money went for thick walls and elegant paneling which served as part of the soundproofing. Air conditioning had to be soundproofed as did the other mechanical and plumbing systems.

As an article in the Miami News, dated December 19, 1965, described the interior as follows:

Interior decoration follows the colonial theme. Draperies are fashioned from heavy cotton that resembles homespun and the pattern is the onion design which could almost be used as a flag for the Daughters of the American Revolution. Executive offices and hallways are beautifully paneled, some in dark mahogany, others in pale blond cypress. There is thick carpeting everywhere and original oils hang on the walls. The colonial theme has been carried to such a fine degree that every desk supports an old-fashioned candy jar of thumb-print glass.

The building included three on-air studios, two fully equipped production studios, and a newsroom equipped with six news, sports and weather wires designed to keep the public well informed. The exterior of the building featured a 100-foot flexible antenna built to withstand winds up to 200 miles an hour, and a backup diesel-powered emergency generator in case of a power outage.

At the time WGBS moved into their offices and studio, the station had 44 full-time employees. It was the only station in Florida which broadcasted at 50,000-watt strength 24 hours a day. Listeners could pick it up throughout South Florida and could be easily tuned in on most of the Bahama Islands, Cuba, and deep into the Caribbean.

Storer Sells Radio Stations in 1978

Headline in Miami Herald on December 6, 1978

Figure 6: Headline in Miami Herald on December 6, 1978

When Storer Broadcasting purchased WLYF-FM from Sudbrink Broadcasting Corporation for $5.6 million in September of 1977, they decided to co-locate the new station with WGBS. Both stations shared studios and office space at 710 Brickell Avenue. A few months after acquiring WLYF, in April of 1978, Storer Broadcasting announced an increase of net income of more than 7 cents a share. Despite a tough economy, business was seemingly good for the broadcasting conglomerate.

However, in December of 1978, the Storer Broadcasting executives made the tough decision to divest themselves of their radio stations. They wanted to focus on the more profitable cable television business and felt the only way they could grow that side of the operation was to sell all of their radio station holdings. They believed that the small screen was the future and knew they could net enough capital by selling their radio interests to bootstrap further growth into cable television.

It didn’t take long for Storer to find a buyer. Jefferson-Pilot Broadcasting Co. agreed to purchase WGBS and WLYF for $12.5 million just several months after the announcement. By this time, Storer had already sold their two stations in Los Angeles and were close to selling their remaining two stations in New York City and Toledo. Although the parent company changed, WGBS and WLYF continued to operate out of the 710 Brickell Avenue location until the summer of 1983, at which time Jefferson-Pilot decided to sell the building.

Northern Trust Buys WGBS Building in 1982

Miami Today & Northern Trust Buildings in 2011

Figure 7: Miami Today & Northern Trust Buildings in 2011

A Miami Herald article, dated June 7, 1982, featured a headline that read “Bricks on Brickell”, which announced that the WGBS and WLYF building at 710 Brickell Avenue had been sold to an unnamed banking institution, which turned out to be Northern Trust Bank of Florida, for $4.5 million.

Northern Trust stated that they did not plan on razing the two-story brick building, but purchased the building because they were seeking additional office space and it made sense to purchase the property adjacent to their 10-story office building located at 700 Brickell Avenue. The bank did make use of the building for a few years, but by 1990 they began leasing the building to other entities. One of those businesses was Alliance Francaise, a language school which offered French conversation classes. The school shared the building with the law firm Jordan Schultz & Burchette which provided civil litigation services.

Demolition of 710 Brickell in 2013

Figure 8: Demolition of 710 Brickell in 2013

In 1992, the building became the offices for the Miami Today community newspaper. The publication was founded in 1983 by Gloria Brown Anderson and Michael Lewis who were the managing editor and assistant managing editor, respectively, of the Miami News prior to forming the Miami Today, a publication still in circulation today. The newspaper operated out of 710 Brickell Avenue until Northern Trust Bank sold the building in 2013.

Northern Trust Bank was ready to cash in on the real estate appreciation they had been accumulating since purchasing 700 and 710 Brickell Avenue in 1971 and 1982 respectively. In March of 2013, Northern Trust announced that they were moving from their long-time Florida headquarters at 700 Brickell Avenue, to 600 Brickell Avenue, and that they planned on marketing 700 and 710 Brickell for sale.

Also in March, they filed for a demolition permit for the former WGBS building to clear the land, presumably to make it more attractive to a prospective buyer. By the end of March, the building was gone and replaced with a temporary fenced-in green space waiting for the next building to be developed on this pivotal corner in Brickell’s ever-changing neighborhood.

Next: One Brickell City Centre

Rendering of One Brickell City Centre

Figure 9: Rendering of One Brickell City Centre

In July of 2013, Swire Properties, the developer of Brickell Key on Claughton Island and Brickell City Centre, purchased both parcels of land on the 700 block of Brickell Avenue, and announced plans to construct a super-tall tower on the property. Swire had already purchased 799 Brickell Plaza (2011), which is a block west of the two parcels they purchased in 2013, and intends to construct a project that would top off at 1,049 feet. The architect for the project is Arquitectonica.

Despite getting clearance from the FAA for the height of the building and approval from Miami’s Planning Department, the project has been delayed since the original announcement. In June of 2022, Swire will once again apply for approval from the Miami Planning Department to construct their 1,049-foot-tall tower on their three parcels totaling 2.84 acres of property which will yield 1,967,000 square feet of retail, office, hotel, and residential space according to a recent investor’s presentation by a Swire executive.

The property used for the tower will be bounded by SE Seventh Street on the north, Brickell Avenue on the east, SE Eighth Street on the south, and Brickell Plaza on the west. Swire would need to remove two buildings that still stand at 710 Brickell, the former Northern Trust Florida headquarters building (constructed in 1971), and 799 Brickell Plaza, originally the Sunset Commercial Bank, and more recently the Eastern National Bank building (constructed in 1981).

Recently announced, the Related Companies, headed by Miami Dolphin owner Stephen Ross, will partner with Swire Properties to co-develop the project which has been named One Brickell City Centre. The project is scheduled to begin in 2023 and promises to be the tallest tower in the State of Florida once it is completed.

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Resources

  • Miami Herald: “Season Pass Offered for Theater Phrase”, December 15, 1932.
  • Miami Herald: “Storer Radio and TV Chain to Make Headquarters Here”, May 6, 1953.
  • Miami Herald: “New Storer Building to be Started”, September 20, 1953.
  • Miami Herald: “$1 Million Project Planned by WGBS”, June 22, 1964.
  • Miami Herald: “WGBS Dedication Adds New Wrinkle”, December 2, 1965.
  • Miami News: “A Station That Looks as Solid as It Sounds”, December 19, 1965.
  • Miami Herald: “Storer Selling All Radio Stations to Build TV Holdings, Firm Says”, December 6, 1978.
  • Miami Herald: “Storer Agrees to Sell WGBS, WLYF”, February 22, 1979.
  • Miami Herald: “Bricks on Brickell”, June 7, 1982.
  • Miami News: “Bank Taking WGBS Site”, February 7, 1983.
  • Miami News: “New Miami Paper Plans June Debut”, April 20, 1983
  • Miami Herald: “Northern Trust Moving Nearby”, March 6, 2013.
  • Miami Herald: “Swire Wins Bid for 700 Brickell”, July 16, 2013.
  • Florida Yimby: “Swire Properties Reapplies For FAA Permits To Build 1,049-Foot Supertall One Brickell City Centre”, March 5, 2022 by Oscar Nunez.
  • The Next Miami: “Swire Applies Again For FAA Approval To Build 80-Story One Brickell City Centre Supertall”, March 3, 2022.
  • The Next Miami: “Report: Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross Partnering With Swire On Supertall Office Tower In Miami”, March 28, 2022.

Images

  • Cover: Miami Today Building in 2013. Courtesy of Miami Today.
  • Figure 1: Speedene Gasoline Sign. Courtesy of Morphy Auctions.
  • Figure 2: Peter Connors in WGBS Studio in 1965. Courtesy of the Miami News.
  • Figure 3: Rendering of Storer Building on Bay Harbor Island. Courtesy of Miami Herald.
  • Figure 4: Exterior of WGBS Building in 1965. Courtesy of the Miami News.
  • Figure 5: WGBS Proclamation in Miami Herald on December 6, 1965. Courtesy of Miami Herald.
  • Figure 6: Headline in Miami Herald on December 6, 1978. Courtesy of Miami Herald.
  • Figure 7: Miami Today & Northern Trust Buildings in 2011. Courtesy of Juan Pollo.
  • Figure 8: Demolition of 710 Brickell in 2013. Courtesy of Miami Today.
  • Figure 9: Rendering of One Brickell City Centre. Courtesy of Swire Properties.