Tag Archives: Rosentiel School

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.



Post card to Belle Isle – 73 years ago


View of bridge to Belle Isle from Miami Beach, circa 1937.

You never know what surprises will turn up in a simple search  on the Internet.

The Belle Isle Blog found this for sale on eBay while searching Belle Isle history and issues. We bought it for $4.50, shipping included, so we could bring it to you.

It’s a vintage, linen postcard from 1937, a view from Miami Beach westward, back when there were no high-rises (we know that Belle Towers was built in 1957).


Original Boathouse -- RSMAS gallery

The one structure you can see on our island, we believe, is the old Joseph H. Adams estate, which included the boathouse that in 1942 or 1943 was used by the University of Miami as the original marine lab for the Rosentiel School of Marine Sciences.

(If any historians out there can add to this, we’d be appreciative. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email belleisleblog@me.com)

According to the Rosentiel web site, a piling collapsed under the boathouse in 1945 and it could no longer be used, so Marine Lab staff

Water view of boathouse

moved into converted apartment building on Santander Avenue in Coral Gables. There they had seawater for the aquariums brought in by tank truck. Later, of course, the moved to a fine facility on Virginia Key.

Our postcard predates that development, and gives this description of pre-war Miami Beach paradise:

“Miami Beach is located on a narrow, yet attractive peninsula. There are casinos, bathing pavilions, shore resorts and exquisite little bathing places along the ocean front, from the jetties northward, to primeval mangrove studded roads that mean “a bathing beach on your own.’’

The card postmarked March 1, 1937, and is addressed to Miss Ella Huich of Tuscola, Illinois. The writer (and look this over for yourselves) raves about “Cuban pineapples,” and Florida grapefruit (3 x 25 cents!) and oranges, and “magnificient” seafood.

Post card from Miami Beach