Family keeps Architect Norman Giller’s legacy alive
“Giller on Giller: An Adventure in Architecture” is currently on display at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in Miami Beach. The exhibit (now till October 30) focuses on designs created by Norman Giller, with commentary from his son Ira Giller. I chatted with Ira about the exhibition and his family’s architectural contributions to the Miami region.
I asked Ira to explain why his family’s architecture is so prevalent in the Miami area.
“Norman was born in Jacksonville. The Giller family moved to Miami in the 1930′s, and has been home to the Gillers ever since. My father influenced the creation of MiMo (Miami Modern) style of architecture. The buildings he designed experimented with new materials, new forms, and a bit of whimsical design. His work included motels, hotels, apartments, residences, shopping centers, and commercial buildings. They were part of South Florida’s post War boom.”
Ira continued, “The Giller family shaped today’s Miami Beach. Norman contributed to Miami Beach’s architecture by designing the Carillon Hotel, the Giller Building, the North Beach Bandshell, the Bombay (Golden Sands) Motel, Homestead Air Force Base Family Housing, many garden apartments, and single family residences. His work was contemporaneous with the boom in Miami Beach development from 1946 through 1972 and reflected all aspects of the City. Norman was also the proponent and first chairman of the Miami Beach Design Review Board which set design standards for the City.”
“I added to the city fabric starting in 1973 with the Lincoln Lane West Parking Garage, the Netherland, Club Z, Terminal South at Miami International Airport, additions to North Beach Elementary School and Miami Beach Sr. High School, as well as Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Jewish Museum of Florida.”
I asked Ira to explain where the idea for the exhibit Giller on Giller: An Adventure in Architecture came from.
“The Museum staff wanted to show a reflection of life in South Florida over the past 75 years through architecture. It was also an opportunity to honor the life and career of the Jewish Museum of Florida’s Founding President, Norman M. Giller. The exhibit commentary on each piece are my anecdotal views on Norman’s work. The projects designed by me show the influence of Norman on my evolving architectural style as well.”
“Much of the show’s exhibits are derived from the book ‘Designing The Good Life – Norman M. Giller and the Development of Miami Modernism’ which was authored by Norman and my daughter, Sarah Giller Nelson. The show included a panel discussion with me and Sarah reviewing the broad body of architectural work.”
I asked Ira about his family’s relationship with the Museum.
“The Giller family has been a significant leadership force in the Jewish Museum of Florida since its founding. In addition to Norman being the Founding President and a major fundraiser, I was both the architect and the general contractor for the design and construction of the Museum. I have served as the Museum’s President and I’m currently Chairman of the Advisory Board of JMOF-FIU. Since the Museum’s inception, my family has been continuously involved in the Museum leadership, financial support, and physical well-being. It’s been my baby for over 25 years and will continue into the future.”
I asked Ira to share details of his family’s history.
“The Giller family emigrated from what is now Belarus and Ukraine to North Dakota and Minnesota in the 1890′s. Starting as farmers, they soon determined that farming was not for them. They sold the farm and moved into town and opened a general store. My great-grandmother Anna Held Giller was in poor health during the long winters and the doctor recommended that they move to a warmer climate. They moved to Jacksonville. During the Great Depression, my grandfather, Morris Giller, could not find work in Jacksonville but heard there was an opportunity in Miami. He packed up his family and moved to Miami. His other brothers living in Jacksonville followed. After initially living in Miami, they moved to Miami Beach. While not among the first Jewish families in Miami Beach, they were certainly early residents.”
Ira continued, “My father wrote ‘A Century in America’ which traced the family’s tree and history from the early 1800′s. Norman’s sense of history motivated him to compile information from his preceding generations of family starting in the early 1950′s. He was able to obtain insightful information first hand from two generations prior to himself. He was also an avid photographer that produced tens of thousands of photographic images of family history.”
I asked Ira if the family faced discrimination and antisemitism when they came to Miami Beach.
“When my father first moved to Miami Beach in the 1930′s, deeds restricted Jewish property ownership and landlords restricted who they rented to. My father lived in the neighborhood around the Jewish Museum because Jews could not live north of 5th Street. Discrimination and antisemitism existed in Miami Beach well into the 1960′s.”
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In concluding our conversation, I asked Ira to express how his family is keeping Norman’s legacy alive.
“Norman’s legacy is being kept alive through maintenance of the Giller & Giller archives of drawings, renderings, and photographs. It is also maintained through our family’s leadership roles in the community. Sarah is currently the Vice Chair of the Miami Beach Design Review Board that Norman first chaired at its inception.”
“Dad was always available as a sounding board for giving advice. That is what I miss the most about him.”
On Thursday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m., a free concert at the Miami Beach Bandshell (73rd and Collins Avenue) will include a tribute to Norman M. Giller, who designed the bandshell. The concert is part of North Beach Social. It is co-sponsored by the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU.
Visit https://jmof.fiu.edu for more information on the Museum.
Ira is the President of Giller & Giller Inc. located at 975 Arthur Godfrey Road # 600, Miami Beach. For more information call (305) 538-6324.