South Beach History

1513 Ponce De Leon sails by Miami Beach searching for the Fountain of Youth which would later lead to the T.V. sensation Nip/Tuck. Tequesta Indians had been living on Miami Beach for three thousand year.s

1870 A man named Henry Lum strolled to the  beach and saw a few stray coconuts. He later sailed to Trinidad and bought coconuts and planted them on land he purchased on South Beach. Rats, rabbits and racoons got the best of him. Two brothers, named J.E. Lummus and J.N. Lummus started developing the same land.

1910 The amazing Carl Fisher, inventor of the modern car headlights, sailed into Miami Beach and changed it forever. He built the fabulous Flamingo hotel where he brought gondolas and as he wrote, “I have some of the most wonderful Bahama Negros you ever saw to push these gondolas around. They are all going to be stripped to the waist and wear big brass earrings. And possibly necklaces of live crabs.” President Warren G. Harding stayed there and took a dip in Carl’s Roman pools.

1913 Joe and Jennie Weiss, Hungarian-born Jews, moved to Miami Beach and would later open Joes Stone Crab, serving the new eating sensation that would lead to culinary immortality.

1916 Jane Fisher, wife of Carl Fisher, becomes the first in a never ending string of bathing beauties. Women who used to bathe in their husband’s pavilion would wear long black dresses, black stockings, bathing shoes and mop caps. Because Jane was working on the Australian crawl, she needed greater freedom in the water so she reassembled herself in a skirt that dropped only to her knees and anklets, scandalizing South beach. After a few weeks of public outcry, not a black cotton stocking was to be seen on the beach. This led to topless beaches on South Beach and it becoming a capital of fashion and haven for models.

1920 The transformation of Miami Beach continued as the result of a building boom. Millionaires, with names like Firestone and Gould, built mansions. Polo ponies and yachts sent down for the winter, private beach and golf clubs, bootleg liquor were the order of the day. Miami Beach introduced the idea of glamour to the American masses. For the first time in American history, it was considered okay to strip off nearly all of your clothes, to be fabulous and Miami Beach was the place to do it. Humorist Will Rodgers called Florida’s state emblem, the dredge. “Binder Boys,” arrived to cash in on the boom. They bought property binders or options for a small down payment and then resold them at a profit. Sometimes binders changed hands several times in a day. First flock of celebrities arrived in Miami Beach: Gene Tunney, flying ace Eddie Ricken backer, Ziegfeld Follies start Will Rodgers, thus paving the way for Madonna, Paris and Diddy.

1925 Art Deco style is introduced at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.

1927 Miami Beach’s first synagogue, Congregation Beth Jacob was charted. Some of the newer hotels admitted Jews.

1927 Category 5 hurricane devastates Miami Beach. 114 people die.

1928 Gangster Al Capone moves to Miami Beach and blazed a path for his gang as well as for other northern gangsters, to come after him. Bootlegging, prostitution, rum running and gambling thrived on Miami Beach.

1932 Even during the depression, Miami Beach’s reputation as a playground for the rich attracted the working class and new Art deco style hotels were erected all over South Beach. Spanish Baroque style was replaced by streamlined, sleek modern tropical deco style. Jewish tourists and hotel owners migrated from the Catskills and Atlantic beaches to South Beach and the ethnic makeup changed. The Minsky Burlesque moved in from New York bringing beauties galore.

1942 Miami Beach was selected to be a military training ground. Soldiers were housed in the hotels and drills were conducted on the beach and on golf courses. German U-boats were torpedoing tankers in full sight of sunbathers. Clark Gabel showed up for training.

1950 Miami became celebrity city and bo0med again! Morris Lapidus and his followers introduced their whimsical, decadent, dream-fantasy style. Arthur Godfrey moved his show to Miami Beach. He is folowed by Jackie Gleason and “away we go!”. The beach became the stomping grounds for the brat pack, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Mansfield. The Beatles visited Cassius Clay before he became Mohammed Ali.

1954 The Fontainebleau Hotel opened. The joke was, “Did you hear about the shark that attacked a woman swimming at the Fontainebleau? It bit off her stole.”

1959 Castro took power in Cuba and masses of Cubans began to arrive in Miami changing the face of Miami Beach, adding another layer of ethnic diversity and intense coffee.

1965 The bubble burst. Lenny Bruce joked, “Miami Beach is where Neon goes to Die.” Glamour fled. Nightclubs fell victim to package entertainment offers at the large hotels. Shoppers abandoned Lincoln Road in favor of new fangled malls further north. The beach was badly eroded. Even the sand fled. Baby boomers found Miami course and materialistic. They went to the Caribbean, Europe and Disney world. Deserted hotels and old apartments were filled with senior citizens on decreasing fixed incomes. South Beach became, “God’s Waiting Room.”

1972 Riots during the republican convention marred the reputation of Miami Beach. Street violence dominated the press. Jane Fonda joined the anti-war demonstrators in Flamingo Park which included people ranging from the Veterans Against the War to the Gay Liberation Front. Confrontations broke out between anti-war demonstrators and thousands of Cubans marching against Communism. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman threatened to lead 10,000 naked protestors down Collins Avenue. Police chief Pomerance responded, “If you can get 10,000 naked protesters to walk down the asphalt on a hot (August) day. I’ll lead the parade. And wait till you see what I use as a baton.”

1973 Stupid redevelopment plans called for razing most of the buildings north of fifth street, imposing a moratorium on the construction so buildings went unrepaired. Those who could, fled before the wrecking ball that never came.

1980 Castro’s Mariel boatlift dumped a quarter million poor people on Miami, including twenty five thousand convicts from his prisons. Many fled to South Beach, one of the cheapest areas to live. This added tot he already established criminal element supporting the cocaine trade. South Beach sank deeper into crime and despair.

1976 Barbara Baer Capitman realized the value of the crumbling old deco buildings and formed the Miami Design Preservation League. She wanted people to fix them up rather than demolish them to build a concrete cannon surrounded by shopping malls and parking lots, like the rest of much of Miami Beach. Leonard Horowitz started painting buildings in pastels.

1980 Riots in Miami’s African-American neighborhoods across the bay.

1981 The New Yorker Hotel is demolished.

1982  Miami Vice premiers on fall television schedule and the Amy Corps of engineers finishes refurbishing the beach.

1983 Christo and Jeanne-Claude surrounded the islands in Biscayne Bay off South Beach in pink and the world took notice. Artists, gays and trend-setters began to trickle into South Beach. They were followed by photographers and models. Hoteliers, willing to restore rather than raze moved to South Beach. Bohemia reigned.

1986 Ciy Commission designates the Espanola Way and Ocean Drive/ Collins Avenue Historic Districts.

1987 South Point Tower is completed, the first new high-rise in South Beach.

1988 The Senator Hotel is demolished.

1990 Hurricane Andrew hits Miami.

1997 The 44 story Portofino Tower ushers in a new wave of high-rise construction in South Pointe area.

1997 Gianni Versace was shot on the steps of his home on Ocean Drive and the latest era of South Beach died with him. R.I.P.



Comments are closed.

↓ More ↓