MIAMI BEACH, TODAY AND YESTERDAY: CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS AND GLIMPSES OF THE CITY’S EARLY HISTORY

Last month marked the hundred year anniversary of the founding of Miami Beach, and residents and visitors have had all sorts of opportunities to get nostalgic and to celebrate, ranging from attending swimwear and fashion shows; a free centennial concert (featuring Andrea Bocelli, Gloria Estefan, and Barry Gibb); watching a Jackie Gleason TV Marathon at the Fillmore; and watching the Miami Vice pilot episode on the New World Center Wallcast.

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Diners, shoppers, and pedestrians taking a stroll down Lincoln Road at night also have the chance to get to know the city better as social media posts, animated art, images of “Miami Beach Legends,” and historical photographs, brochures, and postcards are projected onto the wall of the H&M building (formerly the Lincoln Road Theater). The public are invited to send in their own photos, art, and video footage for inclusion in the nightly displays.

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Some of the images projected onto the H&M and bank tower buildings on Lincoln Road come from The Wolfsonian-FIU library collection, including a copy of a rare publicity photograph album of Carl Fisher’s Boulevard Hotel. Before Fisher had entered the picture, John Stiles Collins and his son-in-law, Thomas Pancoast, had already been clearing land, planting avocado groves, and dredging canals to tap the island’s agricultural potential, and begun construction on a wooden bridge connecting the beach to the mainland; developers like J. N. Lummus had formed the Ocean Beach Development Company and had been burning and clearing the palmetto and mangrove and ridding the island of rattlesnakes, raccoons, rats, and other “pests.”

When the Indianapolis automobile and speedway promoter and self-made millionaire, Carl Fisher entered the scene, he began swapping much needed capital for real estate lots with the aim of transforming the narrow peninsula into a winter retreat for the well-to-do. Fisher’s wife, Jane was originally aghast at her husband’s investments in this desolate sandbar, but as the number of Carl’s luxurious hotels took root and other wealthy socialites began to buy into the beach, she too began to revel in the atmosphere so unlike Palm Beach.

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Years later in an interview she confided that the well-to-do in Palm Beach “thought we were just scum…nouveaux riches,…New money from the Midwest, automobile money from Indiana and Michigan” as opposed to the “old money from the East, bankers and railroads….” While Carl was promoting the beach as a resort for millionaires like himself, in August 1926, he opened the Boulevard, his last Miami Beach hotel.

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Unlike his other luxurious grand hotels that catered exclusively to wealthy patrons, the Boulevard courted and catered to a more modest, middle-class clientele, with prices half that charged at Carl’s Flamingo Hotel. The Boulevard, located on the “new Venetian Causeway,” had been designed by architect William F. Brown, and featured the expected Mediterranean-influence touches common to Carl’s other hotels.

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The Boulevard had a central terrace, clay roof tiles and a tower, ornamental columns in the hotel lobby, and arches that still afforded views of the neighboring golf course.

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But in contrast to the other hotels, the Boulevard offered “plain, American home cooking” in its cafeteria-style dining room that was open to the general public.

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Timing, of course, is everything in life—and in real estate as well. The Boulevard opened just one month before the Great Hurricane of 1926 hit Miami Beach, destroying a great deal of property and claiming the lives of hundreds of tourists and residents.

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Jim Snedigar, son of early Miami Beach mayor, Louis “Red” Snedigar, was only two and a half years old when the hurricane hit and nearly completely blew away the family’s brick home on Collins Avenue.  With the entire island under nearly three feet of water, “Red” Snedigar tied his family together with sheets and swam across the Dade Canal to seek shelter in the Boulevard Hotel.

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Though the hotel survived the storm with relatively little damage, Fisher’s flagging fortunes did not. Already overextended with a new real estate venture in Montauk, Long Island, the hurricane damage, bad publicity, and instant end to the real estate boom ruined Fisher and brought the beach into a serious economic depression years before the rest of the country and world were overtaken by the Crash and Great Depression in 1929. Needless to say, Miami Beach’s fortunes revived, even as Carl Fisher’s fortunes went from rags to riches, and back to rags again.

~ by "The Chief" on April 22, 2015.

One Response to “MIAMI BEACH, TODAY AND YESTERDAY: CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS AND GLIMPSES OF THE CITY’S EARLY HISTORY”

  1. […] to the Wolfsonian Museum’s library blog, which dug up an old photo album of the hotel in its archives, the Boulevard was Fisher’s […]

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