When Eva Longoria began developing a show about an iconic Miami hotel, she knew she had to film it at the most iconic Miami hotel there is: the Fontainebleau. “It’s the last hotel in South Beach that has this Miami modern architecture,” the executive producer of the new ABC drama Grand Hotel tells Architectural Digest. “There is just no other hotel that has the elegance and sophistication.”
The Fontainebleau is playing the part, if you will, of the fictional Riviera Grand, which belongs to the Mendoza family. In the pilot, which aired June 17, we learn that they have to sell the property because patriarch Santiago Mendoza owes money to some shady people. (People who perhaps also have something to do with the disappearance of one of the hotel’s staff members?)
The idea of a family-owned business which has been passed down for generations made the 1950s architecture of the Fontainebleau especially perfect. “The whole point of the pilot was to talk about a giant corporation coming over and really destroying what made the hotel great, which was the bones and the vintage look,” says Longoria. The hotel underwent a $1 billion renovation from 2005 to 2008, and the actress says that for a moment before filming began, she was worried that the revamped property wouldn’t boast as much 1950s charm as she remembered. Thankfully, she soon discovered she was wrong. “They remodeled it to look more like the 1950s,” she says. “They really restored it more than anything.”
The lobby especially remains unchanged, and is Longoria’s favorite feature of the place. “You know they have all of these Frank Sinatra pictures up in the Fontainebleau—and you can also see in movies that he’s shot in that lobby—it is the exact flooring and exact columns [that are there today]. They have not changed it,” she says.
As perfect as the famed hotel was for the show, actually being able to film there was not without challenges. “Originally ABC was like, ‘You have to shoot this in Hawaii,’” says Longoria. “And we were like, ‘No!’ There’s nothing in Hawaii that looks like this. That does not makes sense architecturally for us. Tiki torches and Polynesian influence is not the same.” To make filming at her desired location a reality, Longoria even called up the Fountainbleau’s CEO, Philip Goldfarb, herself. “I said we have to shoot there, and not only do we have to shoot there, but you can’t charge us,” she says. “And it was spring break, high season, Ultra Music Festival. The hotel was full, but they said, ‘Yes, we will absolutely do this.’”
Though the pilot was shot on location, the team re-created the hotel on a Los Angeles soundstage for subsequent episodes, with production designer Steve Saklad striving to replicate the intricate architecture of the real thing. “We created the hallways with the curvature. The lighting fixtures. He really, really did an amazing job to re-create Miami in a soundstage,” says Longoria. “It is huge, and I think we have the largest sets in television right now that are there in Los Angeles.”
In the end, all of the effort was worth it to get it right."When we were writing the show, the only hotel I had in my head was Fontainebleau," she says. "It is a character in the show."
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest