Miami's Historic Neighborhoods

HPNBOOKS

An illustrated history of the city of Miami, Florida, paired with the histories of companies, families and organizations that make the region great.

MIAMI’S HISTORIC

NEIGHBORHOODS

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.


MIAMI’S HISTORIC

NEIGHBORHOODS

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


First Edition

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.

ISBN: 1-893619-15-X

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

Paul Gereffi

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

Donna Mata

Dee Steidle

graphic production: Colin Hart

John Barr

PRINTED IN SINGAPORE

2 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS


CONTENTS

4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

5 FOREWORD

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

18 MIAMI

by Aristides Millas

26 THE MIAMI RIVER

by Robert S. Carr

30 SPRING GARDEN

by James Broton

32 OVERTOWN

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

AND AVENTURA

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

63 HIALEAH

by Horatio L. Villa

66 MIAMI SPRINGS: GLEN CURTISS’ DREAM

by Mary Ann Goodlett-Taylor

70 NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE

by Stephen Tiger

72 BROWNSVILLE

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

114 PINECREST

by Georgia Tasker

118 KENDALL

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

206 INDEX

208 SPONSORS

CONTENTS ✧ 3


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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

Helen Muir

Aristides Millas

Robert S. Carr

James Broton

Dorothy Jenkins Fields

Penny Lambeth

Gail Meadows and

William Hopper

Howard Kleinberg

Seth Bramson

Malinda Cleary

Thorn Grafton

Donald Slesnick, II

Horatio Villa

Mary Ann Taylor

Stephen Tiger

Enid Pinkney

Paul George

Leslie Pantin

Julia Cohen

David Burnett

Joan Gill Blank

Ellen Uguccioni

Sam LaRoue

Susan Redding

Georgia Tasker

Christopher Eck

Robert Jensen and

Larry Wiggins

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

centers—were devastated.

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.”

—Wallace Stegner

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

“placed person.”

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

next millennium.

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

for Havana.

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 [1887], which once stood behind

the library, was moved to the grounds of

Plymouth Congregational Church [1917]. The

Biscayne Bay Yacht Club [1887] 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

[1897], 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 [1902] 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

[1896] 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 [1913] and McCroy Hotels [1906] 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 [1914]. This little

jewel, designed by Walter DeGarmo, sparkles

amidst the rapidly re-developing Brickell

area. Behind it sits the original Miami High

School [1904] 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 [1918], is already a City of Miami

Historic District.

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

Revival architecture.

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 [1923], 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

Folklife Village.

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-

American neighborhoods.

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 [1927],

the Dade County Courthouse [1928], Central

Baptist Church [1927] Gesu Church [1925],

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral [1926], the Miami

Woman’s Club [1925] and the Scottish Rite

Temple [1922]. The recently restored Martin

Hampton-designed Congress Building [1925] 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 [1973].

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

[1907]. After his father’s death in 1911,

Merrick took over the groves and began planning

his dream suburb around a Spanish/

Mediterranean theme.

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 [1926], The Colonnade

[1926], The Douglas Entrance [Puerta del Sol,

1927], City Hall [1928], Coral Gables

Congregational Church [1924], Coral Gables

Elementary School [1923] and the Venetian Pool

[1924], 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 [1931].

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 [1929] 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 [1938], Walgreens (now

Sports Authority) [1936] and Burdine’s [1936].

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 [1926] 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

our ears.

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

spinal meningitis).

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

exaggeration.”

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

write editorials.

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

and artistry.

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)

MIAMI

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

coconut trees.”

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

Cambridge, Massachusetts.”

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

planned developments.

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

their territory.

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)

SPRING GARDEN

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)

OVERTOWN

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

and self-sustaining.

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

the area.

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

of Miami.

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

the decades.

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

walkways established.

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

and 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

add color.

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

common names.

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

Lemon City.

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

integrity.

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

Tuttle Causeway.

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)

MIAMI BEACH

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

to come.

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

103rd Street.

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

Miami Shores.

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

end.

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

development.

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.

EL PORTAL

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

detailing.

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)

NORTHEAST DADE:

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

North Miami.

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.

BISCAYNE PARK

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

park-like character.

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

have foreseen.

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

public building.

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

carefully controlled.

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

daily constitutional.

FULFORD-BY-THE-SEA

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

Coast Railroad).

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

social sections.

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

Fulford-By-The-Sea.

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.

NORTH MIAMI

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.

AVENTURA

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

Miami Beach.

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

breathtaking views.

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.

—Bill Graham

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

towns.

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

purposes.

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)

HIALEAH

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

his partners.

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

homes immediately.

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

remained stable.

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-

McCarty House.

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

Glendale Drive.

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

National Park.

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)

BROWNSVILLE

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

broader boundaries.

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

Civic Association.

Dr. Kelsey L. Pharr, civic leader, funeral home owner and licensed

embalmer.

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

and communities.

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

Seventh Street.

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

increased 50%.”

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

Dade County.

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

Miami.

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

and opportunity.

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

in Miami.

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

are utilized.

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

your day.

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

South America.

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

in Miami.

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

planting bushes.

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)

CLIFF HAMMOCK

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

Washington D.C.

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)

COCONUT GROVE

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

Pioneer era.

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

endowments.

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

Florida-Adirondack School.

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

Coconut Grove.

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

those lots.

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)

KEY BISCAYNE

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

villages?

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

“Hunting Grounds.”

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

island itself.

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 -

shore reefs.

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 in 1987.

(PHOTO BY JOAN GILL BLANK, FROM HER BOOK KEY BISCAYNE ©1996 PINEAPPLE PRESS)

A Key Biscayne plantation cottage damaged by Hurricane Donna. (PHOTO BY SANDY JORDAN, COURTESY OF THE BLANK COLLECTION)

the arches of its loggia overlooking an azure

atoll ringed with palm trees, with the bay just

beyond. The Mathesons hosted the elite of

Miami’s social colony who arrived by yachts,

including the Vanderbilts, Mellons and

Carnegies, to party on Key Biscayne, signaling

the opening of the Winter Season. Many took

the time to tour showcase gardens and coconut

palm cultivation from bay to beach.

The Mashta House estate included 1700

acres, a big tile-roofed plantation barn, bath

houses, lath houses, coconut-husking houses,

packaging sheds, docks, water wheels, windmills,

Dade County Pine houses, a commissary,

a school house, cottages where black Bahamian

workers lived with their families, and a

Hurricane House constructed after the 1926

storm. No one in the 1920s and ’30s would

ever have imagined that these all would vanish

by the end of the twentieth century. If this

complex had survived, it would be a unique

historic pioneer village or district of great longterm

interest and value. The last plantation

buildings, with the exception of the relocated

CHAPTER XXIII ✧ 97


“Stiltsville,” a collection of weekend-retreats built in the waters of Biscayne Bay off the coast of Key Biscayne, dates back as a

community to the 1930s. By 2000, only seven were still in existence. (PHOTO BY BECKY ROPER MATKOV)

This map depicts the Key Biscayne Heritage Trail,

created by Joan Gill Blank with grant support from the

Village of Key Biscayne and the Bureau of Historic

Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, Florida

Department of State. It offers a self-guided tour of the

island’s historic, cultural and environmental sites.

Bahamian bachelor dormitory and school

teachers cottage, were demolished in the 1980s

to make room for a resort and oceanfront

hotel. (These sites are marked on the Key

Biscayne Heritage Trail by bronze markers put

in place in 1997. The Crandon Park Master

Plan designates the building of a model of the

coconut plantation in Crandon Gardens,

allowing a site for the two remaining frame

structures, listed on the Dade County Register

of Historic Places.)

The Plantation was inherited by W.J.

Matheson’s three children, Finlay, Hugh and

Anna, who negotiated with the county to

donate the northern one-third of the island for

public parkland. The gift of the prime oceanto-bay

parcel, 808.8 acres, included magnificent

coconut groves, two miles of palm-fringed

Atlantic beach, hardwood hammocks and

ancient mangrove forest. It followed a bold

proposal from County Commissioner Charles

H. Crandon, who offered to build a causeway

connecting the Key to the mainland. The deed

was handed over in 1940, stipulating that the

parcel be used for public park purposes only.

Crandon Park (named after the commis -

sioner) was opened in 1947. At last, visitors

could come by automobile over a seven-mile

long causeway (named after flying ace Eddie

Rickenbacker) and two bridges spanning

Biscayne Bay and Virginia Key. It was an exhilarating

drive to the long-mysterious island of

Key Biscayne. A carousel, a zoo and a minia -

ture train ride complemented ocean swimming

and picnicking in this serene setting with its

rows of tropical palms.

Following the opening of Crandon Park,

the Mackle Brothers, who purchased land from

the Mathesons in the mid-section of the island,

built one hundred single-story cement block

homes, followed by 250 more, a small shopping

center, and an elementary school. This

marked the beginning of residential development

on Key Biscayne. Some envisioned Key

Biscayne in the 1950s as a middle-class version

of George Merrick’s Coral Gables. Churches,

restaurants, and services were added, and custom-built,

one-and two-story homes expanded

the neighborhood. The Mackles’ own key

Biscayne Hotel and Villas was the forerunner of

oceanfront resorts along the tranquil beach.

By the time President Richard Nixon chose

the island as his Winter White House, it had

become a special, out-of-the-way destination,

just a twenty-minute drive from the Miami airport,

ideal for the discriminating traveler.

Some decided to stay year-round or buy vacation

homes. The first of many highrises was

built precariously close to the water in 1964,

on the beach several miles north of the old

lighthouse that had always been the tallest

building in town.

No open road led into the southern onethird

of the island where the Cape Florida

Lighthouse, in spite of serious erosion and long

neglect, still stood. The property had been sold

a number of times, and, after the bridge was

built, it was billed as the largest tract of undeveloped

ocean and bay frontage in the Miami

area. Each time, some difficulty befell the

developer and nothing was built.

Then, in 1950 bulldozers and chain saws

denuded all but a fringe of the entire historic

tract, covering ancient native plants and wildlife

habitats, desecrating prehistoric burial grounds,

and covering ancient Tequesta fishing village

sites and middens. Natural contours were leveled,

wetlands and freshwater ponds filled with

bay bottom, in preparation for building a

bustling new resort city on the Cape. But it did

not happen. As the land lay exposed, stripped of

its native growth and canopy, the tenacious

exotic Casuarinas (Australian pines) began to

grow into an unchecked forest of whispering

pines which would be completely swept away

by a future hurricane, Andrew. Few noticed in

1957 when Cape House, an architectural landmark

from the 1890s, went up in flames.

In 1964, when “a touch of paradise” was

advertised for sale, the visionary editor of the

Miami News, Bill Baggs, led a movement to

purchase all Cape Florida with its irreplaceable

tower. Community leaders, historians and others

joined until forces. They triumphed in

1966 when the entire 510 acres, plus some

470 acres of submerged land, was bought by

the State of Florida from the widow of Cuban

exile Jose Aleman, with Baggs serving as

matchmaker. For his key role, the area was

named for Bill Baggs. The boarded-up tower

was renovated, the keepers cottage replicated.

Opened to the public in 1967, it is known

today as Bill Baggs Cape Florida State

Recreation Area.

Both ends of the barrier island of Key

Biscayne were now held in public trust. In the

inhabited mid-section (with a population of

over 4,000), construction workers cleared more

land designated for residential/resort or com -

mercial development. Key Biscayne was gov -

erned by Dade County. Citizens were aroused

when the County Commission seemed to be

overly generous granting building permits with

zoning variances, suggesting to many that the

future held traffic and density challenges, matters

of grave concern. “For sheer anti-highrise,

anti-traffic, and environmental militancy, there

was no more hard-nosed bunch then the

defenders of Key Biscayne,” wrote Charles

98 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS


Whited in the Miami Herald about the rising

resistance to urban development.

A brief respite occurred in 1972 when a

building moratorium was enacted for the Key

Biscayne beachfront. When a condominium

developer, caught in the delay, agreed to underwrite

a new water and sewer system, building

resumed. The following decades saw buildings,

condominiums and hotels steadily rise like castles-in-the-sand

on the east side of the middle

section of the island, and the tax base rose across

the island as the value of home real estate soared

on the small 1.25 square mile monopoly board.

In 1991, with a population of nearly 9,000,

residents managed enough votes to incorporate

as an independent village. Key Biscayners elected

a council, then a mayor, and selected a strong

manager form of government, with its own

police and fire-rescue departments. After the

devastation of Hurricane Andrew, only one year

after incorporation, there was much rebuilding,

replanting and a new apparent understanding of

the risk, including economic and environmental

dangers, of choosing to live on a barrier island.

An aerial view of Miami-Dade County’s Tennis Center at

Crandon Park with a full center court.

(COURTESY OF THE BLANK COLLECTION)

The Palm Walkway to the restored Cape Florida Lighthouse begins with a path of commemorative bricks sold by Dade

One of the early and important actions the

Council took was to purchase a central area of

9.5 acres as a Village Green. The area quickly

became a site for play, sports, festivals and concerts,

or just quiet contemplation by all ages of

citizens. Among planned capital improvements

are a community center and a village hall.

During the last years of the twentieth century,

the limited remaining supply of real estate

on this half-mile wide island led to intense

development. Affluent new buyers knocked

down “humble houses” like “Mackles” and

other early CBS tract homes, as well as less

modest custom designed and award-winning

homes. These older homes were replaced with

more pretentious structures that some see as

incompatible in a once homogeneous neigh -

borhood. Others say that a more international

population and less indigenous architectural

style have not only raised the island’s profile,

but have met new elevated flood plain requirements.

Few argue that as the skyline crowds

the sky as never before, concrete and population

density are increasing and the land-tohuman

ratio is decreasing. But the Village of

Key Biscayne is acquiring new open spaces, the

County and State Parks have both undertaken

major ecological and historic restorations, and

the new protected waters around the island

may act as a safeguard against further exploitation

of natural assets and resources.

On Key Biscayne, where environmental

wounds and legacy are inseparable, islanders are

giving time and expertise to plan for the future

health of the island. There is a renewal of a sense

of islandhood, understood by the native people

one thousand years ago, which is sparking a

commitment to the past and future. Despite the

impacts of overbuilding and burgeoning populations,

despite hurricanes or storm surges, citizens

are starting to shore up for coming generations

Key Biscayne’s cultural, historical and environmental

resources, lest they be washed away

on the tides of indifference.

Heritage Trust. (COURTESY OF BILL BAGGS CAPE FLORIDA STATE RECREATION AREA)

Joan Gill Blank, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, has been a resident of Key Biscayne since 1951, raising her children in a 1917 Dade County pine cottage

on the Matheson coconut plantation. She is married to Dr. Harvey Blank, founder of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

As a writer, lecturer and environmentalist who was befriended by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, she has been committed to interpreting, protecting and preserving

Florida’s rich cultural, ecological and historic heritage. She is the author of Key Biscayne: A History of Miami’s Tropical Island and Cape Florida Lighthouse; The

Florida Historical and Environmental Calendar/Day Book and Born of the Sun, the Bicentennial history book of the State of Florida. Her preservation projects

have included working on the Save Our Lighthouse Committee for Dade Heritage Trust, the Lightkeeper’s Cottage Restoration Project for the Villagers, Inc., and the

State of Florida’s Half Moon underwater archeological preserve. She originated and designed the Key Biscayne Heritage Trail, a self-guided trail of historic, environmental

and cultural sites, for which she received a 1998 award from the American Association for State and Local History.

CHAPTER XXIII ✧ 99


The Coral Gables Congregational Church was built in 1923-25 on land donated by George Merrick, whose father had been a Congregational minister. It was the first church in Florida to be

placed on the National Register of Historic Places. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)

CORAL GABLES

BY E LLEN J. UGUCCIONI

A well planned city, beautiful homes,

widest range of scholastic activities, with

the material, the communal, the municipal,

and the cultural phases of life fittingly

rounded out by those religious organiza -

tions, so especially a part of the foundation

of American life and outlook—the whole

developing a highly conscious citizenship.

That is Coral Gables.

—George Edgar Merrick,

Coral Gables Facts, 1927

Defining the City of Coral Gables as a

neighborhood is a pleasurable task to undertake.

Identities of neighborhoods can hinge

upon the common characteristics of its resi -

dents or the distinctive character of the place

itself. I would suggest that the most compelling

reason to set an area apart is a combination of

personalities and place, leavened by a strong

sense of shared history. And what a history it

was! One runs out of superlatives when dis -

cussing this unique city. The City of Coral

Gables is deserving of its reputation, for the

virtuosity demonstrated by its creators is

unparalleled in the context of all other “Boomtime”

communities.

“Highly restricted, intelligently zoned, architecture

and landscaping coordinated and con -

trolled, every modern utility, recreational facilities,

and hotel accommodations unsurpassed.”

This was how the creators of the City of Coral

Gables described their new enclave, which,

while not incorporated until 1925, was begun in

1921. The control of design in the development

of a town or city is a luxury afforded very few

communities. However, few communities were

led by as beneficent an autocrat with as clear a

vision as that held by George Edgar Merrick, the

insightful poet of the tropical experience.

Merrick had come to South Florida with his

father, the Reverend Solomon Greasley

Merrick and family in 1899. Beginning with a

homestead of 160 acres, the Reverend Merrick

began to farm the land and live off the profits

from the sales of the produce. He envisioned

the offer of similar “retirement packages” to

other clergy who were ready to leave the ministry.

When Reverend Merrick died in 1911,

those plans would be changed and replaced

with something on a far grander scale.

Twenty-five-year-old George Edgar Merrick,

who was away at law school in New York when

his father passed away, returned back to the

plantation to direct its operation. He was soon

to become enmeshed in local real estate transactions

in Miami, which would provide him the

opportunity to refine his ideas for what would

become a community uniquely his own.

That community, which would become the

City of Coral Gables, was controlled at every

stage, with no digressions from the strict standards

initially set out. T. H. Weigall, a British

journalist who worked as a publicity writer for

George Merrick, offered this portrait of him:

Mr. Merrick, cloistered in his office high

above the Central Administration Building,

that office from which he could look out

over almost the whole of this unbelievable

creation that was his own, retained control

with an iron hand. Nothing could be done

without his approval, nothing could be

held back when once he had ordered it

should go forward. His will was absolute

and immutable. (Boom in Paradise, 1932.)

The guiding principles of the development

were the spacious plazas, the long, winding

boulevards, the vistas created by buildings set

well back from those sweeping roadways, and

the Mediterranean designs which made reference

to centuries-old buildings in Italy, the French

and Italian Riviera, the north coast of Africa, and

Spain (both Castilian and Moorish). These were

a product of the “ruling class,” a group of architects,

artists, planners, engineers, landscape

architects, and visionaries who set the priorities

and insured that the developmental goals of the

city were met. While first and foremost a residential

community, the planners set aside a business

area and a Crafts Section, so that the day-today

needs of the citizens could be met.

100 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS


The destiny of Coral Gables was guaranteed

by this studied, programmed approach. But it

was not solely the designers who can be cred -

ited with the visual cohesiveness of this development.

It was, in fact, the first City

Commission, largely composed of officers of

the Coral Gables Corporation, who advanced

the continuity of design and development

through regulation.

In August of 1925, under the flamboyant

Mayor Edward E. “Doc” Dammers, the City codified

its first Building Code, which addressed the

construction, rehabilitation, and (even at this

tender age) demolition, of all buildings within

the city. The provisions of this Code included a

ban against frame construction, requirements

that all doors, windows and vents be arched and

that walls be constructed of coral rock or con -

crete of “Spanish type,” and a requirement that

all roofs be covered with clay or concrete tile.

From the very beginning, all designs were

required to have the approval of the City’s

Supervising Architect Phineas Paist, and, by

1925, that review was made a mandatory part

of the city’s permit process. Every set of plans

was scrutinized by Paist to insure that they met

with the strict design standards established for

the development.

Paist was a native of Philadelphia who had

attended the Drexel Institute of the

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He

came to Miami in 1918 at the request of Paul

Chalfin, who asked him to become the supervising

architect for James Deering’s winter

estate, Villa Vizcaya. Soon thereafter, Paist was

employed in the building of the new city of

Coral Gables, first as the “Supervisor of Color”

and later as “Supervising Architect”.

Paist, writing for the National Builder in

October 1924, had this to say about his employer:

The Biltmore Hotel, built in 1925 as the centerpiece for Merrick’s planned city of Coral Gables, is a National Historic

Landmark and one of Florida’s greatest architectural treasures. (COURTESY OF THE BILTMORE HOTEL)

George Merrick, whose remarkable

business instinct and, strangely enough,

whose inner self is mixed with poetry

(actual saleable poetry) deserves commendation

from architects, builders, and material

men for the opportunity of building a

town, a designed town, architecturally harmonious,

and a town intelligently different

from the average horribly discordant aberrations

that are usual in new developments.

He has had the vision and has obtained

results for holding control of all architectural

and landscape schemes and finally of

all the local color of the town.

Fairchild Tropical Garden was founded by Col. Robert Montgomery, who donated the first 58 acres of land in 1938. Located

along Old Cutler Road, the garden was designed by landscape architect William Lyman Phillips and is renowned for its

collection of palms. (COURTESY OF FAIRCHILD TROPICAL GARDEN)

Every detail of the city was carefully considered,

and “quality of life” amenities were keys to

its success. Toward that end, Merrick promised

that his community would offer the finest of

educational, recreational, institutional, and religious

facilities. His were not just promises, but

convictions supported by actual investment.

In a letter to the School Board dated June 5,

1923, Merrick offered the land to build the

Coral Gables Elementary School, valued at over

$76,000, for only $10,000. He justified his

most generous offer by explaining that the

school was intended as a key building in a

group of civic and community center buildings,

which would include a library, bank, post office

CHAPTER XXIV ✧ 101


The Coral Gables City Hall, designed by Phineas Paist and

Denman Fink, was erected in 1927-28 and is listed on the National

Register of Historic Places. (COURTESY OF DADE HERITAGE TRUST)

and a $100,000 Community Congregational

Church (Coral Gables Congregational). The

master plan by architect Richard Kiehnel was

“to be of such character and of such artistic

architecture and setting as to be entirely unique

among American communities.”

George Merrick’s father, Solomon, built this home in the

early 1900s out of oolitic limestone, or “coral rock,”

covering its multi-gabled roof with coral-colored

Ludowici tiles and naming it Coral Gables. George

Merrick would later use the name for his 1920s real

estate development. Coral Gables House, located at 907

Coral Way, is now a museum.

(COURTESY OF THE MIAMI-DADE HISTORIC PRESERVATION DIVISION)

When the Riviera Section of the development

was announced in May, 1925, one of its principal

features was “a great open-air University.” One

hundred and sixty acres (coincidentally the same

number of the original plantation) were set aside

by the Coral Gables Corporation, and Merrick

personally endowed the University with five million

dollars. The University of Miami was pro -

jected to cost some fifteen million dollars, consist

of twenty-two buildings and overlook an impressive

lake. Phineas Paist, the “dean” of Coral

Gables’ architects, Paul Chalfin (the artistic director

for Villa Vizcaya) and Denman Fink (that

remarkable painter and illustrator whose images

on canvas were transformed in three dimensions)

were all appointed to the Board of Consulting

Architects for the University.

Not surprisingly, the original architectural

theme for the University was inspired by

Spanish and Italian prototypes. (The collapse

of the Boom and subsequent Depression

stalled or prevented many of Merrick’s building

projects from their realization. In the case of

the University, which began in earnest following

the Second World War, the campus was to

be realized but in a decidedly International

style, reflecting the then current aspirations

and philosophy of its leaders.)

The Riviera Section was also to include Coral

Gables’ most venerated historic landmark, the

Biltmore Hotel. After having directed his attention

to creating ideal homes and educational

and institutional facilities, Merrick began his

plans for a grand hotel and country club. As

early as February, 1924 Merrick announced his

plans for the complex, illustrated with a draw -

ing of the hotel by architect Martin Luther

Hampton. When the prominent John McEntee

Bowman, president of the “Bowman-Biltmore

Hotels Corporation,” agreed to partner with

Merrick some nine months later, the architec -

tural firm of Schultze and Weaver was commissioned

for the final design. The hotel opened

with a dazzling spectacle on January 15, 1926.

The Riviera Section has another part to its history,

which today is unfitting and conflicts with

our ideas about Merrick’s insightful and inspired

efforts to create an ideal community. One can

only acknowledge that during this stage of the

nation’s history, prejudice against African-

Americans was across-the-board, and, while this

was an unconvincing and emotionally unsatisfactory

response, that was just the way it was. The

Riviera Section was home to many black pioneer

families who made possible the construction of

many enduring monuments. In 1925, Merrick,

recognizing the requirement to segregate these

families and maintain a cohesiveness to his development,

offered a land swap to African-American

home owners and moved the community just

south of US 1 at LeJeune Road to an area platted

as the MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision. Many

of the homes can be characterized as either a bungalow

or shot-gun type, reflecting the vernacular

traditions of their builders. All of the deeds for

homes constructed in the city had this provision:

That no unlawful or immoral use

shall be made of the premises hereby

agreed to be conveyed nor, shall the same

nor any part thereof nor any interest

therein, be sold, leased or otherwise conveyed

to any person other than of the

Caucasian race, provided that nothing

therein shall prevent the keeping and

maintaining of servants on the said property

for reasonable family use.

This abhorrent regulation has long since

been abolished, but its consequences are an

important part of our history. That fact has been

recognized by the city in the local historic landmark

designation of the MacFarlane Homestead

Subdivision Historic District. Later, as a result of

a neighborhood initiative, the Federal government

conferred the venerable status of National

Register listing to this unique “neighborhood

within a neighborhood.”

Coral Gables Deverloper George Merrick discusses marketing plans with the straw-hatted “Doc” Dammers in an early office

located in Downtown Miami. Even the “Coral Gables Water” cooler touts the benefits of the new city.

(COURTESY OF THE SAM LAROUE COLLECTION)

Always it seemed to me that there should

be the same class of houses and surroundings

which were along the shores of the

Mediterranean. Geographically and climactically

South Florida is identified with Spain,

North Africa, and all that lies between them

and the South Sea islands.

(George Edgar Merrick, 1925)

102 ✧ MIAMI’S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS


While the architectural theme of the city

overall was Mediterranean in character,

Merrick introduced the idea of theme villages

to add color diversity and a little surprise. In

July 1925, Merrick conveyed title to large

tracts of land earmarked for residential development

to the Myers Y. Cooper Company,

architect and builder for the American

Building Company, both headquartered in

Ohio. Although we commonly refer to all of

these enclaves which have a specific architectural

heritage as villages, some were originally

referred to only by “type.”

The Colonnade Building on Miracle Mile was built in 1926 as George Merrick’s sales office and was used for a pilot training

center during World War II. The original building has now been incorporated into the highrise Colonnade Hotel complex.

(PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)

There has been much ink spilled, and

countless intellectual arguments conducted, as

to the proper term to describe the architecture

of Coral Gables. Merrick himself is frequently

quoted as describing the designs as “Spanish,”

while others on the original team wax eloquent

on the subject of Italian precedents. Clearly, the

compositions by the original architects rely

heavily on examples of buildings in the coun -

tries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

Because the expression of their art is extrapola -

tion rather than invention, the term most widely

applied is Mediterranean Revival, indicating

the source of the inspiration, and acknowledging

the long history of precedents that influ -

enced the designs. The architects could easily

have copied from centuries-old prototypes, but

did not find it necessary.

In an interview with Merrick by S.M.

Shelton published in the November 1923 issue

of Suniland Magazine, Shelton observes:

In making Coral Gables a faithful reproduction

of the best that is to be found in

Old Spain and other countries on the

Mediterranean, Mr. Merrick has employed

a staff of architects familiar with European

subjects…. From this it should not be

judged that Coral Gables is copied exactly

from the Spanish cities. The best ideas

which could be obtained there have been

brought to Florida and subjected to careful

study…with the result that while modifications

have frequently been made, the type

of building has been preserved and numerous

features have been added which have

increased the comfort of the Spanish style

houses of Coral Gables and added to their

attractiveness. In other words, Coral

Gables has neither borrowed or stolen, but

it is the original work of skilled craftsmen

who know how to combine the best.

An example of the successful “hybridization”

that occurred in the city is the Coral Gables City

Hall Building. The building was designed by

Phineas Paist and Harold Steward. The cornerstone

was laid in November, 1927 and was formally

opened on February 28, 1928. The most

striking feature of the building is its two-story

portico which is oriented towards a major intersection.

The colonnaded porch turns back to

ancient Greek and Roman examples, and indeed

comes by way of a Neo-Classical tradition.

Phineas Paist, who was born, raised and educated

in Philadelphia, must have been tremen -

dously impressed by the Merchants Exchange

Building designed by William Strickland (1788-

1854) at Third and Walnut Streets, and completed

in 1824. The building, which housed the

stock exchange and post office, has a more than

striking similarity to Coral Gables’ City Hall.

While the resemblance to the basic form of the

Philadelphia structure is obvious, it is the subtlety

with which Paist and Steward handle the detail

that illustrates its transcendence into the subtropical

realm. The Corinthian is exchanged for the

Ionic order; a copper roof is replaced with tile,

and a cylindrical cupola is replaced with a threestage

rectangular bell tower, Coral rock, the

indigenous stone of the area, clads the base of the

building. Perhaps the most striking parallel is the

significance placed on the siting of the building.

Philadelphia’s Exchange Building occupies

the focal point of a vast plaza within the intersection

of three streets. The rotunda serves to

direct one’s attention to the apex of that intersection,

focusing the broad avenues as befits a structure

of this symbolic magnitude. Similarly, Paist

uses a triangular parcel of ground at the intersection

of Coral Way, LeJeune Road and Biltmore

Way to achieve a vista where the building can be

seen in its most striking pose. The Philadelphia

building has been transposed so that it boasts a

provenance uniquely Coral Gables.

Venetian Pool, at 2701 DeSoto Boulevard, was built in 1924-

25 out of a quarry pit used to mine the oolitic limestone used

in many of the early Coral Gables structures. William

Jennings Bryan often gave speeches here, and orchestras

provided entertainment for the crowds at the romantic

lagoon. The pool is still a favorite recreational spot.

(PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)

Douglas Entrance, built in 1925-27 at Douglas Road and

Tamiami Trail, is the most grand of Merrick’s gateways to

Coral Gables. It consisted of a tower, gateway, shops,

galleries and apartments. Slated to be demolished for a

parking lot in the 1960s, it was saved by preservationists and

is now part of a multi-use center blending the old and new.

(PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)

CHAPTER XXIV ✧ 103


The Chinese Village, along the 5100 block of Riviera

Drive, was designed by Henry Killam Murphy in 1926.

(PHOTO BY DEBORAH TACKETT)

Blocks and blocks of land were set aside for

the creation of these “anomalies.” Unfortunately,

construction began at the end of the Boom, and

fewer homes were constructed than planned.

Those homes that were built are especially treasured,

and are remarkable in their design and

ornamentation. They are the Florida Pioneer

Type (often referred to as the Southern Colonial

Village) on Santa Maria Street, designed by John

and Coulton Skinner, and the French 18th

Century Village Type on Hardee Road. While

the entire length of Hardee was to have con -

tained these types, only two distinct villages

were actually built, and we have used the adjectives

city and country to distinguish the more

formal examples from those that have a more

rustic character. The French City Village in the

1000 Block of Hardee Road was designed by

Mott B. Schmidt and the French Country Village

in the 500 Block by Frank Forster, Edgar

Albright, and Phillip L. Goodwin.

The other villages that were built include

the Chinese Village, designed by Henry Killam

Murphy, south of U.S. 1 at the 5100 block of

Riviera Drive; the French Normandy Village

designed by John and Coulton Skinner on

Lejeune Road at Viscaya Avenue, the Dutch

South African Village designed by Marion

Syms Wyeth on LeJeune Road at Maya Avenue,

and the Italian Village, (600 Block of Altara

Avenue; and non-contiguous locations in the

4200 and 4300 Block of Monseratte Street,

4100-4400 Blocks of Palmarito, and sites on

San Esteban and San Lorenzo Avenues),

designed by John and Coulton Skinner, R.F.

Ware, A.K. Klingbeil, and Robert Law Weed.

The villages that were never built offer a

glimpse into the fantastic variety and infinite

creativity of the plan. They were the

Neapolitan Baroque Type, the Spanish Bazaar

and Town Type, the Persian Village type, the

Mexican Pioneer or Hacienda type, and the

Tangier Village type.

Another great plan that was never realized

was the most ambitious the develop