The Making of…The Making of Miami Beach: New Wolfsonian–FIU Library Exhibit Opens Today

The last in a series of three library installations celebrating the City of Miami Beach’s centennial anniversary, Miami Beach: From Mangrove to Tourist Mecca, opens to the public today. This exhibit focuses on the early transformation and development of the island from a barren wilderness populated by crocodiles, rattlesnakes, raccoons, rats, and “mosquitoes by the millions,” to a burgeoning winter resort community for the nation’s well-to-do.



Images courtesy of the City of Miami Beach Historical Archive

Today’s post will focus not so much on the historic publicity photographs, brochures, and other printed materials that are on display, but on the installation of those works and on some of the other items considered, but left out of the show.

Three Florida International University graduates, James Little, Jeremy Salloum, and Paula de la Cruz-Fernandez, worked cooperatively to research, make the initial selections, and write the draft interpretative and descriptive labels for the exhibition, and put together a Powerpoint slide presentation for a kiosk screen. That raw material was then edited by myself, and sent on to exhibitions manager, Lisa Li Celorio and others in the curatorial department for further refining. As the curators did their fact-checking and proofing, and formatted and printed out labels, exhibition designer Richard Miltner, senior preparator William Kramer, and art handlers Steve Forero-Paz and Carlos Alejandro began the work on installing the artifacts in the display cases.




Because of the constraints of space, curators are constantly required to make difficult decisions as to what to include and what to “cut” from the final checklist of items to go on display. Fortunately, the internet offers an opportunity to provide our virtual visitors with a selection of materials–(many of them from the Washington Storage Archive)–that might also have been included in a larger exhibit about Miami Beach in the nineteen-teens and twenties. Vintage photographs not included in the exhibit picture the mangrove and palmetto scrub originally covering the island and an early view of Ocean Drive;

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…the work done to cut and clear, dredge and fill, and expand and create new land for development;

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…the bathhouse casinos, aquarium, and luxury hotels built to attract and accommodate winter-weary Northern guests;

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…the tea dances, swimming, golf, and tennis competitions, polo matches, and boating regattas organized to entertain those visitors;



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…the damage done to those early structures by the Great Hurricane of 1926;

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…and the building of and renovations made to The Washington Storage Company edifice now serving as The Wolfsonian museum.

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Another photograph not included in the exhibit pictures “a ‘big day’ at the Roman Pools Bathing Casino” on 23rd Street, circa 1918, when a lighter-than-air craft flew overhead.

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Another depicts the view of the same bathing casino with its distinctive windmill used to pump seawater into the pools.

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Another features an airplane race on the bay side of Miami Beach, capitalizing on the mania for the new flying machines and integrated into the Miami Midwinter Regatta boat races organized by Carl G. Fisher to promote tourism to his luxury hotels.

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Another photograph not included in the exhibit shows the “up-scale” guests at an exclusive dinner party on Miami Beach held inside one of the early “casinos” (or bath houses).


While we displayed a photograph of the exterior of one of the electric trolleys that ran from downtown Miami, across the County Causeway, and made a loop on Miami Beach, there were others I would have like to have included as well. A final couple of photos that didn’t make the “final cut” reveal quite a bit about societal norms in this period were shots of the interior of the trolley car with the signage for segregated seating.

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~ by "The Chief" on September 18, 2015.

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