The mansion, on an island off Miami Beach, befitted the Prohibition-era crime leader: pearl white walls, a cabana for pool parties and a guesthouse for armed guards on the payroll to keep a look out for their boss, Al Capone.
In 1928, a 29-year-old Capone paid $40,000 for the house, which served, for a time, as a sunny refuge from the bitter Chicago winters. The gangster was convicted of tax evasion three years later and served six and a half years in federal prison.
After being released from Alcatraz in ill health because of paresis, a partial paralysis resulting from syphilis, he lived in the island house until his death in 1947. The onetime feared boss of the Chicago mob died of cardiac arrest in a guest room.
Now, the home in the exclusive neighborhood on Palm Island, in Biscayne Bay just west of Miami Beach, is being ticketed for the wrecking ball.
That possibility is pitting preservationists against two real estate developers who purchased the house and say the house has structural problems and, because of Capone’s violent legacy, is not worthy of saving.
The potential demolition of the house, reported by The Miami Herald, comes weeks after Capone’s granddaughters announced an auction of his belongings to be held in October, generating buzz among collectors and underscoring the enduring fascination with the gangster more than 70 years after his death.
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.
“It’s not something to celebrate, in my eyes,” said Todd Glaser, a real estate developer who along with Nelson Gonzalez, an investor, purchased the home for $10.75 million. He likened its preservation value to that of Confederate statues, which many people have denounced as divisive symbols of racism. “It’s not worthy of being saved because it’s lived its life,” Mr. Glaser said. “The house is a hundred years old.”
People who see historical and cultural value in the house, like Daniel Ciraldo, disagree.
“He wasn’t a saint by any means,” said Mr. Ciraldo, the executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving significant structures around the city. “But, at the same time, we think his home is a part of the history of our city: 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 be sold in its current state for $16.9 million, Mr. Glaser said. Otherwise, he and his business partner will ask about $45 million once they build a modern two-story home 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 has a waterfront view. Tour boat workers, Mr. Ciraldo said, often shout to passengers, “This was the home of Al Capone!”
Mr. Glaser said a few people have reached out to plead for him not to tear down the house. One person asked if they could keep the “93” sign on the front gate.
“It’s crazy the exposure that this house is getting because of who owned it,” Mr. Glaser said, adding that the home has flood damage and is three feet below sea level. “It’s embarrassing.”
The preservation league was blindsided by news of the house’s possible demolition, Mr. Ciraldo said.
Now, a meeting with the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board is set for Sept. 13, where residents will be able to provide input.
The board did not reply to emails seeking comment on Monday.
An online petition to preserve the Capone mansion had more than 300 signatures as of Monday evening. Mr. Glaser says he’s received “a tremendous amount of support” from people who agree that the house should be torn down because Capone does not deserve remembrance.
He’s sent 265 letters to all residents on Palm Island and nearby Hibiscus Island, asking whether they support demolition. He said he had heard from some that the house lured unwanted sightseers.
“They say, ‘We bought on this gated island, and we don’t want to have this traffic,’” Mr. Glaser said.
Mr. Ciraldo believes the house is a part of the “DNA of our city.”
“I think it’s pretty clear that Al Capone had an impact that is still felt to this day,” he said. “The public will have a chance to comment what they feel.”