Large scale murals, mosaics, monumental sculpture and urban street art can dress up housing developments and make their residents proud. What started as a simple project in 2001 by Louis Wolfson III has grown into a fascinating and respected art in public places program. Art of all varieties is selected and donated by Wolfson’s Pinnacle Housing Group partners to each of the company’s housing developments around Florida and in Texas—Dallas, Longview, Abilene, Waco, etc.
Wolfson was a young boy when he was first exposed to art and philanthropy by his late grandmother Frances Wolfson, a successful artist, who sold her creative work to Hallmark for use on cards, pictures and photo albums. “She got all of us interested in art and giving back,” says Wolfson, 66, a founding partner of Pinnacle Housing Group/PHG Builders, Inc., and grandson of Colonel Mitchell Wolfson, who was the founder, president and CEO of Wometco Enterprises, and a founder of Miami-Dade College. “I am the businessperson and lucky that business is my passion.”
Pinnacle develops, builds and owns more than 6,000 completed and occupied affordable multifamily apartment units—mostly in Florida—with a total of 9,000 nationwide. This year Pinnacle is creating two developments in Miami-Dade, one in Broward, and one each in Gainesville and Tallahassee near the Capitol building. The company has more units under construction in Texas and more on the drawing board for Florida. Combined, Pinnacle’s numbers total more than $1 billion in both affordable and luxury rental developments notable for their peaked roofs, stone work, pastel paints and subtle accents which work in tandem with great art.
A few of Pinnacle’s prominent developments with spectacular uses of art include Brickell View Terrace, a 176 unit mixed use/mixed income multifamily development adjacent to the Brickell Metro Rail Station; Pinnacle Park, a high-rise with 135 units in Liberty City—the first African American suburban neighborhood in Miami-Dade County; Pinnacle Square, 110 units in Little Haiti with a vibrant Caribbean color scheme; and Pinnacle View, a Wynwood high-rise that preserved an adjoining historic structure. Another, La Vida, is Pinnacle’s first multifamily community of 272 units built within the master-planned Blue Lagoon commercial park adjacent to Miami International Airport. This luxury rental has interior units designed by tennis great Venus Williams’ V Starr company, a clubhouse, a pool and 20-acre lake. The community also offers modern features like Amazon lockers, keyless apartments and Uber waiting areas.
Indeed, these developments were made special by Wolfson’s sweeping public art program which draws on the creative abilities of upcoming and respected local artists and architects. Pinnacle targets artists to infuse the communities with a surprising light and happy vibe filled with color, texture and excitement.
Adding public art to residential communities creates a crucial sense of place and purpose that is unusual and unexpected and encourages residents to respect the neighborhood that they call home. “I have pushed for art in every one of our developments because it says to our neighborhoods we are going to be different and better than other communities,” says Wolfson, who previously worked for Wometco and founded, took public, then sold The Video Jukebox Network to MTV in 1998 as an interactive Internet company. He adds, “We have made our developments fun and special, using art to take neighborhoods up and rejuvenate the property.”
During the summer, Wolfson and his team hire young neighbor children to work with the artists and create murals. In Little Haiti, the kids worked with 26 artists to finish 26 pieces, which built pride in the neighborhood. “This means no graffiti, no overflowing garbage,” he points out. “Rather, it establishes a powerful sense of place for families, and the result is amazing.”
Wolfson believes buildings without art and architectural features are “bare bones” and undistinguished from other rectangular concrete structures. He feels that art is an integral part of our communities which gives them life and character. Pinnacle’s commitment to this concept has been supported by a personal investment in art by the partners which has reached nearly $2 million. “When I go to ribbon cuttings, people come up and hug us,” says Wolfson. “We all feel a huge sense of pride.”
Art in Public Places started with Love is a Dancer, a sculpture from Lenore Meyer at Pinnacle View in Wynwood which was the company’s first high rise affordable housing community, and influential in the early 2000s development of Wynwood. Pinnacle Housing Group has also expanded this program to include community wide art projects like the Puerto Rico Hope mural in Wynwood that graces the Liberty City Police Station in Miami to honor victims of gun violence, and urban murals in Overtown. Working with art consultant Doris Meltzer, Wolfson commissions a cross section of about 80 artists to work their magic. “We like to use up-and-coming artists who are trying to get ahead because we can’t pay big bucks,” says Wolfson.
But some of the artists the company engages are already superstars, like Romero Britto with his Floating Girl at Pinnacle’s Los Sueños complex in Midtown Miami, which was restored and beautified. Well-known, successful and philanthropic, Britto and his passion for pop art and color is a bright spot for any public art program. Miami rising star Rey Jaffet’s Declaration of Hope at Pinnacle Heights, a mixed-income community, is the city’s tallest mural at 13 stories and depicts six influential people in the artist’s life with an overall theme of unity regardless of race, sex, age and preferences. “Declaration of Hope is a phrase to express my beliefs that we are all connected; that we are one,” says Jaffet, whose wise words mirror the company’s philosophy.
For a nine-story mural by local artist Kyle Holbrook depicting historic leaders in Liberty City, Wolfson’s Pinnacle Park partnered with Florida International University students from The Urban Boulevard, a digital media class, to document the progress of the mural and how it affected the community.
Wolfson is also the anchor sponsor of public art at The Underline, the 10-mile linear park and urban trail, and brought aboard artists Jaffet, Holbrook, Anthony Ardavin, Robert McKnight and Kench (Kenneth DeGeorge) to design Metrorail columns at the future Brickell Backyard. “I want to encourage other businesses and artists to beautify the remaining columns along The Underline,” says Wolfson.
As Wolfson and his team break ground on new projects to be completed in 2020, he is busy working out his artistic plan to transform them into beautiful visuals. Verbena Apartments in the Leisure City Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) of southern Miami-Dade County will have 110 units in two five-story buildings, and Pinnacle at Peacefield, an affordable urban village for seniors in Hollywood named after the ancestral home of U.S. Founding Father John Adams, will have three buildings. “I am an entrepreneur who strives to make things better,” says Wolfson. “We are helping all kinds of families beyond my wildest dreams. All of us at Pinnacle Housing Group are gratified that we are doing good and beneficial work, and we want to continue to do this as long as we can.”