Tag Archives: Herbert Hoover

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.

 

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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.

Looking at when Belle Isle was Miami Beach’s star island

(J.C. Penney papers, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University)

These days, when people think of Miami Beach island luxury, minds leap to Star Island, home over the years to such celebrities as the Gloria and Emelio Estefan, Shaq, Lenny Kravitz, Rosie O’Donnell and Wil Smith.

But back in the 1920s and 1930s, Belle Isle was the Beach’s island star. The way it commanded the public imagination is abundantly clear from news coverage, historical photos and postcards of the mansion from that era.

And the headliner was the J.C. Penney estate.

Snapshot of crumbling estate wall, taken 1979 (J.C.Penney papers, DeGolyer Library, SMU)

Back then, the five-acre estate carried the address 8 Belle Isle. Penney bought the home in 1921, and sold it in 1931 for $150,000 after luring Herbert Hoover to vacation there before assuming the presidency in 1929. As we reported in previous post, Penney invited the president to the estate to leverage publicity for a home sale.

And that sale made the estate and Belle Isle famous, the subject of tourism postcards, newspaper articles and glossy magazine spread that are part of the collection of J.C. Penney’s papers at the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University.

(Courtesy the J.C. Penney papers, DeGolyer Library, SMU)

We were able to match some images we collected on eBay and elsewhere with photos from Penney’s papers.

One postcard from eBay showed the back of an estate with a cabana and small pool.

A 1938 postcard depicting "An Estate on Belle Isle, Miami Beach, Fla."

Look at how it matches the photograph from the J.C. Penney papers.

J.C. Penney papers, DeGolyer Library, SMU

Capone, Hoover and J.C. Penney: How a Belle Isle winter led a president to take down Scarface

This photo, shot Nov. 23, 1928, shows the Belle Isle estate of J.C. Penney.

In November 1928, Belle Isle’s most prominent resident was retailer J.C. Penney, who wintered in a spectacular mansion on Biscayne Bay.

The economy of the United States was booming. Herbert Hoover had just been elected president. Before his January 1929 inauguration, he traveled to Florida, and visited his friend, Penney, and stayed on Belle Isle.

It was the roaring 20s, and Al Capone cut a swaggering profile here, with a house a short distance across Biscayne Bay from Belle Isle, at 93 Palm Ave. on Palm Island. He bought that house in early 1928.

Some say it was during Hoover’s visit to our island that he crossed paths with Capone and decided to point the IRS at the gangster.

We happened upon the historic photo of the Penney mansion knowing none of this. We bought it on eBay. When the tattered black-and-white arrived, we turned it over. Taped to the back was a cutline:

The home of J.C. Penney on Belle Isle on the Venetian Causeway between Miami and Miami Beach, Fla., where President-elect Herbert Hoover is expected to stay while in Miami. 11/23/1928.

We googled “JC Penney Belle Isle Herbert Hoover” and got this account, from 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.

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.

Who knows if the stories are true — but we do know that Hoover spent time on our island, with Al Capone a short distance away. And it makes for a great story…