Category Archives: History

One more trip down memory lane: the Biscayne Bayfront in the 1930s and 1940s

This postcard, mailed in 1938, appears pre-development.

Mailed in 1938, a pre-development view from the old Venetian Hotel.

We found a couple more old postcards that show The Miami Herald property before The Herald built its bayfront headquarters in the early 1960s, so we thought we’d add them to the blog and create a gallery that shows different views in different years.

Your BelleIsleBlog is guilty of not being able to get enough of this….we admit it. But with The Herald leaving last week it’s 50-year headquarters last week, and portions of The Miami Herald sign coming down on Friday, and the prospect of Genting tearing the building down between now and year end, well…

So let’s look closer at what it looked like before the Knight brothers built Florida’s largest commercial building, which is what One Herald Plaza was upon completion in 1963.

Betwen the Venetian and County causeways (MacArthur wasn't a hero yet)

Between the Venetian and County causeways (MacArthur wasn’t a hero yet)

Here’s the tightest view we’ve seen of the Venetian Hotel, as well as the Boulevard Shops (now a historic landmark on the site) and some other small structures. Click on it to check out the detail. The postcard back describes non-stop traffic on the causeways.

1940backAnd here’s a look at the rest of the postcards we’ve found with the same general view.

Residences and the Venetian Hote, undated.

Residences and the Venetian Hotel, undated.

More of a step back view, mailed in 1930.

More of a step back view, mailed in 1930.

1939 view of Biscayne coast, from east to west.

1939 view of Biscayne coast, from east to west.

A look back at the Miami causeways and shoreline — before The Miami Herald

This postcard shows residences and a hotel on The Herald property

This 1930s postcard shows residences and a hotel on The Herald property

It’s a nostalgic time on the west end of the Venetian Causeway.

The Miami Herald printed its last newspapers  two weeks ago at 1 Herald Plaza, on the mainland between the Venetian and MacArthur causeways.

1939 view of downtown looking west.

1939 view of downtown looking west.

Since then, office and news gathering operations have been moving to the news organization’s new home in Doral.

The final newsroom employees — and few from other departments — are scheduled to finish packing this week and all will be working in Doral by Friday afternoon.

Some time after that — it’s not clear when — property owner Genting plans to tear down The Herald building to make way for its planned resort (no, it won’t be a casino — at least not yet).

The Miami Herald in 2006.

The Miami Herald in 2006.

The Herald’s been on the property for 50 some years. BelleIsleBlog has been trolling eBay again, finding old postcards that provide a view at the bayside property between the Venetian and MacArthur Causeways before The Herald built its offices and printing plant in the early 1960s. The Herald moved to One Herald Plaza from a location on South Miami Avenue in April 1963.

Another view of the Causeways, circa 1939.

Another view of the Causeways, circa 1939.

The postcards show another Miami — when the port was off an undeveloped Watson Island, and the shoreline south of the MacArthur Causeway (then the County Causeway) featured huge oil tanks. Biscayne Island, the first on the way east on the Venetian Causeway, was barren, used as a landing strip.

The postcard above shows the Boulevard Shops (originally the Shrine Building when buit in 1930) on Biscayne Boulevard — and the Trinity Cathedral to the west of the Venetian Causeway entrance. Both remain, dwarfed by the city that grew up in the next 80-plus years.

Circus elephants cross the Venetian Causeway west drawbridge, with under-construction Herald building in background.

Circus elephants cross the Venetian Causeway drawbridge, in 1960, with  Herald building property in background.

Construction on The Herald building began in 1961, and finished with the building opening on April 5, 1963.

Another Venetian curiosity: Ruby Foo’s on the Causeway

We think Rub Foo's closed back in the 1960s.

We think Ruby Foo’s closed back in the 1960s.

We know Ruby Foo’s — the Times Square Chinese restaurant and sushi bar at 49th and Broadway. It’s a Midtown landmark.

The matchbook cover.

The matchbook cover.

But only recently did we learn that there used to be a Ruby Foo on the Beach — right off the Venetian Causeway, where it meets Dade Boulevard east of  Belle Isle.

First, Nine Island resident Josh Fisher turned up the old black and white photo. And then we found this matchbook cover on eBay — with the old style phone number without area code and location — at Miami Beach and the Venetian Causeway.

According to historian Seth Bramson’s 2005 book, Miami Beach, Ruby Foo’s “was a favorite for Chinese food before Thai, Indian and Vietnamese became popular. Some Beachites vaguely recall the eatery relocating to 41st Street, but in any location it is a happy memory….’

Another Belle Isle post card memory: The Lido Spa

Touting the Lido as "Miami Beach's only spa."

Touting the Lido as “Miami Beach’s only spa.”

As we wait for updates on the next step for The Standard’s proposed renovation, our crack research team cranked up the Wayback Machine for a look at the Lido Spa in its second coming.

A new way to vacation...

A new way to vacation…

Remember, the Belle Isle motel/spa/hotel launched in 1953 as the Monterrey Hotel, designed by noted Miami Modern architect Norman Giller. Second Gen was the Lido Spa, in 1960, when the new owner added the three-story lobby and spa building with the classic sign and gold grille panels.

Out latest postcard find dates back to the early 1960s. The only high-rises visible on Belle Isle in the postcard are Belle Tower, the island’s first high-rise (1958) at 16 Island Ave., and behind it, Belle Plaza, at 20 Island Ave., Belle Plaza was completed in 1962.

Time machine: a Belle Isle mansion at a bargain price

The Adams estate made way for Belle Towers and Belle Plaza.

The Adams estate made way for Belle Towers, Belle Plaza and Costa Brava.

Ever plumb through the historical magazines and newspapers at the Sunday Lincoln Road market?

One of our neighbors from Belle Towers found a gem Sunday.

“I walked up to talk to the magazine lady at the flea market and this guy asked about this house. He lives in Belle Meade and thought this was a mistake! I said no its where I live. He was buying it. I said can I buy it? Lol. He said no. So I took a picture at least.”

You can click on the photo to read the description, but the highlights are: The main house had 11 bedrooms, eight baths, a 75×35 foot music room with a Aeolian pipe organ, and an eight car garage. Oh, and 650 feet of water frontage. All for $350,000. Such as deal!

The Adams estate on the southeast end of Belle Isle.

The Adams estate on the southeast end of Belle Isle.

Joseph Adams owned a big chunk of Belle Isle back in the day. His sprawling estate covered the property where developers built Belle Tower (16 Island Ave., in 1958, Belle Plaza (20 Island Ave., 1962, and Costa Brava (11 Island Ave., 1972).

Adams was a millionaire who came to Florida in 1924. He was an author and inventor who developed something known as the “oil-cracking process,” a way of making larger volumes of gasoline from crude oil by applying continuous heat and pressure. In 1919 and 1920, he obtained patents for the process and machinery that were sold to the Texas Oil Company (which became Texaco) and Standard Oil. He later had a $1 million tax battle with the IRS over income from the patents.

He was one of the founders of the University of Miami, and the boathouse on his Belle Isle estate was the first location of UM’s Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. He willed it to UM in his estate (he died in 1941 at age 74).

This photo shows the Joseph Adams and JC Penney estates

This photo shows the Adams and Penney estates

When President-elect Herbert Hoover stayed at the J.C. Penney estate (now 9 Island Avenue) for four weeks starting on Jan. 22, 1929, some 30 staffers and journalists stayed at the adjacent Adams estate, thanks to an agreement between Penney and Adams.

Hoover stayed on Belle Isle before his inauguration (back then, presidential inaugurations were in March), and went fishing on Adams yacht, the Amitie.

The house briefly served as the home of Miami Beach’s first Episcopal Church (All Souls, now on Pine Tree Drive), which was allowed to hold services in the massive music room after Adams death in 1941.

 

Architects behind The Standard Hotel and Lido Spa were stellar, but perhaps not who you think

A 1959 postcard from the Monterey Motel on Belle Isle.

A 1959 postcard from the Monterey Motel on Belle Isle.

As The Standard (formerly Lido Spa) unveils plans for its third major renovation, it’s a good opportunity to review the architectural lineage of a property that includes work by luminaries in South Florida design history.

Most folks who consider themselves Miami Beach old timers associate The Standard with the Lido Spa — for years a destination for a certain generation, more blue hair than purple streaks, less hip than hip replacement.

Ah, uncongested Belle Isle.

Ah, uncongested Belle Isle.

But the Lido was the second incarnation of  hotel/motel at 40 Island Ave.

It started in 1953, and was known as the Monterrey Motel. Architect Norman Giller originally designed the Monterrey with a glass gable facade. It had two wings of rooms, two floors on the west and one floor on the east.

Giller’s hotel designs are considered groundbreaking works of Miami Modern architecture. His other work includes the Ocean Palm and Thunderbird Motels in Sunny Isles Beach, and the Carillon Hotel and the North Shore Bandshell in North Beach.

monterey brochureThe original Monterrey became the Lido Spa in 1960. The new owner added the three-story lobby and spa building with the classic sign and gold grille panels. Here’s where the architectural history becomes more murky.

Many publications have attributed that work  to architectural legend Morris Lapidus.

Among them: Travel and Leisure magazine in a much repeated piece from 2005, and the city of Miami Beach in it’s own MiMoTutorial

But the authoritative book MIMO: Miami Modern Revealed, by Eric Nash and Randall Robinson, credits  A. Herbert Mathes  for the entry building design. So does Miami Architecture, an American Institute of Architects guide to South Florida’s design treasures.

The Lapidus anthology Morris Lapidus: The Architecture of Joy, which lists all of Lapidus buildings, does not mention the Lido at all.

Tom Mooney, the city of Miami Beach preservation officer and planner, says the city of Miami Beach building card for 40 Island Ave. does not name Lapidus, though it does name Norman Giller for the original design. It’s worth a look, to see that the original Monterrey building cost was estimated at $200,000. You can see renovation details from air conditioning upgrades to pool construction.

3 Island Ave.

3 Island Ave.

5 Island Ave.

5 Island Ave.

(It’s worth mentioning that Lapidus did make his mark on Belle Isle. Two other Belle Isle buildings are Lapidus designs: Terrace Tower (1962) at 3 Island Ave. and Island Terrace (1967), 5 Island Ave.)

The 2005 renovation of The Standard was done by Alison Spear, one of the founders of the groundbreaking Miami architectural firm Arquitectonica.

In 1962, Belle Isle with Monterey/Lido in the foreground.

In 1962, Belle Isle with Monterrey/Lido in the foreground, slightly left.

Toll delay: SunPass will come to the Venetian Causeway by 2014

A year ago, Mike Bauman, who heads Miami-Dade County’s Causeway Division, said the Venetian Causeway toll collection would be converted to SunPass by fall of 2012.

This week, Belle Isle residents will learn why that hasn’t happened — along with a new goal of making the switch by the end of 2013.

Bauman, whose responsibilities include overseeing the Venetian and Rickenbacker causeways, said In January 2012 that he expected the Rickenbacker to convert to SunPass by June or July 2012, and that the Venetian would convert in the fall.

But he tells El Nuevo Herald’s Alfonso Chardy that contractor issues and efforts by Florida’s toll agencies to centralize back office billing operations caused the delays.

There are other details to be worked out. The county has said it wants to convert the Rickenbacker to an all-electronic toll system; on the Venetian, island residents have been told a cash lane will remain even after the switch to SunPass.

When the Venetian opened, tolls cost a dime.

When the Venetian opened, tolls cost a dime.

Island residents will still be able to buy an annual $24 pass to use the causeway (it will be part of the SunPass programming), and commuters can pay $90 for annual use. But there is concern on the Venetian Islands that allowing everyone to pass through the toll with an electronic device would lead to more speeding on the residential causeway.

Bicycle activists also oppose removing the toll booths, which they said help hold down speeds on the causeways.

At a Venetian Islands Homeowner Association meeting last month, VIHA president Juergen Brendel asked Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora if tolls for non-residents should be raised to $3 to discourage traffic. Gongora said that was a Miami-Dade County decision. The current cash toll is $1.50.

It’s a long way from the days when the causeway opened, and the privately-owned bridge actually advertised to attract drivers to pay the toll for a shorter crossing to Miami Beach.

The SunPass issue is among the items to be discussed at Wednesday’s Belle Isle Residents Association meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. (Jan. 16) at Belle Plaza, 20 Island Ave.

An elephant walk on the Venetian Causeway — in a different Miami

Circus elephants cross the Venetian Causeway west drawbridge.

Circus elephants cross the Venetian Causeway west drawbridge.

On Jan. 9, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus makes its annual trek to Miami. It will play at American Airlines Arena downtown.

Back in the day, the circus played on Miami Beach, and its annual visit began with an elephant walk from the train tracks downtown east across the Venetian Causeway to the Miami Beach Convention Hall.

This 1960 photograph shows the elephant walk on Jan. 23, 1960. The elephants are heading east, past the drawbridge, where cars are backed up. Causeway emblems are advertised for sale at the causeway office on Biscayne Island.

Near the west shore of Biscayne Bay, you can see a radio tower and turned dirt and buildings. What’s missing? The Miami Herald building. Construction officially began on The Herald building in August 1960, and it opened in March 1963.

IN this photo, you can see the Boulevard Shops, which are still on the Herald property at 14th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, and some other structures.

A video visit to the Al Capone house on Palm Island, across from Belle Isle

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/47783209″>The 1922 Al Capone Mansion</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/chuckfarris”>Chuck Farris | VisualSOLUTIONS</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Belle Isle Blog knows this is a little outside our neighborhood, and the connection is a tiny reach — but it’s too interesting to resist.

There is a legend we’ve previously reported — unproven, but in the history books — that when Herbert Hoover was president, he pointed the Internal Revenue Service at gangster Al Capone because Capone upstaged him when Hoover visited Belle Isle in 1929.

There are two different versions of the story, neither confirmed, both delicious:

From the Mafia Encyclopedia:

It was now a matter of folklore inside the underworld that the president railroaded Scarface Al to prison because of a personal vendetta. One allegedly dates to shortly after Hoover won the 1928 contest against Al Smith and vacationed at the J.C. Penney estate on Belle Isle in Florida, not far from the Capone compound on Palm Island. The tale goes that there was so much shouting, females crying, and shooting during the night from the Capone retreat that Hoover could not sleep. His puritanical ire aroused, Hoover decided then and there to destroy the famous gangster when he took office.

And there is this account on About. com:

Herbert Hoover vacationed at the J.C. Penney estate on Belle Isle in 1928. It is rumored that Hoover’s grudge with Al Capone started in Florida. There are two versions of the story circulating. First, the Capone compound was not far away from the Penney estate and the tale goes that there was so much shouting and shooting during the night from the Capone retreat that Hoover couldn’t sleep. His ire aroused, Hoover decided then and there to destroy the famous gangster when he took office. The second tale describes an enraged Herbert Hoover. The president-elect watched in dismay as a drove of reporters suddenly abandoned him in a Miami lobby when a more important person strolled in. That person? Al Capone.

All of that is an excuse to share this video by Chuck Farris, which takes you inside the Capone compound as it looks today. Awesome.

Oh, and the house is for sale for $9.95 million.

Joseph H. Adams, Belle Isle pioneer and inventor, played key role in early island life

The Adams estate on the southeast end of Belle Isle.

Belle Isle Blog readers have unearthed the background of another major estate owner in the early days of Belle Isle, Joseph H. Adams.

New details on Adams, a millionaire from New York who came to Belle Isle in the 1920s, were provided by reader and postcard collector Larry Wiggins, who found Adams 1941 obituary in the New York Times, and Rosemary Ravinal, who tracked a 1933 story in the Sarasota Herald.

Adams owned the land adjacent to the J.C. Penney estate on the south side of Belle Isle Park, with the addresses 18 and 21 Belle Isle (J.C. Penney’s estate was No. 8 Belle Isle). The Adams property included the land area where Costa Brava (10 Island Ave.), Belle Towers (16 Island Ave.) and Belle Plaza (20 Island Ave.) were eventually built.

On the land was Adams’ sprawling home and adjacent structures that housed the Adams Foundation for Sun Ray Research.

Joseph H. Adams

So who was Joseph Adams? According to his New York Times obit, he was an author and inventor who developed something known as the “oil-cracking process,” a way of making larger volumes of gasoline from crude oil by applying continuous heat and pressure. In 1919 and 1920, he obtained patents for the process and machinery that were sold to the Texas Oil Company (which became Texaco) and Standard Oil. He later had a $1 million tax battle with the IRS over income from the patents.

Adams boathouse that housed Rosentiel School

Adams came to Florida in 1924, and became interested in the University of Miami, which gave him an honorary doctorate in 1928. He joined the UM board of trustees, and after his death, he willed part of his Belle Isle Property for a marine sciences program that became the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Rosentiel later moved, first to Coral Gables and then to its current campus on Virgina Key.

He was active in a variety of civic organizations, and helped lead a fight against gambling in Miami and Miami Beach.

When President-elect Herbert Hoover stayed at the J.C. Penney estate for four weeks starting on Jan. 22, 1929, some 30 staffers and journalists stayed at the adjacent Adams estate, thanks to an agreement between Penney and Adams.

Hoover stayed on Belle Isle before his inauguration (back then, presidential inaugurations were in March), and went fishing on Adams yacht, the Amitie.

Adams died in his home town of Brooklyn, NY, at age 74.