A History of Community
Edited by Becky Roper Matkov
A Publication of Dade Heritage Trust
Thank you for your interest in this HPNbooks publication. For more information about other
HPNbooks publications, or information about producing your own book with us, please visit www.hpnbooks.com.
A History of Community
Edited by Becky Roper Matkov
A Publication of Dade Heritage Trust
Historical Publishing Network
A division of Lammert Publications, Inc.
San Antonio, Texas
Copyright © 2001 Historical Publishing Network
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing
from the publisher. All inquiries should be addressed to Historical Publishing Network, 8491 Leslie Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78254. Phone (210) 688-9008.
Library of Congress Card Catalog Number: 2001087257
Miami’s Historic Neighborhoods: A History of Community
editor: Becky Roper Matkov
contributing writers for
sharing the heritage: Susan Cumins
Historical Publishing Network
president: Ron Lammert
vice president & project coordinator: Barry Black
project representatives: E. “Tito” Berrios, Timothy Hemsoth, Bari Nessel,
Flora Tartaglia, Ted del Valle, Jessica Vlasseman
director of operations: Charles A. Newton, III
administration: Angela Lake
graphic production: Colin Hart
PRINTED IN SINGAPORE
2 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
by Governor Jeb Bush
6 A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
by Becky Roper Matkov
10 HISTORY IS WHERE YOU FIND IT
by Arva Moore Parks
15 VOICES FROM THE PAST
by Helen Muir
by Aristides Millas
26 THE MIAMI RIVER
by Robert S. Carr
30 SPRING GARDEN
by James Broton
by Dorothy Jenkins Fields
35 MIAMI CITY CEMETERY
by Penny Lambeth
38 MORNINGSIDE AND BAY POINT
by Gail Meadows and William E. Hopper, Jr.
41 MIAMI BEACH
by Howard Kleinberg
48 MIAMI SHORES AND EL PORTAL
by Seth Bramson
50 NORTHEAST DADE: BISCAYNE PARK,
FULFORD, NORTH MIAMI BEACH
by Malinda Cleary
57 OPA-LOCKA: A VISION OF ARABY
by Thorn Grafton
60 MIAMI LAKES AND THE DAIRIES
THAT MADE DADE
by Donald Slesnick
by Horatio L. Villa
66 MIAMI SPRINGS: GLEN CURTISS’ DREAM
by Mary Ann Goodlett-Taylor
70 NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE
by Stephen Tiger
by Enid C. Pinkney
76 RIVERSIDE AND SHENANDOAH
by Paul S. George
81 LITTLE HAVANA AND CALLE OCHO
by Leslie Pantin, Jr.
83 CLIFF HAMMOCK
by Julia Hodapp Cohen
87 COCONUT GROVE
by David Burnett
94 KEY BISCAYNE
by Joan Gill Blank
100 CORAL GABLES
by Ellen Uguccioni
106 CENTRAL MIAMI:
“THE LOST PART OF CORAL GABLES”
by Samuel D. LaRoue, Jr.
109 SOUTH MIAMI
by Susan Perry Reading
by Georgia Tasker
by Paul S. George
123 OLD CUTLER AND THE DEERING ESTATE
by Christopher R. Eck
129 SOUTH DADE:
HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA CITY, AND REDLAND
by Robert J. Jensen and Larry Wiggins
136 SHARING THE HERITAGE
CONTENTS ✧ 3
With much appreciation, Dade Heritage Trust would like to thank
the following for all their help:
DEBORAH TACKETT, PHOTO EDITOR, for the vital role she played in helping locate,
photograph and organize so many of the photos in this book.
The CONTRIBUTING WRITERS, who gave so freely of their knowledge,
historic resources, photographs, time and talent:
Governor Jeb Bush
Becky Roper Matkov
Arva Moore Parks
Robert S. Carr
Dorothy Jenkins Fields
Gail Meadows and
Donald Slesnick, II
Mary Ann Taylor
Joan Gill Blank
Robert Jensen and
The PHOTOGRAPHERS whose donated work so enhanced this book:
Deborah Tackett, Antoinette Naturale, Becky Roper Matkov, Lambeth & Nagle Communications, Elena Carpenter of the Brickell Post,
Thorn Grafton, Dan Forer, Fernando Suco, Larry Wiggins, Julia Cohen, Randall Robinson, Malinda Cleary, William Hopper, Steven Brooke,
John Gillan, Phil Brodatz, Michael Conway, Nesie Summers, Rudi Klein, Paulette Mortimer, Jack Goodier, Norman McGrath, Mark Greene,
Charlie Williams, Mel Rea McGuire, Jose Gelabert-Navia
ARCHIVAL AND PHOTOGRAPHIC RESOURCES:
The Florida State Archives; The Historical Association of Southern Florida; Dade Heritage Trust Archives; The Black Archives History and
Research Foundation of South Florida; North Miami Historical Society; The Collection of Arva Moore Parks; The Collection of Seth Bramson; The
Collection of Sam LaRoue; The Collection of Joan Gill Blank; The Collection of Christopher Eck; The Collection of Bob Carr; The Collection of
Carolyn Junkin; The Collection of the John Witty Family; The Collection of Helen Muir; William Jennings Bryan Library Archives; Overtown
Main Street; Temple Israel; Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Division; Miami-Dade Park and Recreation Department; Miami-Dade Community
College; Vizcaya Museum and Gardens; The Kampong; Fairchild Tropical Garden; Coconut Grove Arts Festival; Miami Downtown Development
Authority; Metro-Dade Transit; Miami-Springs Historical Museum; Miami-Dade Public Library System Romer Collection; Parrot Jungle and
Gardens; Homestead Miami Speedway; Kiwanis Club of Little Havana; National Park Service; Biscayne National Park; Bill Baggs Cape Florida
State Recreation Area; Arquitectonica; The Graham Companies; DEEDCO; Aventura Mall; Bal Harbour Shops; The Biltmore Hotel; R.J.
Heisenbottle Architects, P.A.
Ceci Williams, for handcoloring the photograph of the Ideal Model Home.
Thomas J. Matkov, for his legal assistance.
The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, for the use of their map.
The Board Members of Dade Heritage Trust, for all their support.
Dade Heritage Trust Staff Members Luis Gonzalez and Katie Halloran.
The staff of the Historical Publishing Network, for all their assistance.
The companies and individuals who purchased Profiles, especially those with J. Poole Associates, Inc., Realtors,
who were the first to buy a profile—and have been so patient in waiting for this book.
4 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
FOREWORD ✧ 5
6 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
(COURTESY OF MIAMI DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE)
After Hurricane Andrew, friends and neighbors worked together to clear roads and yards filled with limbs and debris. (PHOTOS BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
B Y B ECKY R OPER M ATKOV
In 1978, when we first moved to Miami
from Richmond,Virginia, I enrolled our son in
first grade, filled up our suburban look-alike
kitchen with groceries, and set about to dis -
cover the “heart” of our new community. That
had been an easy task in Richmond, when
your next door neighbor—who had lived in
his old colonial for forty years—brought you
roses and told you about the history of each
house on the street and who was the best
plumber to fix your leaky faucets and how the
pharmacy three blocks away would deliver
prescriptions and which were the proper
clubs and churches to belong to and oh, yes,
he would introduce you to “everyone.”
It had not been an easy task in Northern
Virginia, where I had been raised in the
“metropolitan Washington area” of McLean.
The rambling old farmhouses in the center
of McLean had been torn down by the
1960s, replaced first by gas stations, then by
strip malls and chain restaurants, and then
by office parks and mega-malls that gobbled
up miles of rolling countryside. One subdivision
blended into another, all united by
endless traffic congestion.
What I found in Miami at first glance
seemed dismayingly similar. Old mansions
along Brickell Avenue were being bulldozed
daily for highrise office buildings. Expressways
and I-95 were always under construction,
making little improvement in traffic flow even
when completed. Dade County seemed to
spread out forever, with no defined bound -
aries, no center, no history, no essence. There
appeared to be “no ‘there’ there.”
However, I soon learned that that was not
the case. Vizcaya and the Barnacle showed
me another world and time that once existed
here. The Junior League’s Designer Show
House in the French Village and a tour of the
long-closed Biltmore introduced me to the
charms of old Coral Gables. Photographing
Downtown Miami for an architectural guidebook
and writing a story on the Miami River
intrigued me with the rejuvenation potential
for the city’s tired central core. Then along
came Dade Heritage Trust! Social events at
beautiful old homes and landmarks, restoration
projects, eye-opening conferences and
seminars, and a chance to create and publish
a magazine on historic preservation followed.
And along the way, I learned something
about Miami, this complex, diverse, multifaceted,
far-flung, fast-changing, never-dull
metropolis: Miami is not one place, but
many. Not one story, but hundreds, thou -
sands of stories.
Professor Aristides Millas, in his chapter
on the City of Miami, quotes Dr. William
Davenport, who wrote in 1909, “Miami was
a collection of strangers…. We had all come
from someplace else.” In many ways, that
has not changed. “Natives” are being born
here every day, of course, but we have
numerically many more people coming from
afar, whether it’s Atlanta or Havana, New
York or Rio, Washington or Kiev,
Minneapolis or Port au Prince.
Too few have shared their stories with
others, and too few have listened to the stories
of others. Residents of Miami Beach may
seldom visit Homestead. People who live in
Aventura may never go to Hialeah. Opa-locka
and Key Biscayne may seem worlds apart.
Newcomers from less unwieldly parts of the
planet often remark that Miami is a confusing
city to really get to know. It is a challenge to
embrace all this geographic and demographic
expanse as one’s own hometown.
The role of historic preservation is to save
physical remnants of our past so that people can
understand that they are part of a continuum of
civilization, a part of the ongoing story of where
CHAPTER I ✧ 7
Matheson Hammock Marina was decimated by Hurricane Andrew on August 24, 1992.
they are living. People lived along the Miami
River and Biscayne Bay thousands of years before
the first condo was ever built on Brickell Avenue.
History books tell you that. The Miami Circle
archeological site, saved by preservationists from
being bulldozed into oblivion, can show you
that. Hardy pioneers survived on Key Biscayne
since 1825, long before the Rickenbacker
Causeway made possible Mackle homes and the
latest bumper crop of multi-million dollar man -
sions. History books tell you that. The Cape
Florida Lighthouse, restored by preservationists,
shows you that.
Walking into an historic building, or
through an historic neighborhood, is a
three-dimensional experience. No book, no
photograph, no museum exhibit, can convey
that experience as well as the reality of physically
being there with the real thing.
Historic preservation seeks to preserve
the character of an older neighborhood and
to make buildings past their prime once
more appreciated and nurtured. Historic
preservation recycles structures and sites,
restoring their youth, refreshening them for
new lives and times.
Preserving physical reminders of our
communal past increases a sense of community
for our city as a whole. It is a way of
welcoming us, of informing us, of inviting us
to be a part of this place called Miami,
whether our grandparents lived here or we
just arrived last week.
Developing a sense of community is not
an easy task. Festivals and celebrations like
Dade Heritage Days and Calle Ocho and Art
Deco Weekend expose thousands to differ -
8 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
ent cultures and neighborhoods. A common
history, as experienced by Cuban exiles or
Holocaust survivors, binds people together.
Civic associations and historic districts give
residents of a neighborhood a forum and
structure to develop ties with one another,
whether for holiday parties, house tours,
park preservation or political lobbying.
A well-executed vision by the developers
of a city, as seen in Coral Gables, Miami
Springs, and Miami Shores, goes a long way
in creating a sense of place. Incorporation
into a separate municipality, as in Pinecrest
and Key Biscayne, has given residents a sense
of pride and participation missing before
they had a clearly delineated community.
And sometimes, calamities or perils that
befall an area unite people who have been
living as strangers in suburbia and transform
them into a close-knit community of friends.
That is what happened to neighborhoods
all over Miami when Hurricane Andrew
struck on August 24, 1992. For everyone in
the county there was a break in the flow of
life as as usual. For those closest to the eye of
this storm—described by TV weatherman
Brian Norcross as “the strongest hurricane to
ever hit a major metropolitan area”—there
was destruction beyond belief. The storm
slashed everything from Key Biscayne south
through Gables by the Sea, Pinecrest,
Kendall, the Deering Estate, Cutler Ridge,
Cauley Square, the Redland, Homestead and
Florida City. The terrain looked like a nuclear
bomb had leveled what had been the greenest
and lushest part of Dade County. Trees
were stripped of their leaves, their branches
gnarled and twisted. Roofs were ripped off,
windows and doors blasted out, mailboxes
and lights smashed. Refrigerators were floating
in flooded garages. Pools were filled with
sludge and dead animals. Boats were blown
from marina docks into mangrove swamps.
Tall concrete utility poles were snapped like
toothpicks. School gyms—and entire shopping
Our neighborhood had no phones, no
water, no security and no electricity for
weeks. Air conditioning in the 90 degree
heat was a luxury one could only dream
about. Ice was a priceless commodity. Chain
saws and generators were avidly sought
after, as was plastic sheeting to cover up
leaky roofs in the torrential downpours. The
streets were lined with mountains of trash.
The roof and second floor of this home blew away while a family of five huddled downstairs under a mattress.
Troops from the 82nd Airborne camped on
the grounds of my daughter’s school.
Helicopters droned overhead incessantly,
evoking memories of the Vietnam War.
But out of this destruction and disruption
came something to treasure. As we emerged,
dazed, from our houses after the storm had
passed, we all met in the street. One family’s
entire second floor had blown away, and the
next door neighbors had rushed over to rescue
them during the storm. People who barely
knew each other were offering to share their
homes, food and gasoline and were pitching
in to clear each other’s yards. Fences had been
blown down, literally and figuratively, and
neighbors were talking to each other who had
never even met before. On countless streets
with broken traffic lights, drivers were unusually
polite to each other, resulting in traffic
flowing with amazing smoothness.
Never had we seen such total blackness at
night, without even a faint glow from distant
city lights. So we fell into an old fashioned
rhythm of rising with the sun and doing physical
labor—lots of it!—early on to avoid the
horrendous heat of the day. We talked with
friends on the porch—the inside of the house
was too hot!—and pooled our resources for
communal cookouts with neighbors in the
early evening. We used our flashlights to find
our way to bed when darkness descended,
with no computers, no answering machines,
no videos and no television to distract us.
Through the sweat and aggravation and
distress, we were forced to take time to get to
know each other. We cried at our losses of
antiques or art or special family photo -
graphs, but we laughed a lot too.
Friendships were made which have lasted
through the decade. We have shared reconstruction
horror stories, weddings, puppies,
margaritas, key lime bread, roses, a tragic
funeral, birthdays, Christmas parties, a book
signing, a bat mitzvah, progressive dinners
and “Hurricane Andrew” anniversaries.
Not only on our street, but throughout
many streets in Miami-Dade, Hurricane
Andrew forged a communal camaraderie.
Neighborhoods became communities that
cared and shared.
When people get to know each other,
bridges are built that unite groups and individuals.
It is our hope that this book on
Miami’s Historic Neighborhoods will introduce
you to your neighbors and “build
bridges” between different communities.
There are countless neighborhoods and stories
in Miami, and we’ve only highlighted a
few—but we hope that these will make us all
feel less like strangers, and more like friends.
Houses and landscaping in the eye of the storm looked as though they had been bombed in a war zone.
With no school, no air conditioning, and no television for weeks, neighborhood kids played card games to while away hot afternoons.
Neighbors—who had become friends—celebrate with a “lights on” party when electricity was restored after three weeks.
Reconstructing damaged homes took months, even years, longer.
CHAPTER I ✧ 9
In the 1920s, developments boomed all over Dade County, offering the “ideal home and neighborhood.” (FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES PHOTO HAND-COLORED BY CECI WILLIAMS)
HISTORY IS WHERE YOU FIND IT
B Y A RVA M OORE P ARKS
“No place is a place until things that have happened in it are remembered.”
Nothing reveals Miami’s history better than
its own, distinctive historic places. They store
memories and events and safeguard the lessons
of the past. They hold precious pieces of human
life and connect generation to generation.
Until recently, Miamians have had little
interest in preservation. Instead of saving the
best, each generation has thoughtlessly bulldozed,
modernized or otherwise destroyed
much of what they found when they arrived.
As a result, many important landmarks have
disappeared and the monuments to Miami’s
founding can only be seen in old photographs.
But perceptive eyes can still discover frag -
ments of early days, and preservationists have
helped save some of what remains. In an
attempt to right past wrongs, they have also
focused on preserving the more recent past
and securing its future.
Without landmarks, we can lose our way.
Before we can look ahead, we must first look
around and see where we are and where we
have been. Only by doing this can we can
become what author Wendell Berry calls a
Place, after all, is the root of our existence.
It marks our beginning and our end. It gives us
identity and shapes our character. It grounds
our memories. Place is our where: where we
came from, where we live, where we work,
where we met, where we have been, where we
are going. Place brings continuity to our life. It
joins past to present, present to future, and us
to each other.
Just as place defines us, we define place and
give it meaning. We are place’s who: who came,
who left, who lived, who died, who built, who
conquered, who ruled, who pillaged, who
destroyed and who restored. We make,
change, and write place’s history.
The place we live in today is Greater Miami.
Our past may be someplace else but our today
is here. We are Miami’s now. But we are not
alone. All the people who lived here in the past
or will live here in the future line up with us forever.
Our feet walk the same special piece of
earth where, eight millennia before our calendar
began, others trod. Recent discoveries of the
Miami Circle and the Deering Fossil Site have
re-written what we thought we knew about the
earliest people to call Miami home. As humans
of the twenty-first century, our connection with
Miami begins not with our arrival but with these
people and all the rest who will follow us in the
Just 2l years after Columbus discovered
what the Europeans called the New World,
Juan Ponce de León sailed into Biscayne Bay
and called the area Chequescha (Tequesta)
presumably after the native people he
encountered. In 1567, just two years after
founding St. Augustine, the oldest perma -
nent European settlement in what is now the
United States, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
built a short-lived mission on the north bank
of the Miami River near its mouth. During
the next two centuries, Spain’s other two
attempted settlements in the Miami area were
also short-lived, but the Spanish remained
friendly with the native people. When the
English took control of Florida in 1763, most
of the Tequesta Indians left with the Spanish
During this ten-year British period, and
after Florida was returned to Spain,
Bahamians moved into the Miami area but left
no trace of their Cape Florida settlement.
Although no buildings remain from the earliest
Spanish and Bahamian settlements, arti -
facts uncovered in various archaeological digs,
including the one on the north bank of the
Miami River, prove that they were here. These
precious remnants of the past can be seen at
the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.
In 1825, four years after Florida became a
United States territory, the government built the
Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne in an
effort to stop the frequent wrecks on the Great
Florida Reef. In 1836, the Seminoles destroyed
the light during the second in a series of three
costly wars. The Cape Florida Lighthouse, which
was re-built in 1845, is Miami’s oldest complete
structure. Because most of the keepers of the
Cape Florida Lighthouse traced their roots to the
Bahamas, the lighthouse is the earliest link to our
first permanent European and African settlers.
Soon after the government built the light -
house, South Carolinian Richard Fitzpatrick
bought four tracts of land on the north and south
bank of the Miami River from two Bahamian
families, the Egans and the Lewises. When
Florida became a territory of the United States in
10 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
1821, they had the distinction of being the only
private landowners on the mainland. In 1838,
two years after the 2nd Seminole War began, the
U.S. opened Fort Dallas on Fitzpatrick’s property.
At war’s end, Fitzpatrick sold his land to his
nephew William F. English. English built a rock
plantation house and a long building to serve as
slave quarters on the north bank. In 1845,
English also platted the Village of Miami just
across the river. Unfortunately, the Seminoles
forced English to flee before his dream for a new
city could be realized. The U.S. Army returned
and re-opened Fort Dallas. They completed the
two rock buildings and used them as part of their
military complex. As late as the 1890s, these two
buildings were the only substantial structures on
the north bank of the river.
Following the Civil War, a visitor noted that
the long building housed a motley crew of
deserters and runaways. In the 1870s, it served
as the Dade County Courthouse. In the early
1900s it became a private residence and later a
tea room. When the building was slated for
demolition in 1925 to make way for the Robert
Clay Hotel (now demolished), the Daughters
of the American Revolution and the Miami
Woman’s Club initiated Miami’s first preservation
effort to save it. They raised the money to
move what became known as Fort Dallas to
Lummus Park, a city-owned park up river.
Ft. Dallas still resides in Lummus Park along
with Miami’s oldest house, the Wagner
Homestead, built in 1858 by William Wagner, a
sutler who remained in Miami when the last
Seminole War was over. Dade Heritage Trust led
the effort to move and reconstruct Wagner’s
House in the park in 1979. Unfortunately, the old
plantation house that also served as the home to
Julia Tuttle, the “Mother of Miami,” was torn
down in the 1920s without a whimper of protest.
When Julia Tuttle arrived in 1891, what
would become downtown Miami had changed
very little since English’s time. William and
Mary Brickell had a trading post on the south
bank of the river and were doing a brisk busi -
ness with the Indians. Brickell and his family
had arrived two decades earlier and had pur -
chased all of English’s land on the south side of
the river extending to what would become
Coconut Grove. Unfortunately, nothing remains
of the Brickell trading post or their 1906 man -
sion, torn down in 1963. Their greatest legacy is
beautiful Brickell Avenue, platted by Mary
Brickell in 1911. A monument to Mary Brickell
in the median of Brickell Avenue between S.W.
Sixth and Seventh Streets was dedicated by
Dade Heritage Trust in 1998, thanks to the
efforts of activist Carmen Petsoules.
By 1891, Coconut Grove held the distinction
of being the first real community in South
The Mouth of the Miami River one hundred years ago, looking east toward Biscayne Bay from where the Brickell Bridge now
spans the river. The 2000-year-old Miami Circle archeological site, discovered in 1998, is located behind the white building
in the center of the photo. (COURTESY OF THE COLLECTION OF CHRISTOPHER ECK)
Florida. It had a population of over fifty hearty
souls, a six-year old hotel, a community Sunday
school, the first school in what is now Dade
County, a yacht club, a woman’s club and a general
store. Ralph Munroe, who came from Staten
Island, New York, had just completed his new
home, called the Barnacle. Munroe also brought
the first northern tourists into Miami to stay at
Charles and Isabella Peacock’s Bay View Hotel,
later the Peacock Inn. It stood on the ridge
between two magnificent oaks in today’s Peacock
Park. The inn spurred other development,
including the founding of Kebo—Miami’s first
black community—on today’s Charles Avenue.
Although Coconut Grove has experienced
enormous change in recent years, it still has the
greatest concentration of historic sites linked to
the romantic “Era of the Bay” before the railroad
came to South Florida and closed the frontier.
The 108-year-old Woman’s Club still sits on its
corner of South Bayshore Drive and McFarlane
Road in a 1921 building designed by renowned
Miami architect Walter De Garmo. The 1882
grave of Ralph Munroe’s first wife, Eva, is next to
the Coconut Grove Library and is Miami’s oldest
marked grave. The first Sunday school and
schoolhouse , which once stood behind
the library, was moved to the grounds of
Plymouth Congregational Church . The
Biscayne Bay Yacht Club  is located on the
bayfront a short distance to the east in a 1932
DeGarmo building. Charles Avenue, the first
street in historic Kebo, still has some important
historic sites including the E.W.F. Stirrup House
, the Mariah Brown House [c 1900] and
the historic Bahamian-style cemetery, on the corner
of Charles and Douglas Roads. The Barnacle,
now a State of Florida historic site, sits just a
short distance away off busy Main Highway. It
still offers us a rare opportunity to re-enter this
“Era of the Bay” and see what Coconut Grove
offered its pioneers before there was a Miami.
Lemon City, another pre-Miami community,
grew up five miles north of the Miami River.
Lemon City had the best dock in the area and by
1892 was connected by a stage line to Lantana.
Like Coconut Grove, Lemon City had a school, a
church, a library and a growing population.
Unfortunately, almost nothing remains from
Lemon City except the Lemon City Drug Store
and Post Office  on the corner of N.E.
Second Avenue and 6lst Street—now the heart of
Little Haiti. One important link to old Lemon City
stands proudly on NW Second Avenue and 62nd
Street (formerly Avenue G and Pocomoonshine
Road). Miami Edison Middle School traces its
roots to the original Lemon City School and later
Lemon City Agricultural High School. Significant
portions of the 1928 former high school, gymnasium
and auditorium have been painstakingly
restored and joined to a beautiful new addition.
The melding of the old with the new at Miami
Edison Middle School, and the dialogue and connection
of old timers with new comers that resulted,
shines as a model for the future.
South Florida’s other pre-railroad community
grew up in far South Dade. In 1884,
William Fuzzard opened the Cutler post office
near what is now Coral Reef Drive (152nd
Street). Fuzzard also chopped Old Cutler
Road through the hammock to Coconut
Grove. Remnants of the Cutler community
and the original road are found on 168th
Street and at the Charles Deering Estate. The
site includes the historic Richmond Inn
 that was once a part of the town of
CHAPTER II ✧ 11
Cutler. Carefully re-constructed after being
almost totally destroyed by Hurricane Andrew,
the Richmond Inn reminds us of the time
when Cutler, like Coconut Grove and Lemon
City, was a thriving pioneer settlement.
As soon as Julia Tuttle arrived from
Cleveland in 1891, she set about to transform
a forgotten frontier into a new city. Like those
who came before her, she knew that Miami
would never develop until it became more
accessible. Offering half her land to anyone
who brought a railroad into Miami, Tuttle first
sought the help of Henry Plant, who had
extended his railroad as far south as Tampa.
After a harrowing trip across the Everglades
from Tampa to Miami, the Plant people
quickly lost interest in Tuttle’s proposal. She
then turned to Henry Flagler, whose railroad
was steaming down the East Coast of Florida
connecting his string of luxury hotels. Even
though Flagler reached Palm Beach by 1894,
he ignored Tuttle until the terrible freeze of
1894-95 made him realize Miami’s potential
as a winter fruit and vegetable center. The
idea of bringing tourists in and vegetables out
appealed to him. At Tuttle’s behest, Flagler
finally came to see Miami. After a dinner at
the Grove’s Peacock Inn and an offer of part of
Brickell’s land to sweeten the pot, Flagler was
ready to deal and the railroad was on its way!
In April 1896, the first train chugged into
Miami. A month later, Miami had its first
newspaper, The Miami Metropolis, and by July
had become an incorporated city with onethird
of the incorporators African Americans.
Five months later, much of the new “Magic
City,” as it was called, burned to the ground in
a disastrous Christmas night fire. Despite this
setback, Flagler’s magnificent Royal Palm Hotel
opened a month later at what is now the
Dupont Plaza parking lot. Unfortunately, one
of the only reminders of Miami’s founding
years and Henry Flagler’s legacy is a simple
house on the Miami River (Bijan’s Fort Dallas
Restaurant & Raw Bar) that was moved just
west of the Hyatt Hotel in 1979. Painted
Flagler yellow, the distinctive color of all
Flagler’s railroad stations and hotels, it was one
of two blocks of Royal Palm Cottages that
Flagler built for newcomers to his instant city.
Flagler also donated the land on Flagler
Street and SE Third Avenue for the First
Presbyterian Church, dedicated in 1900. When
it was torn down in the 1940s, the interior was
reconstructed in the chapel of the new church
on Brickell Avenue. Recently, one other frag -
ment of Flagler’s Miami was discovered on the
southwest corner of Flagler Street and SE/NE
First Avenue. Although hidden behind a 1940s
facade, Flagler’s 1897 brick Fort Dallas Building,
home to his real estate division, still stands as a
sort of “snail darter” link to Henry Flagler and
the earliest days of the City of Miami.
As the twentieth century began, Miami lost
its frontier feeling. One- and two-story vernacular
storefronts with arcaded sidewalks to protect
the shopper from sun and rain gave downtown
a tropical, small town atmosphere. A glimpse of
this era can be seen at NE First Avenue and First
Street. The old U.S. Post Office building, now
Office Depot, and the buildings across the street
including the Ralston Building, Miami’s first
“skyscraper,” were built between 1912 and
1917. Other buildings from this era include the
Seminole  and McCroy Hotels  on
Flagler Street between Miami and NE First
Avenues. They still retain their distinctive pro -
files even though some alterations have
occurred as pioneer hotels turned into ten-cent
and department stores.
The most pristine vernacular arcaded storefront
is at North Miami Avenue between
Fourth and Fifth Streets. In 1991, preserva -
tionists, citing Section 106 of the U.S. Federal
Preservation Act, convinced the Federal
Bureau of Prisons to retain and restore the front
section of the entire block (Chaille Block and
Dade Apartments) and incorporate it into the
new Federal prison.
Another unique pre-1920s building is Dr.
James M. Jackson’s office (190 SE 12th
Terrace), now the headquarters of Dade
Heritage Trust. Originally built in 1905, the
office, along with Dr. Jackson’s house, was
moved from Flagler Street to its present site
in 1917. A few blocks from Dr. Jackson’s
office is Southside School . This little
jewel, designed by Walter DeGarmo, sparkles
amidst the rapidly re-developing Brickell
area. Behind it sits the original Miami High
School  moved there in 1911 to
become the original Southside School.
Although now a private residence, the careful
observer can recognize the typical school
house windows and bell tower.
The Miami River Inn, a restored complex
of buildings in Riverside (Little Havana), one
of Miami’s first suburbs, also recalls pre-
Boom Miami. Little Havana has the largest
concentration of Miami’s distinctive, coralrock-decorated
vernacular bungalows and
Mission style homes and storefronts. It is an
important historic district waiting to happen.
Spring Garden, another riverfront subdivi -
sion , is already a City of Miami
In this same era, when the twentieth century
and the City of Miami were both
teenagers, national industrialists and capitalists
as well as a few well-heeled locals turned
Brickell Avenue and Main Highway into
Millionaire’s Row. Although most of these large
estates have been broken up, a few notable
ones remain. In 1916, James Deering of
International Harvester completed his palatial
Villa Vizcaya on former Brickell hammock
land. It remains Miami’s most spectacular
dwelling and is listed as a national landmark.
A year later, John Bindley, president of
Pittsburgh Steel, built the beautiful El Jardin,
now Carrolton School, on Main Highway.
Together these two buildings launched South
Florida’s love affair with Mediterranean
A postcard from 1910 illustrates a view of Miami looking west from what is now 27th Avenue toward the drainage canal for
the Miami River and the Everglades. (COURTESY OF THE COLLECTION OF BOB CARR)
12 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Just east of Vizcaya, one can still get a
glimpse of what Millionaire’s Row looked like
more than 70 years ago. Villa Serena, built in
1913 by three-time presidential candidate and
U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan,
sits next to the home of his cousin and former
Florida governor William Sherman Jennings.
In recent years, several magnificent new mansions
have joined these and other historic
homes, giving the street a singular ambience
reminiscent of earlier halcyon days.
Because law segregated the races, African-
American communities developed separately.
White Miami had its downtown, and African-
American Miami had its Colored Town or
Overtown. This vibrant African-American
commercial and residential district developed
around Avenue G, now NW Second Avenue.
Cut up and mowed down in the 1960s by
urban renewal and expressways, Overtown is
making a comeback through efforts of the
Black Archives History and Research
Foundation, Inc., founded by Dr. Dorothy
Fields. The restored Dr. William A. Chapman
House , the D.A. Dorsey House [1910-
1914] and the Lyric Theater [1910-1914], as
well as several historic churches, will give
Overtown a new beginning as a Historic
As Miami grew, Overtown became over -
crowded but was not allowed to expand its
borders. In response, developers created new
black suburbs in Liberty City and Brownsville.
Today, preservationists are also focusing on
preserving the heart of these historic African-
The 1920s brought dramatic change to the
Magic City. In the span of just a few years, Miami
quadrupled its population and evolved from a
small southern town into a big city. The Boom
with a capital “B” became a national phenomenon
and its wild, no-holds-barred, get-rich-quick
atmosphere attracted hordes of people from all
over. As a result of the huge quantity of buildings
from this era, Miami’s oldest and largest concentration
of historic structures dates from the Boom.
Notable downtown buildings include: the Miami
News Tower [Freedom Tower-1925], the
Olympia Theater and Office Building [Gusman
Theater-1926], the Ingraham Building ,
the Dade County Courthouse , Central
Baptist Church  Gesu Church ,
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral , the Miami
Woman’s Club  and the Scottish Rite
Temple . The recently restored Martin
Hampton-designed Congress Building  is
the latest historic building to make a come back
and once again brighten the skyline.
One cannot write about the Boom without
highlighting George Merrick, who had more to
do with its creation than anyone else. In
Merrick’s Coral Gables, one can find the greatest
number of Boom-time (and new)
Mediterranean Revival style buildings in
Miami-Dade County. This is due to the fact that
Coral Gables has made great strides in preserving
this legacy and was the first community to
pass a preservation ordinance .
Merrick, who moved to the area with his
family in 1899 as a 13-year-old boy, grew up
on his family’s grapefruit plantation. His talented
mother Althea designed their rock
home, which they named Coral Gables
. After his father’s death in 1911,
Merrick took over the groves and began planning
his dream suburb around a Spanish/
In November 1921, after years of thoughtful
study, Merrick sold the first lots in what became
South Florida’s first planned city. For the next
seven years, Merrick’s firm hand kept the Gables
on track. With a strong belief that making a city
beautiful was more important than making
money, he spent millions on architectural fea -
tures such as entry gates, plazas, fountains and
major public and corporate buildings that set the
tone for the whole community. Every structure,
every color selection, every awning had to pass a
strict architectural board made up of Merrick, his
uncle Denman Fink and architect Phineas Paist.
Although some of the wonderful small commercial
buildings have been lost, Coral Gables is still
know for its singular landmarks like the spectacular
Biltmore Hotel , The Colonnade
, The Douglas Entrance [Puerta del Sol,
1927], City Hall , Coral Gables
Congregational Church , Coral Gables
Elementary School  and the Venetian Pool
, as well as thousands of private homes
and several themed villages.
Merrick was not the only developer caught
up in creating themed suburbs. James Bright
and aviation luminary Glenn Curtiss created
Hialeah and Miami Springs around a Mission
and Pueblo Revival theme. Curtiss also built
Opa-locka based on the Arabian Nights. Opalocka
remains a unique piece of Boom-time
fantasy architecture as seen in its restored City
Hall and other designated buildings.
The Boom also created other distinctive
suburbs in the northeast quarter. Miami
Shores, Coral Gables’ greatest rival, and
Fulford by the Sea [North Miami Beach]
were later incorporated into separate cities.
Morningside, the City of Miami’s first his -
toric district, is a planned bayfront development
characterized by many beautiful
Mediterranean Revival homes. Its wellorganized
group of enthusiasts has returned
it and Bayshore, to the south, into two of the
City of Miami’s most beautiful neighbor -
hoods. Nearby, the early suburb and onetime
Town of Buena Vista is also being
restored to its former glory. Thanks to the
efforts of dedicated preservationists, restoration
fever is spreading up Biscayne
Boulevard as one historic neighborhood
after another makes its comeback.
Miami entered the Great Depression
ahead of the rest of the nation. The Florida
Boom and crash were a dress rehearsal for
the stock market debacle that followed a few
years later. Like the rest of America, Miami
benefited by the numerous New Deal pro -
grams created in the 1930s to help the nation
out of depression. The Civil Conservation
Corps built Matheson Hammock, Greynolds
Park and Fairchild Tropical Garden with
unique rock walls, pavilions and architectural
features. The Public Works Administration
built Liberty Square and several Miami
schools, including Shenandoah Junior High
and Miami Shores and Coral Way
Elementaries. The old Coral Gables Police
and Fire Station and the Miami Beach Post
Office were but two of the public buildings
constructed by the PWA. Uncle Sam also
hired artists to beautify the new public buildings.
Denman Fink, uncle of George Merrick
and one of the principals in the design of
Coral Gables, created one of the most cher -
ished works—a mural in the Central
Courtroom of the U.S. Federal Courthouse
designed by Phineas Paist .
By the mid-1930s, when the rest of the nation
was still wallowing in the slough of depression,
Miami was on the way out. The Mediterranean
Revival style architecture that marked the Boom
was on the way out as well. “Art Moderne” and
“Art Deco” were the new style of architecture in
America. The Bessemer Corporation introduced
the style in Miami as part of its ambitious
Biscayne Boulevard development. Billed as
Miami’s “Fifth Avenue,” this project was one of the
few bright spots in the late 1920s. Today the Sears
Tower  and the Mahi Shrine Temple
Headquarters [Boulevard Shops-1930] are the
most important remaining buildings of this
development. Other notable Art Deco buildings
in Downtown Miami include the beautiful Alfred
I. Dupont Building , Walgreens (now
Sports Authority)  and Burdine’s .
The ultimate flowering of local Art Deco,
however, occurred on Miami Beach.
Despite the Depression, the 1930s brought
new life to Miami Beach. No more ornate excess
of 1920s consumption like the long-gone
Nautilus, Flamingo and Roney Plaza; the new
style was spare, sleek, inexpensive and thor -
oughly modern. Most of all, Miami Beach’s
CHAPTER II ✧ 13
tropical answer to Art Deco was fun. Glass
block and murals, cavorting mermaids, danc -
ing dolphins and smiling seahorses etched into
glass with jig-saw puzzle floors in sleek terrazzo
were all wrapped up in undulating facades
pierced by a thousand portholes. Swaying palm
fronds, rolling surf, and the famous Miami
moon completed the scene and made it seem
like Art Deco had been created especially for
Miami Beach. Until World War II brought an
end to the fun, Miami Beach was issuing building
permits for new hotels at the rate of one
every three days. Today, these small South
Beach hotels and apartments make up Miami
Beach’s famed Art Deco District.
After the war, Miami Beach took on a new
style (now called Miami Modern or MiMo) that
reached its peak with the work of Morris
Lapidus in the 1950s. For a while, the grandiose
Fontainebleau, Eden Roc, Doral and Americana
hotels as well as the fantasy motels on North
Beach kept the tourists coming to Miami Beach.
The beginning of what we call sprawl also
came at war’s end as hundreds of thousands
of GI’s came to Miami to start a new life.
These post-war subdivisions are now reach -
ing historic status along with other commercial
buildings from that era. Hoping to avoid
what happened in the past, preservationists
are currently looking carefully at these
resources to help make thoughtful decisions
for their future.
The 1960s brought even more change to
Greater Miami. But then Miamians had always
been accustomed to change. The city’s entire
history had been written in short paragraphs.
No one, however, was prepared for the
changes the ’60s would bring.
After Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1959, a
continuous stream of exiles flowed into Miami.
When Castro announced his Communist leanings,
the stream became a flood as hundreds of
thousands of Cubans fled their homeland. The
Cubans, often destitute, had to start their lives
over again in a foreign land. They moved into the
low-rent, older, declining neighborhoods of
Riverside and Shenandoah, breathing in new life.
Before long, the old Tamiami Trail became Calle
The road from Miami to Cocoanut Grove was once a verdant, but lonely, trail. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
Ocho, “Little Havana’s” Main Street. The Tower
Theater  was the gathering place and
became the first theater in Miami to have Spanish
sub-titles. Neighboring stores sported Spanish
signs, yet the businesses remained remarkably
similar to the pre-Cuban days and the whole area
kept its strong historic Mom-and-Pop flavor.
As “Little Havana” becomes a diverse “Latin
Quarter,” and fast food and other chain “any -
place” businesses move in, the visual landmarks,
no matter how humble, of where the Cuban
transformation of Miami began are disappearing.
Like Henry Flagler’s Miami that vanished during
the Boom, Little Havana will also pass into oblivion
unless effort is made to preserve at least part
of it as it was when the Cubans arrived. How well
we know from past experience that once we can
no longer see our history, we quickly forget it.
We can learn about the past in history
books or meet it face to place in historic buildings,
schools, churches, homes and neighborhoods.
Sadly, we will never really appreciate
our history and become “placed people” if
there is no place left to remember.
Arva Moore Parks is a native Miamian who has spent more than 25 years researching and writing about her favorite city. But more than an historian, Parks is a
leader, participating in many different arenas, learning firsthand what Miami and its people are all about. She is known as an indefatigable advocate for historic
preservation, and her leadership has helped save many important landmarks. She has held both local and national preservation offices, and in 1995 President Bill
Clinton appointed her to the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
She is author of numerous award-winning books, films and articles on Miami, including Miami: The Magic City, which was named the official history of the City of Miami,
and Our Miami: The Magic City, a 60-minute video which won a Florida Emmy. Through Arva Parks & Company she is also known for her historical research and interpretive
design, which includes Coral Gables’ Colonnade Hotel and the Harry Truman Little White House in Key West.
She has been widely honored for her activism and her writing. The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce named her their Robert B. Knight Outstanding Citizen in
1983, and in 1985 she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1996, she was listed in the City of Miami Centennial Women’s Hall of Fame, and Barry
University awarded her an Honorary Doctor of Laws. In 1997, the University of Florida named her one of 47 Women of Achievement honored at the fall celebration
of 50 years of co-education.
14 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
The Brickell family, early pioneers who played key roles in shaping Miami’s future, pose on the porch of their stately home. William B. Brickell is seated on the veranda, so the photograph was
taken before 1908, the year he died. The Brickell mansion was located on the south bank of the Miami River, where the Sheraton Biscayne Bay Hotel is today, and the grounds included what is
now Brickell Park and the Miami Circle Archeological Site. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
VOICES FROM THE PAST
B Y H ELEN M UIR
On the doorstep of the 21st century, we
pause in Miami-Dade to consider how we
arrived here. Voices from the Past ring in
Certainly Mary Brickell and her husband,
William Barnwell Brickell, left the family
mark on South Florida. The story of all the
Brickell daughters, none of whom married,
holds elements of drama. Perhaps surprisingly,
it is the words of their last offspring, known
as Miss Maude, that linger in my mind.
Miss Maude was christened Maudenella.
“You know lawyers,” she explained. “Can’t
tell them anything. They changed it to
Maude E.” In any case, as Maudenella or
Maude E., it was she who took over the care
of the rose garden at the Royal Palm Hotel
during the long hot summers because she
fell in love with the roses and was rewarded
with blooms for her own bedroom.
Early in the 1950s I sat with Miss
Maude on the wide porch of the house
which has been described as a mansion. In
my sense, the house fell short of the term
except for the exterior view. In any case, I
was questioning her as to accurate names
of the Brickell “girls.” She gave them to me:
Alice Amy, Edith Mary Kate and Belle
Gertrude (Emma died in childhood of
None of these Brickell daughters enjoyed
anything like a social life as the term is
understood today. The men in the family
were sent away to school, but Mary Brickell
once declared it was neither necessary nor
appropriate for “the girls” to be so endowed.
In our conversations we never touched on
the body of myth that grew up about The
Brickells, but one day I was permitted to enter
the old place. Our small son, who accompanied
me on these visits, was refused admittance
to the interior of the house and was relegated
to wait in the garden. Toby was advised
to amuse himself by watching the monkeys in
the vine covered trees. Meanwhile, the house
CHAPTER III ✧ 15
enter the old place. Our small son, who
accompanied me on these visits, was refused
admittance to the interior of the house and
was relegated to wait in the garden. Toby was
advised to amuse himself by watching the
monkeys in the vine covered trees.
Meanwhile, the house was filled with dogs
and cats and was a welter of confusion.
Difficult to envision were “lavish parties” as
described in earlier reports. The restrained
words of Commodore Ralph M. Munroe,
commenting on the glamorous history of the
Brickells as described by Brickell himself,
come to mind: “Brickell could not resist dramatic
Left to us is the image of Miss Belle carrying
home heavy sacks of groceries on a
scorching hot day all the way from Buena
Vista because “a fellow owed her money” and
she “was taking it out in trade.” Of course, we
also have the picture of Miss Edith with a
satchel of cash, doling it out to those in need.
One day when Miss Maude went to sit
on a neighbor’s porch a fire engine came
charging into the area. “Wasting the taxpayer’s
money,” Miss Maude said. A man
came running down the street, swinging his
arms in excitement. “One of the Brickell
girls stepped on a live wire and got cut
spang in two” he exclaimed. That was the
end of Miss Alice, the only one with an
education because she got it in Cleveland
before the move to the Bay country.
Miss Alice had organized Sunday School
out under the orange trees to which
Seminoles often came, had taught school at
Lemon City and had been the official postmistress
attached to the family trading post.
It was during the Boom that Miss
Maude suffered a disillusionment of substance
when a fine looking, smooth-talking
fellow to whom she rented a house swindled
her out of $320,000 (in cash!) in
order to “corner the market on copper.”
The fellow had two names, it turned out,
after the county solicitor’s office heard
about the matter and investigated.
Miss Maude’s final years as the sole
occupant of the old Brickell house were
fully occupied with her own funeral
arrangements and before that with arranging
burial places for others in the family.
The funeral director reported that for fifteen
years she concerned herself with how
her hair should be arranged.
When she died in 1960, the body lay in
state at a Coral Gables funeral parlor in the
bronze casket she selected, before being
removed to Woodlawn Cemetery. Her official
age at death was 89, three years older than her
age as she gave it to me back in the 1950s.
✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧
Eunice Merrick said that when she and
her husband, George Edgar Merrick, decided
to build their own residence in the City
of Coral Gables, which he was creating, her
mother showed concern. “Won’t you be terribly
lonely out there all by yourself?” was
the way the wife of Alfred Peacock put it.
It held an echo of the Charles and Isabella
Peacock decision, after their first glimpse of
what would be called Coconut Grove, to
move up to the mouth of the Miami River
where there would be the Brickells, the Duke
of Dade and the Lovelace family. Of course,
they did later move to Coconut Grove where
the brother of Charles, “Jolly Jack” Peacock,
preceded them, and Isabella earned the title
of “the Mother of Coconut Grove.”
The day we chatted about pioneering
experiences with Mrs. Alfred Peacock she
was in her eighties, keeping a low-key
appearance and preparing to celebrate
Thanksgiving with daughter Eunice
Merrick. The conversation turned to early
Thanksgiving celebrations in Coconut
Grove and, in particular, the 1887 occasion
when the early settlers gathered for a program
in the log cabin schoolhouse on the
bluff looking down over Dinner Key.
They were there because Euphemia
Frow had threatened to leave the Grove if a
school was not provided for the children.
Lillian Frow Peacock recalled that she recited
“the First Thanksgiving.” The Joseph
Frows beamed at their offspring, and her
sister, Grace, and brothers, Charlie and Joe,
clapped their hands politely.
They had walked over “the trail” to the
thatch-covered cabin in the late afternoon.
There were no refreshments because everyone
had sat down to a hearty midday dinner.
There were ten pupils in the cabin
schoolhouse that day: the Frows, Anne
Tavernier and Beverly, who were the children
of John Thomas (“Jolly Jack”)
Peacock, and Eddie, John, James (“Tiny”)
and Renie Pent.
✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧
The voice of one of the most colorful
characters to be identified with Miami Beach
has been all but stilled despite the splash he
made in the spring and summer of 1935.
Floyd Gibbons was a legendary figure long
before he appeared on a visit to the Beach.
As a war correspondent for the Chicago
Tribune in Europe during World War I,
Floyd Gibbons was awarded the Croix de
Guerre and was made a chevalier of the
Legion of Honor. He wore an eye patch
after losing an eye in the Battle of Château
Thierry, and,in the 1930s, when he arrived
in Florida, he was a radio performer billed
as the “Headline Hunter.”
He was a star, even for those ignorant of
his background, which included riding with
Pancho Villa in 1915 in the Mexican
Revolution and with General Pershing the
following year and writing The Red Knight of
Germany, the popular biography of German
fighter ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen,
and a successful novel, The Red Napoleon.
Gibbons’ entrance on the Miami scene
was applauded by everyone from Mayor
Red Snedigar to newsmen reaching for stories,
and the Headline Hunter did not fail.
He fell in love with Miami and almost at
once purchased a North Bay Road home,
sending word to his sister, Zelda, to leave
Boston and the popular dress shop she and
her husband, Theodore Mayer, ran, to
come help furnish it. When it was completed,
he gave a big party for all those who
had been knocking on his door.
The next day as he sat under a palm tree
recuperating, his eye flew open at the
sound of a bullhorn pointing out his presence
from a passing boat. A tourist guide
was telling the world that “Here is the
house purchased by Floyd Gibbons—and
there he sits!”
A cherished memory of mine is of a small
dinner party on top of the Deauville Hotel. It
brought together Eddie Rickenbacker, among
other friends. There was no air conditioning at
that time, but natural breezes from the ocean
helped make it an unforgettable evening.
Gibbons’ presence had brought Ernest
Hemingway up from Key West for fishing
expeditions, with Jed Kiley making it a trio.
Once upon a time the three had fraternized
in Paris. They were reunited in South
Florida at a time gone but not forgotten by
those who lived through it.
A call to return to the earlier role of war
correspondent put an end to this idyllic
period. Gibbons’ death in 1939 at his
Pennsylvania farm wrote finis to the life of
this legendary man.
✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧
Mrs. Jack Peacock offered a large dinner
bell to Mrs. Stephen van Rensselaer
Carpenter, the president of the Housekeeper’s
Club, when the railroad extension began
pushing in the direction of Coconut Grove.
There were five daughters dwelling with their
mother in the large house overlooking
Biscayne Bay. Del, the son in the family, was
off working on the railroad supply boat.
People had begun to lock their doors,
16 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
and a warning bell could well prove to be a
needed protective device. One daughter,
Miss Hattie, had her own ideas for self protection.
This schoolteacher, on her way to
becoming the second principal of Miami
High School, placed a pistol in the basket
of her bicycle.
One morning as she pedaled through
the Punch Bowl District, a number of tough
looking workmen blocked her way. Miss
Hattie described how she dealt with the situation:
“I lifted the pistol from the basket in
one hand, and greeted the men. I smiled
and said ‘Good morning boys.’” Laughter
broke out among the line of extension
workers and Miss Hattie continued on her
way. No hesitation, ever, in the way Miss
Hattie would proceed.
She loved Miami High School. But
when the School Board took steps she considered
detrimental to the standards she
held, she up and quit. But she wasn’t finished
by any means. She moved over to
Miami’s first newspaper, The Metropolis, to
Miss Hattie offered a wealth of insight
and information to me in writing Miami
USA, and, when it was brought out in 1953,
I quite properly signed one of the first copies
to her. Her response was characteristic. She
sat down and wrote a two-page review of the
book and sent it off to Henry Holt in New
York, which had published the volume.
The death of Miss Hattie Carpenter was
a personal sorrow to me. It occurred one
day as she bent over a garden bed attending
to necessary weeding.
✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧
During the first half of the 20th century, a
man named Ben J. Fisher applied himself to
the building of rock walls in Coconut Grove.
Today, gazing at these lovely monuments to
Ben, I recall the man and his many sides.
Ben was black in a time when the word
used was “colored.” He came into our family’s
life when he built one of his walls for us.
He was meticulous about the shape of each
piece placed into the structure and won our
admiration for his workmanlike precision
Our two small daughters formed an
admiring audience for his efforts and the
building of that wall constituted a happy
time for all of us. One day when he heard
that we were having a party he came to ask
Floyd Gibbons, a dashing war correspondent, author and radio announcer, made headlines happen when he visited
Miami in 1935. (COURTESY OF HELEN MUIR)
if he could come and “help.” I said “yes,”
not knowing what to expect, but when he
arrived he presented a dazzling appearance.
He was dressed in black trousers and a
spanking white jacket and black necktie.
He did more than “help.” He was an elegant
addition to the event. He asked to
serve the drinks and I ended up teaching
him how to mix a proper dry martini. His
eyes shone as he assured me “I get it. It’s
just like mixing cement.”
One evening toward dusk I received an
unexpected telephone call from Ben. “Mrs.
Muir, go get yourself a little drink and we’ll
talk,” he urged. He continued to keep in
touch and, several days following the 1944
sudden death of our second daughter, he
came to the house and made his presence
known in a particular way.
While my husband and I sat on the
back porch overlooking the garden, Ben
went to the garage and brought out a manual
lawn mower. Understand, this was not
a tool with which Ben associated himself,
having advanced into an artisan role. We
watched him slowly move the lawn mower
back and forth. Finally, he stopped, and
leaning against the pine tree under which
our little girls had played, he said these
words: “You can’t see her but she’s present
in the Lord.”
Life moved along and the day came
when Ben was dying in his little house in
Coconut Grove. I took our son and his
Helen Muir is a longtime resident of Coconut Grove. She came to Miami in 1934 from the New York Journal to direct publicity at the Roney Plaza Hotel on Miami
Beach. She was a columnist for both The Miami Herald and the Miami News and wrote for the Saturday Evening Post, Nation’s Business, Woman’s Day and This
Week magazine. She is the author of numerous books, including MIAMI USA, The Biltmore: Beacon for Miami; and Frost in Florida. A leading supporter of public
libraries, she has been honored with the Spirit of Excellence Award and has been named to the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
CHAPTER III ✧ 17
The Halycon Hotel, built in 1905, was designed by Stanford White and constructed of native oolitic limestone. It was demolished in 1938,
and the Alfred I. Dupont Building was built on its site. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
B Y A RISTIDES J. MILLAS
In 1870, William Brickell and his family
arrived at Fort Dallas. He had decided to settle
in this new country and bought two tracts of
land south of the Miami River, of 640 acres
each. The land was originally acquired under
the Settlement Act of Congress. Mr. Brickell, a
former resident of Cleveland, Ohio, built and
operated on the south side of the river Miami’s
first store, the only one in this vicinity until
after the city was incorporated. He also built his
home on what is now known as Brickell Point.
In 1880, Mrs. Julia Tuttle and her ailing
husband paid a visit to her father, Ephriam T.
Sturtevant, who was then living near what is
now Little River. Shortly afterwards Mrs. Tuttle
returned to her home in Cleveland. After the
death of her husband, she returned to Fort
Dallas. She decided that this was the ideal
place in which to live. She purchased 644 acres
on the north side of the river at a cost of
$12.40 per acre.
By 1890, a small settlement had mush -
roomed around Fort Dallas near the mouth of
the Miami River. Mrs. Tuttle, hearing of the
railroad Flagler was building as far south as
West Palm Beach, made a trip up to see him
and promised to hand over half of her exten -
sive acreage if he would extend his railroad this
far. His first answer was a refusal. Then came
the “Big Freeze” of 1894-1895 when the ice
was reported to be an inch thick in some parts
of northern Florida. She again contacted
Flagler, sending him flowers to prove that
Miami was below the Freeze Line. This time,
Flagler agreed to bring his railroad to Miami.
Mr. Brickell also donated his share of the property;
thus Flager’s property included half of the
original townsite, 640 acres of the best land
from what is now Flagler Street to the river,
except the Dallas Park site. Work was immediately
launched on extending the railroad,
which arrived on April 15, 1896.
A small town sprang up like a mushroom
almost overnight. On July 28, 1896, Miami
was incorporated as a city. Up until this time it
had been named Fort Dallas.
Naming the city created quite a discussion
among the 480 inhabitants. Flagler and the railroad
group wanted to call the city “Flagler.” Mrs.
Tuttle and Mr. Brickell wanted it named “Miami,”
an Indian word meaning “sweet water” after the
Miami River. The name Miami was chosen.
The “Magic City” was a phrase coined by
pioneer journalist E. V. Blackman as he wrote
for, and later edited, The Home Seeker, a magazine
that Mr. Flagler was beginning to publish
for the purpose of attracting people to the city
his railway had placed on the map.
Early Miami was an innocent city of houses
and luxurious foliage amidst the church spires
from six Christian denominations on lands
donated by Mr. Flagler (with the exception of
the Episcopal Church). The following was
written by Mrs. J. N. Lummus in 1903: “I have
been all over Florida and in no other town are
the streets as clean and attractive as are found
here. The sidewalks are made of the soft, white
rock and are considered more enduring than
asphalt. There are two newspapers published
here, several large hotels besides Mr. Flagler’s
palace hotel, the Royal Palm, built amid rich
tropical flowers, beautiful palms and graceful
Dr. William Davenport, a dentist, would
write in his recollections from 1909, “In spite
of its cozy small-town appearance with ‘everyone
knows everybody else’ connotations,
Miami in its adolescent days under the coconut
trees was largely a collection of strangers,
strangers to the town and to each other. We
had all come from someplace else….”
A map of Miami in 1899 (three years after
incorporation) which was compiled by the
author from the fire insurance maps produced
by the Sanborn Map Company shows the first
buildings erected in early Miami. One hundred
and ninety four structures can be counted.
This included the Miami Hotel, which housed
the workers for Flagler’s railroad, and the grand
Royal Palm Hotel.
18 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
The remarkable Julia Tuttle, a visionary pioneer and real
estate developer, is known as the “mother of Miami” for
persuading Henry Flagler in 1895 to bring his railroad
to the small settlement on the banks of the Miami River.
(COURTESY OF FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
The first hardware store in Miami was built in 1899 by Frank T. Budge on Flagler Street and Miami Avenue.
(COURTESY OF CAROLYN JUNKIN)
The Royal Palm officially opened on January
16, 1897 with much fanfare. It was sited at the
confluence of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay to
provide good air circulation for the nearly 600
guests sitting there in their rocking chairs (hence
the term “Rocking Chair Tourism”). This was a
unique feature for the seventh hotel of the Flagler
East Coast system, which many pronounced as the
most beautiful hotel of all because of its splendid
setting. It was painted in a bright ‘Flagler’ yellow
with white trim, as were the Palm Beach hotels.
The typical day for the guests at the Royal Palm
would be one of continuous, almost exhausting,
activity with a great deal of clothes changing.
Clearly noted on the map are the rows of
cottages Flagler constructed for his employees
on present-day SE 1st and SE 2nd Streets, a
swimming pool constructed in 1889, and the
Dr. James Jackson, Miami’s pioneer doctor for whom Jackson Memorial Hospital is named, with his family on the porch of
his early Miami home. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
Henry Flagler, the “father of Miami,” made millions as
John D. Rockefeller’s partner in Standard Oil, then started
building a railroad and grand hotels down the east coast
of Florida in the 1880s and 1890s. In 1896 he brought
the Florida East Coast Railroad to Miami, and in 1897 he
opened the magnificent 400-room Royal Palm Hotel at
the mouth of the Miami River.
(COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
CHAPTER IV ✧ 19
Store owner Frank T. Budge with Billy Bowlegs and
Tommy Tigertail in 1897. (COURTESY OF CAROLYN JUNKIN)
Guests teeing off on the lawn of the Royal Palm Hotel, 1899, in Downtown Miami. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
First Presbyterian Church and manse con -
structed on the original hotel grounds north of
the hotel. The 200-room Miami Hotel and
adjacent buildings shown on the map, including
the Miami Metropolis’ News, did not last
long. They were burned in the second major
fire of early Miami in November 1899 (the first
was in December of 1896). The Royal Palm,
which was the cornerstone for Miami’s growth,
also had a short life. It was demolished in 1930
and is still a parking lot today, 70 years later.
In late 1899 Dr. James M. Jackson, Jr., Miami’s
pioneer physician who came with Henry Flagler,
built a house on the northeast corner of 2nd
Avenue (then called Avenue B). He lived there
until 1916 when the house was moved by barge
to its present location at 186 SE 12th Terrace
along with his old office, built in 1905. The office
now serves as the headquarters for Dade Heritage
Trust and is a National Register site.
Also in 1899, the Dade County seat of government
was moved from Juno, Florida to Miami.
The growth of the City of Miami can essentially
be described as occurring in three stages.
The first stage would be the original platting of
streets (the “Miami” subdivision) on the north
side of the river on Julia Tuttle’s lands, and on
the south side on William Brickell’s lands, covering
approximately a two-square-mile area.
This was the extent of the village at the time of
incorporation on July 28, 1896.
The second stage of growth occurred in
1913, when the city expanded northwest and
southward to cover an area of sixteen square
miles. The southward expansion would
include the James Deering estate, which would
soon be constructed, eventually employing
one thousand persons, including many
The Dade County Courthouse, seen in this 1930 photo,
was built between 1925 and 1929 by architect A. Ten
Eyck Brown with August Geiger as associate.
(COURTESY OF ARISTIDES MILLAS)
When downtown Miami had a trolley… 1st Avenue and SE 1st Street in 1930. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
20 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Gesu Catholic Church, built in 1922 at 140 NE 2nd
Street, is the successor to Miami’s first religious
congregation. The first church was a small wooden
chapel constructed by William Wagner on his homestead
in 1874. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
A policeman stands on a Downtown Miami street made of wooden blocks in front of the old post office, at 100 NE lst Street,
which was built in 1912. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
imported craftsmen. In the 1915 promotional
booklet “Lure of the Southland, Miami and
Miami Beach Florida” all the virtues and
accomplishments of the “Magic City,” now at
20,000 population and growing faster than any
city in the South, would be stated.
Especially noteworthy are photos of the
early homes in the new residential sections of
“Miramar” in the north, developed by
Frederick H. Rand Jr., and “Pointview” in the
south, developed by L. T. Highleyman. Both
sections featured bulkheaded shorelines with a
curving drive and walkway at the water’s edge.
In Miramar, a concrete dock was constructed
for use by all the residents. In 1912 the area on
the bay north to 36th Street (the new city limits)
would be platted and known as Edgewater,
with some early structures still standing today.
Beyond the new city limits would be the
large Charles Deering estate, known as Bay
Point today, and the “Buena Vista” neighbor -
hood immediately to the west. In 1915 this
was the terminus for the Dixie Highway with a
large archway welcoming visitors to Miami.
The final stage of growth for Miami would
naturally occur in 1925 at the height of the
“Boom.” Wrote Frederick Lewis Allen in Only
Yesterday as he described the 1920s preceding
the crash of 1929, “The whole city had become
one frenzied real estate exchange. There were
said to be 2000 real estate offices and 25,000
agents marketing house lots or acreage.”
In this stage of growth the city limits would
expand to 43 squares and would include
Miami Shores, Biscayne Park, El Portal, and
North Bay Village. All of these later disannexed
and became independent municipalities,
giving Miami its present boundaries.
In his Memories of Old Miami, Hoyt Frasure
wrote of the Florida Boom at its height in
1925, saying “packed trains brought hundreds
of new people to Miami daily. The Florida East
Coast unloaded up to 75 Pullmans a day at its
depot near where a new skyscraper court -
Carl Fisher created the concept of Dixie Highway to connect the Midwest to Miami. In October 1915, the Dixie Highway
Pathfinders crossed the Buena Vista Arch near NE 40th Street and 2nd Avenue. (COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
Students pose on the steps of Miss Harris’ School, located on Brickell Avenue, in 1922. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
CHAPTER IV ✧ 21
To the north of the Miami River, in the
bustling city center, the Wolpert Realty and
Improvement Company was established in
1923. Recalls young George Wolpert, whose
family relocated here from Brooklyn, “The real
estate boom was already in full swing and
almost everyone in town was either buying,
selling, or acting as a broker on lots, acreage or
buildings…. That walk down Flagler Street
became one of the most memorable days of my
life. Walking east I passed the Hippodrome
Theater and the Halcyon Hotel until I reached
the end of Flagler Street. Built out over
Biscayne Bay stood Elser Pier where they had a
huge room for dancing and special events, souvenir
shops, food stands, tourist information
booth and stores.”
The colorful tourist brochures of those boom
days advertised, “Miami in a Coconut, the Land
of Palms and Sunshine” and offered a “Seven
Days in Miami” program. The first day would be
getting acquainted with Miami, the “wonder city
of America” or “America’s fastest growing city.”
Offered would be three enchanting vistas in
every direction. Northward on Bay Shore Drive
(as it was called before Biscayne Boulevard was
created), tourists would pass the panorama of
yachts anchored in the bay and the municipal
docks with the great steamships, going north to
the exclusive “Miramar” subdivision or crossing
over the county “cruiseway” to see luxurious
homes on Miami Beach. Or tourists would be
taken across the Miami River to stately Brickell
Avenue, seeing the lovely homes of “Pointview”
The Miami Daily News/Freedom Tower was built in 1925 by James M. Cox for his newspaper. It was designed by Schultze
and Weaver and inspired by the Giralda Bell Tower in Seville, Spain. It became known as the Freedom Tower when it was
used as a Cuban Refugee Center from 1962 to 1974. The Tower is now owned by the Mas family who are planning to turn it
into a museum. (PHOTO BY DAN FORER, COURTESY OF R.J. HEISENBOTTLE ARCHITECTS, P.A.)
house was being erected (over the existing
1904 courthouse). People were pouring in at
the rate of 2000 a day.” He continued,
“Miami’s skyline looked like a whole city
under construction—and it was. The first skyscraper,
the 10-story McAllister Hotel, had
just been completed in 1919. Now the steel
frameworks of new skyscrapers were rising all
over the downtown section.”
The 28-story Dade County Courthouse was
advertised in Atlantic Terra Cotta brochures as
the tallest building south of Baltimore,
Maryland. Its height would eclipse that of
Miami’s architectural landmark, the 15-story
Miami News building, patterned after the
Giralda tower in Seville, Spain and completed in
1925. However, all of this high-rise downtown
activity was occurring north of the Miami River.
To the south, the Brickell additions were
receiving luxurious estate homes as
“Millionaires’ Row” was being created in the
vicinity of James Deering’s Villa Vizcaya. In
1924, in the midst of the boom, the J. B.
Forbes Plumbing and Heating company was
established, having arrived from Columbus,
Georgia, where it is still in business. James
Forbes Jr. recalls vividly how he and other
young boys would go quail and dove hunting,
fishing and swimming in the canals in those
Deering and Brickell area estates.
Cuban refugees fleeing from the dictatorship of Fidel
Castro received food, health care and financial assistance
at the Freedom Tower, which became Miami’s Statue of
Liberty and Ellis Island. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
22 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church was built in 1948 along
Coral Way in The Roads, an area once owned by William
and Mary Brickell that is just west of Brickell Avenue.
(PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
and “Millionaires’ Row” and visiting shady
Coconut Grove, the home of celebrities. The second
day would offer excursions on the water,
ocean, and bay or up the Miami River to the
Tropical Garden and Indian villages. The third
day was devoted to the great outdoors, with
every variety of sport, including golf, tennis,
polo, bowling on the green, bridle paths for
horse lovers, horseback and greyhound racing
and the Basque game of Jai alai. The fourth day
would be bathing under tropical skies at the
many casinos and beaches. The fifth day would
be deep-sea fishing. The sixth day featured a trip
to the mysterious Everglades, and the seventh
day—the “Aesthetic side of Miami.” This included
religious services in the many churches, a visit
to the estate of the late James Deering (deceased
in 1925) which was open to the public on
Sunday afternoons, or listening to music played
by Arthur Pryor’s band under the palms in Royal
Palm Park downtown.
Of course the “Boom” ended, followed by
the devastating Hurricane of 1926 (they did
not name storms in those days) and the stock
market crash of 1929.
But as the rest of the country was sinking
deeper into the Great Depression of the 1930s,
Miami began to make a comeback. Tourists
continued coming, and some new building was
occurring. In 1931, the second U.S. Post Office
and Courthouse was constructed, as well as the
outstanding Alfred I. DuPont Building (1938)
where the Halcyon Hotel had stood on Flagler
Street. The 1939 WPA guide to Florida
described Miami as having a “Manhattanish
touch to the gleaming white and buff skyscrapers…and
the effect of the skyline rising abruptly
from the waterfront and flood lighted at
night, is heightened by the flatness of the ter -
rain.” It also describes Miami’s showcase street
The lobby of the News Tower reflected the ornate interior of the Spanish Renaissance Revival style popular in the 1920s.
(COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
Gusman Cultural Center was built in 1926 as the Olympia Theater. It was designed by Chicago architect John Eberson as the
first of his many “atmospheric” theaters, with an interior resembling the walled garden of a Venetian palazzo, with twinkling
stars in the ceiling. Gusman remains one of Downtown Miami’s architectural gems.
(PHOTO BY DAN FORER, COURTESY OF R.J. HEISENBOTTLE ARCHITECTS, P.A.)
CHAPTER IV ✧ 23
The Sears Roebuck Building, built in 1929, is the earliest known Art Deco building in the Miami area. It was the focal point
for the traffic circle on Biscayne Boulevard at 13th Street, marking one of the most important intersections in the city at that
time. Preservationists fought for years to prevent the demolition of the Sears Tower in the 1980s and 1990s. Plans now call
for the Tower to be incorporated into the new Performing Arts Center complex. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
Biscayne Boulevard adorned with royal palms
and fronting the beautifully landscaped
Bayfront Park overlooking the Bay. These were
the most significant civic improvements created
during the peak of the Boom years.
The 1957, 14th Edition of Highlights of
Greater Miami devoted its 94 pages to all of
Miami’s features and its history over the more
than half century of the city’s existence. The
creation of Bayfront Park is told in great
detail. “Thirty-nine acres studded with trees,
flowers and shrubs from tropical countries
around the globe; 10,000 individual plants
and trees…designed by Warren Henry
Manning (world famous landscape artist) of
World famous Biscayne Boulevard and the
modernistic hotel row fronting it are carefully
described. These hotels housed U.S. Naval personnel
during the war. The 1957 guide continues,
“On all sides building is soaring…new
hotels, apartments, homes and commercial
structures greet the eye in all sections of the
city. Thousands of Latin Americans, finding
Miami their most convenient shopping and
play center, have joined the city’s annual pil -
grimage of millions, thus giving a distinctive
Latin note to its colorful cosmopolitan life.”
In January 1957 Dade County metropolitan
government established a home rule charter
for the 20 existing municipalities. In 1943 during
World War II, Miami, the central city, had
63 percent of the county population. By 1960
the city would have only 31 percent of the
metropolitan population of 935,000, then one
of the fastest growing regions in the nation.
Today, the picture is problematical.
Metropolitan government is struggling, and its
accomplishments are marred by corruption
and inefficiency. New breakaway communities
have incorporated, with others waiting to do
so. The traditional central city of Miami has
recently tottered near bankruptcy, containing
approximately 14 percent of the regional population.
Still there is a great deal of activity in
the downtown area.
“Downtown Miami” today is defined more
or less by the tax increment district that provides
funding for the Downtown Development
Authority (DDA), which coordinates and oversees
development activity in the area. It is a
very large area which includes a “core” area on
the north side of the river, the Brickell area to
the south, the Overtown/Park West area and
the Omni area to the north. In 1987, the DDA
announced the building of nearly 7 million
square feet of new commercial office space, 1.3
million square feet of new government office
space and 1.4 million square feet of new retail
space in addition to renovated office and retail
space. Also announced were 3342 “new” hotel
rooms and 2380 “new” dwelling units as a tenyear
summary of Miami’s most intense period
of new development, a decade of progress!
The present skyline of Miami is the resulting
achievement. The most dominant buildings are
the 55-story original Southeast Financial Center
(1984) by Skidmore Owings and Merrill (now
First Union Building) and the 47-story original
Centrust Tower(1987) by the renowned I. M. Pei
Associates (now Bank of America). The romantic
vernacular architecture, which dominated early
Miami, has now been replaced by corporate banking
icons, which boldly light up the Miami skyline
at night. Most visible is the tower designed by Pei,
which is ablaze nightly with different colored
lights located on different levels, creating changing
designs throughout the year for civic events.
The Atlantis Condominium on Brickell Avenue, designed
by the internationally renowned architectural firm
Arquitectonica, was seen regularly by a national audience
in the opening scenes of the 1980s TV series Miami Vice.
(PHOTO ©NORMAN MCGRATH, COURTESY OF ARQUITECTONICA)
24 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
The mysterious Miami Circle archeological site on the Miami River in Downtown Miami is at least 2000 years old.
(PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
The frenzy of new skyscraper construction is
still rampant as cranes and skeleton structures
fill the skyline and shoreline of Miami. The areas
being transformed now are the Brickell
Financial District, where new apartment build -
ings, luxury condominiums, and new hotels
join with the office buildings there. At the end of
the century, the tallest residential building outside
of New York City, the Santa Maria, will soon
be eclipsed by the “Millennium” and other
Across the river, Flagler Street is still
Miami’s “Main Street.” The Downtown Miami
Main Street Program, a partnership of Miami’s
Downtown Development Authority, Dade
Heritage Trust, the Downtown Miami
Partnership, and the City of Miami, has
embarked on a series of major programs to
provide marketing and a much-needed face-lift
for the downtown. Recently the Congress
Building was retrofitted for 128 residential
dwelling units, with other residential projects
planned. Storefronts and facades are also
scheduled for improvement.
Not much of the nineteenth century
remains in Miami in the way of structures. Most
of what does is now in Lummus Park, west of
the Miami River. Located there is Miami’s first
historic preservation project, the 1849 Fort
Dallas Barracks, which was originally built near
the mouth of the Miami River by pioneer
William English. It was first used as slave quarters
for his plantation, and then as an Army barracks
during the Second and Third Seminole
Wars. Julia Tuttle acquired all of the plantation
in 1891, making it her home. The Daughters of
the American Revolution saved the barracks
from demolition in 1925, moving it to Lummus
Park. Also in Lummus Park is the oldest house
in Miami-Dade County, the 1858 homestead of
William Wagner. It was moved in 1979 to the
park and restored by Dade Heritage Trust.
The oldest Florida East Coast building in
downtown Miami was located at 134 SE 2nd
Street but was moved in the 1980s to Fort Dallas
Park and restored. It was built in 1897 and was
part of a housing project of structures Flagler
erected for his workers. The wood frame structure
became known as the Butler Building after
Raymond Butler, who later operated his insur -
ance company there. It is now Bijan’s Restaurant.
But the most amazing thing that has hap -
pened in Miami’s traditional core at the beginning
of the new millennium is the discovery,
during excavations for a new high-rise development,
of the “Miami Circle.” This intriguing
archeological ruin, located on the south bank
of the Miami River in downtown Miami, has
drawn international attention. Proven by scientific
testing to be at least 2000 years old, the
Circle is a series of holes 37 feet in diameter
carved four-feet deep into the limestone
bedrock, with an east-west alignment to the
equinox. It was probably used for ceremonial
or astronomical purposes and displays a
sophisticated understanding of geometry and
astronomy. Some speculated that the mysterious
relic was created by Mayans or other people
from afar; other experts felt it to be the
work of the now-extinct Tequesta Indians. But
whatever the ultimate answer, the entire treasure
would have been bulldozed into oblivion
if Dade Heritage Trust had not led a fight to
preserve it. Advocacy efforts on many fronts
paid off with political and financial support
from the State of Florida and Miami-Dade
County, helped by a loan from the Trust for
Public Land and private donations. The developer
received $26.7 million for his prime real
estate, and the State of Florida now owns the
2.2 acre-site at the exact point where Miami’s
history began. Plans are underway to preserve
and showcase this very special place, which
has been at the heart of human settlement for
so long. It is truly Miami’s first neighborhood.
Aristides J. Millas has been an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture since 1974. He holds a bachelor’s degree of architecture from Carnegie-
Mellon University and a master’s degree of architecture in urban design from Harvard University. He has also taught at Princeton University, the University of Pittsburgh and
Carnegie-Mellon University. He has participated in numerous architectural and planning projects in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Arizona and Athens, Greece, which included
new towns, sports stadiums, inner city renewal projects, historic districts, university master plans and Greek Orthodox churches. He has served on the boards of Miami Design
Preservation League and Dade Heritage Trust. Since 1986 Professor Millas has developed and taught “The Architectural History of South Florida,” and with university sponsored
research has given many public seminars, presentations, and tours focusing on architectural history and development issues.
CHAPTER IV ✧ 25
Flags fly along the riverfront during a Dade Heritage Days’ RiverDay event, held annually in early April. (PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
THE MIAMI RIVER
B Y R OBERT S. CARR
When Marjory Stoneman Douglas was
asked in 1945 to write about the Miami River
for the American River Series, she balked.
Instead, she brilliantly suggested the Everglades
as the South Florida book topic. Her book,
Everglades: River of Grass , became a literary
milestone that helped raise public support for
creating Everglades National Park. However,
the Miami River suffered from a community
amnesia as Miami’s population moved away
from downtown and into the suburbs.
Perhaps the river’s relatively short length,
only seven miles, was the reason for its low visibility.
Perhaps it was the completion of the
dredging of the Miami Canal in 1909, which
poured tons of brown silt into the river when the
dredge broke through the rocky ridge, plunging
the river into darkness and filling it with acrid,
dead sediments. The river, subdued by chan -
neled canals, became the county’s toilet for toxic
waste, sewage and rain run-off, generously tainted
with oil and heavy metal pollutants.
Looking today at what is largely a working
river, crowded with boats and ships from
across the Caribbean, one sees docks, lobster
traps stacked high, and scrap metal yards, as
well as parks and neighborhoods. It is a quilt
of a crowded city pushing against the river. It
is hard to imagine its pristine state of 100 years
ago when only marsh, pineland and tropical
hammock skirted its banks. The human sound
was confined then to the plunk of a canoe paddle
and human voices muffled by the soft buzz
of birds and water gently rushing eastward.
For at least 500 years the river had been the
lifeline of Native people who used it to move
between the Everglades and Biscayne Bay. The
Miami River, or “Mayami” as it was known to the
Tequesta Indians, meant “sweet water.” It poured
millions of gallons of fresh water into Biscayne Bay
for thousands of years. By the sixteenth century,
the Tequesta was the dominant tribe in ancient
Miami. Their villages and camps extended over
300 miles along the coast from the present-day
Broward County—Palm Beach County line
southward to Key West, and westward across the
Everglades. Hardly a high ridge, riverbank, or tree
island existed that didn’t reflect either their com -
merce or the refuse of earlier generations that had
fished, laughed, prayed, and died in the Tequesta’s
world of land and water.
To the Tequesta, everything had its own
spirit. Everything was alive. The Miami River
was like the rattlesnake, with serpentine curves
that cut their way to a depth of 15 feet into
oolitic limestone. The snake’s mouth opens to
the sea facing east. Its tail is at the rapids; you
can hear its rattle within the roar of the water
across the rocks. It faces west, towards the
Everglades, where the waterworld of death,
symbolized by the setting sun, goes on for eternity,
and where Tequesta ghosts paddle their
canoes in a world of plentiful fish and turtle.
For the Tequesta, a canoe trip from the mouth
of the Miami River to the Everglades takes about
one and a half hours. The journey begins at the
mouth of the river where the water is cool and
fresh. The town of Tequesta lies on both sides of
the river. The largest part of the town is pulled up
along the river, leaving slippery troughs along the
banks. The smell of rotting fish singes the nostril
from the food refuse thrown into the river and the
fish gruel strewn across the ground after midday
meals. Two rows of circular thatched huts lie parallel
to the riverbank 100 feet from the river.
Clouds of acrid smoke curl into the humid morning
air from cooking fires outside the huts.
Dominating the town is a large mound looming
25 feet above the village huts. On top of the
mound is a rectangular structure facing a stairway
of wooden trunks. This is the charnel house,
where only priest and chief are allowed to enter.
There they conduct prayers and ceremonies to
sanctify the dead, whose bones are placed within
26 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
ornately carved wooden boxes placed on top of
wooden shelves. The bones of the last dead
cacique are with the others, and there is a beautiful
porpoise carved and painted on two sides of
this box. Inside the box are also two whale ear
bones, each the size of a human hand. They symbolize
power and an eternal supply of whale meat
for the afterlife. Outside the charnel house, a large
wooden buzzard sculpture adorns the top of a
pole next to two smaller fish totems, the guardians
of the dead. After one year the bones are placed
inside a pit within this mound or any of the two
mounds used for interring the dead on the south
side of the Miami River.
In contrast to the north bank, where dozens of
people are busy with their daily tasks, the south
bank is quiet, void of people. Only several round
circular structures lie vacant near the bank, their
thatched walls and roof stretching upward to a
conical point. These structures are used for
important council meetings and ceremonies at
different times of the year when other caciques
visit, and for the turtle feast that welcomes back
the sea turtle’s annual egg-laying pilgrimage.
Cut deep into the rock are the foundation
holes to support the council house’s wooden
posts. The structure’s footprint is a perfect 37 foot
diameter. Each of the cardinal directions are
marked by ritual rocks and other offerings that
are placed within the holes. The council house
represents the perfect balance between the river,
land, sea and sky—a fulcrum for the natural
forces to harmonize the human spirit. These cut
holes and thousands of others would someday be
uncovered by archaeologists at the end of the
twentieth century, and the council house basin
holes would become known as the Miami Circle.
Although the Tequesta became extinct as a
tribe in 1763, victims of European-introduced diseases
and the enslavement by other tribes, the
mouth of the river would not remain vacant of
human activity for long. Bahamian seamen and
British adventurers rendezvoused there. The
Lewis and Hagan families were among the first of
the English settlers. After the American acquisition
of Florida in 1819, the first American pioneers
began to settle at the river’s mouth, squeezing a
livelihood from fishing and planting fruit trees.
Here in 1836, at the outbreak of the Second
Seminole War, the U.S. military built a fort and
encampment called Ft. Dallas. But the Seminoles
never really threatened the fort, and, in fact, never
lived on the river until a commercial village near
Musa Isle was opened in 1917 to satisfy tourist
demands and curiosity to see real Seminoles.
The American pioneers who settled at the
mouth of the Miami River were a tough, oppor -
tunistic lot, making money from the manufacture
of arrowroot flour from the native coontie plant
and salvaging the occasional shipwreck. Miami,
The pristine beauty of the Miami River can be seen in this 1904 postcard showing visitors in a canoe near the rapids of the
Miami River. The rapids were dynamited in 1909, changing forever the natural flow of fresh water from the Everglades.
(COURTESY OF THE BOB CARR COLLECTION)
Musa Isle,the first commercial Seminole village, opened in 1917 and became a popular tourist attraction, as seen in this
vintage post card. It was located at NW 25th Avenue and l6th Street.
(COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
The Frank T. Budge Home was built in 1905 on the Miami River, near Fort Dallas and the Royal Palm Hotel.
(COURTESY OF CAROLYN JUNKIN)
CHAPTER V ✧ 27
The Fort Dallas Barracks, originally located near the mouth of the Miami River, was built in 1849 as slave quarters
by William English and was used by the U.S. military during the Seminole War. Constructed of native oolitic limestone,
the building was moved in the 1920s up the river to Lummus Park by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
It was Miami's first historic preservation project. (PHOTO BY THORN GRAFTON)
Mrs. Charles Mann and daugher Louise with Seminole Indians in front of the Mann house in 1902. The Manns built the
first house up the Miami River beyond Flagler Street (then 12th Street), about where the present curve is in the river at NW
road that someday would cover the foot trail that
connected the river to Coconut Grove. William
Brickell leveled the sand burial mound on top of
the bluff and built his home there. The Tequesta
had become dust beneath their feet.
Heading westward, the river bends to the
right, leaving the town of Tequesta behind.
Here a border of marsh skirts the right bank,
and 100 feet behind the marsh, tall pine trees
cut a soft green line against the sky. On the left
the pines come up to the river’s edge, and a
thick palmetto understory deters any inland
trek. Someday the Miami Avenue Bridge will
cross the river at Flagler’s railroad to capture a
marketplace all the way to Key West.
As the river bends again, this time to the left,
we pass the opening and marsh at the mouth of a
small creek on the river’s right bank. This creek
drains the ridge northward from Allapatah Flats.
An Indian canoe trail breaks through the marsh
grass, undoubtedly leading to small camps up the
creek. Someday the creek will have the namesake
of the Wagner family, pioneers in the 1850s who
will build a mill and Miami’s first Catholic Church.
Eventually, the Wagners and their homestead will
disappear beneath the Spring Garden sub-division.
The creek will be dredged and the Wagner
house will be wrapped in modern stucco and
wood, preserved, until Metro-rail comes to the
creek, and the time capsule Wagner house will be
moved by Dade Heritage Trust to Lummus Park.
As we paddle westward to present day 12th
Avenue, the upland pine looms high above the
left bank. There, a mysterious circular earthwork
200 feet in diameter is cut into the bedrock. An
earthen ridge in the form of a cross bisects the
circle. What purpose this circle served is shrouded
in mystery, and so ancient is it that large
climax pine trees grow from on top of the earthwork,
with thick palmetto clumps obscuring
much of the elevated ridges and surrounding
ditch. The Tequesta talk about old people, the
ancient ones who built it and return there on certain
nights. They hear the drum and no one goes
there anymore. Someday a new road, present-
4th Street. They operated a yacht basin there at least until 1915. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
the frontier town, offered only two government
positions, one being the postmaster charged with
delivering the mail twice a month by way of Key
West, and the other being the keeper for the Cape
Florida Key Biscayne Lighthouse.
In 1896 the City of Miami would be born.
The town of Tequesta became the grounds for the
Royal Palm Hotel and Dallas Park subdivision.
The large mound would be leveled by workers to
make way for the veranda of the Royal Palm, and
hundreds of human bones would be collected in
wooden barrels to be reburied. Thousands of
tourists would sit in rocking chairs on that veranda,
never knowing that their vacation in paradise
was on one of the city’s most sacred sites.
When William Brickell arrived from
Cleveland, Ohio with his wife Mary and two children
in 1871, he purchased the Hagan Donation,
which encompassed all the land from the south
bank of the Miami River to Coconut Grove. He
built a house and a store, and the family name
became the namesake for the broad commercial
Built in 1922 by architects Kiehnel and Elliot, the
Scottish Rite Masonic Temple overlooks Lummus Park
and the Miami River. Its Egyptian-inspired features show
early Art Deco influences. (PHOTO BY THORN GRAFTON)
28 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
narrow creek. Someday these white men also
will leave when they discover that their mill
and buildings are owned by another white
man, and when they fear a Seminole attack.
The military will arrive in 1849, and paradise
will be dubbed “Fort Desolation” by one sol -
dier. He will maintain watch from the mill’s
loft, but he will never hear the dynamiting of
the rapids by the dredgemen in 1909, nor see
A tug pulls a ship heading for the Caribbean on the heavily trafficked Miami River. (PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
day 12th Avenue, will be built and the land will
be cleared. The circle will disappear beneath the
roar of the bulldozer. The Orange Bowl will
become the new circle for sacred Sunday chants.
The journey westward continues as the
southern riverbank rises high, crowned with
beautiful oak and tropical hammock. A Tequesta
camp is on top of the ridge. In 1850, George
Ferguson will build a homestead here, terracing
the ridge to plant his gardens. His wooden house
with a brick chimney is located about where
Robert King High Senior Center now stands. A
large ficus tree will someday grow up from the
ruins of the brick chimney. In 1996, the center
director will have the tree removed and destroy
the Ferguson chimney foundation.
The hot midday sun is uncompromising.
The air is still and suffocating. Dragonflies
skim the river surface as a crescendo of cicada
burst chirping through the air. The sound of
the chorus retreats into a lull as our canoe violates
We are well past the halfway point of our journey,
at about present-day 26th Avenue. We pull
our canoe onto the left bank under an overhanging
oak branch through a marsh for 20 feet and
find a foot trail that leads to the top of the high
ridge. There is a thatched hut where a Tequesta
family is napping. Their shell tools lie upon the
ground, and a rack covered with cut meat and
fish is smoking from an adjacent fire. This beautiful
rise will later be known as Musa Isle, home
of the first commercial Seminole village.
The Seminoles will be the new immigrants.
Their Creek and Yamessee ancestors will first
reach the Miami River in 1704, where they will
attack the Tequesta, capturing hundreds of
prisoners to sell as slaves for indigo plantations
in South Carolina. The Seminoles will someday
be a familiar sight on the river, after they too
are victims of aggression, pushed southward
by U.S. troops into the Everglades.
We slide our canoe back into the river.
Although still hot, the shadows are longer and it
is easy to skirt beneath the shadows of the riverbank
canopy. The water pushes against the bow
as we get closer to the river’s source. Suddenly,
we hear the dull roar of the rushing water and
human voices. A chorus of women’s and chil -
dren’s voices stirs the heavy air as an ever-increasing
current pushes against our bow. As we round
the bend, the water is running hard across outcrops
of rock, the western shelf of the Atlantic
Coastal Ridge, forming a rapids of churning
water. At its foot a small creek converges into the
river from the right where a deep slash has been
cut into the bedrock from milennia of water flow.
Three Tequesta women are standing at the
creek’s mouth with a large net pulled from one
bank to the other. Five boys and girls stand in the
torrent of rushing water smacking the water with
the wooden clubs as silvery fish leap towards the
net. Their song wails above the roar.
The net is woven from palmetto fibers by the
women and their daughters. Each opening is
about two inches, woven after carefully using a
sea turtle shell net gauge. The net holds back the
largest fish, allowing the smaller immature fish
to swim through with the powerful current. The
net is the contract between the Tequesta and the
sea. It assures food for the village but also allows
the survival of the smallest fish to reach maturity.
The net bonds families and communities and
its yield will be a story for each campfire meal.
Someday the Tequesta will be gone, and the
white men will build a coontie mill across the
Students at a Dade Heritage Days’ RiverDay festival in
Lummus Park enjoy the animals and historic re-enactments
in front of the Wagner Homestead, Miami’s oldest house. The
Wagner Homestead, built circa 1858, was moved by Dade
Heritage Trust to the park and restored in the early 1980s.
(PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
the trailer park nor the bar that will be built on
top of the village.
The river’s rapids, once the showpiece of
Miami’s tourism in the early 1900s, today is a silted,
deadened ditch. Where the Everglades began
at the rapid’s edge, a telephone transmission tower
now looms. A small city park is on the south bank
and a paved parking lot hugs the north bank.
The river is still and silent as we contemplate
the next piece of the river’s surgery. Metro-rail will
cross the rapids to add another layer of concrete
and urban decibels. The few city parks along the
river will tempt some city leaders to expand
Miami’s tax rolls by selling them. Medium to high
rise apartment boxes will be built close to the
river, a testimony to a lack of planning vision.
Someday, perhaps, the Miami River will be rediscovered
by urban explorers who will restore old
neighborhoods instead of bulldozing them, who
will build bridges at a human scale instead of to
engineering ideals, and who will treat the river as
a lifeline and the city’s soul instead of as an economic
opportunity. We hold the net. We are the
fishermen, and we have the power to harvest our
heritage instead of diminishing it.
Robert S. Carr is a graduate of Florida State University with a master’s degree in science with a major in anthropology. He began directing archaeological projects
in 1974, when he worked as an archaeologist for the State of Florida and searched for the remains of Fort Tonyn, Florida’s only Revolutionary War fort. While working
for the National Park Service he participated in the archaeological survey of the Big Cypress National Preserve. In 1978 he began working for Miami-Dade County’s
Historic Preservation Division, becoming the first County archaeologist and eventually the agency director. During that period, he excavated the 11,000-year-old Cutler
Fossil Site, which produced some of the earliest evidence of human habitation in eastern North America. He also discovered and documented over 300 sites across
Florida, discovered remains of the earliest English settlement in the Bahamas, and investigated the nation’s most southerly prehistoric site in Key West. Most recently,
he was the co-discoverer of the Miami Circle and is directing the analysis of its artifacts and data. He has achieved numerous milestones within his professional community,
including acting as editor of the Florida Anthropologist Council, and he was the recipient of Florida archaeology’s prestigious Bullen Award.
CHAPTER V ✧ 29
John Seybold widened Wagner Creek, a tributary of the Miami River, turning it into the Seybold Canal for his Spring Garden development. (PHOTO BY THORN GRAFTON)
B Y J AMES G. BROTON
It’s easy to overlook Spring Garden. People
usually first drive through it by mistake while
trying to take a shortcut, and then they find
that the road they’re on doesn’t go straight
through because the Miami River or the
Seybold Canal gets in the way. And Spring
Garden isn’t what you usually think of when
considering historic neighborhoods in Miami.
It’s not noted for having blocks of wellgroomed,
well-maintained houses. Yet it does
have fine examples of Mission Revival, Pueblo
and Vernacular style homes dating from the
late 1910s and early 1920s… and a few surprises.
And it has a history to rival that of any
other historic neighborhood in Miami.
As a tree-lined residential area near downtown
Miami, Spring Garden stands in sharp
contrast to the office buildings and businesses
around it. It exists as an oasis of greenery surrounded
by water and concrete.
The area that would be called Spring
Garden can be seen on survey maps from the
1840s. It is known that William English had a
mill near the junction of the Miami River and
the creek, where he made starch from coontie
roots, as the cycad Zamia floridiana (Florida
arrowroot) was called. Fresh water was needed
to extract the poison from the mashed
roots, and the creek was also located far
enough from the river to hide the stench given
off by the drying starch. By the 1880s,
English’s mill was replaced by a steam-pow -
ered mill owned by William Wagner, and the
creek bears his name.
As the supply of coontie roots dwindled by
the turn of the twentieth century, Miami was
led by the efforts of Henry Flagler to turn to
tourism. Flagler had opened his Royal Palm
Hotel at the mouth of the river in 1898 and
had golf links built upriver.
Entrepreneur Warren Frazee (“Alligator
Joe”) took advantage of the situation, opening
an attraction catering to Flagler’s winter visitors.
Frazee’s alligator farm on Wagner Creek
near the golf link was probably similar to one
he had in Palm Beach, where he sold stuffed
and live baby alligators and “captured” live
adult ones with his bare hands. He alternated
appearances at the two attractions, and a 1911
Miami Herald article stated that “more visitors
see Joe’s performances in Florida each winter
than go to any other single attraction.” Frazee
ventured to San Francisco in 1915 to display
his saurians at the Panama-Pacific Exposition
there. Not accustomed to the cold March
weather, he contracted pneumonia and died.
Around that time, the site of the alligator farm
and the land around it were purchased by John
Seybold. Seybold had made a name for himself
in Miami as a baker, and after what he described
as the most successful year of his career, he ventured
into real estate. Seybold worked for five
years to make Spring Garden a subdivision that
would be something special. He widened
Wagner Creek and made a turning basin at what
is now NW 11th Street. He paved a road leading
to it, and built a concrete bridge over the creek,
now the Seybold Canal, to get to it. He planted
royal palms and made stone benches at a
then–divided street called Spring Garden Drive
(NW 9th Court). And he installed water, elec -
tricity and gas lines throughout Spring Garden
before he sold any lots. He was hoping that these
improvements, along with the nearness to the
Miami River and the golf links just north, would
attract the well-to-do to settle in the area. For
himself, he built a house and a sales office in
Spring Garden on the Seybold Canal Bridge on
Seybold Drive (NW 7th Street Rd.).
A major source of publicity for the as-yetunopened
subdivision came with the shooting
of scenes of a Fox film in January, 1919. Silent
film actor William Farnum starred in The Lucky
Charm (later released as The Jungle Trail). For
the shooting, a Hindu Village set was con -
structed on the canal at NW 8th Street Road.
This included a Hindu Temple set at the turning
basin of the Seybold Canal. During filming,
Seybold invited onlookers to witness “this rare
and interesting performance…. Before leaving
the grounds, we would be pleased to have you
drive through the various avenues of Spring
Garden and view the building sites…. The
opening of this high class residential section
will take place in the future.”
After the film crew left and the set was
struck, Seybold opened the subdivision with
much fanfare on Wednesday, February 5, 1919
with a public auction of 20 lots and a raffle for
$100 in gold. He also had a permanent resi -
dence built in the style of the Hindu Temple.
He commissioned well-known Miami architect
30 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
August Geiger to design it, and it was shown
under construction in early advertisements for
Spring Garden. When finished, the house was
sold to the owner of Musa Isle fruit grove, an
attraction upriver. Like the film set, this resi -
dence is still known as the Hindu Temple.
For a few years, it seemed like the promise
in early advertisements for “Miami’s newest
high-class subdivision” was beginning to come
true. Spring Garden was attracting doctors,
lawyers, and businessmen to settle among its
shady oak and mahogany trees. In 1924,
Seybold felt confident enough in his investment
to expand Spring Garden westward to include
more land on the Miami River and land which
was within walking distance of the newlyopened
Miami Country Club. Again, this
“Country Club Addition” attracted several businessmen
and professionals to Spring Garden.
Then the hurricane came in 1926, and that was
followed by the Great Depression. People who
had purchased lots in Spring Garden were
unable to build, and people with houses
already built struggled to survive, or left.
Spring Garden was rediscovered when the
Miami area was used to train soldiers during
World War II. Distinctively-designed houses
sprung up, especially along Seybold Canal and in
the Country Club Addition, reflecting post-war
optimism with whimsical and creative designs.
Residents raised families here, some sending their
children to Highland Park Elementary School
over the Seybold Bridge (affectionately called the
Humpback Bridge). They found Spring Garden
to be centrally located near their work.
Now in its 80th year of existence as a subdivision,
generations of resident “river rats” have
reveled in the unique atmosphere of Spring
Garden and have contributed to it. However,
through the years there have been threats to its
character, if not its very existence. As early as
1924, a petition was circulated to turn NW 7th
Street into a four-lane, sixty-foot road with a
bridge crossing the Miami River. That idea was
rejected in favor of a bridge over NW 5th Street.
Most recently, in the 1990s, plans were drawn
for an east-west extension of the Metrorail which
would have run through Spring Garden. That
plan was defeated, due in large part to neighborhood
activism in Overtown and Spring Garden.
Since 1997, Spring Garden has been a City
of Miami Historic Neighborhood. This was due
in large part to the effort of Spring Garden resident
Dr. Ernest Martin and an active Spring
Garden Civic Association. Martin first
approached the residents with the idea of his -
toric designation in 1986. But it took the intrusion
of high-rise development on the edge of
Spring Garden in1996 to spur the neighbor -
hood to action. Now when such a develop -
A resident leads visitors on a house tour of Spring Garden for Dade Heritage Days’ RiverDay. (PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
ment is proposed it must first be approved by
the City of Miami Historic Preservation Board.
The status of historic district designation has
assisted neighborhood efforts to beautify and
preserve the riverfront, Spring Garden’s most
threatened asset. Working with the City of Miami
and Miami-Dade County, the first result of that
effort has been the recently opened Greenfield
Garden, a heavily landscaped public area with
beaches, a birdbath and a path to the river.
Miami-Dade County and state efforts have also
secured land on the Miami River at the site of
Alligator Joe’s attraction, to be used as a park and
educational center. A State of Florida Bureau of
Historic Preservation grant has also been given to
the Spring Garden Civic Association to create a
walking tour brochure of Spring Garden. And
Spring Garden has figured into plans for a new
bridge at NW12th Avenue, slated for construction
in 2003. Finally, incorporating all these
efforts, Dr. Martin, Brenda Marshall and the Trust
for Public Land are working to create a greenway
along the Miami River, including an area running
along NW North River Drive, through Spring
Garden. Spring Garden is using its history to
build its future.
Dr. James G. Broton is a clinical neurophysiologist at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, located near
Jackson Hospital. He has lived in the Spring Garden neighborhood for almost five years and is active in its
Civic Association. His hobby is the study of Spring Garden and its surrounding area, and he has written the
text for a walking tour brochure of Spring Garden. He believes that “if people who work in the Civic Center
knew how nice it is to live so close to work, they’d see the benefit of living here. And they would have great
old houses to live in.”
“The Hindu Temple” house in Spring Garden is so named as its design was inspired by a Hindu Village movie set for The
Jungle Trail, which was filmed in Spring Garden in 1919. Developer John Seybold commissioned architect August Geiger to
design the house as an advertisement for Spring Garden. It is now undergoing restoration by its current owner, Krassi Ivanov.
(PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
CHAPTER VI ✧ 31
This Colonial style residence was built in 1923 by Dr. William A. Chapman, Sr., the first African American medical doctor hired by the State Board of Health as a consultant for disease
control. Located on the campus of Booker T. Washington High School, it is Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Ethnic Heritage Children’s Folklife Center. (COURTESY OF THE BLACK ARCHIVES)
B Y D OROTHY J ENKINS F IELDS
Over time, the natural environment was the
common denominator for all who migrated to
Miami-Dade County. The same brilliant sun
greeted Indians, explorers, runaway slaves and
colonists. Each group fought armies of mos -
quitoes. Some of the groups returned to their
homelands. Those who remained adapted to
the dry season and hurricane winds. Survival
in the wilderness, in concert with the natural
environment, was a concern that was shared
by those who first settled in Dade County.
In the 1890s Coconut Grove became the
first black settlement. The first arrivals worked
and lived at the Peacock Inn, the first hotel on
the South Florida mainland. Most of the early
black settlers in Coconut Grove were
Bahamians. They acquired land near the
Peacock Inn on what later became Charles
Avenue. Native black Americans from the
Carolinas and other Southern states joined the
black Bahamians in clearing land. E.W.F
Stirrup, one of several black pioneers, acquired
a sizable amount of land. By the 1920s it is
believed that Stirrup owned much of what is
now downtown Coconut Grove. He and other
black pioneers built their homes themselves
with the help of neighbors and friends. At least
twelve black families were among the original
settlers in this area. Most of those families
remain in the houses that their ancestors built.
Prior to the turn of the twentieth century,
another community, Lemon City, developed.
Located north of Coconut Grove near Biscayne
Bay, this pioneer community divided itself into
several subcommunities, including Knightsville,
Bolestown and Nazarene. In the 1920s many of
the pioneer families relocated either to Liberty
City or to Colored Town/Overtown. As pioneer
settlements, Coconut Grove and Lemon City
were primarily residential.
In addition to these areas, there were other
black settlements scattered throughout Dade
County. Alike in many ways, these areas were
populated by black laborers from Southern
states who followed the Florida East Coast railroad
and black workers from the Bahamas and
other islands in the West Indies. Each settle -
ment had at least one church and several
“mom and pop” stores. All of the settlements
depended on the goods and services of the
community located adjacent to downtown
Miami, Colored Town/Overtown.
Over time, black migrants settled in Miami’s
Overtown from north Florida and other
Southern states. Emigrants arrived from the
Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and
Tobago, Barbados and other countries throughout
the Western Hemisphere. Their common
heritage: slave foreparents forced from Africa
and left as cargo in various ports throughout
the Americas. Different cultures developed in
the various ports and some languages changed,
but the common ground for all was race.
Skilled, the migrants and emigrants arrived
with determination to improve the economic
conditions for their families. In turn, they
helped build a tourist mecca for others to enjoy.
The community that the migrants and emigrants
built for themselves was geared toward
tourism, too. It was self-sufficient, alive and
well and busy every day. Around the clock
business and cultural activities kept the lights
32 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
on and people involved. White tourists and
white residents frequented this dynamic area
to enjoy the entertainment, to partake of the
exotic foods and to listen to music, especially
jazz and gospel singing. At least one national
convention was held annually in Overtown,
when sufficient hotel rooms, restaurants and
entertainment were in full supply. The repeat
business brought by visitors helped stabilize
the economy in this community, which in turn
promoted pride in a people who were selfmotivated
From the 1940s until the early 1960s the
residents of Overtown continued to draw on
their own resources, creating a “sense of place.”
In addition to regular goods and services, there
were several fine restaurants, a privately owned
tennis court and several first class hotels in
Overtown. One, the Mary Elizabeth, was a
favorite retreat for such well-known personalities
as United States Supreme Court Justice
Thurgood Marshall, Congressman Adam
Clayton Powell, labor leader A. Phillip
Randolph, educator Dr. Mary McLeod
Bethune, then president of Bethune Cookman
College and the National Council of Negro
Women, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “the father of
Negro History,” and W.E.B. DuBois, an internationally
known intellectual and author.
Like Broadway, Colored Town was aglow
twenty-four hours a day. It was the “great black
way.” Nearly all of the arts were available in
Colored Town through touring music, dance
and drama groups. Traveling literary artists
who visited included poet Langston Hughes
and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. Paul
Robeson and Marian Anderson were among
the featured vocalists. Visitors included worldfamous
Joe Louis and baseball greats Jackie
Robinson and Roy Campanella. Local residents
jammed until daybreak with entertainers like
Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway,
Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday,
Sammy Davis Jr., the Inkspots, Louie
“Satchmo” Armstrong, Nat “King” Cole, B.B.
King, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and
many others. Local resident and entertainment
promoter Clyde Killens was primarily responsible
for bringing the performers exclusively to
Overtown from Miami Beach.
Over the years Overtown lost its magic.
Urban renewal, desegregation and the con -
struction of two expressways destroyed the
community and the once vibrant economic
and cultural center.
But Overtown is alive again, led by the
Overtown Advisory Board, the Community
Development Corporations (CDC’s), and other
agencies. The need for housing is being met by
the local churches, including St. John Baptist, Mt.
Historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church, located at 301 NW 9th Street, was built in 1928 and is listed on the National Register of
Historic Places. (PHOTO BY CHARLIE WILLIAMS, COURTESY OF CALVIN MARKS)
Zion Baptist and Greater Bethel AME. The Black
Archives, History and Research Foundation of
South Florida, Inc., is developing the Historic
Overtown Folklife Village, a two-block area retail,
cultural and entertainment district.
The Folklife Village was designated a Main
Street community in 1999 by Florida’s
Secretary of State. The area will again become
a tourist destination focusing on two themes:
The African Diaspora, the resettlement of people
from ports (countries in the Caribbean)
where blacks were left as cargo, and the
“Harlem Renaissance,” a self-definition of the
black experience through the literary, visual
and performing arts.
Historic sites and new construction, in
keeping with the historic character of the district,
will become mixed-use facilities. Some
housing will have lofts and flexible spaces;
rehearsal and performing spaces for artists,
artisans, craftspeople, inventors and entrepreneurs.
Green spaces and landscaping will be
designed to help promote a safe and creative
environment. Restaurants, bed and breakfast
For decades, Overtown’s nightlife featured stars of all ages, as seen in this billboard for a concert by Aretha Franklin for the
Knight Beat Club in the Sir John Hotel. (COURTESY OF THE BLACK ARCHIVES)
CHAPTER VII ✧ 33
The Lyric Theater, built in 1919 at 819 NW 2nd Avenue,
was a major center of entertainment for the black
community. After having been closed for forty years, the
Lyric underwent a major restoration and re-opened in
2000 as a centerpiece for community revitalization.
(COURTESY OF OVERTOWN MAIN STREET)
sites and a conference/family reunion center
will again host national conventions and be
available as an annual retreat.
Five of the sites in the Village are listed on
the National Register of Historic Places. An
adjacent building is planned for the anchor
site, the Lyric Theater, which opens into the
Ninth Street pedestrian mall, a transportation
corridor that connects Overtown to other historic
sites in Miami-Dade County and the State
of Florida through the Black Heritage Trail.
After having been closed for forty years, the
Lyric Theater re-opened in 2000. Exciting literary,
visual and performing arts events are
now scheduled throughout the year for tourists
and residents at this centerpiece of Overtown.
With a capacity of 400 seats, the Lyric Theater’s
charming scale and plush, architecturally
designed seats guarantee audiences an intimate
and inviting experience.
At the Grand Re-Opening of the Lyric
Theater, John Hope Franklin, the James B.
Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke
University, was a special guest. In his lecture at
Florida Memorial College on “The Impact of
the Harlem Renaissance in American Culture,”
Professor Franklin said, “this is a very histori -
cal area. The very history of Miami is incom -
plete without the history of Overtown.”
A marching band leads a procession from St. Agnes Episcopal Church to the Miami City Cemetery along the streets of Overtown. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
Dorothy Jenkins Fields is a native Miamian whose maternal grandparents settled in Key West, Florida at the turn of the twentieth century, coming from the Bahamas by way
of Haiti and Sierra Leone, West Africa. An educational specialist with Dade County Public Division of Multicultural Programs, Jenkins Fields is also the founder and archivist
historian of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida, Inc. Other major accomplishments include the creation of Dade County’s Black Heritage Trail,
the designation and restoration of the Lyric Theater and five other sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the establishment of the Historic Overtown Folklife
Village. A graduate of Spelman College and the University of Northern Colorado, she completed doctoral studies in Public History at the Union Institute, Cincinnati, Ohio.
34 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
The neoclassical Belcher mausoleum contains thirty-two crypts. (COURTESY OF LAMBETH & NAGLE COMMUNICATIONS)
MIAMI CITY CEMETERY
B Y P ENNY L AMBETH
Tucked into a corner of downtown Miami is
a window to our city’s past: The Miami City
Cemetery at 1800 NE Second Avenue. Lush
tropical trees shade the rows of headstones and
ornate crypts dating back to 1896 when
Miami’s pioneers settled the wild hardwood
hammocks and pine rocklands that once covered
They came, these bold men and women, to
a frontier settlement that was hardly more than
an Indian trading post on an Everglades river.
They set up their one-story dry goods stores,
mom-and-pop bakery, feed store, downstairs
doctor’s office, and even raised Miami’s first
skyscraper, a three-story hardware store.
Today their names are enshrined in many
places in the modern metropolis that is their
heritage—on massive department stores, on
high-technology medical centers, on streets
and highways that weave through the area.
But their spirits are still here in a park-like setting
of trees and pathways in the middle of
their city where mausoleums and headstones
mark their final resting place, the historic
Miami City Cemetery.
This 10-acre enclave came into being 103
years ago, in 1897, when the officials of the
new city decided it wasn’t proper to be burying
people in helter-skelter fashion among the
piney woods. They paid a whopping $750 for
the ten acres to pioneer businesswoman Mary
Brickell, who with her neighboring landowner,
Julia Tuttle, was prominent in the early development
Officially, the first person to be buried in the
new cemetery was H. Graham Branscombe, a
feed store owner. Actually, folklore says that the
first burial was that of a black man who died of
dropsy and who rests in an unmarked location.
Today the cemetery has nearly 9,000 graves.
The story of those whose last resting place
is the Miami City Cemetery reads like a Who’s
Who of those pioneers who were symbolic of
the spirit that has enlivened Miami through
Julia Tuttle, who first bought land in Miami,
was the 12th person to be buried in the new
cemetery. It is said the whole town shut down
the day of her funeral. Nearby is the grave of
Dr. James M. Jackson, who made house calls in
his horse and buggy starting in 1896 and
whose legacy is today’s giant University of
Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital, one of this
country’s most renowned medical treatment
and research centers.
In another section is the marble mausoleum
of William Burdine, whose original dry goods
store in Miami evolved into Florida’s largest
chain of department stores. Just opposite is the
imposing mausoleum of Sam Belcher, a frus -
trated pineapple farmer who eventually struck
it rich in the oil refinery business.
Much of the history of Miami can be visualized
from names on the headstones. Charles
Peacock, Miami’s first innkeeper, opened his
Peacock Inn long before Flagler’s ornate Royal
Palm Hotel established Miami as a tourist
mecca. Clifford H. Reeder, a three-time Miami
mayor, was instrumental in persuading Pan
American Airways to locate its base in Miami,
establishing Miami as the “Gateway to the
Americas.” John Sewell, an associate of Henry
Flagler, became a mayor of Miami.
John Seybold, a German who emigrated to
Miami by way of France and Belgium, established
CHAPTER VIII ✧ 35
Above: A marching band leads the procession into the Miami City Cemetery for the annual Dade Heritage Days Commemorative
Service held in April. (COURTESY OF LAMBETH & NAGLE COMMUNICATIONS)
body placed on a slab and covered with concrete.
The inscription reads, “The body of Carrie
Barrett Miller was molded in this solid block of
concrete Dec. 4, 1926. After her body has gone
to dust, her sleeping form will remain.”
Those of all faiths have found sanctuary in
Miami City Cemetery. As was the custom at that
time, there is a white section, a black section, a
Catholic section and a Jewish section. Veterans
of the nation’s wars are honored in other quadrants.
A.C. Lightbourne, a black man who was
an educator, a minister and a political activist
made history with his eloquent speech on the
day Miami was incorporated.
For most of Miami City Cemetery’s first 100
years, it was an oasis of peace, solace and beauty
as the city grew up around it. A profusion of
trees and shrubs were planted and shaded
Much of the cemetery’s early enhancement
was credited to Alex Korsakoff, known as “The
Mad Russian,” who was hired as its sexton in
the early 1930s. Korsakoff, a scientist and selftaught
authority on sub-topical trees and
plants, and his friend, David Fairchild, famed
horticulturist, assembled a vast collection of
trees, plants and shrubs. The efforts continued
when he was succeeded as sexton by his friend
and associate, Felix Cornejo.
But toward the end of the twentieth century
things had begun to change for the Miami
City Cemetery, and not for the better. In recent
years the final resting place of Miami’s pioneers
had been the victim of vandalism. Though the
city had maintained the grounds on a basic
level, the outlying neighborhood’s decline had
left its mark on the cemetery.
Now, in a classic example of community
progress that can be achieved through a partnership
of dedicated volunteers and aware
municipal officials, preservationists have
begun to bring Miami City Cemetery back to
its former glory. Work began with Enid
Pinkney and the Dade Heritage Trust African-
American Committee’s Commemorative
Service at the cemetery and evolved into the
vigorous Miami City Cemetery Task Force.
This group is headed by Penny Lambeth, who
created a plan to make this landmark one of
the most beautiful in Miami, a place where
Community leaders at the tombstone of Julia Tuttle pay
respect to the memory of a visionary pioneer who helped
change Miami’s history. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
a bakery business in 1897 that was a Miami fixture
until well into the mid-1950s. John B.
Reilly was the first mayor of Miami in 1896 and
was thrice re-elected. William Mark Brown in
1896 was Miami’s first banker as president of
the Bank of Biscayne Bay. The Rev. Theodore
Gibson was a renowned civil rights leader, as
was Judge Lawson Thomas, the first black
judge in south Florida, and Richard Toomey,
Miami’s first black attorney. The roster goes on
One of the most unusual burials was that of
Carrie Miller. Her husband, William, had her
Cemetery Task Force Chairman Penny Lambeth and Dade Heritage Trust African American Committee Chairman Enid
Pinkney at the Cemetery Commemorative Service. (PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
36 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
160 native and flowering trees. Since that time,
several more trees have been planted along
with flowering bushes to attract butterflies and
So far, there have been more than a dozen
volunteer clean-up days. The Task Force
arranged an Eagle Scout project in which 535
war veterans’ markers were hand-scrubbed
with toothbrushes and other soft brushes to
remove decades of grime that had collected.
Another Eagle Scout project involved raking,
fertilizing and mulching every tree in the
cemetery. One of the Task Force Committee
members has repaired more than 60 broken
headstones. Police patrols around the ceme -
tery’s neighborhood were activated. The Parks
Department has installed a large functional and
decorative lighting system. Business interests
were contacted to provide support for the volunteers.
Neighboring property owners have
been encouraged improve their appearances.
The transformation continues, making this site
a sparkling gem in downtown Miami.
Somewhere the spirits of Miami’s pioneer
founders are smiling.
Penny Lambeth of Lambeth & Nagle
Communications is a specialist in public relations
and marketing. She is on the executive committee of
Dade Heritage Trust and chairs the Miami City
Cemetery Task Force. She serves on the board of
The City of Miami Beautification Committee and on
the executive committee of TREEmendous Miami.
She is a former board member of the Greater Miami
Chamber of Commerce where she chaired an economic
development committee. A member of The
Villagers and The Miami Lakes Business
Association, she was a finalist in the PaineWebber
“Women of Influence” award competition.
Temple Israel, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1922,
is adjacent to the City Cemetery and has been very
supportive of Task Force efforts to protect Miami’s most
historic burial ground.
(COURTESY OF TEMPLE ISRAEL OF GREATER MIAMI)
residents, students and tourists can come to
learn about Miami’s rich, diverse history and
enjoy the beauty of a sub-tropical garden with
all the trees identified with botanical and
The Task Force partnered with the City of
Miami Parks Department to obtain $110,000
in HUD funding for a new eight-foot security
fence. The group rallied organizations such as
the City of Miami Beautification Committee,
led by Steve Pearson, the Flowering Tree
Society, Trees for Dade and Hands On Miami.
On a sunny September morning in 1997 more
than 100 volunteers began planting more than
Volunteers plant flowering trees in the City Cemetery during one of many beautification days.
(COURTESY OF LAMBETH & NAGLE COMMUNICATIONS)
CHAPTER VIII ✧ 37
A Morningside residence is decorated for Christmas, a time for frequent parties in the neighborhood. (COURTESY OF MICHAEL CONWAY)
MORNINGSIDE AND BAY POINT
B Y G AIL M EADOWS AND W ILLIAM E. HOPPER J R .
Morningside dates back to Miami’s pioneer
days, when the family of John Saunders, a
Bahamas-born, Keys-reared entrepreneur,
became squatters in what was to become
Along with Coconut Grove to the south,
Lemon City became the focal point of life on
the swamp’s frontier, far more populous than
Miami, with merchants, a library and a school.
The community grew from a curve in the
shoreline at Northeast 61st Street (Lemon
Avenue) and Biscayne Bay that formed a bight
and made 61st Street one of the few spots
accessible through the dense mangroves that
protected the shoreline.
Saunders filed for homestead rights on 148
acres on Sept. 17, 1883. He worked as a sailor,
farmer and laborer in a starch mill until
October 1889, when he began to sell portions
of his property.
By the 1920s, entrepreneurs were leaving
their imprint on South Florida. Henry Flagler
had brought the railroad south to Miami and
Key West. James Deering had built Vizcaya, an
Italian Renaissance villa, immediately south of
what was to become downtown Miami. His
half-brother Charles Deering had abandoned
his vast acreage in Bay Point, immediately
south of Morningside, for a settlement called
Cutler, far south at today’s S.W. 168th Street.
George Merrick was carving Coral Gables out
of oolitic limestone.
James H. Nunnally, a candy baron, founded
the Bay Shore Investment Co. and began to
plat Morningside from what is now Northeast
55th Terrace to Northeast 60th Street, bounded
on the east by Biscayne Bay. The “Bay Shore”
subdivision, launched in 1922, was to be superior
to any other being offered in South
Florida. It was to have paved roads, sidewalks,
swales, medians, underground wiring for telephones
and electric lights, storm sewers, sanitary
sewers, gas lines, street lights and fresh
water through underground conduits from its
wells and pumping station.
Building plans had to be approved by the
developer before construction could begin.
Most homes were built out of what was called
three-hole concrete, which weighs 46 pounds,
as opposed to today’s two-hole concrete, which
weighs 32 pounds. All had stucco, stone or
ornamental cement exteriors and roofs of tile.
Interior walls were made of two-coat plaster
over cypress lath over studs of Dade County
pine. Any proposals for structures out of wood
only were rejected. These exacting standards
were responsible for keeping many structures
intact during hurricanes over the years.
Before the first home was sold, Nunnally’s
company planted 4,000 trees and lined the
parkways with bougainvillea, palms, colea and
St. Augustine grass. “An individual irrigation
system keeps them constantly supplied with
water,” one advertisement read. A master landscape
architect drew up a plan that called for
specific setbacks and lot frontage, which
framed the house on each lot.
Streets were given such names as Hibiscus
Avenue (Northeast 58th Street), Albemarle
Street (Northeast Fifth Avenue) and Toxaway
Drive (Northeast Sixth Court). Lots were laid
out with irregular lines to maximize breezes
from the bay.
By 1923, Nunnally had enlisted the real
estate firm of Junkin & Erdmans to sell his
homesites. In his sales brochure, he guaranteed
superb settings, distinctive architecture and an
unobstructed view of the bay.
By February 1924, 3,500 people a day were
visiting “model homes,” according to an extensive
advertising campaign in the Miami Daily
News and Metropolis. Some were transported
via boat from downtown Miami; others were
met by chauffeured cars. No house could be
built that cost less than $7,000. “This restriction
is an insurance to every purchaser that he
will be as proud of his neighbor’s fine home as
38 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
High ceilings, arched passageways, wooden windows, hardwood floors, working fireplaces, cracked-tile stoops, and porches
are architectural elements found in many of the homes in Morningside. (PHOTO BY DR. WILLIAM HOPPER)
he is of his own,” one advertisement said. Deep
lots fronting Biscayne Bay had to have houses
costing at least $17,000. By January 12, 1925,
sales reached $152,300 in one day.
Early prominent architects included Robert
Law Weed, who designed part of the Sears
building that opened in 1929 north of downtown
Miami; L. Murray Dixon, who worked
extensively in Miami Beach; H. George Fink,
who worked with Merrick in the Gables; the
Pittsburgh firm of Kiehnel and Elliott, which
designed Miami’s Scottish Rite Temple, the
Beach’s Carlyle Hotel and the Gables’
Congregational Church; V.H. Nellenbogen,
who designed the Savoy Plaza and the redo of
the Sterling Building in Miami Beach; and
Marion Manley, Florida’s first woman to
become a registered architect.
Each home had high ceilings, arched pas -
sageways, wooden windows, ceiling moldings,
hardwood floors, working fireplaces, pushbutton
light switches, cracked-tile stoops and
porches and was built high off the flood plain.
One house even had a basement.
A 1925 map reveals that 27 houses had
been built east of Flagler’s railroad tracks.
Several were spec houses, and seven were west
of what would become, in the next three
decades, the “road to Miami Shores,” an everwidening
“Dixie Boulevard.” The road, of
course, became U.S. 1 (Biscayne Boulevard),
which split a neighborhood that had been
carefully envisioned. West of it today, one sees
restoration underway on the sturdy craftsmanship
that Nunnally so emphasized.
The stellar work attracted any number of
prominent citizens, including Miami Mayor
Perrine Palmer and City Public Works Directors
Frank Wharton and John Mays. Other notables
who lived there were Sidney Meyer, who cofounded
Wometco with Col. Mitchell Wolfson,
Tilyou Christopher, who raced thoroughbreds
at Hialeah Race Track, William Lehman, who
became a U.S. congressman, and Paul Scott,
president of the New Miami Shores Corp. and
the Biscayne Boulevard Co.. Morningside resident
Laura Cushman, whose father built an
Italian Mediterranean Revival mansion on
Northeast. 57th Street, founded the private
Cushman School in 1924.
In addition, more than half a dozen of the
Morningside homes became parsonages—for
the ministers of First United Methodist in
downtown Miami, Church of the Incarnation
in Liberty City, Westminster Presbyterian in
Buena Vista and the Archbishop of the Roman
Catholic Diocese, who, in 1987, hosted Pope
John Paul II for an overnight visit to Miami..
By 1926, about 41 houses had been built.
After September 17-18, when a Category 4
hurricane struck in the middle of the night,
some were condemned and sat vacant for some
time. But between 1927 and 1935, another 27
houses went up. Nunnally kept his company
moving despite the Depression and the bust in
Miami real estate.
In 1936, the neighborhood was enlarged;
the blocks along present-day Northeast 55th
Street and the south side of Northeast 55th
Terrace were subdivided as Bay Shore Plaza by
the company of Islands, Inc. Between 1936
and December 1941, when the U.S. declared
war, the area experienced its greatest building
expansion. Deed restrictions similar to those of
Bay Shore guaranteed a continuity in architectural
Construction ground to a halt during the war,
but picked up again in 1946. Since then, 71
houses, representing Art Deco, Colonial Revival,
Mission, Spanish Mediterranean, Vernacular
Bungalow, Federal Revival, Streamline Moderne,
Moorish Mediterranean, Masonry Vernacular,
Italian Mediterranean and Classical Revival styles
of design have been built.
In 1951, Perrine Palmer engineered
$300,000 from city coffers to launch the build -
ing of Morningside Park, a 43-acre expanse on
Biscayne Bay that now boasts tennis courts, soccer
fields, baseball diamonds, a boat ramp and
an Olympic-sized swimming pool. In the 1950s,
it also had the world’s largest hibiscus garden.
Friendships in the neighborhood were
formed along the route families followed to
the park. One couple, Delia and Abraham
Barkett, reared six sons at 5550 N. Bayshore
Dr., near the park’s main entrance. The boys
refused to attend summer camp out of state
because they had so many activities at their
fingertips in the park.
In the 1960s and 1970s, as expressways,
malls and suburban subdivisions encouraged
residents to flee city living, Morningside, like
all urban areas, suffered. Spacious homes were
neglected; grotesque alterations made.
But the neighborhood was lucky. A handful
of noisy, scrappy community activists led by
Norah Schaefer, who later became president of
Dade Heritage Trust, fought any attempt to
“down-zone” the area into rooming houses and
day-care centers. Their dogged determination
paid off on December 20, 1984, when city
fathers declared Morningside Miami’s first historic
district. In 1992, additional recognition
followed when the district won a spot on the
National Register of Historic Places.
Exotic flowers add tropical charm to an antique brick patio.
(PHOTO BY DR. WILLIAM HOPPER)
CHAPTER IX ✧ 39
First developed in the 1920s, the residential area of Morningside was landscaped with 4000 trees, bougainvillea, palms,
colea and St. Augustine grass to create a lush setting still present today. (PHOTO BY CARL ROMER)
An active civic association now sponsors an
annual house tour, as well as numerous events
that foster neighborhood pride and a deeper
sense of community.
Immediately south of Morningside, the
neighborhood of Bay Point began to become a
reality in the 1940s. Like Lemon City, Bay
Point began with a bulge in the coastline just
north of what is now 36th Street and the Julia
The first settler in the “Point” was an immigrant
from Alsace-Lorraine, on the border of
France and Germany, named Michael Sears
(sometimes called Zahr or Zair.) “French
Mike,” as he was called, arrived with his family
in 1858. He built a house, a dock and a
small mill to grind “coontie,” a root starch that
was a staple in all households. Like many
squatters, though, he probably never learned
of the federal Homestead Act of 1862 that
offered 160 acres to any citizen who would
stay on land for five years and develop it.
In early 1866, the Freedman’s Bureau in
Washington sent two men to Miami to determine
whether the land could be turned into a colony
for 50,000 former slaves. One of them was
William H. Gleason, 36, who had already made
and lost fortunes in New York and Wisconsin.
Gleason knew how to read surveyors’
reports and gauge improvements to land. He
was educated, greedy and clever. In no time, he
got himself appointed county clerk, county
surveyor, tax assessor and school board member
(even though there were no schools.) The
area that included Bay Point—Section
Nineteen on the plat books—had grown considerably
since the previous survey in 1845.
Mangroves had pushed new trees into place
and hurricanes had brought fill that added to
the land mass.
Gleason homesteaded 160 acres and got an
extra 40 in mangroves that hadn’t been sur -
veyed. In 1870, he made a deal with Sears to let
him continue living on the land, and in 1878,
for $2, actually sold Sears 10 acres that he had
been cultivating for 20 years. At the time, it was
the largest cleared area along the bay.
Until the early 1900s, Dade County
stretched from the northern Keys to the northern
reaches of Palm Beach County. It had only
three voting precincts—in Juno, Hypoluxo,
and—you guessed it—Sears.
On election day, voters would sail to the
polls and spend the day catching up with the
news. Gleason got himself elected lieutenant
governor, and then, unable to leave well
enough alone, engineered impeachment proceedings
against the governor and named himself
governor. Even the boat that brought the
mail was named the Governor Gleason.
Eventually, the tide turned, and Gleason himself
was impeached. The last elections held at
Sears were in 1872 and 1876.
Henry Flagler had a huge impact on Bay Point
when he brought the railroad to Miami in 1896.
By this time, Charles Deering, part of the family
that owned the farm equipment giant,
International Harvester, in Chicago, owned a vast
amount of acreage in Bay Point that extended
west past what is now the Sabal Palm Apartments
at Northeast 53rd Street and Second Avenue.
But the building boom that was to come left
Deering cold. Unable to tolerate the noise the
railroad brought, he sold his acreage and fled
for the settlement of Cutler, far south, and
began to build what’s now the Deering Estate
along Biscayne Bay at S.W. 168th Street.
In the 1920s, the Shoreland Company that
planned Miami Shores wanted to build a grand
boulevard to connect the property with Miami
and wanted to locate it right through what had
been Deering’s estate.
After the 1926 hurricane, these plans were
up in the air. Shoreland, like many other businesses,
needed financial assistance to complete
their projects. Bessemer Properties, a company
owned by the wealthy Phipps family, took over.
An aerial photograph in 1927 shows Bay
Point as a bulkheaded shoreline with two
canals connecting Sabal Lake with Biscayne
Bay. Most of the streets are in a grid fashion,
which changed, in later years, to the gently
curving streets we see today. Plans called for a
fine, walled community to be named Miami
Plaza. It was not until 1940, however, that
homes began to rise; Bessemer gave the development
the name Bay Point.
Today, the area is home to some of Miami’s
most prominent citizens, who enjoy the convenient
location and quiet streets. Though it is
a far cry from Charles Deering’s day, Bay Point
still has a feeling of a quaint, small town in the
middle of a teeming metropolis.
Gail Meadows and William Edward Hopper, Jr., have been activists in Morningside, the City of Miami’s first historic district, since the mid-1980s.
Together, they have helped organize the annual tour of historic homes, produced a monthly neighborhood newsletter and served as officers in the
Morningside Civic Association. Each owns a house designed by the renowned Pittsburgh architectural firm of Kiehnel and Elliott. Meadows and her husband,
Bill Robertson, live in a 1925 Italian Mediterranean Revival manse, and Hopper owns an Art Deco house built in 1934.
Hopper, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a chemistry professor at Florida Memorial College and choirmaster and organist at Trinity Episcopal
Cathedral. He graduated from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and earned a master’s and a Ph.D. degree in chemistry from the University of
South Carolina. He is currently pursuing a second master’s degree, in environmental studies, at Florida International University.
Meadows, who hails from Knoxville, Tennessee, is a reporter for The Miami Herald, covering the arts and philanthropy. She has a master’s degree in journalism from
the University of Missouri in Columbia and began her career at the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y. From there, she became the first woman to be a city editor
at Newsday, the Long Island daily.
The late architect Keith Edward Soto, who died in 1996, compiled much of the information used in the Morningside segment. Longtime Bay Point
resident Patricia F. Keen supplied the bulk of the information on Bay Point.
40 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Visitors enjoy the oceanfront Roney Plaza Hotel in this photo from the mid-1950s. The design of the 1925-built hotel was influenced by the Giralda Bell Tower, as
was the design of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables and the Miami News Tower in Downtown Miami. Once considered the grande dame of Miami Beach, the
elegant Roney Plaza Hotel was demolished in 1970. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
B Y H OWARD K LEINBERG
“Meet me in Miami instead of Jacksonville.
Nice little town.”
Those words, wired in 1910 by engineer
and friend John Levi to Carl Fisher in
Indianapolis, led to the creation of Miami
Beach. In less than two decades after Fisher
joined Levi in Miami, the narrow strip of land
had become America’s vacation land. Now,
almost nine decades later, its South Beach
ambience places it on a par with the shimmer
of the most chic centers of Europe.
Miami Beach is, perhaps, the most famous
city in the world that still lacks an airport, a
train station or a cemetery. Miami Beach is a
mutation. It and its neighbors, Surfside and Bal
Harbor, sit on what appears to be an island but
really isn’t. The island part of it was manmade,
as late as 1926, when the cut from the bay to
the ocean was made at Haulover.
Not only has it evolved through natural and
development forces, but so has it architecturally
and in the people who inhabit the place. From
the indigenous Tequestas to the coconut planters
to the opulent visitors of the 1920s, to the World
War II GI’s in more than 300 of its hotels, to the
Jewish migration from the northeast, to the
Hispanics from the south, and to the trendy people
of South Beach, this narrow strip of land has
been both a playground and a workplace.
Until three New Jersey investors decided, in
1882, that what would become Miami Beach
was a great place to grow coconuts commer -
cially, the strip of land—a peninsula—was
rarely visited. Tequestas had come there sea -
sonally, as well as sponge-fisherman.
Mainlanders, what few there were then, might
take their boats across the bay, past the jungle of
mangrove trees on the west, to loll in the sand
and surf on the lower east side of the peninsula.
By and large, however, it was ignored.
Would-be coconut farmers Henry Lum, Ezra
Osborn and Elnathan Field purchased almost all
of the oceanfront land between Key Biscayne
and Pompano Beach for no more than $1.25 an
acre. In Miami Beach, they planted thousands of
coconuts in neat rows on the beach side.
Rabbits—long accustomed to settling for a diet
of sea oats—found great flavor in the succulent,
young coconut tree shoots, and consumed
them. In time, all three abandoned the coconut
planting business, leaving another New
Jerseyite, John Collins, trying to protect what
was a small investment he had in the group.
Collins, a horticulturist, saw the futility of
coconuts but sensed the soil would be good for
avocados. In 1907, he planted 2,945 avocado
trees on the east side of today’s Lake Pancoast
CHAPTER X ✧ 41
Making money out of muck: Developers in the 1920s began
building on manmade islands in Biscayne Bay between
Miami Beach and the mainland. Looking east in this 1926
photo one can see Biscayne Island in the foreground and
San Marino and DiLido Islands in the distance.
(COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
Thousands of soldiers studied and drilled on Miami Beach during World War II, as can be seen in this 1943 postcard.
(COURTESY OF JOHN WITTY, III)
and Indian Creek. The trees were fruitful but
Collins’ next problem was getting them to market;
i.e., across the bay to the Miami train station.
In 1911, he cut a canal from Lake Pancoast to the
bay alongside what today is Dade Boulevard, the
boulevard actually having its roots in the spoil
banks created by digging the canal.
Low on money, Collins soon turned to his
New Jersey family for support. Their decision:
while it’s nice to have a better way to get to
market, that’s not our future. We’ll advance
you money to finish the canal but we want to
build a bridge all the way to Miami to open this
land to development beyond farming.
Having no real choice in the matter, Collins
acquiesced. His son-in-law, Thomas Pancoast,
took personal charge of the situation.
Construction of the Collins Bridge began in
1912 and was completed the following year. In
the midst of the construction, however, a fate -
ful encounter took place. Carl Fisher, coaxed
by Levi’s telegram, adopted Miami as a winter
home. His background was in development of
automobile headlamps and the creation of the
Indianapolis Speedway. When he visited
Collins and Pancoast, he learned of the huge
cost overruns they were experiencing on the
Collins Bridge. To complete the job, Fisher
loaned them $50,000 and, in turn, was given
200 acres of land on the still-unnamed peninsula.
(Early charts referred to it as “The Tongue
of the Mainland.”)
Carl Fisher’s foot was in the door and he
would push the door further open in the years
The two-and-one-half-mile wooden Collins
Bridge completed, the area generically called
Ocean Beach now was open to a rush of lot
sales and investment. Even before the bridge
42 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
was built, the Lummus Brothers—J.E. and
J.N.—both presidents of banks in Miami,
established the Ocean Beach Realty Company
on the most southerly portion, down to the
1905-carved Government Cut. The
Lummuses, who later would find need for cash
from Fisher and, thus, would surrender some
of their land in return, filed the first plat in
today’s Miami Beach, on July 9, 1912. Fisher
was not to file one until December.
Simultaneously, three development companies—the
Lummuses, Fisher’s midland Alton
Beach Realty Company and Collins’ and
Pancoast’s more northerly Miami Beach
Improvement Company—were selling lots.
Fisher took quick advantage of his property
acquisitions by clearing land and extending the
Collins Bridge terminus from Bull (Belle)
Island to Miami Beach proper. The Lummus
project to the south had 21 houses under construction
by June, 1914. Fisher and Lummus
both began dredging bay bottom to fill in the
western side of their properties. Fisher was
particularly interested in developing that portion
as that is where he saw his hotels being
built, as well as a boat-race course that would
entice well-to-do visitors from the north.
In March 1915, the three organizations,
despite their land sales competitiveness, got
together and incorporated their properties into
the Town of Miami Beach. J.N. Lummus was
elected first mayor by the 33 registered voters.
Despite the land sales, no hotel had been built
at the time of incorporation. A month later, a
plumber announced that he would build one
of less than 40 rooms, in the 100 block of
Ocean Drive. William J. Brown, who was to go
on to be a prominent Miami banker, opened
the Atlantic Beach Hotel for the season of
1915-1916. It later became known as Brown’s
Hotel and survives to this day. Built of wood, it
was later covered with stucco. During
The Ziff Jewish Museum of Florida, home of the MOSAIC exhibit, is located in a former synagogue at 301 Washington
Avenue on South Beach. (COURTESY OF THE ZIFF JEWISH MUSEUM)
Hurricane Andrew in 1992, some of the stuc -
co was torn away to expose the wood. Its most
recent name was the Star Apartments.
Fisher built his first hotel two years later. It
was the Lincoln Hotel and Apartments on the
southwest corner of what now is Lincoln Road
and Washington Avenue. The architect was
August Geiger, who also designed Fisher’s Italian
Renaissance home at the foot of Lincoln Road
and the ocean. The Lincoln opened in 1917 and
had two additions built in subsequent years
before being purchased in 1940, torn down and
replaced by the Mercantile Building. This first of
four Fisher hotels in Miami Beach “restricted”
their clientele, as did all of them.
The Lummus Brothers, at the southern tip of
the beach, their properties not as easily accessible,
began a drive in 1916 to build a second
bridge to Miami; a causeway from Fifth Street
on the Beach to NE 13th Street in Miami. They
convinced the voters of Dade County to
approve, by a 2-1 margin, a $600,000 bond
issue to build the County Causeway, renamed in
1942 as the MacArthur Causeway. Work on the
causeway began in January, 1917, but was interrupted
by World War I and was not completed
until February 1920. The raising of bay bottom
also accidentally created two islands: Flagler
Island and Star Island. That inspired others to
create more islands in the bay, Palm and
Hibiscus Island and the Venetian Islands, the
latter the foundation for Venetian Way, a causeway
that replaced the Collins Bridge in 1926.
Miami Beach was beginning to look more
like a town than the jungle it was carved from.
Further north, in what would be Surfside, the
Tatum Brothers began selling lots as the Ocean
Park Company. Among their projects on the
narrow strip of land was Altos del Mar.
Meanwhile, Fisher was fulfilling another of his
dreams in the construction of his first luxury
hotel, the Flamingo, on the bayside at 10th
Street. To design it, he went to Indianapolis
and hired the firm of Rubbish and Hunter.
What made the hotel unique was the dome at
the top of its 11-story high central tower. Lit at
night, with changing colors, it was a landmark
that created a new image of opulence for
Miami Beach, where just several years earlier,
the ocean beat was a rabbit-infested jungle.
The Flamingo opened on Dec. 31, 1920.
All was not a bed of roses, however, not
with the developers, not with the workers.
Daily, blacks working on construction projects
were having to be transported back and forth
across the Collins Bridge from Miami. Fisher
saw this as costly and ineffective; he
announced that a community to house and
provide services for his black laborers would
be built. Cottages for black workers were built
The 1930 Amsterdam Palace, at 1116 Ocean Drive, was a rundown apartment complex in 1992 when internationally
famous fashion designer Gianni Versace purchased the building for $2.9 million. He enlarged the property and transformed
it all into a dazzling palazzo named “Casa Casuarina.” Versace was murdered by a serial killer on the front steps in 1997.
The mansion was sold for $l9 million in the summer of 2000. (PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)
in the vicinity of 41st Street and Pine Tree
Drive but were torn down several years later to
make room for white development. What few
blacks there were living on the beach were not
living independently but in servants’ quarters.
Unlike blacks, Jews were not totally excluded
from Miami Beach facilities. They were able
to buy property and to rent in the areas developed
by Lummus, and there was no significant
effort to keep them from bathing. Hungarianborn
Joe and Rose Weiss arrived in Miami
Beach in 1913. Shortly after arriving, Joe
obtained work at Smith’s Casino at the tip of
Miami Beach, ostensibly the first Jew to obtain
employment or live there. The Weisses saved
their money and eventually opened their own
restaurant across the street: Joe’s Restaurant,
later to be known as Joe’s Stone Crab. By 1921,
there were an estimated 25 Jews living in the
Lummus section of Miami Beach. This was not
the case further north.
One could try to say Fisher was a selective
anti-Semite but that would just be muddling
the issue. Fisher’s attitude toward Jews was
dependent upon who they were, how much
money they had in the bank and how they
looked more than anything else. If they were
what he considered “upper crust,” special considerations
were given to them at his golf
courses and hotels.
The area north of Fifth Street, meanwhile,
continued to be more attuned to the Christian
Ocean Drive on South Beach features popular sidewalk cafes, clubs and trendy hotels. Decaying in the 1980s, the area
was revitalized by historic preservationists who promoted and restored Art Deco and Streamline Moderne structures built
in the 1930s and 1940s. (PHOTO BY ANTOINETTE NATURALE)
CHAPTER X ✧ 43
Joe and Jennie Weiss stand in front of their Biscayne Street restaurant in 1918. In 1921, a visiting scientist asked Joe to cook
a stone crab, a crustacean scorned by natives because of its odd taste. Joe cooked it, then chilled it, and that made all the
difference. Joe’s Stone Crab is now a landmark on South Beach and an internationally known business enterprise.
(COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
affluent. Wealthy people were buying lots and
building estates. Hotels, catering to a more
restricted audience, were being constructed,
and the Fisher and Pancoast interests contin -
ued to promote their portions of Miami Beach
as a mecca for a higher social stratum than they
were seeing in South Beach. As 1923 dawned,
there were signs that an economic depression
that embraced the nation was rapidly lifting.
The Tatums, who were developing Altos Del
Mar in the northern portion of Miami Beach,
advertised “The Boom Is On” and had 30 salesmen
occupied by February. Building permits
for January 1923 reached $198,000, compared
to $41,000 for the same month the year before.
A lawyer from New Jersey, N.B.T. Roney,
became a South Florida real estate and development
entrepreneur and, in 1925, began
building the oceanfront Roney Plaza Hotel on
Collins Avenue at 23rd Street. He also started
Espanola Way off Washington Avenue, which
he envisioned as an artists’ colony. It did not
reach his expectation.
In contrast, when determining where to
build his latest hotel, Fisher again chose the
bay side of Miami Beach. It was his idea to
build hotels in places that were unlikely to be
developed. The oceanside was seen as prime
land for estates. The Nautilus opened its doors
on Jan. 10, 1924.
As the 1923-24 winter season approached,
the Boom was in full bloom. Lots were selling
quicker than you could say N.B.T. Roney, and
new hotels were springing up. In addition to the
Nautilus, another new hotel for the 1923-24 season
was the Pancoast, a 122-room resort located
on the ocean at 29th Street, built by J. Arthur
Pancoast, grandson of John Collins. This was the
pride of the Pancoast family. Restricted like
Fisher’s hotels, it catered much to the wealthy and
genteel. A Spanish theme was carried through -
out, the idea of architect Martin L. Hampton, who
Ocean Beach Realty Company employees and J.N. Lummus’ daughter Helen pose before raising the American flag in front
of the company’s South Beach office on March l7, 1913. (COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
had gone to Spain specifically to study designs he
might incorporate into the hotel.
With the Tatum Brothers succeeding at
Altos del Mar, another real estate syndicate
bought a mangrove patch called Mead Island,
which ultimately turned into Normandy Isle.
There was hardly a section of the peninsula
that was not under construction. Retired realtor
J. Perry Stolz came to Miami Beach on his
yacht simply for a vacation and wound up
building the Fleetwood Hotel at the bay and
Eighth Street. With so much work going on,
there was great need for building supplies. So
overwhelmed was the Florida East Coast railroad
by all this cargo that it put an embargo on
such materials. The builders turned to ocean
schooners, but that ended when one capsized
in the Miami harbor in January 1926, effec -
tively blocking all ships coming into or out of
the harbor and marking the point at which the
Boom became a Bust.
The coup de grace came on the night of
September 17-18 when, with little warning, a
cataclysmic hurricane smashed into Miami
Beach, downtown Miami and outlying Hialeah.
Gusts in Miami Beach were recorded as peaking
at 132 miles an hour. Since the start of its development,
Miami Beach had not been visited by a
hurricane. In its immediate aftermath, Miami
Beach was isolated from the mainland, its streets
filled with blown sand, water, rubble and abandoned
automobiles, and many residents were
dead or injured. An intense publicity campaign
was waged soon afterwards to show that Miami
Beach was recovering from the storm.
Having sold $6 million worth of lots in
1924 and quadrupling that in 1925, Fisher
made a fatal misstep. He took his Miami Beach
largess and began to create another major project
in Montauk, N.Y., on the eastern end of
Long Island. It was to prove a financial disaster
and, with it, Fisher’s influence on Miami Beach
began to wane. By mid-1938, he was running
out of money, steam and time. Overwhelmed
by a series of illnesses, Fisher died in July 1939.
Between 1934 and 1940, hundreds of new
hotels and apartment buildings, large and small,
were built, most designed by relatively unknown
architects who would remain obscure until they
were posthumously discovered in the late 1970s.
On the periphery of that group were already-recognized
Florida architects such as August Geiger
and Lester Pancoast. What developed from this
new breed of architect were a variety of styles
that now have come to be known, generically, as
Art Deco. The full range included Zig Zag,
Moderne, Streamline and Depression Moderne.
Significant to these buildings was the muted pastel
colors that graced their exteriors. Hundreds of
buildings that still stand in Miami Beach, includ-
44 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
ing most apartment houses and hotels south of
Lincoln Road and a few north of it, came from
those schools of architecture.
At the forefront of the new movements were
men such as Roy France, Henry Hohauser, and L.
Murray Dixon. France’s first noteworthy Miami
Beach project was the 1936 Cavalier Hotel at 1320
Ocean Drive. He would be responsible for at least
four other Streamline hotels in Miami Beach: the
St. Moritz (1939) at 1565 Collins Avenue, the
Sands (1939) at 1601 Collins Avenue, the
National (1940) at 1677 Collins Avenue and the
Versailles (1940) at 3425 Collins Avenue.
Hohauser’s firm is credited with designing
more than 300 buildings in the Miami area.
Among his Miami Beach accomplishments were
the Edison Hotel (1935) at 960 Ocean Drive, the
Essex House (1938) at 1001 Collins Avenue, the
Century (1939) at 140 Ocean Drive, the Cardozo
(1939) at 1300 Ocean Drive, the New Yorker
(1940) at 1360 Collins Avenue, and the Warsaw
Ballroom (1940) at 1450 Collins Avenue.
Dixon, like Hohauser, was tremendously prolific.
He is credited with at least 11 significant
Miami Beach works, beginning with the Tides
Hotel in 1936 at 1220 Ocean Drive. He also
designed the Victor (1937) at 1144 Ocean Drive,
and five 1939 hotels, all on Collins Avenue: the
Marlin at 1200 Collins Avenue, the Nash at 1201
Collins Avenue, the Tiffany at 801 Collins
Avenue, the Tudor at 1111 Collins Avenue and
the Palmer House at 1119 Collins Avenue.
The demographics of Miami Beach were
changing. The more southerly section of Miami
Beach, whose properties, initiated by Lummus,
had no restrictions on who might live there,
Miami Beach developer Carl Fisher, wife Jane and son
Jackie pose for a December 24, 1923 issue of the Miami
Beach Register, which noted they were spending Christmas
“at their beautiful Miami Beach home, The Shadows,”
preferring poinsettias to the snows of Long Island.
(COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
A polo team of Cuban army officers came to Miami Beach to play an American team on February 23, 1921. The two
squads are shown lined up before the match. (COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
were fast becoming a tourist and residential
haven for Jewish people. By 1940, most of the
residences south of Lincoln Road were inhabited
by Jews. The dominance reached almost but
not quite to Lincoln Road. Two blocks south of
it, an office building was occupied by people
with last names such as Cohen, Schwartz, Blum
and Epstein, while closer to the famed boulevard,
within what was considered Fisher territory,
people with names such as Gallagher,
Kaiser, Mitchell, Beatty and Clifford held forth.
Hardly could a day pass without an
announcement in the local newspapers that a
new hotel, apartment building or restaurant
was being constructed. By November 1941, it
was evident that Miami Beach was a runaway
success; perhaps not the way Carl Fisher or
Thomas Pancoast had planned it, but successful
it was. In 1936, Miami Beach had 100
hotels and other accommodations for about
40,000 people. By late 1941, there were more
than 300 hotels, making the city capable of
accommodating 85,000 people. That availability
of rooms was to prove to be a tremendous
resource in the days just ahead—when
America was plunged into World War II.
The war filled Miami Beach’s hotels and apartment
houses. First word of a major military presence
in Miami Beach came in February 1942
when it was announced that 4,000 men, in training
to become administrative Army Air Corps officers,
would soon arrive in Miami Beach. Miami
Beach’s city council leased the municipal golf
course—now known as Bayshore golf course—
for $1 a year as the school’s headquarters and drill
grounds. By February 23, the Army had taken
over six hotels and, with the city commission’s
approval, closed off certain streets in the vicinity of
the school and training course. A strip of beach
between Collins Avenue and the ocean north of
Miami Beach was the site of the rifle practice
range. Troops stood on the avenue side and fired
at targets on an embankment just ashore of the
ocean. Bullets flew in just one direction: seaward.
By 1943, no less than 188 Miami Beach hotels
had been taken over by the U.S. government. In
addition to that, 109 apartment houses and 18
private homes were requisitioned. Every hotel
built by Fisher was among those taken over. The
Nautilus, turned into a military hospital, never
again would serve as a hotel; its total lifespan in
that capacity was but 18 years. Immediately after
the war, it became a veteran’s hospital. Ironically,
this once-restricted hotel eventually became Mt.
Sinai Hospital, a non-sectarian institution organized
and financed by Jews.
Even before the war ended, it became obvious
that a boom similar to that which burst
Miami Beach onto the national scene in the
early ’20s could happen again. Many of the
men who served here were returning to live.
This led to housing projects springing up all
along the southeast Florida coast. For the
wealthy, Bal Harbour was being built.
The city of Miami Beach, its population
increasingly Jewish and incensed by “Gentiles
Only” or “Restricted Clientele” signs posted on
buildings, unanimously enacted an ordinance on
April 17, 1947 which banned such signs as being
discriminatory. It still would be all right to discriminate
in actual rentals, but you just couldn’t
put up a sign saying that’s what you were doing.
Still, Miami Beach’s lifestyle was seasonal.
Many of the hotels and restaurants continued to
close for the summer months and homeowners
either returned to their Northern homes, or
went to the mountains of North Carolina until
the summer heat and mosquitoes had subsided.
But ways to beat the summer heat soon arrived;
it would be revolutionary to the tourist industry.
The first complete hotel air-conditioning system
on Miami Beach was installed in 1946. Between
then and 1955, every major hotel in Miami
Beach converted to air conditioning.
The war had not done much damage to the
area’s criminal underbelly. In fact, it was during
the war years that the S&G Syndicate, a local
cartel of bookmakers, was formed. In 1944, five
CHAPTER X ✧ 45
Residents and visitors alike enjoy exercising on the paths
in Lummus Park along Ocean Drive.
(PHOTO BY ANTOINETTE NATURALE)
Miami Beach bookmakers agreed to eliminate
competition among themselves and make the
financing of other bookmakers their business.
By 1948, this business, according to its own
books, controlled concessions at 200 hotels and
grossed over $26,500,000 in bets. In addition
to the local syndicate, big-time racketeers made
their headquarters in Miami Beach. Gambling
flourished almost everywhere in South Florida:
Sunny Isles, Miami, Surfside and Hallandale.
Their downfall began with the famed
Kefauver Committee, which came to Miami in
the spring of 1950. Chaired by Sen. Estes
Kefauver of Tennessee, who was building a
crime-fighter reputation en route to two failed
runs at the Democratic nomination for the
presidency, the committee flushed out both
racketeers and public officials who were being
paid off. The upshot was that the big-time
hoods from around the country laid low for a
while, but the S&G was crushed.
Already on the scene and owning small
hotels in Miami Beach was a brash ex-New
Yorker, Ben Novack. It was his ambition to cre -
ate a grand hotel, a desire shared with a young,
unheralded architect named Morris Lapidus,
Russian-born and New York raised. Novack
used Lapidus to design the interior of his new
Sans Souci Hotel in 1949. Lapidus’ contribu -
tion to the American scene is not so much
measured in height as it is in sweeping curves,
in poles disappearing into so-called “cheese
holes” in the ceiling. After winning court battles
to buy the old Firestone Estate on 43rd Street
and Collins, Novack brought Lapidus to design
the Fontainebleau Hotel. They fought often,
with Lapidus saying he got what he wanted by
making Novack believe it was Novack’s idea.
The $15 million, 565-room hotel opened
on Dec. 20, 1954 with pomp and ceremony.
The Fontainebleau achieved immediate worldwide
status and became Miami Beach’s signa -
ture building. So well known was the
Fontainebleau that until Steve Muss and the
Hilton people took over the hotel, there was
not even a sign in front showing its name.
In 1960, Lapidus was to leave another mark
on Miami Beach. It was the Lincoln Road Mall,
a switchover from a two-way street for automobiles
and pricey shops to a pedestrian mall in
which the times, more likely than the design,
spelled gloom for the historic boulevard.
Ironically, it was a hotel not in Miami Beach
but in two municipalities north—past Surfside,
in Bal Harbour—that brought immense publicity
to Miami Beach. It came in the form of radio
and television broadcasts by Arthur Godfrey
from Tom Raffington’s 1946-built Kenilworth
Hotel near Baker’s Haulover Cut. In addition to
the high visibility success Miami Beach publicity
guru Hank Meyer reaped when he got Harry
Truman to pose for photographers wearing one
A yacht beckons in front of the Eden Roc Hotel. (PHOTO BY RANDALL ROBINSON)
of his client’s loud cabana shirts, this was one of
the publicist’s earliest giant successes.
What Godfrey began, others began to
duplicate. Other television shows started emanating
from Miami Beach, always at the time of
year when it was pleasant there and fiercely
unfortunate elsewhere. Among them were Ed
Sullivan, host of CBS’ “Talk of the Town”
Sunday night variety show, and Jack Paar,
whose NBC “Tonight” show was popular.
National telecasts reached their peak a decade
after Godfrey had begun his, highlighted by
the appearance at Miami Beach’s Deauville
Hotel of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show,
and the move of Jackie Gleason’s comedy show
from New York to Miami Beach.
The area south of Lincoln Road always
catered to moderate to lower income people,
and it continued that way, not so much impacted
by the Cubans, but by retired people who
had come south, principally from New York, to
live out their days in sunshine and warmth.
The unique hotels on Ocean Drive had been
taken over by the elderly. On any day, from the
’50s to the ’80s, the sight of hundreds of
retirees sitting on webbed chairs on the porches
of these hotels was a familiar one. Derisively,
the younger generation referred to those hotel
porches as “God’s Waiting Room.”
Transformation was becoming a prevailing
word in the Miami Beach lexicon. The icons of
early Miami Beach were coming down, being
replaced by the new: not necessarily better but
new. N.B.T. Roney’s magnificent hotel came
down for an apartment house; Carl Fisher’s first
Beach home gave way to a restaurant; Smith’s
Casino was demolished for apartment houses;
even Joe’s Stone Crab knocked down the Weiss
family’s original house for parking space alongside
the newer restaurant and living quarters.
Like targets in a shooting gallery, early hotels
such as the Flamingo, Fleetwood, Pancoast,
Whitman-Robert Richter were knocked off in
the name of progress. Almost miraculously,
because the Art Deco movement had not yet
begun, the small hotels of Ocean Drive remained
relatively intact, awaiting their Renaissance.
“Life’s a beach” on South Beach with sun, sand and
colorful architecture. (PHOTO BY ANTOINETTE NATURALE)
46 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
On Jan. 1, 1959, Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista
fled Havana ahead of a popular advancing
rebel army headed by Fidel Castro. What followed
was to forever change the history and
lifestyle of South Florida. Much of professional
Cuba was the first element of that island to
seek sanctuary in South Florida. In those earliest
years of the Cuban Diaspora, Miami Beach
was far less affected than Miami until the
Mariel Boatlift in 1980. At the time, South
Beach was decaying, and the new refugees—
far less financially-braced than the first wave in
1960—drifted in to fill the vacancies of the
declining South Beach hotels. With it came
crime problems and, as a result, the elderly
Jewish community began to emigrate from the
area. Southern Miami Beach now would hear
the strains of Latin rather than Yiddish music.
At the same time, another remarkable transformation
was taking place under the forceful
prose of a former New York magazine writer,
Barbara Baer Capitman. She and designer
Leonard Horowitz spoke of their fondness for
the 1930s-era hotel on the ocean front. Meetings
were held, groups were organized and, voila!, the
Art Deco Movement was formed with the purpose
of saving and restoring the decaying hotels.
Barbara Capitman led a revolution on
Miami Beach that today is represented by the
first registered historic district in Miami Beach.
And Art Deco, a heretofore vague idiom created
subsequent to the construction of buildings
now described as being that, became a stock
term among travel agents and tourists. In 1963,
not only was Art Deco a non-existent term, but
the myriad designs that came to be known by
that name were so lightly regarded that a booklet
published that year by the South Florida
Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
ran photographs of 80 examples of architecture
in the Greater Miami area—and not one of
them portrayed any of the buildings that later
would be lumped together as Art Deco.
Capitman’s Miami Design Preservation
League pressured politicians and developers to
see the latent value of the small hotels. At a
hearing on Dec. 13, 1978, a state review board
heard Capitman’s plea proposing National
Register of Historic Places designation for the
roughly 1,200-building district, which was
bordered on the east by the ocean, on the
south by Sixth Street, on the west by a line
slightly east of Alton Road and by Washington
Avenue north of Lincoln Road, and on the
north roughly by the Collins Canal and 23rd
A Miami Beach mansion provides impressive scenery for boaters. (PHOTO BY RANDALL ROBINSON)
Street. The meeting turned out to be an Art
Deco love-in. It opened with a City of Miami
Beach proclamation honoring Capitman, then
settled down as government officials, businessmen
and architectural and artistic types
praised Art Deco. On May 15, 1979, a photo of
Barbara Capitman appeared in the Miami
Herald. It showed her jubilant, with her face
turned toward the heavens and her arms raised
in joy. Behind her was the 1939 Hohauserdesigned
Cardozo Hotel on Ocean Drive.
Despite the powerful opposition, she won. The
National Register of Historic Places designated
the neighborhood as “Old Miami Beach.”
Capitman and her son Andrew made a personal
investment in the new district, purchasing
the Victor Hotel at 1144 Ocean Drive and
beginning a $75,000 restoration project in
September 1980. The Victor, designed by L.
Murray Dixon in 1937, reopened in December,
with guests adorned in 1930s attire thus set -
ting a style mood that was to become standard
in the district. Despite this euphoria, several
other buildings in the district were torn down
for new projects. Despite those losses, her crusade
was largely successful. Capitman died on
March 29, 1990 at the age of 69.
As a result of her persistence, the fact of the
Cuban migration and a movement of young
people to the city, Miami Beach’s demographics
were turned topsy-turvy. Elderly people were
forced out of their previously rental apartments
by the high cost of the same apartment as a condominium.
For all its pain and agony, for its
internecine warfare, Miami Beach nevertheless
was not only surviving its civic ordeals, but was
prospering in spite of it. Throughout the world,
it was being linked to the chic destinations of
the rich and famous, utilized as a fashion-photo
center by international houses and publications.
Miami Beach has been a city driven by
powerful people, not always powerful as in
rich, but powerful, who have made great
impacts in their day. And with each passing
announcement or construction of a new hotel,
towering apartment house or condominium,
Miami Beach’s physical image rotates just a little
more. When John Collins came to the ocean
beach shortly after the turn of the century and
wondered what to do about all the property he
had obtained, he believed the answer was in
avocados. At the time, he was right. What
evolved from that, in such a relatively short
time of the planet’s history, would have
stunned him to his Quaker roots.
The Shops of Bal Harbour, built on the the northern half
of Miami Beach at 9700 Collins, was developed in the
1960s by Stanley Whitman, who was “consumed with the
idea of a location with the most beautiful shops in the
world.” They offer a tranquil setting for upscale shopping.
(COURTESY OF BAL HARBOUR SHOPS)
Howard Kleinberg is a Miami historian and the author of three books, Miami: The Way We Were, The Florida Hurricane and Disaster/1992, and Miami Beach:
A History. For 38 years he was with The Miami News, beginning as a sports writer and working his way up to editor, a post he held for the last twelve years of the
newspaper’s existence. He is a national columnist for Cox Newspapers and also writes a weekly column for The Miami Herald based on his perspective of Miami history.
He and his wife of 47 years live in South Dade. Their four children and nine grandchildren all live in South Florida.
CHAPTER X ✧ 47
The Grand Concourse Apartments, completed in 1926, just before the real estate boom collapsed, were the first—and last—of a series of apartments and hotels planned for Miami Shores. The
Mediterranean Revival structure was designed by noted architect Robert Law Weed. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
MIAMI SHORES AND EL PORTAL
B Y S ETH B RAMSON
While Miami Shores Village was incorporated
on January 2, 1932, the community actually
goes back to William Gleason, a New York entrepreneur
who showed up in the area in the late
1870s. He established his business and a post
office at approximately what was to become NE
12th Avenue and 99th Street.
Gleason held a great deal of power in those
days and seemed to control the county commission
at the time. However, others were moving
into the area, and farming was becoming both a
cash crop and a subsistence issue. One of the
major crops was the coontie, which, after substantial
cooking, could be converted to starch. In
fact, in 1904, coontie gave the area, by now
known as Biscayne, one of its few industries
when A.B. Hurst opened a starch factory and
sawmill at what is now NE Second Avenue and
When the first county road was built into the
area in 1892, the Biscayne post office was
opened, or re-opened, depending on the source.
Old postmarks indicate that the name was in use
in 1923. The post office was serviced by trains of
the Florida East Coast Railway, which reached
Miami in April of 1896. The FEC station was
located at 103rd Street, and the tracks are now
the site of the Miami Shores golf course.
In 1901, Major Hugh Gordon, the son of
Confederate General John B. Gordon, moved
into the area and began planting large crops of
tomato and pineapple and laying out what
would become an extensive grapefruit grove. In
1905, Miami furniture leader T.V. Moore bought
the property owned by William and Mary
Brooks and began planting grapefruit and
pineapple on a large scale.
By 1917, Lee T. Cooper, formerly of Dayton,
Ohio, had quietly purchased much of the Moore
property, and, along with other acreage, owned
some 1300 acres in the area. Cooper would
found the town of El Portal and would name part
of his property Bay View Estates. It was Bay View
Estates that, essentially, became Miami Shores.
By 1923, just in time for what would become
one of the greatest land selling booms in United
States history, Cooper and his associate, Dayton
druggist Harry Tressler, had platted 127 acres,
mostly on both sides of West Dixie Highway
(N.E. Second Avenue) between Little River and
N.E. 95th Street.
It was in this time frame that Hugh Anderson
appeared on the scene. Though little has been
written about him, Anderson was one of South
Florida’s most unique characters and was a prime
force in the development of what would become
Anderson had developed the Venetian Islands
Company and was the builder of the Venetian
Causeway, so he was intimately familiar with the
Miami area. It was his belief in the future that led
him to offer Cooper $2 million for his acreage.
Cooper agreed, but kept what would become El
Portal. Anderson, with his associates Roy C.
Wright, Mrs. Ellen S. Harris, and J.B. Jeffries,
formed the Miami Shores and Shoreland
Companies. They believed that if George Merrick
could do what he was doing with Coral Gables,
creating “The City Beautiful,” they could develop
“America’s Mediterranean” in Miami Shores.
With millions of dollars in real estate sales in
the mid-1920s, the future looked secure for the
Shoreland Company. In fact, Anderson and his
partners were so sure that the boom would continue
indefinitely, that they committed to building
a series of islands in Biscayne Bay, extending
from the Venetian Islands north and connected
by what was to be known as “The Mid Bay
Causeway.” The plan was never executed.
The Shoreland Company owned not only
what was to become the Village of Miami Shores,
but also extensive acreage in what is now North
Miami. In fact, the original Shoreland Company
property included what, years later, would
become the Broad Causeway, as well as what was
to become Indian Creek Island. Millions and
millions of dollars were spent by the Shoreland
Company, but it would all soon come to a crashing
On February 5, 1925, the residents of what was
then known as Arch Creek incorporated the area
north of N.E. 121st Street as Miami Shores. That
name in that area would last only seven years.
On September 17th and 18th 1926, Miami’s
most devastating hurricane put an end to the
great boom, bringing down dozens, if not hundreds,
of real estate schemes and developments,
eventually including the Shoreland Company. By
1928 Bessemer properties had taken control of
the defaulted properties of the Miami Shores
With Roy Hawkins (credited as the founder of
today’s Miami Shores) at the helm, the Miami
Shores area, which had actually been part of the
City of Miami, petitioned the state legislature for
de-annexation, as near-bankrupt Miami was simply
unable to provide municipal services to the
area north of N.E. 87th Street. In 1931, the legislature
granted the petition of the Bessemer properties
to become independent. Although a town of
Miami Shores existed north of 121st Street, the
48 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Designed by Kiehnel and Elliott, this Mediterranean Revival
home was built in 1925-26 for Roy C. Wright, vice president
of the Shoreland Development Company. Original antique
Cuban roof tiles added to its Old World charm. The house is
now being restored by its present owner, Perry Alexander.
The Miami Shores Theater, erected in 1946, hosted many movie premieres. The theater was designed by Miami architect Harold P. Stewart.
(COURTESY OF THE SETH BRAMSON COLLECTION)
(PHOTO BY MARK GREENE)
Hawkins petition for his community to become
Miami Shores carried the day, with the argument
that it had a prior claim to the name. With
Hawkins’ clout, the Miami Shores name was given
to the community now known as Miami Shores.
The former town of Miami Shores became the
Town, and later the City, of North Miami.
The Story of Miami Shores, is of course,
replete with tales, fables and anecdotes, but the
success of the Village (the community has never
This elegant Colonial-Revival style home graces NE 95th
Street in Miami Shores. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
used any name but Village of Miami Shores) has
been based as much on good fortune as on
strong and strict enforcement of zoning codes.
For many years, Lawton McCall served as the village
manager, and, with only two exceptions, the
management of the Village has been in strong
and capable hands.
Another facet of Village life was the Country
Club. During the depression, in 1936, Bessemer
donated 20 acres to the Village for use as a park.
Built with the help of the WPA, this park would
eventually become Miami Shores Country Club,
for many years a fine and elegant private club,
and the only municipally owned private club in
the state of Florida. The club is now leased out
and is no longer considered “private.”
Today, Miami Shores is a “Village” of over
10,000 people. It is the home of two highly regarded
educational institutions: Miami Country Day
School , started by the Miami Shores Presbyterian
Church, and the co-educational Barry University,
founded in 1940 as a Catholic college for women.
Miami Shores prides itself on its “small town”
feeling. Its streets are lined with many beautiful
homes, no small number of them being meticulously
maintained from the original Shoreland
Company construction. Miami Shores, which
refers to itself as “The Village Beautiful” retains a
charm and grace that, sadly, has been lost in far
too many other areas of Miami-Dade County.
Located adjacent to Miami Shores is the
Village of El Portal, a charming residential neighborhood
incorporated in 1938. It was originally
a twenty-six acre estate purchased from Julia
Tuttle for $l30,000 in 1898 by Ferney McVeigh,
a botanist who transformed the property into a
lush garden. In 1925, the land was purchased by
D.C. Clarke, who envisioned turning it into
“Miami’s most beautiful and picturesque subdivision.”
The development originally was to have
had an English theme, and was called Sherwood
Forest. One English Tudor style home was constructed
before the boom ended. The handsome
house still survives, at 301 NE 86th Street, with
a gabled roof, textured stucco exterior and halftimber
El Portal stretches from 86th Street and
Biscayne Boulevard, where it has footage for
one block, west to NW 2nd Avenue. Its southern
boundary is NE-NW 85th Street at Little
River, and on the north it borders Miami Shores
just north of 90th Street. Although the only
business section of El Portal is the block that
fronts on Biscayne Boulevard, El Portal does
allow offices on NE 2nd Avenue that are compatible
with the municipality.
The Village of El Portal boasts the first archeological
site to be preserved by Dade County.
The El Portal Archeological Zone and Burial
Mound is located on the northern bank of the
Little River, situated on an elevated ridge at 370
NE 86th Street to 500 NE 87th Street.
It includes a prehistoric Indian burial
mound, a prehistoric Indian village, a mid-nineteenth
century pioneer homesite and a midnineteenth
century coontie mill. The burial
mound, an oval about fifty feet in diameter and
four feet in height, represents nearly 1800 years
of Indian habitation. The zone was dedicated as
a public park in the 1920s and commemorated
with a plaque originally placed by the Daughters
of the American Revolution. It is still a well
maintained public green space.
The lights of Miami Shores Presbyterian Church, which
founded Miami Country Day School, shine in the darkness.
(COURTESY OF THE SETH BRAMSON COLLECTION)
Seth Bramson came to Miami with his parents in 1946. The Miami Herald refers to him as “near-native,” and many refer to him as “Mr. Miami Memorabilia.” A professor
at Johnson & Wales University, he is founder and current president of the Miami Memorabilia Collector’s Club and is the Company Historian of the Florida East Coast
Railway. His book Speedway to Sunshine: The Story of the Florida East Coast Railway is the official history of the railroad. In addition to the book, he has written more
than 70 articles on Florida local and transportation history, and his collections of FEC Railway memorabilia, Floridiana and Miamiana are legendary.
CHAPTER XI ✧ 49
Students stand outside the Arch Creek School in 1906. (COURTESY OF THE WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN LIBRARY ARCHIVES)
BISCAYNE PARK, FULFORD-BY-THE-SEA, NORTH MIAMI AND AVENTURA
B Y M ALINDA C LEARY
In the America of the 1800s agriculture was
dominant. Florida was blessed with cheap and
abundant land and a ten-month growing sea -
son. The adventurous hearty souls seeking new
beginnings were welcomed to this Edenic environment.
Isolated clusters of settlements began
to increase in size and number. By the end of
the 19th century, Henry Flagler’s Florida East
Coast Railroad was the fertilizer for the sturdy
settlement roots that blossomed into the
uncontrolled land boom years of the 1920s.
The F.E.C. enabled unprecedented population
growth into South Florida and continuous
shipment of the produce from the fruitful subtropical
land to the north.
As Flagler extended his railroad south of
St. Augustine to the Florida extremities, the
stations strategically located in northern Dade
County began with Ojus; the Fulford station
was a mile to the south. Arch Creek, Biscayne,
Little River, Lemon City and Buena Vista completed
the southern route for railroad stops.
Though the areas around these station loca -
tions had been settled by homesteaders long
before the arrival of the railroad, at the beginning
of the century the farmland was trans -
formed by the railroad into the present dis -
tinct areas of Biscayne Park, Fulford and
The most visual references to our past are the
buildings created for specific purposes at relevant
times. Miami’s architectural environment is
relatively new to the span of its history, but it has
emerged from a natural landscape to one of
urban complexity. Historical landmarks have
materialized to become either venerated or
destroyed from the often confusing and com -
plex converging of the natural and the man -
made. The survivors remain as symbols not only
of their creators but also of the times in which
they were created. While perhaps they are not
necessarily tidings of antiquity, the isolated remnants
do vitalize a memory of past struggles as
well as grandeur. Biscayne Park, Fulford, and
North Miami make their architectural contributions
to the passing of time and the animation of
Miami’s varied distinctive local histories.
In the intricate composition that embodies
Greater Miami, the small, triangular, residential
area of Biscayne Park survives very much as it
was originally created nearly seventy-five years
ago. The “Park,” as it is more commonly called,
is two-thirds of a square mile. It is bordered by
the City of North Miami on the north, the
Florida East Coast Railroad tracks on the east,
and the Biscayne Canal on the west. The grid
of thoroughfares is designed with numerous
parkways and extensive medians, their green
lawns and large trees giving the geometrically
defined Village of Biscayne Park its distinctive
The Village is protected by its own police
force and the watchful eyes of its citizens. It is a
strictly residential community of a little more
than 3,000 and is zoned for single family residences
and duplexes. Its occasional apartment
houses were built before the town was created
in 1931 and before the 1945 zoning ordinances.
In 1921, when Miami was preparing for the
soon-to-arrive flood of land speculators, the area
that was to become Biscayne Park was unincorporated,
undeveloped and for the most part
fields of tomatoes belonging to Arthur Mertlow
Griffing. Griffing was originally from Norwich,
New York and had settled in Florida in 1903 to
manage the Little River nursery. He built a large
home and established Griffing Tropical
Nurseries and Groves in and around a sevenacre
site that today is the Colonial Shopping
Center along Dixie Highway and 125th Street in
North Miami. Griffing was a landscaper for Carl
Fisher’s Miami Beach projects. By 1917 the horticulturist
changed hats to become a developer.
By the 1920s, Griffing had acquired and
began developing land along the Dixie
50 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Highway north of Miami. The nursery was sold
and the land subdivided and named Griffing
Biscayne Park Estates. Griffing continued his
love of landscaping by carefully planting the
area with shrubs and trees so that Biscayne Park
Estates resembled a huge botanical garden.
Early in January 1923, Griffing began
advertising in the Miami Daily Metropolis and
set up a miniature of the Park on the grounds
of the Halcyon Hotel on Flagler Street.
Prospective buyers were shuttled from downtown
Miami to the new “Gateway to Miami.”
Griffing combined his land sales enthusiasm
with his nursery promotions by offering free
strawberry shortcake to potential buyers. They
were promised a 100 to 300 per cent return on
their investments as had those who bought
only a few years before.
One of Griffin’s earliest advertisements
appearing in the Metropolis beckoned potential
residents with the lure of “splendid rich soil
almost free of rock.” Additional enticements
promised that “a big kitchen garden and a yard
full of clean healthy chickens are luxuries you
can have at Biscayne Park.” Looking for young
families to live in his new development,
Griffing also provided a safe environment for
children to play near their homes by creating
many culs-de-sac. Today these same spaces
continue as mini parks that inhibit a speedway
for a volume of traffic Griffing could never
The well-landscaped streets, medians and
park areas laid out by Griffing set the stage for
the first homes erected in the development,
costing between $4,000 and $4,500. The
Village homes were described in a Miami
Herald advertisement in March 1923 as having
“distinctividuality.” Within a year the firm
The accents of Mission-style homes throughout Biscayne Park are easily recognized today by their simplicity of form, stuccoed walls
and flat roofs fronted with parapets. (PHOTO BY MALINDA CLEARY)
The Works Progress Administration built a log cabin for the Biscayne Park Village Hall , a reference to the Depression as well as
to the simplicity of American frontier days. It officially opened in January, 1935 and is still used today. (PHOTO BY MALINDA CLEARY)
reported three-fourths of the original development
had been sold, and those interested in
the remaining lots were urged to come before
it was too late and prices increased. The strawberry
shortcake incentive was upgraded to a
mixed box of grapefruit and oranges.
By 1929, the Park contained 62 homes, and
through the 1930s, sixty more were built. In
the Park, as well as in the greater Miami area,
the years following the World War II were the
most expansive. More than two hundred
homes were added to the residential register
during this period. The Park’s comfortable
modest homes are a varied architectural mixture
that reflects the decades in which they
were created. The “distinctividuality” homes of
the 1920s and 1930s are today a major contribution
to the enchantment of Biscayne Park.
Individualized Mission Revival Style homes are
scattered throughout the Park, and one or
more of these attractive, well-built homes can
be found within any square block.
The Mission/Mediterranean style was a natural
for south Florida’s climate, which is similar
to the areas around the Mediterranean Sea.
The style was ideal for boom time conditions
existing in south Florida in the 1920s. Homes
as well as businesses could be built quickly at
a minimum construction cost with the application
of concrete and plaster applied to a wood
frame and a few decorations and finishing
touches. The accents of Mission—style homes
throughout Biscayne Park are easily recognized
by their simplicity of form, stuccoed surfaces
and flat roofs fronted with parapets.
By a vote of its 113 citizens, the Town of
Biscayne Park was incorporated on December
31, 1931, and, on June 16, 1933, a state charter
was granted, changing the name to the Village of
Biscayne Park. The Mission/Mediterranean style
of the homes, which reflected America’s historical
European connections, was not chosen for
the Biscayne Park Village Hall. Rather, the
Works Progress Administration built a log cabin,
a clear and distinct reference to the Depression
as well as to the simplicity of the American frontier
days. On February 1, 1933, at the height of
the Depression, the Federal Emergency Relief
Program provided the labor for the Dade
County pine construction. William Green, a resident
of the Park, as well as a Councilperson,
was a Regional Administrator for the Federal
program and was certainly instrumental in the
creation of the Park’s singular and distinctive
The charm and simplicity of the Log Cabin
is matched with the economic austerity with
which it was constructed. The major expenses
of materials and labor were provided by the
donations of Dade County pine logs by the
county and of labor compliments of the Works
Progress Administration. Actual expenses
incurred were a grand total of $247.00, met by
individual donations of $5-$20 and gifts from
the Card Club that ranged from $10 to $22.
The balance sheet of donations and expenditures
begins February 1, 1933 and ends with
the building’s completion in January of 1935. In
light of today’s multiple million dollar projects,
CHAPTER XII ✧ 51
The Florida East Coast Railroad opened up development of South Florida by hauling produce north and tourists south, as
can be seen in this 1920s photo of the FEC loading platform at the Alabama Hotel in North Dade.
(THELMA RIDDLE PHOTO, COURTESY OF THE SETH BRAMSON COLLECTION)
these modest sums seem very quaint, but when
held in the light of the circumstances in which
they occurred during the national depression,
they reflect generous and caring residents and a
community project that was conscientious and
At a special ceremony on January 24, 1935
the finished Log Cabin was officially turned
over to the Village, and to this day has been a
center for the daily operations of the Park.
Since its creation in the Thirties, the Village
Hall has been the prized symbol of Biscayne
Park. Forty years after its creation the rever -
ence for the cabin was assured by the Civic,
Garden, and Women’s clubs seeking and
obtaining historic designation for the building
as a Dade County Landmark.
As homeowners carry on the traditions of
keeping Biscayne Park green and clean, Arthur
Griffing’s Botanical Garden continues to thrive.
All the residents, especially the younger families,
appreciate the safe environment found
within the confines of the triangular community.
A walk in the park is possible for any resi -
dent night and day, and it is not unusual to see
a neighbor at 6:00 a.m. or 8:00 p.m. out for a
In the early 1920s the city of North Miami
Beach was better known as Fulford-by-the-Sea,
an area west of the railroad tracks and Dixie
Highway and in no way near the sea. Locally,
and more truthfully, Fulford-by-the-Sea was
named “Fulford-by-the-FEC” (Florida East
The site was named after the popular
Captain William Hawkins Fulford, the keeper
of the House of Refuge, which had been created
in 1876 at the New River inlet. The House
of Refuge was one of five that the government
had created to aid and support shipwrecked
mariners. By the 1890s, due to improvements
in navigational guides as well as ship construction,
the purpose of the Houses of Refuge
segued into one of hospitality. The genial and
hospitable Captain Fulford and his wife had
repeat customers who were subjects for newspaper
articles appearing in the Metropolis
Fulford-by-the-Sea was in no way by the sea, being west of the railroad tracks, but it was imaginatively promoted in the
1920s, as can be seen by this bus for potential customers. (COURTESY OF THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN FLORIDA)
The town of Fulford was originally the hundred
acres located near Snake Creek (presently
the Oleta River area) which Captain William
Hawkins Fulford had claimed for a homestead
in October 1891. By 1900 Fulford was a thriving
farm center with a railway depot, and by
the early 1920s Lafe Allen and Joshua
Reynolds began the 557-acre subdivision
Wide streets were a priority for the new
boom-time city, with some of the streets in the
business section to be 125 feet wide. Lots for
Fulford-by-the-Sea began selling in 1922. Two
years later the original development was
bought out by Merle C. Tebbetts and his
Florida Cities Finance Company. Tebbetts
This eclectic neoclassical monument at NE 172 Street and 23
Avenue is the only lasting memorial to Fulford by the Sea.
(COURTESY OF THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN FLORIDA)
added a water plant, a community social hall,
imposing stone gateways and a memorial fountain
to the nascent development.
Stiff competition for land sales created originality
in promotions, and Merle Tebbetts was
among the best of the dream merchants of the
boom years. Tebbetts’ development began its
1924 advertising campaign by boasting of a
million-dollar improvement program. By the
summer, additional improvements would
make the development into a “High Class” residential
subdivision. The sales offices at 145
East Flagler Street included a lecture room and
concert stage for a ten-piece orchestra to play
two daily concerts.
Tebbetts’ unbridled enthusiasm and magnanimity
also made for an interesting footnote in
the history of the University of Miami. As soon
as the City of Miami obtained a charter for
its university in 1925, four sites were under
52 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
consideration for its construction: Miami Beach,
the northern section of Miami, the southeast
section, and the southwest area where Florida
International University is presently located. It
seems likely that Tebbetts, as president of
Florida Cities Finance Company, made an
offer to the city fathers to sell them property to
locate the new university in north Miami. When
Coral Gables’ George Merrick’s more than gen -
erous offer was quickly accepted, Tebbetts’ offer
of land for the University of Miami quickly
became his own design for a university in
North Miami which he then boasted of as a
potential recreational center of unparalleled
beauty and wholesomeness.
Tebbetts declared Fulford-By-The-Sea was
not a “paper city,” and advertisements pro -
claimed the development consisted of large
parks, facilities for recreation and sports, broad
landscaped streets, wide sidewalks, water service,
and an adequate storm sewage system.
Additionally, an electrical lighting system and
all city services and facilities would be provid -
ed. In reality, there were few if any of the amenities
listed that were actually provided, and, following
the 1926 disaster, postal authorities
began legal proceeding against M.C. Tebbetts
and the Florida Cities Finance Company for
fraudulent use of the mails. The following April
after he was arrested on the mail fraud charges,
Tebbetts’ subdivision went bankrupt.
Tebbetts’ one claim to fame is a North
Miami Beach footnote known as “Fulford’s
Folly.” Early in 1926 plans were announced for
a 12,000-seat, wooden-banked auto track for a
$30,000 race. Even though Fulford-By-The-
Sea claimed a perfect zoning system that permanently
protected residential property from
business encroachment, the track was con -
structed. Despite the rail embargo and scarce
building supplies throughout Dade County,
construction began August 24, 1925. The first
300-mile race was on Washington’s Birthday
February 22, 1926. Again, imagination and
enthusiasm collided with reality, and prize
money and crowd estimates were less than
originally envisioned. In the one and only race,
Peter De Paolo set a world average speed
record of 129.29 miles per hour, and the fastest
lap ever turned on a closed course, 142.91
mph, was set by Bob McDonough.
The new world records set that day rightly
had witnesses believing that the new speedway
would bring big-time auto-racing to South
Florida. Plans were made for the new season
and other racing events were projected for the
fabulous Fulford oval. The high winds of the
September 17th hurricane totally devastated
the wooden structure. An incredible amount of
time, talent and treasure had been spent for the
The William Jennings Bryan Elementary School, built in 1930, stands on the site of the original 1905 Arch Creek School.
(COURTESY OF THE WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN LIBRARY ARCHIVES)
one and only event to be held at the racetrack.
These plans also coincided with the demise
of the Florida Cities Finance Company and the
grand ambitions of M.C. Tebbetts: No race -
track, no university, no beautiful modern city.
The subdivision reverted to its previous owners,
Lafe Allen and Joshua Reynolds, and in
October 1926 the people voted to incorporate
the area and name it simply Fulford. In 1931
Fulford was renamed North Miami Beach. The
only remaining sign of grandeur of the
Fulford-By-The-Sea development is the eclectic
neo-classical monument at NE 172 Street
and 23 Avenue. The monument, marking the
entrance of the subdivision, and the wide
boulevard on which it stands are the lasting
memorials to one of the more colorful cre -
ations of the Florida boom years.
Today’s City of North Miami began as the
general area around Arch Creek. The natural
and abundant resources of the Arch Creek
region had been available to mankind for thousands
of years. Archeological digs have pointed
to Indian habitation here from 500 B.C.
through 1300 A.D. A military path cleared
between Fort Lauderdale and Fort Dallas in
Miami during the Seminole War of 1855-1858
used the natural bridge over Arch Creek.
The first settlers to claim the territory for
any duration were Charles J. Ihle and his friend
Henry John Burkhardt in the late 1880s.
Newly discharged from the Marine Corps, they
decided to return to the enjoyable environs of
Florida. Burkhardt continued his wanderings,
but Ihle called home the 80 acres of land he
purchased from the State of Florida for one
dollar an acre in the Arch Creek region.
Ihle sold 40 acres and planted the other
forty in tropical fruits and tomatoes, his pri -
mary income crop. Surpluses were sent by
schooner to Key West and then on to the
north. As Flagler moved his railroad south in
1896, he decided to place a station at Arch
Creek. The station, built in 1903, was located
where the present 125th Street crosses the railroad
track. The FEC station additionally served
as a community center for parties and gettogethers.
For the most part the area remained
farmland settled by men who saw the beauty
and bounty of the land. Land speculation and
development emerged twenty years later.
By the 1920s, more families had moved into
the Arch Creek area and to the newly created
suburbs of Fulford-by-the-Sea and Griffing’s
Biscayne Park Estates. In the midst of the
Florida Boom years, the residents of the northern
end of the county decided to incorporate. A
meeting was held at Irons Manor, which had
been a brief and unsuccessful development in
the present 135th Street area. Thirty-eight voters
decided to name the newly incorporated area
Miami Shores. Its claim to the shore was its eastern
border that went from the bay to the ocean.
The southern limit was the city of Miami and
the northern was Golden Glades Boulevard,
three miles south of the Broward County line.
Optimistically, the founders believed that Miami
Shores would become one of the triple Miami
cities—Miami, Miami Beach, Miami Shores.
At the same time, about a mile south of the
town of Miami Shores, the Shoreland Company
named its newly created subdivision Miami
Shores. Quite naturally there was much confusion
between the town of Miami Shores and the
subdivision also named Miami Shores. By 1931,
the state legislature settled the conflict by pass -
ing an act changing the name of the town of
Miami Shores to North Miami and reserving the
name Miami Shores for the subdivision, which
would vote to incorporate on January 2, 1932.
CHAPTER XII ✧ 53
The Natural Bridge at Arch Creek was used by the military during the Seminole War of 1855-58 and was a popular tourist
destination in the early twentieth century. (COURTESY OF THE SETH BRAMSON COLLECTION)
The James Matthews home, at 12615 Arch Creek Road, was built at the turn of the century of Dade County pine. It
withstood the killer hurricane of 1926 while homes built of lath and plaster were destroyed and is well maintained today.
(PHOTO BY MALINDA CLEARY)
Goats, chickens, emus and sheep are part of the barn-yard attractions for school children at the “Little Farm” in the historic
Lemon City area, now known as Little Haiti. (PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
The hurricane of 1926 was no less devas -
tating in north Miami than the rest of the county.
Many of the homes, especially those built of
lath and plaster, were hard hit. The older
homes, built of solid South Florida pine, withstood
the brutal assault. The little home that
remains today at 12615 Arch Creek Road is
visible proof of Dade County pine’s durability.
The home was built just at the turn of the century,
one of four for the employees of a large
fertilizer and packing plant that was located
nearby. The Matthews family purchased the
home in 1929, and it remains in the family
today, lovingly maintained as a visual legacy of
North Miami’s beginnings.
By 1927 the city recognized a need for an
official city hall. It was designed in the popular
Mediterranean style and housed not only offices
for city business but an area for two fire engines.
The superintendent of construction was the
then mayor, and the architect was W.P. Shappell.
North Miami City Hall was dedicated in 1928.
It fronted the only paved street in town at that
time (125th Street) and could additionally boast
of having the only telephone in town.
In an 1959 interview for the Miami News,
J.H. Gribble, a resident since 1908, recalled
that when the phone rang a big gong was heard
throughout the hall. It served the police and
fire departments, the offices of the city and the
700 residents. The public utility was as good as
any reason to gather and chat with city officials
and neighbors. Sadly, the two-storied medieval
confection complete with a bell tower was
replaced in 1964 with a new building. The
telephone gong as well as the nest of white
owls that called the cupola home were erased
from the daily routine of North Miamians.
A lasting landmark for North Miami has
been William Jennings Bryan Elementary
School. It stands on the site of the original
1905 Arch Creek District School. The original
12’ x 20’ classroom expanded to accommodate
the growing student body, and in 1916 a larger
structure was built for children from 79th street
to the Broward Line on an eleven-and-a-halfacre
site. A fire in 1928 destroyed that building.
On January 13, 1930 the new school was dedicated
and named in honor of a nationally prominent
citizen and former resident of Miami,
William Jennings Bryan, who had died in 1925.
Mr. Bryan’s daughter, The Honorable Ruth Bryan
Owens, a Florida Congressional representative,
donated a painting of her father to the school at
the dedication. The $l25,000 school was
designed by E.L. Robertson and constructed by
Henry Sprista. The Mediterranean design with
an open courtyard provided excellent ventilation
and modern equipment. A recent addition complements
the historical style.
54 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
The Spanish Monastery, located at 16711 West Dixie Highway in North Miami, was originally built in Sacramenia, Spain in 1141. The abandoned structure was bought by William Randolph Hearst
for his San Simeon, California estate but collected dust at a Brooklyn warehouse for 26 years. In 1952 it was shipped stone by stone to Miami and reassembled. It is now an Episopal Church.
(COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
The 1926 hurricane narrowed the bound -
aries of North Miami. The bridge from the
mainland to the Haulover Surfside beach had
been destroyed, and the residents withdrew to
form their own city. Others set up their own
municipalities, including the Village of
Biscayne Park, Biscayne Gardens, North Miami
Beach and the Graves tract (Interama).
North Miami’s growth and development
was slow and did not move forward with any
momentum until after World War II, when all
of Miami was again booming. From the end of
the 1940s through the 1950s building permits
were issued for more than $24 million and the
population increased by nearly nine thousand.
The “City of Progress” continues to grow
today as innovations in civic and cultural entities
boast of new and modern facilities. The city’s
120 officers recently moved into their new
39,000-square-foot, four-story complex that is a
model for new station designs throughout the
United States. In the area where the
Mediterranean City Hall once stood is the
impressive Joan Lehman Museum of
Contemporary Art, an institution for major
exhibitions and collections. The building was
created by the renowned New York architect
Charles Gawathmey with Miami’s Jose Gelabert-
Navia Architects. The $3.5 million, 23,000-
square-foot structure brings international recognition
to North Miami as a focal point for cutting
edge exhibitions, in contrast to the sur -
rounding traditional main street storefronts.
The historically rich and culturally diverse
“City of Progress” is the fourth largest city in
Miami -Dade County. If Mr. Ihle could return,
he would be amazed at a population of 52,000
and over 20,000 homes, as well as two major
universities—Florida International University’s
North Miami Campus and Johnson and Wales
University for culinary arts. The one-room
school house has grown to five elementary
schools, three middle schools and one senior
high school. The packing house and general
store have been superseded by over 3,000
businesses that are located within the city’s four
business districts and industrial areas offering a
varied spectrum of goods and services. Firmly
rooted in the past, North Miami looks toward
a bright and sunny future.
When one speaks of Miami’s historic neighborhoods,
Aventura does not immediately leap
to the forefront of a list of distinguished and
long established communities. Yet as earlier
visionaries projected their ideals for a community
onto undeveloped areas, so too did Donald
Soffer, the creator and developer of Aventura.
To most of the Miami-Dade County resi -
dents living south of Flagler Street, Aventura
simply means a shopping center. For the
20,000 citizens living in the four square-mile
area of Aventura, it is home. One of Miami-
Dade County’s newest municipalities,
Aventura’s borders are Broward County on the
north, North Miami Beach on the south, the
Intracoastal Waterway on the east and the
Florida East Coast Railroad on the west.
Aventura was officially incorporated as a city
on November 7, 1995, when the residents
unanimously approved the city’s charter. The
incorporated City’s short history was preceded
by a thirty-year work in progress.
A man of action as well as vision saw the
four-square-mile chunk of swampland in
Northeast Dade County as a blank slate for the
creation of an enclave of exclusive communities.
Don Soffer came, saw and developed, just
as some sixty years earlier Carl Fisher had
Miami Edison Senior High School, alma mater for many
Miami leaders, is now Miami Edison Middle School.
Located in the Little Haiti area, the school has received a
National Trust Award for its beautiful restoration.
(PHOTO BY DAN FORER, COURTESY OF R.J. HEISENBOTTLE ARCHITECTS)
CHAPTER XII ✧ 55
The Aventura Mall opened in 1983 and is one of the largest shopping centers in South Florida. A contemporary
Mediterranean façade encloses a multi-level entertainment center. (COURTESY OF AVENTURA MALL)
developed a mangrove swamp east of the city of
Miami into a “Million Dollar Sandbar” called
Don Soffer and his father Harry had suc -
cessfully created shopping centers in the
Pittsburgh area. Their initial vision for the
North Miami area was a shopping center in a
tropical setting. The area at that time was designated
Biscayne Village. Soffer thought his
new development should convey a livelier,
fun-filled designation, one of adventure.
Biscayne Village became Aventura. By the early
1970s the 785 acres initially purchased were
morphed into a planned community that welcomed
all ages and provided amenities that
would attract those who were seeking the best
in living conditions.
The Soffers had to prepare their site as Carl
Fisher and George Merrick had both done
when they created Miami Beach and Coral
Gables. Carl Fisher’s preparations involved
moving six million cubic yards of bay bottom
onto the land to create Miami Beach. George
Merrick dug a twenty-mile canal connecting
Coral Gables to the Bay area, thus giving him
an advertising boast of having forty miles of
waterfront property. The Soffers dredged and
filled nine million cubic yards, creating a working
base for the planned community.
The next order of business, once Aventura’s
foundation had been established, was the
planting of 50,000 coconut trees from Jamaica.
No image of a tropical experience is without
graceful swaying palms and colorful flowers as
icons for warm breezes and sunny skies that
enhance and complement the architecture.
Soffer insured future maintenance for the new
tropical paradise by creating a permanent
nursery on the premises for propagation of the
community’s plants and shrubs.
Don Soffer’s original plan to build a shopping
mall was extended and modified until a
city was created. When the simple vision
became compound, Turnberry Associates was
created and has in the last thirty years developed
thousands of acres of land, more than
fifteen million square feet of retail space and
some 2,000 apartments and residences. The
master plan for this luxury community began
with residential construction to be followed
by retail and commercial development. The
community was built around a 241-acre
“Central Park,” as Frederick Law Olmsted
created for New York City in the 19th
Century. The Central Park for this South
Florida neighborhood featured two championship
golf courses, which serve as a perfect
backdrop for the high-rise buildings and
Moderate priced homes, as demanded by the
market of the early 1970s, gave way to the full
extent of the original visions. In the early 1980s,
Turnberry Isle emerged with four high-rise towers
on the Intracoastal Waterway. Newer projects
followed throughout the next decades.
Although Soffer sold property to other
developers, and development continues today,
Turnberry Isle set the initial style for accommodations
of prosperity, combining modernity
with Old World standards of hospitality.
Located on 300 acres in the Aventura enclave,
minutes away from either Ft. Lauderdale’s or
Miami’s airport, Turnberry blends privacy, security
and luxury. The thriving resort of Turnberry
in the south-central area of Scotland holds the
original lure for the best a resort can offer. The
name was translated to equal if not superior
recreation and spa area here in South Florida.
The City of Aventura projects much of the
idealism and excitement of Turnberry Isle.
Development of Aventura continues at a
record-setting pace. Abundant, easily accessible
amenities are available for residents, most
of whom live in mid- and high-rise buildings.
Outdoor activities range from pleasant walking
sites to professional golf and tennis facilities
and indoor recreation. There are nineteen plastic/cosmetic
surgery offices in the immediate
area. Churches and schools are conveniently
located and occupations at the professional
level tip the scales.
Preceding the incorporation of the City of
Aventura, the Aventura Mall was opened in
April 1983. It is a joint venture between the
Simon Property Group, Inc. of Indianapolis
and the Turnberry Associates, who manage the
82.7 acres that the mall encompasses at 19501
Biscayne Boulevard. It is a main street and center
city for the surrounding residents as well as
most of their neighbors in northeast Dade
County. Aventura Mall, offering furs to furni -
ture, soup to nuts and bolts, is one of the
largest shopping centers in South Florida. A
contemporary Mediterranean facade encloses
the multilevel, 2.3. million square-foot mall
with more than 250 specialty stores, six major
department stores, a three-level entertainment
component and a 24-screen AMC Theater.
Nearly 6,000 employees are available to an
estimated 20 million shoppers per year. Newer,
smaller malls have been built to more than satisfy
every need as well as whim. Aventura’s former
identification as a shopping destination
has within the last five years of its incorpora -
tion been revised. It is today known as one of
South Florida’s outstanding areas in which to
live, play, shop, dine and do business.
Malinda Cleary is a native Virginian and a resident of Miami for the past 25 years. A proponent and enthusiastic supporter of Miami’s history and historic preservation,
she earned her master’s degree in art history from the University of Miami, focusing on local art and architecture. She has enjoyed promoting Miami-Dade
County’s architectural and cultural legacies as a member of Dade Heritage Trust for the past twenty years. She is currently teaching art history at Florida International
University and coordinating historically and architecturally-based Elderhostels for Barry University.
56 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
In the 1920s, Aviator Glenn Hammond Curtiss, the developer of Opa-locka, commissioned architect Bernhardt Muller to build a theme city. Inspired by The Arabian Knights, Muller constructed
a Moorish town with streets named after characters in the stories. Costumed horsemen galloped out of the City Administration Building in 1927 to greet visitors and prospective buyers.
(COURTESY OF THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN FLORIDA)
OPA-LOCKA: A VISION OF ARABY
B Y T HORN G RAFTON
The City of Opa-locka, in northwest
Miami-Dade County, is one of the most unusual
places one could encounter in urban
America. Opa-locka is a name shortened from
the original Seminole Indian word
“Opatishawockalocka,” meaning “the high
land north of the little river on which there is
an old camping place.” This community,
whose design was inspired by the Tales of the
Arabian Knights, must really be seen to be
believed. Although much has been written and
documented about the history of the town, it is
the actual experience of visiting Opa-locka that
is so astounding.
Opa-locka came on the radar screen of the
preservation community in the late 1970s, but
it would be the late 1980s before the two largest
buildings were restored, with the assistance of
the County and State. Opa-locka now appears
to be poised for more positive change, and even
the long awaited restoration of the railroad sta -
tion appears to be right around the bend.
Opa-locka was the third South Florida com -
munity developed by aviation pioneer Glenn
Curtiss after an amazing career. His numerous
world records and “firsts” include the title of
“Fastest Man of Earth,” after riding a motorcycle
of his own construction one mile in 26 seconds,
or 136 mph, at Ormond Beach, Florida in 1905.
He built and sold the first commercial aircraft in
the world, the Gold Bug, in 1900, landed an airplane
on water for the first time in 1910, and
received USA Pilot’s License Number One in
1911. His commercial success was ensured in
1917 when he was contracted to build 3,500
airplanes for the US Government. By 1920, at
the age of 42, he was so stressed from his business
responsibilities that he “retired” to Florida,
but soon jumped into real estate and developed
Hialeah and Miami Springs.
In 1925, Curtiss hired two professionals
from his native New York—architect Bernhardt
Muller, to design the buildings, and planner
Clinton MacKenzie, to provide the town plan.
MacKenzie previously worked for John Nolen,
the “Dean of American Land Planners.”
The very successful Opa-locka town plan
was a reaction to the uncontrolled expansion
of Curtiss’ Hialeah nucleus; here, everything
within the borders of the town would appear
on the plan. The streets remain virtually the
same today; only the golf course, on the west
side, was not completed, and the land became
the general aviation airport of today. The
Seaboard Airline Railroad defined the base of a
triangle in the plan, and the rail passenger station
MacKenzie located there was for a time the
last stop before arriving at downtown Miami’s
Flagler Street Station. Today, a Tri-Rail stop
adjoins the historic railroad station. The triangle
is wrapped by the curving Sharazad
Boulevard, and outside the central triangle
streets radiate in gentle spokes. The MacKenzie
plan is a great functional and aesthetic asset to
the community today.
Muller’s thematic architecture is likely the
largest concentrated collection of buildings in
the “Moorish Revival” style in the country.
Today, there are approximately twenty houses
and nine commercial buildings that essentially
retain their original design. Many original
buildings have lost their character-defining
CHAPTER XIII ✧ 57
The City Administration Building, designed with minarets,
portals and shady courtyards, was restored in 1987.
(PHOTO BY THORN GRAFTON)
features. Stucco-covered wood frame domes
that deteriorated were either roofed over or
replaced with pitched roofs. Many metalcapped
minarets (slender towers) toppled and
were not replaced, although some still exist.
Keyhole arches, crennelated parapets, stucco
walls with zigzags, striped banding or coral
rock rubble inserts, accents of polychrome
ceramic tile, and other Moorish-Arabesque features
help identify the original buildings.
The definitive, must-read architectural history
of the town is Dream and Substance: Araby and the
Planning of Opa-locka by Catherine Lynn. Lynn’s
deeply researched account weaves the ancient
middle-eastern folklore through its incorporation
into western culture and eventually into the inspiration
for Muller’s designs of the various buildings.
Like Princess Sheherazede’s (simplified to
Sharazad for Opa-locka) nightly tales told to save
her life at the hands of a brutal, bored king, the
main buildings of the town are like stories within
a story. Exactly how the Arabian Knights inspiration
was transformed into an architectural con -
cept, and who was involved, is described in three
varying historic anecdotes, along with Lynn’s own
perspective of the culture of the 1920s thematic
real estate development in Florida.
Muller appears to have been dissuaded
from his first stylistic choice—a village of
English thatched cottages. This is probably fortunate,
because if the domes had trouble
standing the test of time, imagine the thatched
roofs. One variant on the style, Muller’s stark
“Egyptian Bank,” which resembles an Egyptian
Temple, actually opened as a church and still
serves the needs of a local congregation today.
In 1928, Curtiss had Muller working on
designs for a Chinese-styled hotel, inspired by
the tale of “Aladdin and his Lamp,” as prosperous
times were beginning to wane.
The pinnacle of Architect Muller’s work at
Opa-locka is the City Administration Building,
a whimsical assemblage of rocket-like
minarets, domed volumes and arched portals
revealing shady courtyards complete with
white tiled fountains. Completed in late 1926
after nine months of construction, this architectural
tour-de-force is an apparition, a mirage
at the end of Opa-locka Boulevard. A restoration
designed by Beilinson Architects was completed
in 1987. The building today houses city
government and is the focus for the annual
Arabian Knights Festival.
Muller’s Hurt Building (originally a real
estate office/auto service station/retail store/
hotel) was in such decay that the City sold it to
the Opa-locka Community Development
Corporation (OLCDC) for one dollar. It was
the subject of the second significant restoration
in 1991, designed by my own firm. The
restoration included reconstructing the main
dome with a structure of bent steel pipe. The
26-foot-wide diameter interior volume of the
main dome is the reception area for the offices
of the Opa-locka Community Development
Corp. and State Representative Willie Logan.
The initial construction boom in Opa-locka
was so vibrant that the five-month-old town boasted
30 residences and 60 buildings in mid-1926.
The devastating September 1926 Hurricane was
only a momentary setback (the New York papers
falsely reported that Glenn Curtiss had died in the
storm), with late 1926 a period of intense con -
struction and real estate sales.
By early 1927, Opa-locka had become a
destination for socialites to the point that revelers
in Arabic costumes would travel in open
motorcars between Opa-locka and downtown
or Coral Gables. Perhaps the biggest social
event was the welcoming of Seaboard Airline’s
“Orange Blossom Special” on its inaugural run
from Miami to New York in January of 1927.
As a centerpiece of this event, a horseman costumed
as the “Grand Vizier of the Sheikdom of
Opa-locka” galloped out the main portal of the
City Administration Building, sword drawn
overhead, on his way down to meet the great
“iron horse” at the station. Perhaps the most
famous photograph from Opa-locka’s history is
this dramatic image.
Frank Fitzgerald Bush, in his very personal,
insider’s view of the city’s history called A
Dream of Araby, argues that the spectacles were
not only real estate hokum, but were a kind of
theatrical entertainment greatly enjoyed by the
residents who could participate.
The magic of Opa-locka began to fade by
the midsummer of 1927, as Opa-locka’s
investors began to pull out. When the stock
market crashed in 1928, even the driven
Curtiss ended his spending on construction.
The Dream essentially died when Curtiss did,
in July 1930, in Buffalo, NY, of complications
from appendicitis. Although Opa-locka boosterism
continued during the Great Depression,
Curtiss’ company sold its assets to the City
and, in the late 1930s, to the US Government
for a Naval Air Station.
Recreational facilities already in place for military
use included Curtiss’ Archery Club and an
elaborate swimming pool where Johnny
Weismuller (Tarzan) and “Jackie Ott the Aqua
Tot” (also known as “The World’s Perfect Boy”)
had performed on a regular basis during
Muller’s Hurt Building was originally a real estate office and hotel. It is now the headquarters of the Opa-locka Community
Development Corporation. (PHOTO BY THORN GRAFTON)
58 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Opa-locka’s heyday. The impending threat of war
brought on hasty changes by the Navy. Several
acres of beautiful oak hammocks were bull -
dozed, though a small remnant adjacent to the
airport survives today. Barracks-style housing
was built which persists today as affordable (subsidized)
but unattractive housing. Modifications
to the historic Archery Club/swimming pool
complex were so heavy handed that in the 1980s
the County Aviation Department staff swore they
had no idea the structures were historic when
they removed them.
The Navy pulled out in 1945, and the economic
tailspin resumed. The Navy built one
remarkable steel frame blimp hangar whose
vast sculptural skeleton lingered until the early
1990s, when the Aviation Department demolished
it for safety reasons.
When I was in college in the early 1970s, I
saw an art film that used the almost surreal and
still declining backdrop of Opa-locka in a story
about a traveling Bible salesman. In 1986, the
late preservationist Barbara Baer Capitman persuaded
me to help in efforts to “Rebuild the
Dream” as they were billing the effort. Barbara
and I joined with community preservation
activists and concerned City and County offi -
cials (particularly Helen Miller of Opa-locka,
and Ernie Martin, of Metro-Dade Community
Development) in several rounds of community
planning and special events. Some of these
activities included meetings at Amador’s
Restaurant (still there), fundraising costume
balls, the painting of artistic murals on con -
struction walls, and geometric Moorish designs
in traffic paint on street crosswalks. More formal
revitalization plans were developed and publicized
to capitalize on the unusual history of the
place. Restoration and sympathetic infill con -
struction were analyzed site by site. This series
of ambitious plans has been slow to implement,
but not for lack of merit. The city, like several
other areas of the county in the 1980s, came
under the siege of drug-related violence.
The drug activity was not centered near
Opa-locka’s historic core, and it created a sense
of urgency for social programs and affordable
housing focused away from the preservation
and strengthening of the core. The city’s limited
resources were stretched to the breaking point.
Meanwhile, in the decade since, the several
blocks of Opa-locka Boulevard downtown
have themselves languished.
Despite some façade treatments, stores have
left. Into the void of several downtown blocks
The Opa-locka Train Station opened in 1927 with the arrival of the “Orange Blossom Special” on its inaugural run from
Miami to New York. (PHOTO BY THORN GRAFTON)
recently cleared, state government agencies will
build new offices incorporating features of
Moorish Revival design. A sympathetic approach
in the low-budget conversion of an existing 7-11
storefront diagonally opposite the City
Administration Building was designed by my
firm, using understated yet whimsical graphic
gestures referencing the Moorish Revival work of
Muller. Unfortunately, the little building has not
been well maintained, and commercial signage
seems to spread like a fungus across the most
well-intentioned facades, if code enforcement is
lax on the issue. The police station on Ali-Baba
Avenue has a new façade referencing the style,
and other area buildings have tried this too. Opalocka
is eclectic, with pieces borrowed from
different contexts, yet still within a geo-cultural
range. Obviously, to emulate an emulator without
being a student of original architectural source
risks trivializing the concept. On the other hand,
the execution of designs at Muller’s level would
raise the issue of confusing historic fabric with
new construction and is not desirable either.
The Arabian fantasy influence is seen in this Opa-locka residence designed by Bernhardt Muller. (PHOTO BY THORN GRAFTON)
Hopefully, current Mayor Alvin Miller’s
earnest beautification effort will begin to
address issues deeper than paint colors. If “The
Dream” is to be rebuilt, the historic core must
have pedestrian scale and amenities; design
character and integrity; retail and food uses on
the sidewalks with viable housing above and
behind; good transit connection; and… a
touch of astonishment.
Thorn Grafton is a third generation Miami architect whose grandfather, Russell Pancoast, established a firm on Miami Beach in 1925. He has been a principal in
his own firms for over twenty years, specializing in work for historic, environmental and community resources. He and his firms have been the recipient of architectural
and preservation awards from national, state and local organizations. Grafton is an officer of Dade Heritage Trust and participates in the activities of other preservation
and environmental groups in South Florida. He lives with his wife Teresa and two children in a 1926 Dade County pine and limerock bungalow in Coconut Grove.
CHAPTER XIII ✧ 59
Main Street in the Town Center of Miami Lakes seeks to capture the feel of a traditional small town. (COURTESY OF THE GRAHAM COMPANIES)
MIAMI LAKES AND THE DAIRIES
THAT MADE DADE
B Y D ON S LESNICK
The dairies of South Florida played a vital role in the history and growth of Greater Miami. In addition to producing a healthy food,
they provided much needed jobs and contributed significantly to the local economy. In later years their pastures supplied the land
for the homes to house the population explosion following World War II.
The cows and the pasture lands are all gone;
in their place are homes, schools, industrial
parks, parking lots and paved roads. From the
start of the twentieth century to the 1950s,
Dade County was home to as many as sixtyfour
dairies stretching from the Broward
County boundary line to the Keys. Dairies,
many of which were small family operations,
bore names such as Puritan, Dixie, Biltmore,
Southern, Fairglade and Melrose. The milk
industry became the source of wealth and
political power for respected local families
such as the Grahams, Dressels, and McArthurs.
From the moment that South Florida’s pioneers
arrived, dairy cows were an integral part
of the Dade County landscape. By the last part
of the nineteenth century, milk was an essential
staple in the diet of Americans, including
those along the Miami River frontier. Thus, it
was not uncommon well into the first decade
of the twentieth century for a family to have its
own cow to provide fresh milk daily. Julia
Tuttle arrived with two cows in tow, and Dr.
James Jackson was known to graze his cow on
the grounds of the Royal Palm Hotel. Mrs.
William Hickman Chaille kept a cow named
“Rose” whose milk she sold to raise money for
the purchase of the new stained glass window
in the Methodist Church. The first commercial
deliveries were made by South Miami pioneer
Wilson A. Larkins, who transported the milk
in two dispensing tanks on either side of his
bicycle. He rode into Miami twice a day to
deliver the milk to various families and, during
the winter tourist season, to his most
important customer, the Royal Palm Hotel.
In 1911 Frank Houghtaling purchased
property in Little River for the purpose of
establishing an idealistic, socialistic colony. It
failed, and a dairy farm was begun instead.
He had the first herd of Guernseys in South
Florida. In the early 1920s, he advertised
strawberries and cream for twenty-five cents
a gallon and operated a golf driving range on
part of the property. The location is the site of
the present North Shore Hospital.
Early dairies did not possess the technology
to pasteurize their milk products, but sold raw
milk, which had to reach the consumer without
extended delay. Local historian Thelma
Peters describes the first effort in Miami to
eradicate diseases related to milk consumption:
In 1909 with smallpox and yellow fever
under control people everywhere were looking
for ways to prevent tuberculosis. Coming
under scrutiny was milk and how it was handled.
In 1909 the majority of Miamians were
getting milk from a can—to their benefit—for
the only fresh milk was raw milk, which is safe
60 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
only when cows are healthy and sanitation the
best. In 1909 ten percent of the cows in
Florida were said to be tubercular and rules
for sanitation almost nonexistent. One reason
the well known Lemon City doctor, John G.
DuPuis, started a model dairy was to provide
pure milk, especially for children and invalids.
The White Belt Dairy [named after the Dutch
Belted cows with which it was started] set
high standards for the care of milk, and soon
sanitation ordinances were passed which
forced other dairies to conform. [The White
Belt Dairy was eventually home to a herd of 900
cows spread across 2,000 acres.]
During World War I many of the truck
farms which had proliferated across the
South Florida landscape began to shut down
in favor of other uses. Some owners turned to
dairy operations. By 1922, Madie C. Ives had
established a herd of over 200 Jerseys and
Holsteins. In that same year, Ives was the first
dairy in Dade County to be awarded the title
“certified” by a group of physicians, which
was the equivalent of obtaining the “Good
Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for cleanliness.
By 1936 the dairy had grown to 400
cows on 614 acres. Today, the Madie C. Ives
Elementary School (located in the middle of
a housing subdivision which sits on the former
dairy site) honors the lady who set those
high standards for the dairy industry.
In 1922, J. Neville McArthur migrated to
Miami to apply for a teaching job. He interviewed
with dairyman Dr. John DuPuis, who
was also a member of the school board and the
originator of agricultural academic programming
in the county’s public schools. He later
remembered that when he met with DuPuis,
the doctor was planting young coconut palms
along the avenue across from his office in
Little River. McArthur had to walk up and
down the palm rows while Dr. DuPuis continued
to dig holes and plant trees during the
interview. McArthur was subsequently
appointed principal of the Dade County
Agricultural High School (later known as
Miami Edison) where he directed an experimental
farm located at 1895 NW 95th Street
which included a modern dairy plant.
In 1929 McArthur resigned his position to
start his own dairy business with $4000,
twenty Jersey cows and fifty acres in Broward
County. McArthur, who at the beginning
made his own deliveries, recalled in a 1958
Miami Herald interview:
My first route was from Miami Shores
to Flagler Street. I traveled about 120 miles
a day and worked seven days a week. It was
hard to find customers even though milk
was only six cents a quart.
By the end of 1939 the McArthur Jersey
Dairy Farm was milking 1,000 cows a day. The
company’s main milk processing plant was
built in 1951 at 6851 Northeast 2nd Avenue,
and still functions at that location today. South
Floridians find it difficult to dispute the company’s
well-known musical slogan: “We all
grew up on McArthur’s... McArthur’s Milk.”
An outbreak of “undulant fever” in 1939
brought the dairy industry to the forefront of a
city-wide controversy. Faced with an estimated
1,000 cases of this debilitating disease (which
was transmitted in raw milk from cows suffering
from brucelosis), The Miami Herald began a
campaign for 100 percent pasteurization of all
milk products sold in the city. The county
health department revealed that since 1935
Dairy farms such as that of the Curtiss-Bright Ranch in Hialeah, shown here in an old postcard, were precursors to many
communities in Miami-Dade County. (COURTESY OF THE SETH BRAMSON COLLECTION)
Lester Collins, renowned Washington, D.C. landscape
architect and land planner, conceived the Miami Lakes
master plan. He is pictured here in 1983 beside Miami
Lakes’ signature bovines. (COURTESY OF THE GRAHAM COMPANIES)
over 11,000 dairy cows had been slaughtered
after testing positive for the dreaded disease.
Additionally, some dairies were revealed to be
selling raw milk that they advertised as pasteurized.
However, the city’s powerful and popular
Mayor Ev Sewell sided with his friends in the
dairy industry and challenged the legitimacy of
legislating the pasteurization of milk. After
months of public debate, the electorate voted in
a city-wide referendum, and the proponents of
raw milk won. It was an empty victory however;
the debate had made so many people afraid
to drink raw milk that market demand eventually
forced all dairies to pasteurize their products.
Subsequently, the number of undulant
fever cases in Dade County dropped to zero.
As late as mid-century many of the smaller
independents attempted to milk the cows,
process the raw product, and distribute the
milk directly to the retail customers. By the
1950s economic pressures on the industry
caused many of the independent dairy owners
to sell off their processing and distribution
operations to national companies like Borden
or Foremost. During the same time frame, the
pricing of milk became one of the hot political
battles in Florida, pitting consumers, distributors
and producers against one another.
In 1956, the turmoil led to the founding of
the Independent Dairy Farmers Association
under the leadership of its first president, Bill
Graham, whose father, State Senator Ernest
Graham, founded the family dairy on land
acquired from the bankrupt Pennsylvania
Sugar Company in lieu of unpaid back wages.
This organization (the predecessor of today’s
Florida Dairy Farmers) became a potent political
platform for some of these dairy farmers.
Starting with the land boom of the 1920s,
dairy land became a prime target in the cross-
CHAPTER XIV ✧ 61
Cutting a cake in 1982 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Miami Lakes is Pat Graham, Carol Graham Wyllie,
William A. Graham, Lou Rawls, Bob Graham, William E. Graham and Gerry Toms. (COURTESY OF THE GRAHAM COMPANIES)
hairs of residential developers. One of the
large land sales recorded in 1925 was that of
485 acres of the Ives Dairy Farm purchased by
Donnelly Realty Company and renamed
“North Fulford.” [Fulford by The Sea later
became North Miami Beach.] Forty years later
(1965), The Miami Herald reported the purchase
by Two Seasons, Inc. of 614 acres from
the Ives Dairy holdings for development purposes.
Miami-Dade County’s explosive urban
sprawl of the last several decades has almost
obliterated any evidence of the dairy farms.
Just as suburbs have consumed the rural acres
of other sections of our nation, so has South
Florida’s spreading population recycled dairy
lands into houses, shopping centers, sport
complexes and office parks. The dwindling
evidence of the dairy’s one time dominance of
our county’s land mass is confined to street,
school and housing subdivision names (such
as Ives Dairy Road, Milam Elementary and
Melrose Heights), and to a few contented
bovines pastured in the green space near the
“Main Street” Town Center of The Graham
Companies’ Miami Lakes.
While most dairies sold their land holdings
to companies who specialized in developing
suburbia, the Graham family took it
upon themselves to convert their dairy’s
vast fields into the planned community of
Miami Lakes, one of the area’s most successful
Miami Lakes is a five-square-mile residential
and business community that is home to
23,000. A master-plan consistently followed
since its inception thirty eight years ago by The
Graham Companies has resulted in one of the
nation’s finest examples of “New Urbanism.”
62 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Miami Lakes was designed by Lester
Collins, Harvard professor of land planning
and landscape architecture, as a “total living
environment” at the behest of the Graham family.
Early pioneers in Florida, the Graham family
tree includes notables such as Florida State
Senator Ernest “Cap” Graham, Washington Post
publisher Phillip Graham, and Florida
Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham.
Collins’ goal was “to design a community
that enhanced people’s lives,” rather than
maximizing development on the land.
Collins’ master plan for the “New Town” of
Miami Lakes abandoned the traditional gridbased
street plan. Using the nautilus shell as
his inspiration, he called for curved streets,
residential neighborhoods with culs-de-sac, a
network of artificial lakes, three-way intersections,
and areas specially set aside for schools,
churches, recreation and shopping facilities.
Miami Lakes is also a commercial success,
with more than 7 million square feet of office,
warehouse and light industrial buildings.
Over four dozen regional, national and international
firms lease or own buildings in
Miami Lakes’ business parks.
Much emphasis is placed on sustainable
environmental practices such as recycling and
landscaping that does not require too much
water or artificial fertilizer. In its efforts to promote
an environmentally green image, Miami
Lakes has adopted as its unofficial mascot the
dairy cow. It is common to see dairy cows
grazing in fields throughout Miami Lakes,
side-by-side with corporate office buildings
and shopping centers. One reason the cows
remain is because the people love them, especially
the kids. Another is that the cows are
part of Miami Lakes’ clever move to take
advantage of Florida’s “green belt” law, which
reduces property taxes on land used for agricultural
From its inception, Miami Lakes has been
a community based on stewardship of the
land, of the environment and of the needs of
the people who have chosen to live and work
there. Its sound land-use plan, conservative
financial management and carefully planned
construction time-tables, calling for slow
growth over its development period, has
made Miami Lakes the successful community
it is today.
An aerial view of Miami Lakes in 1999 looking east from NW 87th Avenue. (COURTESY OF THE GRAHAM COMPANIES)
Don Slesnick is a fifty-year resident of Miami-Dade County, a product of its public schools, and a graduate of the University of Florida Law School. He
has served in the past as president of Dade Heritage Trust, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board and president of the Florida Trust
for Historic Preservation. He was assisted in procuring information for this chapter by Arva Parks McCabe, Sandy Graham Younts and Danny Navarro.
Attending the races at Hialeah Park in the thirties was a not-to-be-missed event for socialites and tourists alike. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
B Y H ORATIO L. VILLA
Perhaps the earliest history of Hialeah that
might be verified goes back to the Tequesta
Indians, who left their mark in this area, a part
of a 4,000-square-mile broad, wide plain in
South Florida. The Miami River ran from Lake
Okeechobee to the coast, where Indian settlements
were found by the early Spanish explorers.
West of the river, the area was flooded year
round and was actually part of the Everglades.
The area east of the river was drier. It is here
where traces of former Indian settlements or
burial grounds were to be found.
The Laramore Site is found on several lots
east of what is now West 8th Avenue and 76th
Street in Hialeah. It is the remains of a natural
hammock, mostly large oak and gumbo limbo,
with soil that varies from black humic soil at
the north end to gray sandy soil to the south.
The main site is located on the northern end of
an oval island that originally presented an
impressive elevation above the adjacent glades
(now drained and developed).
When the first development took place, no
landfill was necessary. The site was originally
examined by D.D. Laxson in 1960 and sur -
veyed by Bob Carr, including test pitting in
February 1979 with a detailed sketch map
showing the site location, limits, and test
squares. Indian relics and artifacts were found
on the Fritz property and other sites. Among
these were ceramics, marine shells, faunal
bones plus fire pits, burial sites and post
molds. Those artifacts are now in the Historical
Museum of South Florida. The island ham -
mock was designated a historical site in 1991
by the Hialeah Historic Preservation Board.
Further archeological sites may be hidden in
the Hialeah area known as Seminola. Steve
Marshall, long time resident of the area, remembers
that as a child, he and his friends would play
in the area where we have Cotson Park and two
churches and they would find bones, trinkets,
and other items that looked like Indian artifacts.
How much of the history of our earliest inhabi -
tants lies buried under so many buildings?
The Seminole Indians (the word Seminole
means “run-away Creek”) did not reach this
area until the 1800s. They had migrated into
northern Florida, but after the Third Seminole
Indian War, they sought refuge in the
Everglades. It was the Seminoles who named
the area HI-A-LE-AH, meaning “high prairie.”
Another translation calls it “elevated plain of
light”. The Seminoles would use the Miami
River as their road out of the Everglades.
James H. Bright, a Missouri rancher, first
vacationed in the Miami area in 1901. He
looked around, saw Hialeah, and liked what he
saw. He immediately started planning to establish
a ranch. In 1907 he bought some land and
in 1909 another 10,000 acres east and north of
the Miami River. First, the land had to be
drained, so Bright befriended Governor Albert
W. Gilchrist for his support.
The draining of the Everglades had been
started by Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward,
and it had been a slow process. The job was
completed in 1909 and the area became
known as the “Promised Land.” The draining
of the land changed the Miami River to the
Miami River Canal and made it possible for
Bright to fulfill his dream.
It was at this time that Bright brought from
Missouri two of his best ranch hands, Ben
Marshall and Jim Goodman. Ben became the
unofficial caretaker and began to work on the
ranch doing landscaping, maintenance, and
many other jobs.
Bright experimented with tropical grasses
and introduced “para” grass from Cuba. He
brought the Brahman cattle to South Florida.
Eventually, his ranch became the largest in
South Florida and supplied people in Miami
with beef, milk poultry, goats, sheep, and even
some vegetables. He also raised horses and deer.
Bright lived in the City of Miami until 1917
when he took up residence on his ranch. About
this time Glenn H. Curtiss, already a famous
aviator and inventor, approached Bright. Bright
and Curtiss became good friends and partners.
CHAPTER XV ✧ 63
This vintage postcard depicts a sugar mill in Hialeah, situated beside railroad tracks for easy shipment. Hialeah is now the second
largest city in Miami-Dade County and is a major manufacturing center. (COURTESY OF THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF SOUTH FLORIDA)
They created the Florida Ranch and Dairy Co.,
whose holdings extended from Hialeah north
to what is now Opa-locka—approximately
120,000 acres of land. In 1917 Curtiss also
established what later became the third airfield
in the U.S., locating it on what is now Palm
Avenue and 17th Street in Hialeah. Together,
they created the Curtiss-Bright Land Company,
which sold land to individuals and developers.
This land would eventually become the cities of
Hialeah, Miami Springs and Opa-locka.
Everything was booming in the 1920s. Land
sales were hectic. Milam and Dupuis estab -
lished dairy farms. Seminole Chief Willy-Willy
established an Indian post on the banks of the
Miami River Canal. The platting of the area was
concluded in 1921, and Bright and Curtiss
donated land for Hialeah’s first post office,
churches, parks, a city hall, a water plant, golf
course, and race tracks, the first dog track in
South Florida and the first jai-a-lai fronton in
the U.S. An amusement park was included.
In 1922 plans for a horse track began, and the
Woman’s Club of Hialeah was founded by Lua
Curtiss, Glenn’s mother. A movie studio was
added, and the first Tarzan of the Apes movie was
filmed in Hialeah. Leah Millard (the first child
born in Hialeah) celebrated her first birthday. The
first water plant in South Florida was built, with
the title eventually being transferred to Miami,
along with the golf course. Bright requested, and
helped financially, the school board to build the
first school west of 27th Avenue. It is now South
Hialeah Elementary, well known for former students
such as Senator Bob Graham and Bucky
Dent. In 1923 a swing bridge was built over the
Miami River Canal to connect Hialeah with the
Country Club Estates. The following year Florida
East Coast Railroad built a spur into Hialeah.
The area of Seminola was established in
1924 by Bright to provide a place to live for the
black workers of the ranches, amusements,
tracks, services and other enterprises, including
Hialeah’s first manufacturer, a soap factory.
Before that, many of the workers had to com -
mute from Miami. Seminola City ran from near
Palm Avenue to the area west of what is today
West 8th Avenue and from north of 29th Street
to the area south of 21st Street. Ben Marshall,
Bright’s righthand worker, was given the original
charter by Bright. The first black child born in
Hialeah (Seminola) was Sarah Marshall Craig.
The Jockey Club was inaugurated on January
15, 1925. Hialeah Race Park would become the
symbol and most famous landmark of this area.
The trains would bring visitors from all over the
A statue of the world famous racing champion “Citation”
graces the lushly landscaped grounds of Hialeah Park,
which include 220 acres of lawns, winding driveways
lined with royal palms, flower beds, fountains, and the
largest domestic flock of flamingos in the world.
(PHOTO BY PHIL BRODATZ)
country for a 51-day run at the new track. Built
to hold 5,000 people, it was overwhelmed with
a crowd of 17,000. Betting was not legal but
those attending the track would establish a pool
on their favorite horses, which would result in a
gain or loss after the horses crossed the finish
line. Pari-mutuel betting would not occur until
seven years later. It was a great boom for Hialeah.
Hialeah officially became a city in
September 1925. The charter for the new city
indicated 243 residents, but the numbers for
the area were closer to 1,500. The land boom
continued and Hialeah prospered. Over 75
clubs, bars, gambling emporiums, and other
(some very seedy) establishments flourished
there. Some gained a reputation with the Palm
Beach crowd, including the Moulin Rouge and
the Follies. The best known drink during
Prohibition got the name of “Hialeah Rye.”
During this time, Miami’s Municipal Airport
was established on what is now Amelia Earhart
Park and areas to the east. One of the first radio
communication centers in the U.S. was built
by the United Fruit Company in Hialeah. More
progress came when the Seaboard Railroad
built tracks into Hialeah and built the first passenger
station in 1927.
In the ensuing years tragedy struck. First,
there was the devastating hurricane of
September 18th, 1926. It destroyed seventy
percent of the city buildings. It affected people’s
lives and employment. The dog track, the
jai-a-lai fronton and the amusement parks
were destroyed. The Jockey Club also suffered
extensive damage. Hialeah had been one third
black before the hurricane. By 1927, without
jobs, few remained. An exodus started. The
racetrack closed and did not reopen until
1929. The crash of 1929 further affected
Hialeah’s economy and growth. The main
manufacturer in the city, the soap factory,
burned down. However, the Bank of Hialeah,
which was partially owned by Bright, was one
of the few banks in the U.S. that did not close
with the crash. And the Miami Municipal
Airport was finally completed, and the first air
show in the United States took place there.
Joseph E. Widener started plans to rebuild
new facilities at the track. He decided to bring
from Cuba a flock of flamingos, but they all flew
back to Cuba. He brought another 100 birds,
and with clipped wings and mating they
remained. The new track had a grand opening
day that was a great success. During the running
of the Florida Derby 25,000 attended, including
sports figures, society families (the Vanderbilts,
Whitneys, Barbara Hutton, Lily Pons, and many
others) and many members of the U.S., Canada
and the Bahamas business circle. By 1949
Hialeah had the most complete thoroughbred
64 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
museum in the U.S., the best track conditions,
and the best turf track. For many years the track
was an Audubon Society preserve, with over
700 native birds and an equal number from the
U.S., Canada and Alaska, plus the magnificent
flamingos which became a symbol, not only of
Hialeah, but of South Florida.
During World War II Hialeah’s Municipal
Airport, from which Amelia Earhart embarked
upon on her ill-fated flight in 1937, was used
for military training. After the war it became an
air base for the Navy and Marines until the
1950s. Along the Miami River Canal, a prisoner
of war camp was established in 1944.
In 1925 Hialeah had 21 factories; in 1945 it
had only 20. Henry Milander, elected Mayor in
1947, was the catalytic agent that made
Hialeah the City of Progress. He was instru -
mental in a new building boom and, through
tax incentives, attracted many manufacturers
to the city. After World War II many who had
trained in South Florida returned to the area.
In 1945 the population of Hialeah was 4,900
people. The population grew to 45,000 by
1950. Elimination of the Municipal Inventory
Tax in 1955 brought even more manufacturing
plants. The proximity to Lindbergh Field (now
Miami International Airport) encouraged Pan
American, National and Eastern Airlines
employees to live in Hialeah. In the 1950s
Hialeah’s population was primarily white and
Anglo, except for the small community of
Seminola and a few Hispanics.
Hialeah is now the largest industrial city in
South Florida and is among the ten largest
cities in the State of Florida. Due to the extensive
manufacturing in the area, Hialeah has
always attracted workers. Since the early 1960s
the influx of Cubans fleeing Castro changed
the face of Hialeah’s community. The census of
that year listed the population of Hialeah at
70,000. The Cuban immigrants were first
attracted to Hialeah because of the availability
of jobs within the city. Many decided to move
to the area to be near their place of work. Over
1,000 factories and over 10,000 businesses
(including apparel, textile, fabricated metal,
furniture and fixtures, printing and publishing,
food, chemicals, electric and electronic, rubber
and other) now employ thirty percent of
Miami-Dade County’s workforce.
Hialeah is quite active in cultural pursuits
as well. In 1988 the Hialeah Historic
Preservation Board began to look around to
save the heritage of the past and ensure its
Native oolitic limestone, found locally, was used in the construction of this bungalow-style store and gas station in Hialeah.
(COURTESY OF THE SETH BRAMSON COLLECTION)
preservation for the future. Within several
years, the Board designated as historic many
sites: Hialeah Race Track, Triangle Park, the
James Bright residence, the Swing Bridge,
Hialeah Passenger Station, South Hialeah
Elementary, the Water Plant, the old Dixie Mill
Building and the Laramore Site. Many resi -
dences built prior to 1926 have also been designated
as historic. Examples of the variety of
architecture to be found in the city include the
masonry vernacular style of the James Bright
residence (1921), the Alamo-Mission style of
the G. Carl Adams residence, the Classical-
Federal-Revival-style of the Emerson E. Snyder
house, and the Belvedere frame-bungalow style
of the Fred Harrington house.
The Hialeah Arts Board, in existence 20
years, conducts several yearly events. The
Cultural Affairs Council is also active. Hialeah
sponsors the Hialeah-Miami Lakes Community
Theater, which performs several times a year at
the Goodlet Theater. During Black History
Month these groups also sponsor a Gospel
Singing with groups from Seminola and from
throughout Miami-Dade County.
What is still lacking is a Museum of the City
of Hialeah, which would include history, art,
memorabilia, and Americana. This idea was
first put forth in 1979 but has yet to happen.
Hialeah is not just a racetrack; it is home
and school, playground and business. It grows
and grows. “Mr. Jimmie” Bright said it in a different
way: “I have never fathomed the great
idea of touring the world just to find a place to
meet the desires of the human race—when
there is Hialeah!”
Hialeah Park was called “the most beautiful racetrack in the world.” (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
Horatio L. Villa worked as an educator for thirty-five years, at Ransom-Everglades, Havana Business University, Santa Fe Community College and in the Dade
County Public Schools, where he taught history and was a counselor. A native of Cuba, he received his B.A. degree from New York University and his master’s and Ph.D.
degrees from the University of Florida. He served during World War II with combat engineers and the Air Corps. A resident of Hialeah since 1956, Dr. Villa has been
active with the Boy Scouts, VFW, and the American Legion and has served as a member of the Hialeah Historic Preservation Board and the Cultural Affairs Council.
CHAPTER XV ✧ 65
“Dar-Err-Aha” (House of Happiness) was built by Glenn Curtiss as his own residence. Located at 500 Deer Run, the Curtiss Mansion suffered from neglect and arson over the years. It was
conveyed to the City of Miami Springs in 1998 by Sunburst Hospitality, and a major restoration effort was begun. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
GLENN CURTISS’ DREAM: MIAMI SPRINGS
B Y M ARY A NN G OODLETT-TAYLOR
The developer of Miami Springs was one of
the most famous names in aviation history:
Glenn Hammond Curtiss.
Born in 1878 in the quiet little town of
Hammondsport, New York, Curtiss opened the
G. H. Curtiss Manufacturing Co. in 1901, turning
out his own designs of Hercules bicycles and
Curtiss motorcycles. In 1907 he became the
“world’s fastest man” on his eight-cylinder motorcycle.
He designed and built his own motorcycle
engines and, later, aircraft engines, developing an
efficient air-cooled engine. The dirigible California
Arrow, powered by a Curtiss engine, won a
$25,000 grand prize at the Louisiana Purchase
Exposition of 1904. After becoming a member of
the Aerial Experiment Association organized by
Alexander Graham Bell in 1907, Curtiss began
designing and building his own aircraft. In 1908
he won the first leg of the Scientific American
Trophy Race, the first public flight of one kilometer.
In subsequent years, Curtiss won the other
two legs of this race, thus, gaining permanent
possession of the trophy.
Curtiss, the only American entrant against the
best pilots of Europe, won the Gordon Bennett
Cup in 1909 in Rheims, France. In 1910 he flew
from Albany, New York, down the Hudson River
to New York City, winning the $10,000 grand
prize. Curtiss was the recipient of the prestigious
Gold Medal of the Aero Club of America for the
“greatest advances in aviation” for the years 1911
and 1912. In recognition of his achievements and
the public demonstrations of his flights, he was
awarded Aviator License #1 in 1911.
Glenn Curtiss became the “Father of Naval
Aviation” by designing a successful
hydroplane, landing and taking off from water
for the first time in history. A Curtiss NC-4 “flying
boat” made the first airplane crossing of the
Atlantic Ocean in 1919. During World War I,
the Curtiss aircraft factories in Buffalo, New
York, had huge contracts with the U.S.
Government to build military planes. The
famous Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” was used to train
ninety-five percent of the U.S. Army Air Corps
pilots. After many years of trial and tribula -
tions, often struggling just to make ends meet,
Curtiss was finally enjoying financial success.
With the hectic war years over, Curtiss’
interests in the business end of his aviation
empire began to wane. An international hero,
with worldwide recognition as an airplane
designer/builder and an extremely capable
pilot, his creative genius was no longer ful -
filled, so he turned his sights to the South
Florida area. As early as 1912 Curtiss had been
persuaded by Miami pioneer Everest Sewell to
establish a flying school in Miami. A Curtiss
land flying school was located at NW 17th
Avenue and 20th Street, and hydroplane
instruction was given on Biscayne Bay near the
Royal Palm Hotel.
Years later, when Curtiss wanted to move his
flying schools to a less populated area, he was
advised to contact James H. Bright, a dairyman
with thousand of acres of land west of Miami.
Bright, who came from Missouri in 1910, had
bought land for pasture, which encompassed
much of what was to become the City of
Hialeah. The two men became good friends and
later partners in the Curtiss-Bright Company.
James H. Bright also had a significant historical
impact on South Florida, through his
interests in studying, propagating and planting
many varieties of tame grasses to find those
66 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
est suited for livestock grazing. He also had a
trading post on the Miami Canal and became a
trusted friend of the local Seminole and
Miccosukee Indians. He established his dairy
ranch in 1914. It grew to include Holstein,
Guernsey and Jersey cows for milk, as well as
beef cattle and horses. Bright’s other claim to
fame was the development of Hialeah Race
Park for thoroughbred horse racing. Bright
provided the land and helped develop the
track in 1925.
Curtiss and Bright invested one million dollars
in the Curtiss-Bright Ranch Company and
another million in the Florida Ranch and Dairy
Corporation. These two versatile men then
went on to develop the towns of Hialeah,
Country Club Estates (now Miami Springs),
and Opa-locka during the famous “land boom”
of the 1920s.
Beginning in the early 1920s, the Florida
“land boom” was a hectic and exciting period of
U.S. history, and Curtiss and Bright soon found
themselves in the business of land sales and
development. Countless acres of ranch land
were sold to “get rich quick” visitors from all
over the country, as everyone was eager to own
a lot in “sunny” Florida. The land sold by the
Curtiss-Bright Company eventually became the
towns of Hialeah (incorporated in 1925),
Country Club Estates (incorporated in 1926)
and Opa-locka, also incorporated in 1926,
which Curtiss planned as an Arabian-themed
residential development just north of Hialeah.
Lots that were originally purchased for $10.00
an acre sometimes sold for as much as $3,500
each. Fantastic wealth poured in on Curtiss and
When Hialeah was sold out, Curtiss pur -
chased land on the south side of the Miami
Canal across from Hialeah, an area used as an
aerial training “bombing range” by U.S. pilots
during World War I. Here, Curtiss began to
develop his well-planned residential community,
Country Club Estates, using Coral Gables
as a model. Since water was a crucial factor, he
brought in engineers who found an inex -
haustible supply of pure water under this land.
Until recent years these deep wells supplied all
of the water to the Miami area.
Curtiss chose the “Pueblo Revival” style, a
unique design concept, to attract attention to
his Country Club Estates development. He
wanted buildings that would revive the look of
the homes of the Pueblo Indians in the
American Southwest, a popular tourist destination
of the 1920s. Curtiss had become aware of
these unique Pueblo buildings as he traveled
from Hammondsport, New York, to the San
Diego, California, area where he carried out his
hydroplane experiments during 1910-1911.
Country Club Estates was to be a garden spot,
with fine homes, wide boulevards, and only as
much business as was necessary. Deed restrictions
were rigid, and strict building and zoning guidelines
called for masonry construction, tile roofs,
proper setbacks and landscaping. Plans for individual
construction had to be submitted to the
Curtiss-Bright Company for approval. Lot prices
were set at $1,000. Since this was expensive, lots
sold slowly and most of the town’s first residents
were relatives, friends and co-workers of Curtiss.
To encourage construction, Curtiss gave away lots
to some families who promised to build their
Built in 1926 as the Hotel Country Club, commonly called the Pueblo Hotel, this is the largest, most extravagant project of
Curtiss’ development in Miami Springs. In 1929, John Harvey Kellogg, of cereal products fame, purchased the building and
converted it to the Miami Battle Creek Sanitarium. During World War II it served as a rest facility for soldiers, later as a
health spa, and today is the FairHaven Retirement Home. (COURTESY OF THE SETH BRAMSON COLLECTION)
World famous aviation pioneer Glenn Hammond Curtiss,
at the controls of the Albany (Hudson) Flyer in May,
1910, is joined by his wife Lena Neff Curtiss and Aero
Club of America President Augustus Post. In the 1920s
Curtiss partnered with James H. Bright to develop Miami
Springs, Hialeah, and Opa-locka.
(COURTESY OF THE MIAMI SPRINGS HISTORICAL MUSEUM)
The Curtiss Bright Company built many
large Pueblo Revival style homes and commercial
buildings in the period between 1924 and
1926. A “civic center,” which included the
Clune Engineering Building, the Curtiss-Bright
Administration Building, and the First State
Bank of Hialeah, was developed on the “Circle”
at the center of town.
Inside the Circle stood a Pueblo-style bandstand
where famed bandmaster, Arthur Pryor,
conducted concerts. Two blocks west of the
Circle stood the Pueblo-style Everglades
Construction Corporation, which built all of the
roads and sidewalks in Country Club Estates,
Hialeah and Opa-locka. G. Carl Adams, the
half-brother of Glenn Curtiss, was the President
of the Everglades Construction Corporation.
Curtiss also built homes for his mother, Lua
Andrews Curtiss, and his half-brother, G. Carl
Adams. These spacious two-story homes, as
well as several other comparably sized homes,
were built around the perimeter of a golf
course with a country club building of Pueblo
Revival design, also built during this period.
Situated on large plots of land, these homes
provided the occupants with a lovely vista of
the gently rolling hills of the golf course. The
Curtiss-Bright Company also built smaller single-story
homes that sold at moderate prices.
In 1925 Curtiss designed his own palatial
Pueblo Revival mansion on a 9.33 acre site at
the southeast corner of the golf course, and
named this beautiful home “Dar-Err-Aha”
(House of Happiness). The estate boasted its
own man-made lake, which was stocked with
many species of exotic water birds. The
grounds were lushly landscaped with native
and exotic species of trees and shrubs.
The disastrous hurricane of September
1926 brought most of the building “boom” in
Country Club Estates and Dade County to a
halt, but Curtiss had promised to develop a
CHAPTER XVI ✧ 67
“The Alamo,” so named for its vague resemblance to the Texas landmark, was built in 1926. (PHOTO BY FERNANDO SUCO)
hotel for his development. After some delay in
getting building underway, the posh Hotel
Country Club, built in the Pueblo Revival style
at an estimated cost of $275,000, opened to
rave reviews in December 1927. No expense
was spared in making this splendid multi-storied
edifice (commonly called the Pueblo
Hotel) as authentic as possible. Furnishings
were in the Pueblo Indian theme, and there
were hand-woven Indian rugs on the floors.
The Thunderbird motif (the Indian symbol for
rain and prosperity) was on the front façade
and was used as a decorative feature through -
out the interior of the building.
The hotel became a “white elephant” during
the depression that followed the hurricane.
Shortly before his untimely death in July 1930,
Glenn Curtiss sold the hotel for a token sum to
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, world acclaimed
physician and nutritionist. Dr. Kellogg
reopened the hotel in 1930 as the Miami-Battle
Creek Sanitarium, with a health regimen patterned
after his famous sanitarium in Battle
Creek, Michigan. Many illustrious individuals
were patients at Miami-Battle Creek during its
many years of operation. The extensive
grounds surrounding this building were a
showplace, thanks to the landscape design
supervision by Dr. Kellogg and the famous
botanist and plant collector, David Fairchild.
Miami-Battle Creek was also the center of the
social activities for the residents of Country
Club Estates and Hialeah.
In 1930 the name of Country Club Estates
was changed to the Town of Miami Springs, in
recognition of the natural springs of pure water
located beneath the town. Miami Springs continued
as a small, mostly residential community
until after World War II. As the airline
industry at 36th Street Airport began to
expand, many airline employees were transferred
to the area, and Miami Springs became a
convenient location for them to live. A new
“building boom” continued for many years.
The airline industry was a major factor in the
economic growth of the town. In 1962 the
The grassy Circle park creates a pleasant setting for Miami Springs businesses. Just to the right of the gazebo is the 1925 Clune-
Stadnik Building, which houses the Miami Springs Pharmacy. The Miami Springs Historical Museum is located on the second floor
in space donated by John Stadnik. (PHOTO BY FERNANDO SUCO)
town was incorporated as the City of Miami
Springs. Since that time, economic growth has
In 1982 the Miami Springs City Council
adopted the City’s Historic Preservation
Ordinance, and appointed a five-member
Historic Preservation Board to serve in an advisory
capacity to the City Council.
Unfortunately, this Ordinance came too late to
save some of the most significant Pueblo
Revival style buildings that have been demolished
over the past 40 years. The Miami
Springs Historic Preservation Board worked
diligently to save and protect the precious remnant
of Glenn Curtiss’ vision; and in 1985 and
1986 seven of these buildings were placed on
the National Register of Historic Places. These
included the Clune-Stadnik Building, the
Oceola Apartment/Hotel (Azure Villas), Lua
Curtiss House #1 and #2, G. Carl Adams
House, Hequembourg House, and the Millard-
Eight historic buldings and two historic
bridges are locally designated and protected,
including the Hotel Country Club (Fair Havens
Center), 201 Curtiss Parkway; Glenn Hammond
Curtiss Mansion, 500 Deer Run; Lua Curtiss
House #2, 150 Hunting Lodge Drive; G. Carl
Adams House, 31 Hunting Lodge Court; Millard-
McCarty House, 424 Hunting Lodge Drive;
Clune-Stadnik Building, 45 Curtiss Parkway;
Warren Pony Swing Bridge, Miami Canal/Curtiss
Parkway; Vertical Lift Bridge, Miami Canal/Hook
Square; Hequembourg House, 851 Hunting
Lodge Drive; and The Hunting Lodge, 281
In 1987 the Miami Springs Historical
Society, a non-profit organization, was estab -
lished to involve the community in preserving,
protecting and documenting the past and present
history of the City. The Society’s original
goal was to save the City’s most historic building
site—the Glenn Hammond Curtiss
Mansion, which was deteriorating and was
constantly vandalized. The Society also wanted
to establish a local history museum to tell the
incredible story of the life of Miami Springss’
founding father, Glenn Hammond Curtiss, as
well as the development of Hialeah, Miami
Springs and Opa-locka.
John Stadnik, a pharmacist and World War
II veteran, came to Miami Springs in 1946 and
opened Miami Springs’ first pharmacy in the
historic Clune Engineering Building on the
Circle, which he later purchased. He was
enthusiastic about collecting and displaying
old photos and memorabilia about Glenn
Curtiss and the local history in his store windows.
As a charter member of the Miami
Springs Historical Society, Mr. Stadnik
68 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
esponded to the need for a place to house historical
memorabilia, and in the fall of 1987 the
Miami Springs Historical Museum was born,
using space he donated on the second floor of
his historic Clune-Stadnik building.
Since 1987, Mr. Stadnik has graciously
continued to donate the space and maintain
the Museum, which has grown to encompass
the entire second floor of the Clune-Stadnik
building. The Miami Springs Pharmacy still
operates on the first floor. The Museum has an
extensive collection of photos, posters, scrapbooks,
and other memorabilia which pertain
to the development of Miami Springs,
Hialeah, and Opa-locka, as well as the historic
career of Glenn H. Curtiss, the founding father
of these communities. The Glenn Curtiss
Room displays the life, achievements and
inventions of Curtiss and the history of Miami
Springs. The Aviation Room contains historic
memorabilia related to Eastern Air Lines, Pan
American World Airways, and other local airlines,
as well as other miscellaneous items
associated with aviation. The Art Gallery dis -
plays numerous pieces of artwork by local
artists, depicting local historic sites. The
museum is free of charge and is open on
Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to
12:00 noon, and from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Miami Springs Mayor Cliff Hurrell and Hialeah Mayor Henry Milander join others in a 1954 ribbon cutting to celebrate the
moving of the 1927-built Parker Truss Vertical Lift Bridge. The bridge was moved to Miami Springs at Canal Street and
Okeechobee to give egress from Miami Springs to Hialeah. (PHOTO BY LARRY MARTINEZ, COURTESY OF THE MIAMI SPRINGS HISTORICAL MUSEUM)
Visitors enjoy a heritage tour of the house Glenn Curtiss built for his mother, Lua Curtiss. Located at 150 Hunting Lodge
Drive, the spacious home was built around the perimenter of a golf course. (COURTESY OF THE MIAMI SPRINGS HISTORICAL MUSEUM)
In August 1998 the historic Curtiss
Mansion, on over three acres of land, was conveyed
to the City of Miami Springs by its
owner, Sunburst Hospitality. Shortly thereafter,
Curtiss Mansion Incorporated (CMI), a nonprofit
corporation, was established under
Florida Law. CMI’s mission is to “identify, promote,
receive and manage all private gifts and
public grants from individuals, corporations,
foundations, and local, state, and federal
sources for the restoration, development and
maintenance of the Glenn Curtiss Mansion
site.” Since the Mansion had been consistently
vandalized and was the victim of three arson
fires, significant restoration efforts are needed.
CMI’s goal is to raise public consciousness and
promote responsive action and the enthusiasm
from the community that is needed to bring
this priceless historic house back to life.
Miami Springs’ triangular boundaries
include the Miami International Airport to the
south, the Miami Canal to the north, and the
Florida East Coast Railway canal on the west.
These boundaries significantly limit expansion,
and help “Beautiful Miami Springs” maintain
the small-town atmosphere that is so desired
and enjoyed by its residents. Concerned residents
and a vigilant City Council strive to protect
and maintain this quiet, tree-shaded, wellplanned
residential community that Glenn
Hammond Curtiss envisioned many years ago.
Mary Ann Goodlett-Taylor shares a rich history with the City of Miami Springs where her family settled in the mid 1920s. She has served as the vice-chairman of
the Miami Springs Preservation Board since its inception, serves as the curator of the Miami Springs Historical Museum, and is a charter member of the Miami Springs
Historical Society. She is a recognized authority on the history of Glenn Curtiss and Miami Springs, often appearing on television in her capacity as city historian. She
has been instrumental in helping to save and preserve the Glenn Curtiss Mansion. Her late husband, Francis S. Taylor, was a renowned wildlife conservationist in the
Florida Everglades. She has four grown children who grew up in Miami Springs, and two still reside in Miami Springs.
CHAPTER XVI ✧ 69
An early photo of a Native American canoeing with a pole through the saw grass of the Everglades. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE
B Y S TEPHEN T IGER
Legends of the Miccosukee give interesting
explanations of their origins. One reports a
people dropping from heaven into a lake in
northern Florida, now called Lake Miccosukee,
and swimming ashore to build a town. No
early written records clarify the picture, but it
is known that the Miccosukee were originally
part of the Creek Nation.
The Creek Nation was an association of clan
villages in the areas now known as Alabama
and Georgia. This territory was separated into
two sections: the Upper Creeks, who lived in
the mountains and spoke Muskogee, and the
Lower Creeks, who spoke Hitchiti. Although
the languages are closely related, they are mutually
unintelligible. This hindered full communication
between the two groups, who were constantly
at war with each other. The Miccosukee
are from the Lower Creek region and speak
Mikasuki, which is derived from Hitchiti.
The Miccosukee and other Lower Creek tribes
lived together in harmony. They shared legends,
religious practices and social gatherings, in addition
to trade and traditional stickball games.
They lived by hunting, fishing and growing
crops, of which corn was most significant. The
new harvest is still celebrated each year at the
sacred Green Corn Dance.
The arrival of the Europeans in the 1500s
placed the Creek people in the center of a
three-way struggle for colonial supremacy on
the southern frontier. In the 1700s the
Spaniards enticed some Lower Creeks to relocate
into Spanish Florida and take up lands
formerly occupied by Florida’s aboriginal
tribes. The Miccosukee, who were familiar
with the Florida peninsula through hunting
and fishing expeditions, were among the first
to arrive sometime after 1715 in an effort to
escape both the encroaching whites and their
Upper Creek brothers. Complex town life soon
evolved into permanent settlements estab -
lished in the Apalachee Bay Region and along
the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers.
Families built and occupied substantial
dwellings, engaged in skilled handcrafts and
participated in a sophisticated social life.
Following the American Revolution, white
settlers started pushing west and south, creating
conflict with the Upper Creeks. These conflicts
led to the Creek War of 1813 and later the
so-called First Seminole War of 1818. The
Miccosukee managed to stay in the Florida
Panhandle for awhile, resisting the greedy settlers,
American soldiers and crooked slave
traders’ attacks on their towns. However, they
eventually left the area to settle around Alachua,
south of Gainesville and the Tampa Bay area.
In 1821, when Spain sold Florida to the
United States, Americans recognized the rights
of Indians over much of the land in the peninsula.
In 1823, they negotiated for the land in
the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. The Indian leaders
who signed the treaty wanted peace.
Therefore, they agreed to pull their clans back
to a reservation in Central Florida, where they
would be allowed to live in peace for 20 years.
By 1830, however, agitation by new
American settlers led the U.S. to adopt the Indian
Removal Act, which dictated that all Indians in
the southeast had to move out west. This forced
the Miccosukee to join the other Creek tribes in
the wars known as the Second Seminole War,
which lasted from 1835 to 1842, and the Third
Seminole War, which lasted from 1855 to 1858.
During these wars, the Miccosukee escaped by
fighting and hiding in the Everglades. Present
tribal members are descendants of some 50 people
who eluded capture.
To survive in this new environment, they
had to adapt to living in small groups in temporary
“hammock style” camps spread
throughout the Everglades’ vast “river of grass.”
Fishing and hunting continued to provide the
70 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Airboats are used today to reach the traditonal Miccosukee chickee huts in the Everglades.
(PHOTO © RUDI KLEIN, COURTESY OF THE MICCOSUKEE INDIAN VILLAGE & AIRBOAT RIDES)
Miccosukee crafts are displayed at a Miami RiverDay festival. (PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
main staples of their diet. However they had to
learn to harvest the native fruit of the ham -
mocks along with the coontie and cabbage
palm of higher ground.
Corn, which plays the most important role
in tribal customs, became very difficult to grow.
By the 1870s, identifiable Miccosukee communities
began to re-form. Game was abun -
dant and there was a surplus of alligator skins,
deer hides and feathers, which were traded in
town for cloth, tools, guns, salt, and coffee.
The test to adapt without becoming assimilated
persisted throughout the 1900s. In the
early 1900s, canals were cut to drain the
northern and eastern Everglades for agriculture.
This reduced the fish and game popula -
tion drastically. Real estate booms changed
Miami overnight into an expanding metropolis
and the construction of the Tamiami Trail in
1928 allowed non-Indians access to the fish
and game. However, the most significant
change came in 1947 when the U.S.
Department of Interior declared most of the
tribe’s ancestral land as part of Everglades
In adapting to new ways, the Miccosukee
have always managed to retain their own cul -
ture. They have kept their language, medicine
and clans. Some Miccosukee even prefer to live
in chickees, thatched-roof houses on stilts,
instead of modern housing. The Miccosukee
Indian Village and Airboat Rides is an authentic
family camp with sleeping and working chickees
surrounding the cooking chickee, which has
a symbolic star-shaped fire. The village includes
a museum, boardwalk and alligator arena.
Since the 1960s, the Miccosukee have had
their own Constitution and Bylaws. The
Miccosukee Tribe is in the continuous pursuit of
economic self-sufficiency and self-determina -
tion. Their goal of total independence has led to
the tribe operating its own clinic, police department,
court system, day-care center, senior program,
Community Action Agency, educational
system and other social services. These pro -
grams, along with a restaurant, gift shop, general
store and service station, are located on the
Tamiami Trail Reservation, forty miles west of
Miami. A gaming facility and tobacco shop are
located on the Krome Avenue Reservation, at the
intersection of Krome Avenue and Tamiami
Trail, and a full service gas station and plaza are
located on the Alligator Alley Reservation, west
of Fort Lauderdale lying north and south of
State Road 84.
Membership in the Miccosukee Tribe of
Indians of Florida is open to Indians who are onehalf
Miccosukee Indian blood and are not enrolled
members of any other tribe. The total population
of the Miccosukee Service Area is 550.
The Miccosukee way is best reflected in its
yellow, red, black and white flag—colors that represent
the circle of life: east, north, west and
south. They view the whole universe as spinning
slowly in a circle like the logs of their ceremonial
fire. What was, will be and will cease to be again.
Stephen Tiger is the former Public Relations Director for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida Inc. Since 1989, he has successfully transformed the Miccosukee
Indian Village and Airboat Rides into a major South Florida attraction. He served on the Board of Directors of the Florida Attractions Association and the EDA Grant
Committee. His endeavors have showcased the Miccosukee tribe and the Everglades. Tiger is also an accomplished musician, singer, songwriter and author.
CHAPTER XVII ✧ 71
Entertainers such as Billie Holiday, seen here, were guests at the historic Georgette’s Tea Room, 2540 NW 51st Street. (COURTESY OF THE BLACK ARCHIVES HISTORY AND RESEARCH FOUNDATION OF SOUTH FLORIDA)
B Y E NID C. PINKNEY
According to Bill Gjebre in Miami’s
Neighborhoods, Brownsville is bordered by the
Airport Expressway on the south, NW 62nd
Street on the north, NW 19th Avenue on the
east and NW 36th Avenue on the west. The
Brownsville Neighborhood Civic Association
gives its boundaries as NW 54th Street on the
north, NW 41st Street on the south, NW 27th
Avenue on the east, and NW 36th Avenue on
the west. For our purposes, we will accept the
The community of Brownsville was put on
the map of Dade County in May 1916 by a
black farmer, W.L. Brown, who recorded it as
“Brown Subdivision.” Over the years the area
came to be known as “Brownsville,” but many
old-timers still refer to it as “Brownsub.” Much
of the community was used for farming. Farmer
Brown owned property west of 27th Avenue in
the upper 40th Street area. He grew string beans
and sugarcane. There were other farmers in the
area who were pioneer settlers. Among them
were John Howard Adams and J.D. Williams,
who raised hogs. The Adams family moved into
a house at what is now NW 24th Avenue and
50th Street in 1916, several years before their
son Neal was born. The area was known as
Amos Town, named for Theodore Amos, a
developer of the area.
Neal Adams became a Dade County
Commissioner and served the Brownsville
Community and all of Dade County by bringing
government services to the area. He was instrumental
in having a Metrorail station built in
Brownsville. He also worked to bring the Joseph
Caleb Center to the neighborhood. Other Adams
children were Richard, Lawrence, George, Earl,
Howard, Renvy, Margie and Miriam.
J. D. Williams, who was a bishop in the
Church of God of Prophecy, moved from
Overtown to Brownsville in the 1930s. He
built a house out of coral rock on 27th Avenue
near 51st Street where the Metrorail station is
now located. Roger Williams, one of Bishop
J.D. Williams’ sons, remembered the hogs digging
up coral rocks out of the ground. He also
remembered having to laboriously take the
coral rocks to the area where their house
would be built because they were used in the
construction of the house.
Bishop Williams was also a realtor and developer.
He and Wesley Garrison developed
“Home Owner’s Paradise,” which was bounded
on the south by 48th Street, on the north by
50th Street, on the east by 27th Avenue and on
the west by 32nd Avenue. Both developers were
registered Republicans because blacks could not
register as Democrats during the 1930s in
Miami. Bishop Williams started the Church of
God of Prophecy on 27th Avenue and 50th
Street. He later bought land on 51st Street near
27th Avenue to move the church from the commercial
and business area of 27th Avenue to
where the church is now located. Bishop
Williams was not only a minister and realtor, he
was also a philanthropist, for he donated much
of his personal wealth for the development of
the church and to help its members. Other
Williams children were Matthew, a postal
employee; Carl, a teacher and realtor; Inez, an
artist, and Erma, a registered nurse.
Dr. William Sawyer was another developer
in the Brownsville community. He was a doctor
who played a major role in the building of
the Christian Hospital. He built Alberta
72 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Heights Apartments on 50th Street and 27th
Avenue. It was named for his wife but com -
monly called the Sawyer Apartments.
Another community leader was Bruce
Torres, who was from Cuba. He and H.E.S.
Reaves, editor of the Miami Times, and Ozella
Dunn, were listed in the Miami Times as the
1946 Citizens of the Year. Mr. Torres was cited
for his courageous stand against terror and
mob threats in the defense of his home and the
right of blacks to live in certain sections of the
Brownsville settlement where whites once
lived. Whites once lived in the area of 50th
Street and 29th Avenue. Mr. Torres’ address
was 3053 NW 50th Street.
Jackie Torres Aranho, one of Mr. Torres’
daughters, considered her father to be a Civil
Rights worker. She remembered hearing her
father talk about racial tensions in Brownsville
in 1945. He often talked about the cross burning
that took place in their front yard when the
family lived on NW 50th Street. Her brother
Martin Ellis now lives there. Even the mailbox
was burned, she said. Mr. Torres waged his
own battle to protect his home and neighborhood.
Wesley Garrison, the realtor and developer,
helped Mr. Torres to make contacts with
whites for whom he worked to ask them to see
what they could do to get the Ku Klux Klan to
lessen their pressure on Mr. Torres. Mr. Torres
also appealed to the NAACP for help in alleviating
the racial tension in Brownsville.
Brownsville consisted of single family homes
until the mid 1960s, when the Dade Department
on Housing and Urban Development started
building low income family housing projects.
The residents felt a need to become organized to
protect themselves from the encroachment of
Brownsville’s Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery is the final
resting place of D.A. Dorsey, Miami’s first black millionaire.
(COURTESY OF METRO-DADE TRANSIT)
low income housing in their residential community.
The Brownsville Improvement Association
was organized by Neal Adams and chartered in
1938 to fight the county’s efforts to build even
more low-income housing in Brownsville.
Brownsville is now a neighborhood of both
well-kept and run-down single-family homes
and apartments. The Brownsville Neighborhood
Civic Association has sought to keep the community
a desirable place to live by fighting zoning
variances that provide for apartments, junk
yards, and businesses that bring crime, drugs,
and other menaces to the community. It seeks to
bring improvements in schools, lighting, streets,
safety of citizens, cleanliness of the neighbor -
hood, recreational facilities and the addition of
sidewalks. Brownsville is a community with
character and pride.
Samuel Smith was another entrepreneur who
lived in Brownsville. He and his wife, Leonie,
reared seven children at their family homestead,
The many churches in the area have always played an important role in the community. Greater Bethel AME Church,
245 NW 8th Street, was built between 1927 and 1943. (PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)
2735 NW 50th Street, where Mrs. Smith, 96,
still lives. Their children are Birdie Anderson, a
retired registered nurse, Adelle Smith, beautician
(deceased), Samuel Smith Jr., retired postal
worker, Lowell Smith, retired teacher, Victoria
Byron, retired cashier and day care teacher, and
Priscilla Rutledge, retired registered nurse.
Brownsville has always been a place where families
could grow and become productive. This
family is but one example of family accomplishments
in the Brownsville Community.
The Brownsville Neighborhood Civic
Association has participated in several neighborhood
awareness and community projects. It
participated in “Making Brownsville Home,” a
project sponsored by Dade Heritage Trust,
which featured such citizens as Ora Lee
Adams, Jonathan Thurston, Earl Glenn, and
One of the aspects of life that people of
Brownsville are proud of is that it is a pleasant
place to rear a family, and its citizens have made
contributions to the neighborhood and the wider
community. These leaders have included:
Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry, first African-American woman
in the Florida State Legislature.
Joe Lang Kershaw, first African American state legislator.
Jefferson Reaves, state legislator and organizer of Brownsville
Neighborhood Civic Association.
Daryl Reaves, state legislator.
James Bush, state legislator.
Eugene Lowe, builder who constructed
the Church of God of Prophecy.
George Williams, builder who constructed his own home,
Luscious Crawford, president of the
Brownsville Neighborhood Civic Association.
Gearge Kilpatrick , owner of Spic and Span Grocery
Warren Welters, owner of the Brownsville Drug Store.
James Everett, outstanding athlete, coach, and
inductee into the Hall of Fame.
Caroline Morley, businesswoman, civic and religious leader, and
charter member of the Black Archives History and Research
Foundation of South Florida.
William Louis Generethe, manager and supervisor
of the Miami District for Atlanta Life Insurance.
Dr. Daniel T. Williams, archivist at Tuskegee Institute.
Dr. Ronald R. Hopkins, retired deputy director of the Center
for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia, who teaches and lectures
around the world.
Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields, founder and chief archivist of the Black
Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida, Inc.
Judge L. Leo Adderly, municipal judge.
Judge John D. Johnson, retired municipal judge.
Everete Stewart, president, Brownsville Neighborhood
Dr. Kelsey L. Pharr, civic leader, funeral home owner and licensed
Paul Moss, operator of home for delinquent students and musicians.
Marjorie Wake, charter member of Black Archives,
community and church leader.
Eufaula Frazier, political leader, Democratic Committeewoman.
Emanuel Hutcheson, businessman, civic leader.
Isreal Milton, assistant county manager.
Bishop Emanuel Rahming, and Wilbur Vickers, leader in
Neighborhood Crime Watch and religious leaders.
John R. Marks III, attorney and first African American
Public Service Commissioner in the state of Florida.
Ida Bell Jackson, founder of Jackson’s Toddle Inn nursery school.
Mavis Martin, renowned opera singer.
Gwendolyn Welters, school administrator and community worker.
CHAPTER XVIII ✧ 73
as the Family Health Center, Claude Pepper
and Ward Towers, housing for senior citizens,
and the James E. Scott Community Association.
The African Heritage Cultural Arts Center is
located on 62nd Street and 22nd Avenue.
Martin Luther King Park is located at NW 32nd
Avenue and 62nd Street. All provide social, cultural,
and physical activities for the community.
Historical sites in Brownsville include
Georgette’s Tea Room, 2540 NW 51st Street, a
13-room house built in the 1940s by Georgette
Scott Campbell. It was a meeting and guest
house for black celebrities and entertainers. It
offered a quiet and pleasant alternative to larger
hotels such as the Hampton House, also
located in Brownsville, where famous black
The Brownsville Community Center in Jefferson Reaves Park provides activities for local children. (PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)
Isreal Milton, who talked about the growth and
development of Brownsville. Dr, Richard K.
Dozier, professor of Architecture at Florida
A&M University was guest panelist on how
other neighborhoods have preserved their heritage
Members of the community have also participated
in 12 television programs on Cable
TAP 37 about the history of Brownsville. The
series was entitled “Historical Perspectives of
Brownsville,” sponsored by Dade Heritage
Trust and Barnett Bank, now Bank of America.
The Museum of Science and Space
Planetarium sponsored a reception honoring
persons who participated in the television
series at the Museum. Nationsbank has also
given workshops on how to purchase a home
and has assisted in the community clean-up
campaigns. The community has also participated
in a Main Street Workshop. This workshop
helped the participants identify some of
the goals that they would like to achieve in the
community. A workshop on how the community
could participate in the Main Street
Program was conducted by consultant Joan
Jefferson at Antioch Baptist Church.
Some members of the Brownsville
Community continue to attend church in
Overtown and in other communities.
The community has continued to grow and
prosper. It has long ago outgrown its original
roots as a farming community. There are governmental
services and cultural buildings in
the vicinity. One program brought to the community
was the Model Cities Program. This
program grew out of the 1966 Cities
Demonstration and Metropolitan Development
Act. It was designed to achieve maximum
coordination of federal, state, local and private
resources in a comprehensive plan to significantly
improve the social and physical conditions
of neighborhoods. One of the major
achievements of the Model Cities Program is
the Joseph Caleb Community Center, which
opened its doors for service at 5400 NW 22nd
Avenue on September 25, 1977. The Caleb
Center houses a large auditorium, the Black
Archives History and Research Foundation of
South Florida, Inc., Child Development
Services, Community Conflict Resolution
Services, Community Clerk’s Office, Dade
County Office of Emergency Assistance, James
E. Scott Community Association Day Care
Center, James E. Scott Community Association
Home Visitor Program, Neighborhood
Network North, New Century Development,
North Central Manpower, State Attorney’s
Office, a tag agency, Veterans’ Services, the
Juvenile Court, a clinic, the Mental Health
Center and offices for County Commissioner
Barbara Carey and United States
Congresswoman Carrie Meek.
The area of 22nd Avenue and 54th Street is
the location of other community agencies such
Earlington Heights Elementary School, 4750 NW 22nd
Avenue, is built of oolitic limestone, or coral rock, and is
locally designated as historic. (PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)
Entertainers Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee perform on the stage of the Joseph Caleb Community Center, located at 5400 NW
22nd Avenue. Named for a black union leader, the Caleb Center hosts many civic events and is the headquarters for the
Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida. (COURTESY OF MIAMI-DADE PARKS)
74 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
The Brownsville Renaissance Shopping Center is a symbol of economic revitalization for the community. (PHOTO BY AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY, INC., COURTESY OF DEEDCO)
entertainers would stay when visiting Miami.
Other historical sites are Lincoln Memorial
Cemetery, one of the oldest black cemeteries in
Dade County. It is the final resting place for
many of Miami’s black pioneers such as Dr.
William Sawyer, Henry E.S. Reeves, D.A.
Dorsey and Dewey Knight.
The Christian Hospital, previously located
in Overtown, was at one time the only hospital
that would admit African Americans.
Earlington Heights Elementary School,
4750 NW 22nd Avenue and Dr. DuPuis’ house
at 3105 NW 62nd Street are listed on the
Miami-Dade County Historic Registry.
Community schools that provide education
for the youth and space for evening meeting
for adults are Lorah Park Elementary, Floral
Heights Elementary and Kelsey L. Pharr
Elementary. Brownsville Middle School is the
only middle school in the community. Some
students attend Miami Springs Middle School.
There is no high school within the boundaries
of the neighborhood. Residents of the community
attend Northwestern, Jackson, Miami
Springs and Central senior high schools.
The community of Brownsville has had its trials
and tribulations. It has seen riots and crime,
and lives with debris on various corners and in
front of homes. The Brownsville Neighborhood
and Civic Association continues to work for
community improvement. Members have
appeared before the County Commissioners, the
Zoning Appeals Board and other governmental
agencies to sustain the single family housing zoning
for the community and stop the proliferation
of junk yards and other undesirable ventures.
One of the outstanding ventures and positive
changes that have come to the community is the
Brownsville Renaissance Shopping Center. It is
the result of community efforts and the Dade
Employment and Economic Development
Corporation, commonly referred to as DEED -
CO. The shopping center is located at the intersection
of NW 27th Avenue and 54th Street.
This is the former site of the old Jet Drugstore, A.
and G. Grocery Store and Tiny’s Liquors, which
burned down during the 1980 riots. The new
structure is approximately 27,000 square feet.
Financing was secured with a $1.7 million construction
loan from NationsBank and $750,000
from Fannie Mae. Without this commitment by
Fannie Mae to inner city development and revitalization,
the project would not have been realized.
It is hoped that this project will serve as a
catalyst for the economic revitalization of
Brownsville and will enhance the growth, development
and quality of life of the community.
The Brownsville Neighborhood and Civic Association has worked to preserve zoning for single family housing. Shown here is
the home of Enid and Frank Pinkney. (PHOTO BY PAULETTE MORTIMER)
Enid Curtis Pinkney was born in Miami in Overtown and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. She received a B.A.degree from Talladega College and a
M.S. degree from Barry University. She wrote “Fifth Court Revisited” for Miami South Florida magazine in 1982 and “Overtown Was My Town” in Miami the American
Crossroad by Arva Moore Parks and Greg Bush. She conducted the African American research for Burials in the City Cemetery, 1896-1990, was featured in “Miami in
Our Own Words” by The Miami Herald and the University of Miami’s Profiles of Miami, and has been a columnist for The Miami Times. She produced the television
program Resurrection: Blacks Buried in the City Cemetery for Channel 35 and a twelve-part series on Historical Perspectives of Brownsville for Channel 17.
She has served as the first African American president of Dade Heritage Trust and of the Natives of Dade. She is a founder and charter member of the Church of
the Open Door, United Church of Christ. She serves on the Executive Council of the United Church of Christ and the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board.
She has been honored with the “Distinguished Alumni Award” from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the “Lay Woman of the Year”
award from the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ, and the “Essence of Quality” award from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She was inducted into the
Hall of Fame of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority and into the Talladega College Hall of Fame. She has been named a “Woman of Impact,” has received an “In The Company
of Women” award from Miami-Dade County and has been sent a letter of commendation by the Queen of England.
CHAPTER XVIII ✧ 75
Crowds enjoy Dade Heritage Days’ RiverDay 2000 in José Martí Park on the south side of the Miami River in East Little Havana. (PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)
RIVERSIDE AND SHENANDOAH
BY P AUL S. GEORGE
As difficult as it is to imagine today, the community
called Miami, or, more precisely, the
settlement gracing the banks of the meandering
Miami River, contained, according to the
Florida State census for 1895, just nine people!
Yet one year later, following the extension of
Henry M. Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway
(FEC) from West Palm Beach to the Miami
River, Miami claimed many hundreds of set -
tlers. The story of the entry of the FEC Railway
into Miami and the efforts of Julia Tuttle and
William and Mary Brickell, the community’s
most prominent settlers, in this process are
familiar. Flagler, the multi-millionaire oil baron
and industrialist, had extended his rail line
from northeast Florida to West Palm Beach over
a period of many years, arriving in the latter settlement
in 1894. One year later, on the heels of
two ruinous freezes that destroyed agricultural
crops as far south as the Palm Beach area,
Flagler decided, after meeting with Tuttle, to
move his railroad to the Miami River.
For Flagler, Miami offered the prospect of a
frost-free area suitable for agriculture as well as
a promising venue for tourism. For Tuttle, the
prospects of the railroad’s entry meant that
Miami would gain a long-awaited lifeline to the
outside world and a jumpstart toward development.
The announcement that the railroad was
headed to Miami brought hundreds of settlers,
many still reeling from the devastation of the
recent freezes, to the shores of Biscayne Bay for
a chance to begin anew in a milder clime.
As part of his agreement with Tuttle and the
Brickells, Flagler, in addition to extending his
railroad to the Miami River, agreed to lay out a
city site, and build a tourist hotel. In return,
the railroad baron received hundreds of acres
of choice land from Tuttle and the Brickells. By
October 1895, a contract had been drawn setting
forth the items previously agreed on
among the principals to it. At the same time,
Flagler’s surveyor, A.L. Knowlton, was in
Miami studying the area in order to begin platting
a town site.
Using today’s street numbering system, the
boundaries established by Knowlton included
Eleventh Street on the north; on the west, NW
7th Avenue (north of the Miami River); on the
south, NW and SW 8th Avenue (south of the
river), beginning at the intersection of SW 8th
Avenue and SW 11th Street, running east
along 11th Street to the intersection of 15th
Road and following that artery southeast to a
point two miles into Biscayne Bay. The eastern
border was also set in the middle of the bay.
The future Riverside, a thickly wooded area,
virtually bereft of people, thus found itself
within the proposed limits of the new city.
With the arrival of hundred of workers to
the area, many of the familiar trappings and
institutions of fledgling settlements began to
appear. Julia Tuttle’s Hotel Miami began to rise
in early 1896 near the north bank of the Miami
River. By then, several business houses,
stretching from the north bank of the Miami
River to today’s Southwest/Southeast 2nd
Street, appeared along the community’s first
street, Avenue D, today’s Miami Avenue. They
included the Miami Metropolis, the first newspaper,
which began publishing on May 15,
1896, and the Bank of Bay Biscayne, which
opened soon after. In its inaugural issue, the
Metropolis called for the incorporation of the
City of Miami. At the same time, the Flagler
organization began preparing the community
for this moment. On July 28, 1896, the City of
Miami was incorporated and the above boundaries
defined its size and shape.
The nascent city grew quickly despite early
problems. Its population rose to 1681 in 1900.
76 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Two decades later, it claimed nearly 30,000
residents. By then, tourism and real estate sales
had joined agriculture as the major elements of
its economy. Miami’s early population spurt
pushed settlement beyond the confines of
downtown. The city grew primarily north and
west of the original core. The subdivisions on
the west bank of the Miami River, corresponding
to today’s East Little Havana, included
Miami (A.L. Knowlton), Riverside, which later
was expanded and became Riverview, and
Lawrence Estate Land Company subdivision.
They stretched from the Miami River west to
today’s Twelfth Avenue and from today’s
Southwest Eighth Street north to Northwest
Carved out of the piney woods and resting
on an oolite limestone ridge, Riverside was
located in a portion of the Rebecca Hagan
Donation, a Spanish land grant emanating
from the early nineteenth century. Riverside
and the above-mentioned subdivisions were
developed in the first two decades of this century.
The entire area came to be called
“Riverside” for its location near the stream and
for the fact that one of its subdivisions bore
that name. While Mary Brickell platted the
Riverside subdivision, the most important
developers were the Tatum Bothers: Bethel B.,
John R., J. H., and Smiley, creators of the
Lawrence Estate Land Company subdivision,
which represented a sizable segment of
Riverside. These colorful promoters came to
Miami from Dawson, Georgia, in the 1890s.
The neoclassical Warner House, at 111 SW 5th Avenue, was completed in 1912 as the Warner family home and floral business.
One of the most elegant buildings in Riverside, it was restored in 1983 as an office building. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
Tatum in Riverside fetched $300 to $350 in
1904. Tatum Brothers’ advertisements characterized
the area as “The Beautiful Ridge” owing
to its verdant, elevated terrain. In an advertisement
appearing in 1906, J.H. Tatum and com -
pany exhorted Miamians to “buy a lot in
Riverside,” especially since “the electric trolley
line will be completed through (Riverside) in
90 days and the price of all lots will be
Riverside contained many elegant, two-story
frame homes and other simpler residences. As
the second and third decades of the twentieth
century unfolded, many of the newer homes
were bungalows. This style of architecture originated
in British-controlled India and spread to
other areas of the world, including the United
States. Early on, Riverside’s residents included a
roster of prominent entrepreneurs, politicians,
and civic activists.
The Riverside area was connected to nearby
downtown by the 12th Street (later Flagler
Street) bridge, which opened as a toll-roadway
in 1905. The tolls were steep for that era: 10
cents for a pedestrian; 25 cents (more than $6
in today’s money) for a horse-drawn cart. In
A bungalow style home, featuring coral rock and wood shingles, which was typical of many built in Riverside in the 1920s
and 1930s. (COURTESY OF MIAMI-DADE HISTORIC PRESERVATION DIVISION)
The Miami River Inn consists of a series of wood frame
and masonry buildings dating to the early 1900s.
(PHOTO © 1994 BY JOHN GILLAN)
CHAPTER XIX ✧ 77
A statue of Mary holding baby Jesus graces the shade of a banyan tree in Little Havana. (PHOTO BY ANTOINETTE NATURALE)
1909, the City of Miami purchased the facility
and removed the tolls. Broad Flagler Street was
Riverside’s most important thoroughfare. A
Flagler Street trolley began operating in 1915,
carrying passengers as far west as SW 12th
Avenue. A car barn was located nearby. SW 6th
Street also boasted a trolley line beginning in
1925. This line rambled from downtown along
6th Street to SW 16th Avenue, where it turned
north and traveled as far as NW 7th Street.
Businesses and splendid homes arose along
both sides of West. Flagler Street in the early
1900s. In later decades, parades sometimes
spilled over the Flagler Street Bridge west to
SW 12th Avenue and beyond. Located on
thoroughfares north and south of 12th Street
were additional homes occupied by many
prominent Miamians. By the 1920s, Riverside
reached beyond 8th, 12th, and 17th Avenues.
(Much of the area between 12th and 17th
Avenues had earlier hosted large citrus groves.)
New thoroughfares, like SW 8th Street, which
represents the easternmost portion of the
Tamiami Trail, joined the aforementioned
streets as major commercial arteries. That area,
stretching from 8th Street to Coral Way and
from 14th Avenue to roughly 27th Avenue,
came to be known as Shenandoah, for several
of its subdivisions located there bore the name
of the beautiful valley that runs through a portion
of Virginia. Shenandoah’s unofficial borders
stretch from SW 12th to 27th Avenues
and from 8th Street to Coral Way.
The decade of the 1930s saw significant
changes in the population of Riverside.
Increasing numbers of Jews moved into the
area. Their businesses, professional offices, and
institutions accompanied them. The Jewish
presence continued to grow and remained a
major element of the population until the late
1950s, when an era of postwar prosperity and
population expansion brought another housing
boom to Greater Miami. The boom
prompted the migration of many Riverside residents
to suburban developments throughout
Riverside’s population mix has undergone a
remarkable change in the last half of the twentieth
century as large numbers of Cubans,
Nicaraguans, and other peoples from the
Caribbean and Latin America poured into the
quarter. The earliest known Cubans in Miami,
were the family of Luis Gonzalez, who were
already residing in the nascent city in 1896. In
its inaugural edition of May 15, 1896, the
Miami Metropolis reported that Luis Gonzalez,
a Cuban-born, but longtime American resi -
dent, had opened a cigar “factory” in Miami.
According to historian Francis Sicius, the
Gonzalez family probably moved to Miami
from Key West, a bustling home to many
Cubans in the nineteenth century. He was
joined in 1896 by Jose Sanchez, who, following
his arrival in Miami, became a foreman in
a small cigar factory in the fledgling munici -
pality. These Cubans were part of a small community
of cigar makers. About fifteen Cubans
were living in the Miami area according to the
United States Census of 1900. One of those
families were the Enscinosas, who, by 1920,
were residing on SW 8th Street/Calle Ocho.
The turbulence of Cuban politics led to the
formation of a Cuban exile colony, primarily
on Miami Beach, in the early decades of this
century. The island’s political tumult increased
in the final years of the regime of President
Gerardo Machado in the early 1930s, when
Greater Miami became the center of Cuban
exile activity. By then, more than 1,000 Cuban
exiles were huddled on the periphery of downtown
The numbers of Cuban exiles grew dra -
matically in the 1950s as many fled the dictatorship
of Fulgencio Batista for Miami.
(Ironically, Batista maintained a home in
Spring Garden, on the north bank of the
Miami River). Riverside and Shenandoah
became home to many of these exiles whose
numbers in Dade County reached 30,000 in
that decade, according to historian Maria
Cristina Garcia. Cuban radio programs and
restaurants counted large numbers of enthusiastic
listeners and patrons. By 1955, a shrine
to Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of
Cuba, had risen west of Riverside in the
Catholic parish of St. Michael the Archangel
on West Flagler Street. Círculo Cubano, a
Cuban Social Club, opened at 420 Southwest
Eighth Street in 1955. It sponsored weekly
dances for teenagers and adults. In the meantime,
the Cuban community dined on native
dishes at restaurants in the area and enjoyed
Cuban pastries from nearby bakeries.
By then, the physical components of the
neighborhood had begun to change. In the
period immediately after World War II, new
structures arose throughout the quarter as large
apartments, bearing bland architectural styles,
increasingly replaced the quaint frame vernacular
and bungalow homes of yesteryear.
Additionally, many denizens of Riverside
moved to new homes in burgeoning suburbs
arising west of there.
More remarkable was the change in
Riverside’s population in the years and
decades following Fidel Castro’s rise to power
in Cuba in 1959, as many thousands of
Cubans poured into the quarter. By the beginning
of the 1980s, they were joined by
Nicaraguans, Hondurans, and other Spanishspeaking
persons from throughout the hemisphere.
By the 1960s, “Little Havana” was a
78 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Begun in 1978 as a way to unite the Miami community and to bring people to visit 8th Street, the “Calle Ocho” festival is now the biggest block party in the world.
(COURTESY OF THE KIWANIS CLUB OF LITTLE HAVANA)
CHAPTER XIX ✧ 79
The Art Deco building of Miami Shipyards stands on the
corner of SE 2nd Avenue and South River Drive.
(PHOTO BY MARTY STOFIK, COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
term commonly used to describe the
Riverside and Shenandoah neighborhoods.
“Calle Ocho,” or Eighth Street, again became
a bustling thoroughfare closely associated
with the Cuban economic “miracle.” Today’s
East Little Havana is like an “Ellis Island,”
since so many of its residents have fled the
political and economic turmoil of the
Caribbean and Latin America for new lives in
the United States.
In the 1980s, City of Miami planners divid -
ed Little Havana into East and West sectors,
with 12th Avenue serving as the dividing line
between the two. While East Little Havana’s borders
are clearly defined, incorporating, as they
do, the former Riverside area, those of West
Little Havana, which includes Shenandoah, are
more vague, especially in the west, since some
authorities consider Southwest/Northwest 27th
or 37th Avenues as the border in that direction.
Others maintain that the robust Cuban-driven
Hispanic business corridor stretching along 8th
Street, Flagler Street, and other thoroughfares
deep into the western sectors of the county
places the edge of West Little Havana in that
direction, or many miles beyond the more conservative
interpretation. The federal population
for 1990, outdated as it is today, remains,
nonetheless, the most accurate source for assessing
the population of East Little Havana. (By
2001, new census material will, of course, provide
us with a much more complete and updated picture
of the changing demographics of East Little
Havana). According to that count, the quarter
contained in 1990 about 20,000 residents, more
than ninety-five percent of whom were Hispanic.
(West Little Havana with its undefined western
borders contains a much larger population,
while the total population of the City of Miami
in that decennial year was 358,548, of whom
224,000 were Hispanics). The sector’s population
has risen steadily since then, as the upcoming
census will indicate. Today’s East Little
Havana represents one of the most densely
populated neighborhoods in the state.
East Little Havana has much to offer resi -
dents and visitors alike. It is the home of such
singular institutions as the Lighthouse for the
Blind and the Hope Center. It was also the
birthplace of the Miami Jewish Home and
Hospital for the Aged. Victoria Hospital operated
there from its inception in 1924 until its
closing earlier in this decade. The quarter contains
two historic parks created in the early
1900s, Henderson Park and Riverside Park,
now named for Jorge Mas Canosa, which
includes one of the most elevated areas in the
city. Named for an early Miami mayor,
Henderson Park was the site of many championship
tennis tournaments and matches in the
century’s middle decades. José Martí Park, a $5
million waterfront park that opened in 1985,
sits on the site of an ancient Tequesta Indian
village. It offers visitors a stunning view of the
bustling Miami River and the soaring buildings
of downtown to the east.
Some of the city’s oldest businesses, such as
Biscayne Engineering (1905), McAllister
Florists (1923), and Robert’s Drugstore (1921),
still operate in the quarter. Teatro Martí has
resided in the Riverside Mercantile Building
since the early 1960s. The John B. Gordon
Chapter 24 constructed this building, located
on the southwest corner of SW 8th Avenue and
4th Street, in 1926. Nearby stands Templo
Adventista del Séptimo (1925), a textbook
example of a mission style church. Another
religious institution of landmark status is
Riverside Methodist Church, which began in
1921. Riverside Elementary School, one of the
county’s oldest schools, is a bustling bi-racial
cultural institution. Ada Merritt Junior High,
the county’s first junior high school, opened in
Riverside in 1923. Currently closed, it is destined
to reopen in a new complex that will
include the restored, historic Spanish Colonialstyled
main building that hosted the original
school. The Koubek Center, the University of
Miami’s School of Continuing Studies, is located
at 2705 SW 3rd Street and includes a beautifully
restored home from the 1920s.
The quarter also claims the Miami River
Inn, consisting of a series of wood frame and
masonry buildings, some of which were constructed
in the early 1900s. Overlooking the
Miami River, this quaint, beautiful facility is the
area’s premier bed and breakfast establishment.
Warner Place, standing one block west of the
Miami River Inn and formerly known as the
Warner House, is a stunning neoclassical structure
built in 1912 as a home to the Warner
family and their Miami Floral Company.
The quarter contains many street vendors
as well as produce trucks offering fresh vegetables
and fruits. East Little Havana is dotted
with small food emporiums and cafeterias,
which offer a surprising variety of inexpensive
food delights and, of course, Cafe Cubano. A
restaurant in the quarter, La Esquina de Tejas,
became famous when it hosted President
Ronald Reagan for lunch in 1983 and Vice
President George Bush for Cafe Cubano several
years later. The quarter’s liveliest day is the
second Sunday in March, when an estimated
one million revelers crowd along the narrow
parameters of Eighth Street in both sectors of
Little Havana for the fabled Calle Ocho Open
House. This nonpareil event marks the culmination
of the eight-day Lenten Celebration
known as Carnival.
East Little Havana offers residents and visitors
alike a wonderful window into yesterday’s
Miami, as well as today’s bustling metropolis.
Just as Miami’s suburban experience began
with Riverside nearly 100 years ago, the city’s
contemporary character has been, and continues
to be, strongly influenced by East Little
Havana, home to waves of recent arrivals chasing
the American dream in their quest for freedom
Paul S. George is an associate professor, senior, at Miami-Dade Community College, Wolfson Campus. A native Miamian, he is a graduate of Miami-Dade
Community College and received a Ph.D. in history from Florida State University. He has taught at FSU, Florida A &M University, Florida Atlantic University and
the University of Miami. The author of eight books and over 100 articles and book reviews, he is editor of Tequesta, the scholarly journal of the Historical Association
of Southern Florida, to which he is historian. He has served as president of the Florida Historical Society, vice chairman of the City of Miami’s Heritage Conservation
Board, and director of the Historic Broward County Preservation Board. He currently is a member of Miami-Dade County’s Preservation Board and is the president of
the Louis Wolfson II Media History Center. He is well known for the thirty-five different history tours he conducts of Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties.
80 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
LITTLE HAVANA AND CALLE OCHO
BY L ESLIE P ANTÍN, JR .
Little Havana is the emotional center of
Miami’s Hispanic community. In the early
1960s, large groups of Cuban exiles settled in
this area near downtown Miami, where housing
was affordable (due to the movement to the
suburbs) and close to the available jobs.
The area came to be known as Little Havana.
Its rough boundaries are the Miami River on
two sides, and U.S. 1 and Coral Gables on the
other sides. Southwest 8th Street, known as
“Calle Ocho,” is Little Havana’s main street. It is
also a main feeder to downtown Miami.
You can be born and buried in Little Havana.
You can get an education in Little Havana, from
bilingual grade schools to college. South
Florida’s oldest high school, Miami Senior, as
well as campuses of Miami-Dade Community
College (the nation’s largest community college)
and the University of Miami are all in Little
Havana. You can shop, bank and eat at great
restaurants, and buy books and music all in
Spanish. You can read Miami’s two Spanish-language
dailies while sipping Cuban coffee at the
many storefront cafes, and listen to one of the
many radio stations that transmit music or talk
from Little Havana. You can worship at one of
the many churches, attend football or soccer
games at the Orange Bowl, or watch soap operas
(telenovelas) on the two Spanish language television
networks, Univision and Telemundo, headquartered
The central part of Little Havana contains
the “Latin Quarter,” where unique zoning and
architectural standards give it a distinctive fla -
vor that includes brick sidewalks, red barrel tile
roofs and sidewalk cafes. Many Spanish-lan -
guage works can be enjoyed at the numerous
theaters in Little Havana, plus the Greater
Miami Opera at the Dade County Auditorium.
Today, Little Havana is also the home to residents
of many Central and South American
countries, adding to the Miami mosaic.
Hispanics reside in every neighborhood, making
South Florida (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, the
Palm Beaches and the Keys) the third most
populated Hispanic center in the U.S., behind
Los Angeles and New York. With over
1,250,000 Hispanic residents (35% of the population),
this market has a buying power of
over eight billion dollars.
The following walking tour gives a glimpse
of the flavor of Little Havana, highlighting some
typical establishments along Calle Ocho and
several notable places that are a five-minute car
drive from the walking tour.
We start at the southwest corner of
Southwest 8th Street (Calle Ocho) and 19th
Avenue with Librería Cervantes, 1898 SW 8th
Street. Named after the well known author of
Don Quixote, this bookstore carries many titles
by other great Hispanic authors, as well as the
New York Times best-sellers that have been
translated into Spanish.
Florería El Camino, 1896 SW 8th Street. As
you enter this multi-purpose shop, you will see
a wide variety of Spanish language magazines.
Some of you might recognize Spanish versions
of Good Housekeeping or Popular Mechanics.
Many others are original titles specifically edited
for Hispanics. Along the reading area there
are racks of used western paperbacks in
Spanish, which are either sold or exchanged.
On the opposite wall, there is a display of
Santería paraphernalia. Santería is the Afro-
Cuban religious cult developed by slaves in
Cuba and practiced by many Cuban-
Americans. Florería literally means flower shop,
and indeed there are flowers sold here, for in
Santería rituals are closely linked to color
schemes for each “saint” and flowers and candles
As we walk down Calle Ocho towards the
next stop, there is a coffee shop’s window open
to the street, forming a countertop where Café
Cubano, pastries, cigarettes, cigars and other
items are sold. These are common and numerous
in Hispanic areas, usually associated with a
restaurant or grocery shop. It is a great place to
have a 10-second breakfast on your way to
work or for a quick break during the afternoon.
Make sure you order a cafecito, or Cuban
expresso coffee. It will give you enough of a
“charge” to help you make it through the rest of
You will find clothing stores where you will be
able to purchase a guayabera shirt, the official
summertime attire for many Miami businessmen.
Casa Prieto Bakery, 745 SW 8th Street. Feast
your eyes on a display of colorful birthday
cakes and Cuban pastries filled with guava,
meat or cheese. Order a giant loaf of Cuban
bread, or the distinctive Cuban crackers.
Kings Ice Cream, 1831 SW 8th Street, is
typical of the old Havana shops in that it has
been family owned and operated for several
generations. It offers tropical fruit ice cream
made on the premises. There is a large mural
depicting tropical fruits such as mamey, mango,
tamarindo, guanabana and coco. Their ice
creams and shakes are extremely popular, and
during Miami’s few cold days they also serve
hot chocolate with churros, the Spanish version
of hot doughnuts.
Do Re Mi Music Center, 1829 SW 8th Street,
features thousands of recordings of popular
Hispanic performers, both local and international.
New Canton, 1823 SW 8th Street. Cuba,
like many Caribbean islands, used to have a
large Chinese community. Many of them also
immigrated to Miami when Castro took over. In
the menu, along with traditionally Chinese
items you will find typical Cuban dishes.
Little Havana’s “Latin Quarter” features brick sidewalks,
red barrel tile roofs and sidewalk cafes.
(PHOTO BY ANTOINETTE NATURALE)
President Supermarket, 1895 SW 8th
Street, is stocked with many Cuban specialty
items not found in the average grocery store,
plus many products originating in Central and
On 15th Avenue and SW 8th Street there
is Domino Park, considered to be one of the
most-used parks in the United States, if
measured by square inch. This mini-park is a
haven for the area’s senior citizens; it is a
place where they can meet and play domi -
noes and chess from dawn to dusk.
Discussion and debate are as much part of
CHAPTER XX ✧ 81
A perpetual torch burns at the Bay of Pigs Monument
along Calle Ocho to honor those who died in the ill-fated
1961 invasion to free Cuba from Castro’s dictatorship.
(PHOTO BY ANTOINETTE NATURALE)
the game as the game pieces. Topics may
include daily updates of what is happening in
Cuba and the possibilities of Castro’s demise.
Arguments sometimes turn very lively in
spite of the No Escándalos (No Scandals) and
other signs that warn about discussing reli -
gion or politics. There is a snack shop next to
the park that offers fresh squeezed fruit
juices, including the typical guarapo, a drink
made from sugar cane.
The Bay of Pigs Monument, 13th Avenue
and 8th Street, has a perpetual torch dedicated
to those who lost their lives in 1961 in the illfated
invasion of Cuba by the anti-Castro 2506
brigade, comprised mostly of Cuban exiles living
El Crédito Cigars, 1106 SW 8th Street, has
expert workers who learned this complex art in
Cuba, hand rolling cigars on the premises. The
tobacco leaves are grown in Central America
from Cuban Seeds, considered the best in the
world. Cigar making has a long history in
Florida. Factories used to flourish in Tampa
and Key West, staffed by both Cuban and
Spanish descendants. Old cigar rollers are a
very educated group, because, in Cuba at the
factories, they hired professional readers, who
would read aloud from classic books whilst
they were working. Cuban’s foremost patriot,
José Martí, used to make a living as a reader.
Finally, stroll around José Martí Park, SW
4th Avenue and 4th Street. This riverfront park
delivers a magnificent view of downtown
Miami and gives you another chance to peek at
Little Havana’s daily life.
Visitors by the hundreds of thousands come
to partake in the many festivals hosted by Little
Havana. In early January, the Three Kings
Parade preserves an old Cuban tradition.
In his efforts to eradicate traditions, particularly
those with religious roots, Castro eliminated
many celebrations, including that of
the Three Kings Day. The celebration of the
Three Kings Day is widespread in the
Hispanic world. This holiday commemorates
the visit of the three wise men to baby Jesus
in Bethlehem twelve days after Christmas.
These wise men, also known as “The Three
Kings,” brought gifts to baby Jesus, starting
the tradition of giving presents to the children
on January 6th.
In Cuba it was customary for children to ask
one of the Three Kings for a present. Children
would pick their favorite King (Balthazar,
Gaspar or Melchior) and request their desired
gift. On the morning of January 6th the toys
would magically appear in the child’s home.
Many families placed a nativity scene under
their Christmas trees, which displayed the figures
surrounding the birth of Jesus, including
the Three Kings.
During the 1950s Santa Claus was also
becoming popular at Christmas time. The celebration
of Noche Buena on Christmas Eve, Santa
Claus and Three Kings Day all led to a very
enjoyable extended holiday season. In Miami
Cuban-Americans have kept the tradition alive
with an annual parade in Little Havana.
In March, Carnaval Miami brings 10 days of
partying and festivities, including the world’s
largest block party: Calle Ocho Open House,
sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana.
Calle Ocho’s beginning has an interesting
story. It all started as a project in 1977 to unite
the Miami community, with the co-sponsorship
of The Miami Herald, led by John McMullen,
and Frank Soler of el Nuevo Herald. After much
brainstorming that included ideas such as a
bicycle race, a concert and others, club member
Willy Bermello, who had lived in Philadelphia,
suggested a block party like many ethnic festivals
held in that city.
A year of planning brought together music,
food, arts and crafts, boxing and folkloric
groups. City officials were very skeptical, but
finally acquiesced, and a few sponsors were
found, including Bacardi.
The festival was first called “Open House
Eight, An Invitation to SW 8th Street,” so it
would be language friendly, and it followed the
United States custom of having an open house
so your new neighbors would get to know newcomers.
Oddly enough, it was the Englishspeaking
guests who called it “Calle Ocho.”
March of 1978 came around and members
of the Kiwanis Club were working hard on the
preparations and were very nervous about
how many people would come; the most optimistic
guess was 10,000. That Sunday morning,
club members were up way before dawn,
physically finishing the music stages and
A system trolley was secured for guests to ride
through the fifteen blocks of Calle Ocho. The
sidewalks were lined with “art,” which included
macrame hanging plants, food vendors, the
musical and folkloric stage and the boxing ring.
Kiwanis Club members were pleasantly sur -
prised by the number of people who came early.
An hour into the event, SW 8th Street was so
crowded that the trolley was sent home. The
next day, the Miami Herald headline shouted that
100,000 had attended Calle Ocho!
Since then, Calle Ocho has grown into the
two-week festival called Carnaval Miami. It was
at the behest of tourism offices that the event
expanded, and it was television that made it
known all over the Hispanic world. In 1981, the
Mexican television show called Siempre en
Domingo brought big name talent to Calle Ocho,
including Julio Iglesias, and the show was televised
to Latin America and the United States.
Latin music stars have since then performed in
Carnaval Miami events at the Orange Bowl and
Bayfront Park. Landmarks have included the
world’s largest Conga line (with over 119,000
dancers) and the cancellation one year of the
entire Carnaval Miami in honor of The Brothers
to the Rescue planes shot down by Cuba.
Carnaval Miami has grown into the largest
Hispanic festival in the United States, and Calle
Ocho is known as the biggest block party anywhere
in the world. Most importantly, it brings
Miami’s multi-cultural community together for
a joyous celebration.
Leslie Pantin, Jr. is founder and president of The Pantin Partnership, a leading public relations firm. He was born in Havana, Cuba, attended elementary
school in Coral Gables and graduated from Florida State University business school. One of the founders of the “Calle Ocho” festival, he has
also chaired the Orange Bowl Committee and co-chaired the Miami Centennial. A member of many community and statewide boards, he received the
Miami Herald’s “Spirit of Excellence” Award in 1998.
82 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
The fresh water spring called “The Devil’s Punch Bowl,” bubbling up in a coral rock cliff by Biscayne Bay, has been sought out for centuries by Indians, pirates, pioneers and tourists. This landmark
is behind a home in the Cliff Hammock neighborhood. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
B Y J ULIA H ODAPP C OHEN
The spot where I found Col. Harney camped could, with very little trouble, be converted onto a perfect Eden. The coconut, the banana, the orange, the lime,
the tamarind flourished around us, in the spontaneous growth of the soil. Swarms of deer abounded in the forests close by; and the most delicious spring water
flowed from the rock under the bluff of the shore. This was indeed the land of flowers, and no wonder the Seminoles desired to remain....
—Jacob Rhett Motte
By the mid 1830s,when Jacob Rhett Motte
wrote the above description upon first seeing
the “land of flowers,” South Florida was
embroiled in the Second Seminole War, the
longest Indian war in U.S. history. The area was
still largely undeveloped, and largely untamed.
The ‘Eden’ to which Mr. Motte alluded,
however, was already a legendary site because
of the freshwater spring that bubbled through
it. The lure of springs on the mainland had
attracted mariners from the Caribbean and
Europe for hundreds of years. They came in
search of the fountain of youth, or, if that
failed, casks of fresh water that would allow
them to journey across the ocean for trade. The
most famous of these springs was the Devil’s
Punch Bowl (or the Pirate’s Punch Bowl),
which is said to have attracted travelers ranging
from the Tequesta Indians (a tribe native to
Southeast Florida prior to the first Spanish
invasion) to Captain Cook and other smug -
glers, buccaneers, and pirates.
The Punch Bowl occupied a spot in what was
once dense hammock on Biscayne Bay, in what
is now the Cliff Hammock neighborhood, one of
the most beautiful in South Florida. Mention of
the Punch Bowl appears in accounts by white
Bahamian farmers who settled here in the 1800s
at the behest of the Spanish government, by later
soldiers of the Seminole wars, and by tourists
who came to Miami in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries. Over the years, the site
has become less known to the general population,
but is still of interest to historians. In addition,
it is part of the traditions of the Miccosukee
and Seminole tribes, who crowd the site for a
nighttime ceremony every year.
In the 1870s, the Brickell family, major
landowners, embarked on a buying spree that
would encompass property from Coconut Grove
to the Miami River, including the Cliff Hammock
neighborhood. In 1896, the same year Miami was
incorporated, they converted the footpath that
had once led to Coconut Grove into a wagon trail.
In 1911, Mary Brickell, the matriarch, created
Brickell Avenue, which ran from the Miami River
south to today’s 15th Road. The road boasted a
median (which she called a central park) and
soon became the preferred address in the city.
South of 15th Road, however, remained a
dense hammock, with the original wagon road
as the only land access. The “rubberneck wagons”
(tour wagons) that went down the trail were
popular with tourists, who turned out in droves
to look at the Devil’s Punch Bowl and to listen to
the enterprising, if not always accurate, tour
wagon guides. One of the many tourists to come
through was Mary Baird Bryan, wife of William
Jennings Bryan, who was one of the most famous
politicians in the United States at the time.
CHAPTER XXI ✧ 83
Vizcaya, an Italian Renaissance villa and gardens, was designed by architects F. Burrall Hoffman, Paul Chalfin and Diego
Suarez. Constructed from 1914-1916, Vizcaya is considered one of the most beautiful estates in America. Open to the public
as a museum, Vizcaya is treasured by tourists and residents alike. (COURTESY OF VIZCAYA MUSEUM AND GARDENS)
In the winter of 1911,the Bryans were vacationing
in Jamaica. However, Mr. Bryan was
called up to the north in February, and Mrs.
Bryan came to Florida to explore the area with an
eye to building a permanent winter home. After
getting off the boat in Tampa and taking the train
first to Orlando and slowly down the coast, she
stepped off the train in Miami, then still a small
village. She said “The railroad station was...a
bower of flowers…. As soon as I breathed the
balmy air of Miami, I knew this was the place.”
When Mrs.Bryan took the rubberneck
wagon, she was so charmed by the hammock by
Biscayne Bay that she hired a surveyor the next
day, and they spent two days together cutting
though the undergrowth with a machete. When
Mr. Bryan came and saw the town and the land
his wife had selected, he was equally entranced.
He soon purchased property between W.S.
Jennings, who was the former governor of
Florida (and Mr. Bryan’s cousin), and J.L.
Billingsly, then City Attorney for Miami and later
United States Attorney for South Florida. Mr.
Bryan’s arrival delighted the citizens.
Today, Mr. Bryan is remembered, and often
reviled, for his role in the Scopes trial, wherein
he represented Tennessee in the state’s fight
against the teaching of evolution. However, in
1912 he was a respected elder statesman, a
three-time presidential candidate, and a moral
leader. His presence affirmed Miami as a place
where exciting and fashionable things were
happening. On any given Sunday morning in
the winter of 1912, several thousand people
crowded into Royal Palm Park to hear the
Sunday school class Mr. Bryan taught.
In December of 1912, Bryan returned to
Miami and began to break ground for “Villa
Serena.” The jungle atmosphere was one of the
land’s attractions, and he went to some lengths
to preserve it, declaring that “nature is the best
landscape architect when all is said and done.”
He went to Budge’s Department Store downtown
and bought an axe, which he used to
clear ground and to help W.S. Jennings build a
seawall along their properties and the property
of J.L. Billingsly. A Hollywood film crew
recorded the two men in action.
By January 1913, preliminaries were underway,
and Villa Serena was going up. The house
was made of concrete strengthened with a steel
understructure and was designed to capture
Famous for his oratory, William Jennings Bryan is shown here teaching Bible class in the Royal Palm Park on December l7, 1922.
(COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
the maximum breeze from the bay. By
December of 1913, Mr. and Mrs. Bryan had
moved in. While Mr. Bryan oversaw the building,
Mrs. Bryan had spared no effort on the
details. She selected the roof tiles personally at
a factory in Cuba. The doorknockers were also
selected there. The enormous mantle pieces
were rescued from a condemned mansion in
Although these events were capturing the
attention of the city and the country, the most
important project in the city’s architectural
development was only getting started. In
November of 1912, just a month before the
work began on Villa Serena, James Deering
bought 130 acres of bay front land from Mary
Brickell for a thousand dollars an acre. He
demanded that the road which ran through his
property be closed, which angered the Coconut
Grove Taxpayers’ Guild. Mary Brickell and
James Deering, who had previously argued bitterly
over the cost of the land, now joined forces
to lobby for road closure. In the end, Mary
Brickell built a new road, now Miami Avenue,
at her own expense, and Brickell Avenue was
closed off at Deering’s property.
Deering originally intended to build a
small, secluded retreat in the middle of the
wilderness, only large enough for his inti -
mates—a counterpoint to his house in Paris,
his mansion in Chicago, and his flat in New
York. The extra land would serve to protect his
privacy. He chose the jungle between Miami
and Coconut Grove, turning down an offer of
free land on Miami Beach from his friend Carl
Fisher. He selected Paul Chalfin, a young New
York designer, to put up the small, Spanishstyle
home he envisioned.
Chalfin’s vision was different. He teamed up
with a young architect, F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr.,
and together they presented Deering with a
plan for an Italianate villa, sprawling and airy.
The home would be more than a masterpiece;
it would be an architectual fantasy, designed to
look as if it truly had been sitting on the shores
for centuries, inhabited and furnished by a
dozen generations. To this end, Deering and
Chalfin went off on two trips to Italy, bringing
back wrought iron gates, frames for the
immense doors, several statues, and purchasing
boatloads of furniture, accessories, and
even building materials from Europe.
While in Florence, Paul Chalfin met the
man whom he would later commission to do
the formal gardens. The man was Diego
Suarez, who was born in Bogota, Colombia
and educated in Italy. The gardens were modeled
after the Italian style, and are designed on
a slant running down to the villa on the bay.
Suarez’s job, and the jobs of all of the builders,
84 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
A view of Vizcaya from the terraced gardens. (PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)
was complicated by Deering’s insistence that
the builders not cut down a single one of the
great trees in the hammocks. Today, the visitor
wanders through the dense growth on his or
her way to the gates. The villa is designed
around a central, covered patio, which allows
air to circulate throughout the house.
At the height of production, the project
employed about a third of the working men in
the city, and was by far its biggest employer.
Artisans came from all over the country. James
Orr, the first contractor brought in, traveled all
up and down New England, on his honey -
moon, looking for the last of a breed now all
but extinct in the United States—artisans who
still worked with hand tools. Paul Chalfin’s
relentless perfectionism, which spread to the
rest of the major workers, did not allow for the
use of machines for jobs that could be done by
men. This painstaking effort delayed the com -
pletion of Vizcaya. The project was also delayed
by the outbreak of World War I in Europe; even
though the U.S was not yet in the fighting, the
The magnificent Renaissance Hall at Vizcaya. (COURTESY OF VIZCAYA MUSEUM AND GARDENS)
cost of imports from Europe had skyrocketed,
and some things were unavailable altogether.
Deering arrived at Vizcaya by yacht on
Christmas Eve, 1916. The dramatic entrance
he made was not, however, typical of his personal
style, which ran towards the intimate
dinner party or luncheon. Members of
Deering’s inner circle of friends, whom he
called the “regular,” included the Bryans and
Jennings, as well as William K. Vanderbilt and
his wife. The public was given tours of the
house and grounds in the winter, and the gardens
were open in the summer. The place
became such an attraction that some citizens
complained that the walls blocked their view
of the house! Deering was loath to have his
house displayed from the road, but he did not
wish to offend the public. The compromise
was the beautiful wall, with hand-etched
designs and sconces for fountains, which still
runs along part of Bayshore Drive.
About the time Deering moved into Vizcaya
in 1916, J.L. Billingsly’s “Indian Spring” was
completed, at the north end of Villa Serena.
Although he did not have an actual spring on
his property, he compensated with a swimming
pool, which was a rare luxury in that era, especially
in south Florida, where much of the land
was only a few feet above sea level. After
Stanley Joyce bought the house in 1920, he
replaced the pool with a new $200,000 pool
and grotto, a present to his future ex-wife,
Peggy Hopkins Joyce. Mrs. Joyce herself was
one of the most interesting—not to say notorious—of
the street’s residents. A barber’s daughter
turned showgirl turned famous love interest,
the eventual Peggy Upton Archer Hopkins
Joyce Morner Easton Meyer was perhaps the
This watercolor of James Deering, who built Villa Vizcaya
as his winter home, was painted in 1917 by John Singer
Sargent. (COURTESY OF VIZCAYA MUSEUM AND GARDENS)
first “modern” celebrity, a person famous for
her private life. During the 1920s and 1930s,
she amassed five millionaire husbands and
lovers who ranged from Walter Chrysler to
Charlie Chaplin. She was a household name,
but she died in obscurity in 1957, having been
unlucky enough to outlive her sex appeal.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the
neighborhood continued to be a fashionable
one, and several beautiful homes were built
during the period. The house to the north of
“Indian Spring,” 3029 Brickell, was built in the
Spanish style in 1928, and 1935 saw another
home directly north of that, which includes, at
its eastern edge, the famed Devil’s Punchbowl.
In 1932, the widowed and crippled Mary Baird
Bryan sold the Villa Serena to William F. Cheek,
one of the heirs to the Maxwell House fortune.
James Deering died in 1925 aboard the S.S.
France, having only spent nine years at
Vizcaya. His heirs, Mrs. Cyrus McCormick and
Mrs. Richard Danielson, both grand-nieces,
donated the house and 50 acres of the land to
CHAPTER XXI ✧ 85
the city of Miami in 1952. Besides being a
major tourist attraction, the home is open to
civic groups and private individuals for parties,
which helps to cover the cost of the upkeep.
Besides the donation of Vizcaya, the history
of the neighborhood is neither particularly
interesting nor particularly well documented
during the middle part of the century.
However, the 1970s brought some changes. In
1971, the Cheek estate sold the Villa Serena to
Gaspar Nagymihaly for a reported $275,000.
In 1975, Richard Danielson, the son of James
The handsome residence of Adrienne Arsht and Michael Feldman, designed by architect Jose Gelabert-Navia, has replaced
the “Indian Spring” estate, though the original pool and grotto have been restored. (PHOTO BY JULIA COHEN)
Old Brickell Avenue still retains a shady, park-like ambiance. (PHOTO BY JULIA COHEN)
Deering’s niece, built a mansion at 100
Southeast Thirty-Second Street,on a small portion
of the land once owned by Deering. The
1970s also saw the establishment of Alice
Wainwright Park at the north end of the neighborhood.
The land had originally been zoned
for construction, but the efforts of Claire
Weintraub, a resident, and others stopped the
building, which would have damaged much of
the area’s beauty.
The 1990s saw the neighborhood going
through yet another flowering. Richard
Danielson’s home was bought and occupied for
a time by actor Sylvester Stallone and model
Jennifer Flavin. In the 1990s, Mr. Stallone was
in negotiations with a condominium developer
who wished to build there, but the property
was instead bought by businessman Leonard
Abess and his family.
Another celebrity to live on the street for
awhile was Madonna, the singing star, who
bought 3029 Brickell in 1992, and who recently
sold her home to a rock band which is
rumored to be using it as a headquarters. 1992
also brought Hurricane Andrew to the area,
86 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
which rendered Indian Spring unlivable. The
current owners, Adrienne Arsht and Michael
Feldman, have built a magnificent new house
on the site and were able to salvage and restore
the elaborate pool and grotto that Stanley Joyce
gave to his bride.
Another change in the neighborhood came
at Alice Wainwright Park, which had become
a center for drugs and vice during the 1980s.
Through the determined efforts of a neighborhood
association, the park has been once
again made a safe place for the citizens of
Miami to play. The adjoining hammock is kept
as a conservation area and is one of the last
such places on the South Florida coast.
Opposite it on the street, the Villas of Vizcaya,
a group of luxury homes, will bring new residents
into the area without damaging the
ambiance. With the exception of Indian
Spring, the historic homes have remained
intact, and the visitor can still drive along the
wide, divided road, still much as Mary Brickell
intended it. It is hoped that the Cliff
Hammock neighborhood will remain a
reminder of the richness of Miami’s history.
The pool of Ca ’Ziff, one of the latest additions to the Cliff Hammock neighborhood, shimmers surrealistically,
overlooking Biscayne Bay. (PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)
Julia Hodapp Cohen has lived in Miami Beach all her life. She is currently a political science and economics student at Macalester College in Minnesota.
The Housekeeper’s Club was organized in 1891 by Flora McFarlane as “a bit of civilization in the wilderness.” It evolved into the Coconut Grove Woman’s Club. (COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
B Y D AVID B URNETT
Until the mid-19th century the area of
Coconut Grove was more commonly known as
the “Little Hunting Grounds,” a Seminole
appellation describing its remarkable abun -
dance of tropical wildlife on land and sea. Most
early settlers of the Little Hunting Grounds
immigrated from the islands of the Bahamas
and earned a modest living from the sea or in
trade with a sizable population of Seminole
Indians who exchanged pumpkins, sweet
potatoes, venison and plumes for cash, manufactured
goods, or hunting supplies.
On November 14, 1868, Edmund
“Alligator” Beasley submitted the first application
for a claim of 160 acres of prime waterfront
land located south of the Miami River. His claim
included all of present day downtown Coconut
Grove from 27th Avenue to Royal Road in addition
to one and a half miles of waterfront land.
Soon after, John Frow, a former keeper of the
Cape Florida Lighthouse, purchased a 160-acre
tract for $100 and almost immediately began to
subdivide it into smaller lots. His claim com -
prised all the land from present-day Frow Street
to Grand Avenue in the north. Lastly, John and
Edward Pent, the sons of a former lighthouse
keeper, claimed a homestead in the area north of
Grand Avenue adjacent to the Beasley grant.
These three homesteads comprise the center of
present-day Coconut Grove.
On January 6, 1873 this dispersed collection
of homesteads was christened “Cocoanut
Grove” when Dr. Horace Porter, a Civil War veteran
leasing land from the widow of Edmund
Beasley, opened a post office by that name.
Beyond this, Porter had little influence on the
future development of Coconut Grove, aban -
doning his lease one year later and all evidence
of the post office disappearing. It was a northern
sailing enthusiast, Commodore Ralph Munroe,
and two English immigrants, Charles and
Isabella Peacock, who transformed Coconut
Grove into a vibrant local community and exotic
tourist destination for northern visitors.
Arriving from London in 1875, the
Peacocks first earned a modest income, like
most pioneers, in processing starch from the
coontie root, a staple of the Caribbean diet that
grew wild in the pinewoods of south Florida.
In 1877 the Peacocks made the acquaintance
of Munroe during his first sailing trip to south
Florida from New England. Although the trip
lasted only one month, Florida made a pro -
found impression upon him. Munroe found
there what he called a “simple and genuine
life.” Munroe returned to Florida in 1881, hoping
that the mild climate would rejuvenate his
wife who was dying of tuberculosis. In spite of
the generous care of Charles and Isabella
Peacock and the friendship that developed
among them, his wife died within the year and
Munroe returned to his home of Staten Island.
With the encouragement of Munroe, who
promised to bring visitors, the Peacocks purchased
31 acres from John Frow for $100 and
during 1883 built the first hotel on the south
Florida mainland, the Bay View House, which
was later renamed the Peacock Inn. Located on
a ridge overlooking the bay, the Peacock Inn was
CHAPTER XXII ✧ 87
The Barnacle, located on Main Highway in downtown Coconut Grove and now a Florida State Historic Site, was built by
Commodore Ralph Munroe in 1891. In 1908 Munroe raised the one-story wooden house to accommodate a lower story of
rusticated concrete block. (COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
88 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
actually a large home with extra rooms for
guests, a store, and a post office. During 1884
Munroe discovered in an old postal guide that
10 years earlier a post office called “Cocoanut
Grove” had existed four miles south of the
Miami river. Reasoning that it was easier to reactivate
a discontinued post office than to apply
for a new one, Munroe re-christened the com -
munity “Cocoanut Grove.” Within two years the
Peacock Inn became a tourist attraction for distinguished
northern visitors who spent the winter
months exploring a tropical frontier. These
visitors included writers, naturalists, intellectu -
als and preachers, many of whom later made a
permanent home in Coconut Grove. The success
of the Peacock Inn necessitated its expan -
sion and replacement by two larger buildings in
1895. Until its closing in 1902, the Peacock Inn
was the nucleus of the fledgling pioneer com -
munity of Coconut Grove.
In search of hotel employees, Charles
Peacock traveled to Key West, where he hired
Mariah Brown, a native of the Bahamian island
of Eleuthera. Mariah Brown initially lived in a
building on the grounds of the Peacock Inn
and later moved to a nearby settlement located
on a back road that linked Coconut Grove with
the more remote farming community of Cutler
towards the south. This road through the
Peacock, Frow and Munroe homesteads was
first called Evangelist street due to its abun -
dance of churches. It was later renamed
Charles Avenue by Joseph Frow, who sold its
subdivided lots to a growing population of
Bahamian immigrants of African descent who
came to work at the Peacock Inn. Charles
Avenue was the first African-American settle -
ment in south Florida.
Teaching easterners how to live in the tropics,
the Bahamian pioneers of African descent
made an enormous contribution to life on the
Florida frontier. They supplied labor for development,
introduced many early species of edible
fruits and vegetables, explained how to cultivate
agriculture in the rocky soil, and demonstrated
how to build durable wood-framed
structures capable of withstanding hurricanes.
Their humble dwellings on Charles Avenue
perpetuated the vernacular architectural tradition
of the Bahamas.
Ebeneezer Woodberry Frank Stirrup was
among the most influential early residents of
Charles Avenue. He arrived in Key West from
the Bahamas in 1888 at the age of fifteen. After
working as a carpenter’s apprentice, Stirrup
moved north to Cutler, where he labored on
pineapple plantations by day and cleared land
by night. Paid in cash and land, he prudently
saved this income. Honoring a deep personal
conviction that every man should possess a
home and garden, Stirrup invested his savings
in land on Charles Avenue, where he built over
one-hundred dwellings including his own in
1897. Through the sale and rental of homes at
a modest cost, Stirrup established an important
precedent for African-American property ownership
that directly contributed to the stability
and survival of the Charles Avenue neighborhood.
In the historic Charlotte Jane Memorial
Cemetery on Charles Avenue, Bahamian-style
gravesites commemorate the many contribu -
tions of generations of African-American residents
to the cultural life of Coconut Grove.
Among the earliest surviving buildings from
the pioneer era of Coconut Grove is a Sunday
School building constructed in 1889 on land
donated by Ralph Munroe with funds raised by
Isabella Peacock, who spent two years collecting
donations from hotel guests. Built entirely
of lumber salvaged from wrecked ships, the
Sunday School is a simple one-story one-room
wood frame structure with a gable roof covered
in wooden shingles. Its architectural details are
a direct response to the exigencies of a tropical
climate. Wooden shutters protect window
openings from the high winds and driving rain
The first Coconut Grove schoolhouse was built in 1889 and was moved to the grounds of Plymouth Congregational Church
in 1969. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
of tropical storms, and cladding of vertical
board and battens facilitate the drainage of rainwater
from the walls.
From 1889 to 1894 the building was leased
to the school board, which organized there the
first public school in Dade county, with a total
enrollment of ten students. After 1902 the original
Sunday School building had a succession of
owners until Ryder Systems purchased the
building in 1969 for $75,000 and, one year later,
transferred ownership to the Plymouth Church
to insure its preservation. During the restoration
process, additions built over the course of many
years and many uses were removed and the original
school bell was reinstalled.
Among the most sophisticated vernacular
buildings of the pioneer era is the residence of
Ralph Munroe, known as “the Barnacle.” After
1883 Munroe returned every winter from Staten
Island to Coconut Grove until he finally decid -
ed to make it his permanent home in 1889.
Having already received four acres of land from
the Peacocks as a token of appreciation for his
assistance in the construction of the hotel,
Munroe purchased an additional 40 acres south
of the Peacock Inn from John Frow for $400.
The first African-American settlement in South Florida was composed of Bahamians who resided on Charles Avenue in
Coconut Grove. They are shown here in front of the Peacock Inn in the 1890s. (COURTESY OF THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES)
E.W.F. Stirrup was an influential early resident of
Charles Avenue who built over l00 dwellings. He
constructed his own house, shown here, in 1897 of pine
cut from the site and milled at the Munroe sawmill. The
original Bahamian style porch across the front was
removed and an-L shaped wing was added in 1912.
(COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
Before his death on August 30, 1933, Ralph
Munroe made many contributions beyond
architecture to life in Coconut Grove. In her
seminal work, The Forgotten Frontier, historian
Arva Moore Parks has eloquently chronicled
these achievements. Munroe developed a
national reputation as a designer of shoal-draft
sailboats. His photographs provided the
American scientific community with its first
visual documents of the unique subtropical
flora and fauna of south Florida. His outspo -
ken advocacy for the preservation of the natural
environment kept alive the pastoral tradi -
tion of Coconut Grove long after the end of the
The future survival of the Barnacle was
uncertain after the death of Ralph’s son, Wirth
Munroe, in 1968 due to mounting economic
pressure for real estate development. Civic
spirit prevailed, and his heirs sold the Barnacle
to the State of Florida in 1973 for a fraction of
its market value to ensure its future preservation
as a historic site and museum
The Pagoda of the Ransom-Everglades
School is another outstanding building in the
vernacular tradition. Its builder, Paul Ransom
initially visited Coconut Grove in February of
1893, following the advice of his physician
that he seek a mild climate to prolong his life.
During a winter visit to Coconut Grove,
After completing the construction of a twostory
boathouse with upstairs living quarters in
1889, Munroe built the first sawmill on the
bay, the “Factory,” in 1890. One year later,
Munroe constructed a home on a bayfront site
with the advantages of a trail cleared through
hammock land and a grove of exotic flowering
and fruit trees.
The Barnacle is a reflection of Munroe’s
extensive knowledge of naval architecture. Built
of wood salvaged from shipwrecks and cut to
size, the original Barnacle was a one-story
wooden frame structure covered by a large hip
roof with generously overhanging eaves.
In 1908 Munroe enlarged the Barnacle to
accommodate his growing family. Ingeniously,
Munroe jacked the original house one-story
higher on temporary wooden stilts while he
built a new first floor underneath. Concrete
piers replaced the original wood foundation.
Later, the exterior was stuccoed, wooden roof
shingles replaced with tile, indoor bathrooms
and a new kitchen installed, and in 1913 a semidetached
library added on the northeast side.
Plymouth Congregational Church was organized in 1897 by prominent citizens of Coconut Grove. Constructed of oolitic
limestone, or coral rock, the sanctuary was erected in 1917 in a style inspired by a Spanish mission in Mexico.
(PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)
CHAPTER XXII ✧ 89
The “Pagoda,” at 3575 Main Highway, was built in 1902 and is now part of Ransom Everglades School.
(COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
Ransom decided to open a winter camp for
boys he had been tutoring. It proved to be the
perfect vehicle for his enthusiasm for educa -
tion and his reverence for the unspoiled out -
doors. By 1901, improving health and increasing
enrollment prompted Ransom to transform
his winter tutoring camp into a full-fledged
school. Ransom purchased seven and one-half
acres of bayfront land covered in mangrove
swamp along its coast and a forest of palmetto
and pine further inland. He named the site
“Pine Knot Camp” to commemorate these natural
The most significant building constructed
during campus improvements of 1902 is commonly
known as the “Pagoda,” in reference to
its stack of hip roofs that vaguely resemble the
The clubhouse of the Coconut Grove Woman’s Club, which evolved from the Housekeeper’s Club, was designed by architect
Walter DeGarmo in 1921. It is located on Bayshore Drive between the Coconut Grove Library and towering highrises.
(COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)
massing of an Asian reliquary. Designed by
Green and Wicks of Buffalo, New York on the
basis of sketches submitted by Ransom. The
Pagoda became the nucleus of the resulting
Following the death of Paul Ransom in 1907,
his widow and a board of trustees assumed leadership
of the school until it closed temporarily in
1942 and re-opened in 1949 as the Ransom
School. In 1974 the institution merged with the
nearby Everglades School for Girls to become
Ransom-Everglades School of today.
The construction of the first bridge across
the Miami River in 1903 facilitated the expansion
of residential subdivisions to the outskirts
of the newly founded City of Miami. Among
the earliest suburban neighborhoods for middle-class
residents arriving via the railroad was
the Bayview Road Subdivision in Coconut
Grove. It supplied winter residences to
Northern investors in a speculative real estate
venture known as the Sunshine Fruit Company,
founded in 1910 by Harold Debussy Justison
from Cleveland, Ohio. A professor of forestry at
the University of Miami by the name of John C.
Gifford, who had been designing and building
bungalows in Coconut Grove since 1903, convinced
Justison of the potential profitability of
owning, operating and managing the fruit
groves of absentee landowners. Gifford himself,
in collaboration with Beverly and Margarita
Peacock, platted and developed the neighborhood
of Silver Bluff in the northern portion of
In 1911 the Sunshine Fruit Company purchased
a lot from the original Ewan home -
stead, platted the Bay View Road subdivision,
and built several bungalows for employees.
With its broad central avenue lined by
Washingtonian palm trees and terminated in a
circular court, the Bay View Road subdivision
reflects the influence of the City Beautiful
Movement of early 20th century America. The
original Sunshine Inn, which provided temporary
lodging for prospective investors between
1915 and 1929, has survived to the present as
a campus building of the Vanguard School.
“El Jardín,” built in 1917 as the winter residence
of the president of the Pittsburgh Steel
Company, John Bindley, is one of many
bayfront estates built by American business
tycoons along the coast of Coconut Grove after
the railroad. Others include the “Anchorage,”
home of William Jennings Bryan (1908), and
the “Four Way Lodge,” home of William
Matheson (1911). The construction of magnificent
resorts and residences to suit the taste of
the magnates of industry brought the profession
of architecture to south Florida. In their
adaptation of European precedents to subtropical
Florida, architects introduced an academicism
previously unknown on the frontier.
El Jardín is considered to be the earliest
example of Mediterranean Revival architecture
in southern Florida. It illustrates dramatic
changes in the patronage, function and aes -
thetics of architecture after the railroad.
El Jardín was the first project in Florida
designed by the Pittsburgh architectural firm of
Kiehnel and Elliott. Its chief designer, Richard
Kiehnel (1870-1944) also designed the Scottish
Rite Masonic Temple in downtown Miami (1922),
the Coral Gables Congregational Church (1925)
and the Barclay Plaza Hotel of Miami Beach
(1936). Since 1961, El Jardin has been used as a
campus building of the Carrollton School for Girls
by the Convent of the Sacred Heart.
90 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
The Coconut Grove Theater, located on Main Highway, first opened in 1926 as a movie palace with three floors of retail space.
Architecturally altered over the years, it remains an important landmark for the community. (COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
The construction of Plymouth Church from
June 1916 to August 1916 by a congregation
which only two decades earlier had regularly
assembled in a one-room wooden building is
further evidence of changes brought by the
railroad. In 1915 the Reverend George
Spalding, with the assistance of George E.
Merrick, the developer of Coral Gables,
acquired land in the center of Coconut Grove
along Main Highway. To raise money for the
construction of a new building to replace two
outgrown chapels, the congregation subdivided
and sold lots on the southernmost edge of
its property. This neighborhood is known
today as “Admiral’s Row,” in commemoration
of the four retired admirals who purchased
Designed by the New York architectural
firm of Clinton McKenzie, Plymouth
Congregational Church is among the earliest
examples of Mission architecture in Florida.
The aged and weathered appearance of the
wall surfaces is the work of Felix Rebom, the
stonemason who single-handedly laid the
stonework of the building with primitive tools.
In the years following 1947, growth of the
congregation necessitated the physical expan -
sion of the church. The architect Robert Law
Weed performed a major renovation of the original
single-aisled church, transforming its plan
into a cruciform by the addition of a transept in
1954. Five years later, classrooms, offices and a
fellowship hall were built adjacent to the original
church to create an open courtyard.
In 1921 the Coconut Grove Woman’s Club
also replaced their meeting house, erected only
four years earlier, with a new one in the vocabulary
of Mission architecture. This venerable
social institution traces its beginnings to the
Housekeeper’s Club organized by the schoolteacher
Flora McFarlane in 1891 with the mission
to gather the women of Coconut Grove
together in study and fellowship.
The designer of the Woman’s Club was
Walter Charles De Garmo, who was among the
earliest and most skillful professional architects
in south Florida.
In 1919, citizens voted to incorporate the
“Town of Coconut Grove,” finally correcting the
original spelling of Dr. Porter and dropping the
“a” from “Coconut Grove.” The real estate developer
Irving J. Thomas was elected as the first
mayor. During the Florida Land Boom of the
early 1920s, as real estate prices ballooned and
negative publicity regarding land speculation
gained momentum throughout America, the
Town of Coconut Grove hired the Philadelphia
architect John Irwin Bright to devise a comprehensive
urban plan for its downtown.
More than just an enticement to lure northern
investors, the Bright Plan was a sincere
expression of unbridled optimism regarding
future economic prosperity. It proposed the
creation of a grand city on the edge of Biscayne
Bay with wide boulevards, reflecting pools and
a crescent-shaped block of civic buildings in
the Mediterranean tradition. It also proposed
to transform the entire neighborhood of
Charles Avenue into a golf course and relocate
its inhabitants to a site west of the railroad
tracks in a planned community. In its handling
of ornament, the Bright plan was a decisive
rejection of the austerity of Spanish Mission
architecture for the pomp and rhetoric of the
competing Mediterranean Revival style.
Ultimately, the Bright Plan was the victim of
its own ambition, being too impractical and
elaborate to fully implement. Nevertheless, a
few roads were widened and a few buildings
were actually built in accordance with the Bright
plan, such as the Coconut Grove Theater. The
municipal independence of Coconut Grove
ended abruptly on September 2, 1925 when it
was annexed by the City of Miami along with
Allapattah, Buena Vista, Lemon City and Silver
Bluff. A later series of local and global misfortunes
such as the 1929 Stock Market Crash in
New York, the bust of the 1920s Florida Real
Estate Boom, and the Hurricane of 1926 retarded
the pace of development in Coconut Grove
until the post WWII era. These misfortunes also
precipitated the demise of the Mediterranean
Revival language of architecture.
The original Coconut Grove Theater, a culmination
of the Mediterranean Revival style,
was designed by the firm of Kiehnel & Elliott.
Located at 3500 Pan American Drive, the City of Miami’s City Hall was originally the Pan American Seaplane Base and
Terminal, built in 1931. (COURTESY OF ARVA PARKS & COMPANY)
CHAPTER XXII ✧ 91
The streets of downtown Coconut Grove, lined with shops and sidewalk cafes, are a favorite spot for tourists and residents alike.
(PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)
It contained three floors of retail space and
one floor of penthouse apartments in addition
to the main theater. By the early 1950s the
novelty of the theater had waned, and it
resorted to second-run movie shows before
declining attendance eventually forced its
closing in May of 1954.
The entrance to the Javanese-inspired house,The Kampong, built in 1928 at 4013 Douglas Road, overlooks Biscayne Bay.
The land was homesteaded in 1892 by Captain Simmons and his wife, Dr. Eleanor Galt Simmons, South Florida’s first
woman doctor. The estate was the home of the internationally renowned horticulturist Dr. David Fairchild, who planted
tropical plants from around the world on the property. It was later owned by Dr. Katherine Hauberg Sweeney, who donated
it to the National Tropical Botanical Garden. (COURTESY OF THE KAMPONG)
One year later, the Coconut Grove Theater
was purchased by Stanley Engle, who spent
over one million dollars renovating it. He hired
the architect Alfred Browning Parker, who
reduced the size of the auditorium, refurbished
the lobby interior, relocated the administrative
offices, and transformed the residential apartments
into guest suites for visiting performers.
On January 3, 1956 the new Coconut Grove
Playhouse officially opened with the premiere
American performance of Waiting for Godot by
Samuel Beckett. Seven years later, the Playhouse
made an additional contribution to the bur -
geoning arts community of Coconut Grove by
sponsoring a sidewalk art sale which has
evolved into the contemporary annual Coconut
Grove Arts Festival.
In June of 1928 Pan American Airlines
moved its base of operations from Key West to
the City of Miami. From its airport on NW
36th Street, Pan Am launched its land-based
planes, and from a channel in Biscayne Bay off
the coast of Coconut Grove, its amphibian seaplanes.
Commercial aviation brought an
unprecedented scale of development to the
Coconut Grove waterfront which has continued
in the postwar era.
Only two years earlier, Pan American
Airways had been founded by Juan Terry
Trippe, a charismatic twenty-eight-year-old
pilot who opened for business with two planes
and twenty-four employees. The birth of commercial
aviation was a byproduct of the sponsorship
of international air mail delivery by the
United States government during the 1920s.
Pan Am was the first company to receive a
lucrative government contract for international
mail carriage between Key West and Havana.
Being a shrewd businessman, Trippe located
the Pan Am seaplane operations on Dinner
Key in Coconut Grove, because infrastructure
for air transport had been built there ten years
earlier by the United States military during
World War I. During the pioneer era, Dinner
Key was nothing more than a tiny spit of land
barely above the water where sailing parties
stopped to enjoy picnic dinners. On October
20, 1917 the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps
assumed custodianship of Dinner Key, then
permanently joined it to the mainland with
infill of sand and marl, transforming it into a
thirty-one-acre peninsula with over twentyfive
buildings, including four hangars for seaplanes.
Thousands of WWI military pilots
trained at Dinner Key. Immediately after the
war, Coconut Grove residents lobbied for the
closing of the air station on the grounds that its
noise, air and water pollution posed a serious
hazard to local real estate values and quality of
life. The government complied and abandoned
Dinner Key in 1919.
After ten years of dormancy and one serious
hurricane, Dinner Key needed refurbishment.
Trippe spent over one million dollars in upgrading
infrastructure, renovating existing buildings,
and constructing three new airplane hangars.
He was generously assisted by the U.S. Army
92 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
In 1933 Pan Am finally decided to invest in
a permanent passenger facility. At the time of
its construction, the Pan American Seaplane
Base and Terminal Building was the largest and
most modern marine air base in the world,
serving as a model for later seaplane bases in
Rio de Janeiro, New York and San Francisco.
The new terminal, designed by the New york
firm of Delano and Aldrich is a masterpiece of
Art Deco design.
By the end of World War II, Pan Am had
flown over 90 million miles to fifty airports in
fifteen nations for the U.S. government from
Dinner Key. Immediately after World War II,
Pan Am vacated Dinner Key, making its final
landing of a Clipper ship on August 9, 1945.
Seaplane aviation had been eclipsed by the rise
in landplane usage during the war. In 1946, the
City of Miami purchased the Dinner Key property
for $1.1 million and transformed it into a
marina, converting one hangar built by the
Navy during WWII into the Dinner Key
Convention Hall and using other hangars as
dry-dock storage for small boats. In 1954, City
Hall relocated to the Pan Am terminal building.
During the 1960s skyscrapers began to
appear along the edge of Dinner Key. During
the 1970s, the Mayfair shopping complex
opened in downtown Coconut Grove, later followed
by CocoWalk. In the last two decades,
the regional identity of Coconut Grove as a village
apart has been steadily challenged by the
forces of economics and population growth.
Looking back on a lifetime in Florida and, having
witnessed the bewildering growth of Miami
from a remote town to a bustling metropolis,
Marjory Stoneman Douglas astutely perceived
the ultimate dilemma facing contemporary
American neighborhoods in 1967; a dilemma
that still faces the urban and architectural identity
of Coconut Grove today.
In Florida, especially, the people are
being called on to choose between a blind
obedience to the sheer increasing pressure
of population and the vital necessity for
building finer cities in a balanced and preserved
natural background which alone
can give them meaning and value. The
future lies in them and in the strength with
which man himself can set his powers of
creation against his impulses for destruction.
Perhaps this is the unending frontier.
The Coconut Grove Arts Festival, which was started as a sidewalk art sale by the Coconut Grove Playhouse, is now a
world-class annual event. (COURTESY OF THE COCONUT GROVE ARTS FESTIVAL)
—Marjory Stoneman Douglas,
Florida the Long Frontier
Corps of Engineers, which dredged a one-milelong
channel in Biscayne Bay for seaplane
launches and landings. Trippe also invested over
three million dollars in a fleet of “clippers,” huge
passenger seaplanes that set a new standard of
luxury in commercial travel. The name “clip -
per,” borrowed from 19th century sailing ships,
captured the spirit of romance and adventure
that surrounded early aviation. With gourmet
meals, exquisitely designed passenger cabins
and a staff of impeccably dressed flight atten -
dants, the clipper rivaled the contemporary
ocean liner in its pampering of travelers.
Between 1928 and 1931 Pan Am took over
the routes of dozens of smaller airlines to
become the undisputed leader in international
aviation, regularly flying to destinations in the
Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South
America. Known as the “gateway to the
Americas,” Dinner Key served as a laboratory
for the development of commercial aviation.
With its frequent and unpredictable tropical
storms, the Caribbean was the most challenging
aviation territory in the world. The fledgling
Pan Am hired the aviation pioneer Charles
H. Lindbergh to assist in the charting of potential
air routes between the United States and
Latin America. He was greeted by a crowd of
50,000 spectators upon his arrival at Dinner
Key on February 4, 1929 in a twin-engine
amphibian seaplane. The expertise cultivated
by Pan Am in transatlantic travel from Dinner
Key laid the groundwork for its later domina -
tion of Pacific and Atlantic routes.
Coconut Grove resident Marjory Stoneman Douglas,
world-famous environmentalist who wrote the best-selling
book, The Everglades, River of Grass, stands at the door
of the cottage she built in 1926 on Stewart Avenue. The
house is being managed since her death by the Land Trust
of Dade County, which is restoring it as a museum.
(PHOTO BY NESIE SUMMERS)
David Burnett received a master’s degree in architecture from the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University. He is currently a visiting lecturer on the
faculty of the School of Architecture of the University of Miami.
CHAPTER XXII ✧ 93
Ralph Munroe’s sharpie glides along Biscayne Bay in this vintage photo. Sailing was once a necessity to reach Key Biscayne; no bridge connected the island to the mainland until 1947.
(COURTESY OF THE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN FLORIDA RALPH MUNROE COLLECTION)
B Y J OAN G ILL B LANK
Perhaps few other communities in the
vicinity of Miami are characterized by so long
a history of insularity as the barrier island of
Key Biscayne. For more than fifteen hundred
years, island visitors arrived with wet feet; they
had to come by water because no bridge connected
to the mainland until 1947. They also
knew that the risks and the rhythms of life
were different from those on the mainland.
Either instinctively or by learning, they had to
be attuned to the dangers of weather changes,
listening to the wind, observing the skies, following
the ebb and flow of the tides, because
on an island there is no place to hide from the
whirl of a waterspout or a thunderous crashing
of waves or a howling hurricane. Yet the lowlying
coastal island at the top of the Great
Florida Reef, long hailed for its “tropical complexion,”
has been attracting island dwellers
and other visitors to its broad sandy beaches
since prehistoric times.
Because of geographic isolation, islanders
the world-over have traditionally created selfsufficient
communities. The first people to
build on Key Biscayne, members of the
Tequesta nation, arrived at least 1200 years ago
by dugout, one of a number of prehistoric
tribes who fished, hunted and lived in Florida.
A versatile people, they adapted their lifestyle
to different environmental and topographical
conditions, whether sharpedged sawgrass in
the glades, oolitic rock on the mainland, or
coral rock and solid limestone formations on
some of the lower keys. But when they arrived
on Key Biscayne, their bare feet sank into a soft
sandy beach. They were surrounded by salt
water, yet when they dug below the surface,
they found fresh water. Is it any wonder that
they were drawn to the island’s ridges and
coastal hammocks, finding them to be inviting
building sites for seasonal and year-round fishing
From their island dwellings they launched
their canoes and out-riggers with nets and gear
aboard into the Atlantic Ocean, heading over
crystal clear shallows and colorful underwater
coral reef gardens, even daring to sail far out to
the dark indigo-blue line where the Gulf
Stream drops off for deep water fishing and
whaling. For seafarers, swimmers, divers, and
spearfishermen, the sea became their offshore
When onshore, the ocean beach was their
“Main Street.” Young and old gathered to see
their mariners set off, perhaps at sunrise, or
according to phases of the moon and tides.
When the great sun set in the west, they would
94 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
face east to watch for the return of the fishermen
before darkness descended upon the
waters. Here on the sandy beach, they lighted
crackling fires, held celebrations, and per -
formed sacred rituals.
In fact, prehistoric burial mounds and middens,
known to early observers and confirmed
by the late twentieth century archeological
findings of Robert S. Carr, show that prior to
the arrival of Juan Ponce De León on Key
Biscayne’s shores in 1513, the first villagers had
settled the length of Key Biscayne from Bear
Cut to Cape Florida. Future settlers would
occupy distinct areas of the island.
The island’s first named settler-of-record,
Pedro Fornells (1760-1807), born on Minorca
in the Balearic Islands, met the preliminary
terms of possession for the earliest recorded
Spanish Royal Land Grant made in South
Florida when he landed on the isolated beach
at Key Biscayne in 1805. His original petition
had requested all the land around “Key Buskin
Bay” but was later amended to include only the
Fornells brought high hopes, his wife and
family, and a sixteen-year-old African-American
woman, the first recorded black to live on the
island. They stayed for six months, to cultivate
the land and build a wooden house to satisfy
their grant, before making the 330-mile return
sail to America’s and Florida’s oldest Spanish
City, St. Augustine. They left behind one member
of their party to fend off any person who
might try to take over the newly acquired 175-
acre tract. Inside the city walls of St. Augustine,
then a community mostly of Minorcans,
Fornells built a home of coquina rock. Still
standing, it is now a registered historic house.
Perhaps if they had found rock on Key Biscayne
they might have built a lasting home there.
Shortly after the Fornells left, persecuted
Seminoles and their allies, the Black
Seminoles, used Key Biscayne as their springboard
to freedom. Before and after the
Seminole Wars, “escaped Indians and run -
aways” found respite on the island’s beaches as
they awaited sailing ships from the Bahamas to
take them to sanctuary across the Gulf Stream.
When Florida became a Territory in 1821,
its east coast became a valued asset but a sailing
hazard for the new American government. The
US Congress appropriated monies for three
strategically located lighthouses, including one
for Cape Florida. Built in 1825 of brick shipped
by schooner from the northeast, this conical
lighthouse reached 65-feet in height. It was heralded
in the early years by international traders
and foreign pirates alike as a lifesaving naviga -
tional beacon warning of the dangerous off -
Land for the tower and keeper’s cottage was
purchased out of the 175-acre tract owned by
Mary Ann Davis (1793-1885), who had paid
$100 for the property from heirs of the
Fornells. The “Mother of Key Biscayne” and
her husband cleverly managed to make a profit
from the government, which paid $225 for
only three prized acres at the southernmost tip
of the island.
Interestingly, the first attempt at land development
in South Florida was on Key Biscayne.
In 1839, the Davis family laid out the first
Town of Key Biscayne, which they hoped to
develop as a port and community encircling
the lighthouse. Lots were offered for $500;
they closed on only two. Similarly, Dr. Henry
Perrine’s proposal, set forth in the American
Journal of Medical Sciences in 1841, to turn the
island into a health spa, was unsuccessful.
For some time to come, Key Biscayne
remained a remote island where the lighthouse
keepers’ families built their own self-sufficient
unit, without neighbors, schools or shops.
Beginning in 1825, with the large and the rambunctious
family of the first keeper, John
Dubose, these hardy souls relied on their own
skills and ingenuity for gardening,
fishing, boating, teaching their children,
and, of course, maintaining a
neat lighthouse and grounds. When
Revenue Cutters, forerunners of the
US Coast Guard, appeared on the
horizon, the entire family watched
their approach, hoping for basic
provisions, from supplemental food
stuffs and whale oil for the lanterns
to kegs of gunpowder.
Any real sense of long term community
was maintained by the lighthouse
keepers and their families
(1825-1878), with the population of
the island ebbing and flowing with
temporary influctions of workers.
When the Second Seminole War erupted,
change came rapidly: the lighthouse and cottage
were attacked and burned by warriors on July
23, 1836. The abandoned grounds were taken
over by US troops and a fort and hospital established
(1838-1842) next to the hollowed-out
shell of the tower.
The lighthouse and cottage were rebuilt in
1847, and returned to service. The US surveyors
of the Army Corps of Topographical
W.J. Matheson chats at a chowder party on February 22, 1929.
(COURTESY OF THE MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM ROMER COLLECTION)
Mashta House, overlooking Biscayne Bay, was built in the 1920s by W.J.
Matheson on his 1700 acre Key Biscayne plantation. It was an entertainment
mecca for the elite of Miami’s social colony, including the Vanderbilts, Mellons
and Carnegies. (COURTESY OF THE MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM ROMER COLLECTION)
Cape House, a tropical hideaway which stood 600 feet west of the Cape Florida Lighthouse, was built in the 1890s by
Waters Smith Davis. Its architecture was inspired by Ralph Munroe’s “Barnacle” in Coconut Grove. Sadly, Cape House
burned down in 1957. (COURTESY OF THE LARROCA/DAVIS COLLECTION FROM KEY BISCAYNE BY JOAN GILL BLANK © 1996 PINEAPPLE PRESS.)
CHAPTER XXIII ✧ 95
Engineers headquartered as many as forty men
on the lighthouse grounds from 1849 to 1856,
to reconnoiter and take measure of surround -
ing waters from the keys across the mainland.
Surveyor teams were followed by the arrival of
construction crews, who, under the orders of
Lt. (later General) George G. Meade, raised the
height of the tower to 95 feet and added a second-order
Fresnel lens. Cape Florida was
relighted in 1856.
Mary Ann Davis would been pleased that her
son, Waters Smith Davis (1829-1914), a resi -
dent of Galveston, Texas, returned to the family
property at the end of the 1800s to build him -
self a homestead. He worked with Coconut
Grove pioneer Commodore Ralph Munroe as
his designer, and with a well-known engineer
from Texas, all of them wise in the ways of barrier
island living. The spacious two-story hideaway,
Key Biscayne’s inaugural waterfront home,
had verandas on three sides. “Cape House” was
designed much like Munroe’s own home, “The
Barnacle,” on the waterfront in Coconut Grove
across the bay. Raised on stilts about ten feet
above sea level, the Davis home was built of
solid wood, some salvaged by Munroe from
shipwrecks off Key Biscayne. A prime example
of south Florida vernacular frame architecture,
Cape House and its barn were significant landmarks
to all who approached the island.
When Waters Davis bought back his mother’s
original three acres with the long aban -
doned lighthouse and keeper’s cottage, the
Cape Florida tract once again returned to pri -
vate ownership. The south tip of the island surrounding
the grand old lighthouse, connected
by a coconut-lined path to Cape House with
the grounds landscaped with flowering trees
and palms, became known as “Davis Park” at
Cape Florida. It was not the only part of Key
Biscayne that would become a private estate.
When W. J. Matheson (1856-1930) arrived
early in the twentieth century, the middle and
northern two-thirds of Key Biscayne, both
of which he owned, began to take on the
The oldest standing landmark in South Florida still stands tall and strengthened, a beacon for the future. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the venerable Cape Florida
Lighthouse was originally built in 1825. In 1836 assistant keeper John Thompson and a black assistant, Aaron Carter, were victims of a siege by Seminole Indians from the mainland, who set
fire to the lighthouse. Carter was killed, the lighthouse was gutted, and Thompson barely escaped with his life. The Lighthouse was rebuilt in 1846 and heightened in 1855. By the late 1980s,
its deteriorating condition made it a public hazard. Dade Heritage Trust initiated and led an eight-year-long, $l.5 million “Save Our Lighthouse” campaign to restore the Lighthouse in time for
the 1996 Miami Centennial. Now restored to its 1855-56 condition, the Lighthouse anchors the Key Biscayne Heritage Trail. A replica of the Keeper’s Cottage was renovated with displays and
period furnishings by the Villagers, Inc. of Miami, in partnership with the State of Florida. The Cape Florida Lighthouse, with its coconut-lined walkway paved with commemorative bricks, is
the one historic complex that has survived on Key Biscayne. (COURTESY OF THE BILL BAGGS CAPE FLORIDA STATE RECREATION AREA)
96 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
Birds on a sandbar at Crandon Park share the view with condominiums. (COURTESY OF THE BLANK COLLECTION)
character of a South Seas island. Matheson
established a coconut plantation and trans -
formed the island community with acres of
cultivated palms and a plant nursery for agricultural
experimentation. Botanist Dr. David
Fairchild advised him in the introduction to
North America of many tropical plants and
trees from the rain forests and other regions of
the Americas, Asia and Africa, continuing a tradition
of tropical plant introduction first begun
by Dr. Henry Perrine at the Cape Florida lighthouse
station in the early nineteenth century.
(Several huge specimen trees stand tall on the
present day Key Biscayne Village Green, wit -
ness to the past.)
Matheson’s “Mashta House,” with its
unmatched view of Biscayne Bay and great
sunsets, was built during the Roaring Twenties
to serve as a gracious and exotic entertainment
mecca. It was Moorish in design and style, its
grand ballroom covered with a domed ceiling,
Fighting an endless battle: A beach renourishment project