Miami Beach is a coastal resort city in Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States, incorporated on March 26, 1915. The municipality is located on a series of natural and man-made barrier islands between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, the latter which separates the Beach from Miami city proper. The neighborhood of South Beach, comprising the southernmost 2.5 square miles (6.5 km2) of Miami Beach, along with Downtown Miami and the port collectively form the commercial center of South Florida. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 87,779. Miami Beach has been one of America's pre-eminent beach resorts since the early 20th century.
In 1979 Miami Beach's Art Deco Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Art Deco District is the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world and comprises hundreds of hotels, apartments and other structures erected between 1923 and 1943. Mediterranean, Streamline Moderne and Art Deco are all represented in the District. The Historic District is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the East, Lenox Court on the West, 6th Street on the South and Dade Boulevard along the Collins Canal to the North. The movement to preserve the Art Deco District's architectural heritage was led by former interior designer Barbara Capitman, who now has a street in the District named in her honor.
Prior the establishment of the state of Florida and the Spanish colony, the first inhabitants of the area now known as Miami Beach were American Indians. At the time of Spanish discovery, the Tequesta Indians, who were related to the Arawak Indians of the Caribbean, had displaced a previous primitive Indian tribe known principally for their bead and shell craftsmanship. However, these Indians suffered the same fate as their relatives on the other West Indian islands who fell prey to the conquering nation of the Arawak Indians. Locally known as the Tequesta, these Indians were a far more aggressive, warlike tribe, known for their ferocity and cannibalism and easily overwhelmed the beach dwellers.
Miami Beach became known to Europeans primarily through the adventures of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca who is believed to have been shipwrecked nearby, and taken as a slave to well known powerful Indian sorcerer who was descended of the tribe living along the Miami Beach area prior to the Tequesta. During his captivity, Cabaza de Vaca spoke of the areas’ tempestuous beauty, stark blue seas, and tranquility interspaced by violent hurricanes. But aside from his remarks and a few tales of European sailors, the area was wholly unknown to the wider world, thereby leaving the Tequesta Indians in their own world of raid, counter-raid, and periodic cannibalism which kept almost all other outsiders from the area.
Although the Spaniards continued to visit the area and established small temporary trading, fishing, and coast watch settlements, they never succeeded in creating a permanent colonial settlement due to their limited resources and the violence of the local Indians. However, Dutch, English, and French settlers fleeing Spanish genocide of their colonies in Northern Florida, the Carolinas, and the West Indies, did manage to create relations with the local Tequesta as fellow persecuted nationals of the Spanish, thereby succeeding in creating small settlements in the area over the next centuries which became centered upon Coconut Grove. In turn, with the rise of the English, Dutch, and French Buccaneers who were sent to circumnavigate Spanish control of the Americas, Miami Beach soon became a small secret refuge for various privateers. Nonetheless, the area remained a mostly unexplored backwater of Spanish and European colonial policy.
Starting in the late 17th century, the Brethren of the Coasts established a small but permanent harbor and ship repair facility in the area, whilst the local Tequesta, decimated by disease, intermarried with various European and black refugees of the area and assimilated with other larger Indian tribes to the north and south. Thus, Miami Beach became a covert encampment for the Piracy and Privateering activities. Henceforth, the areas numerous inlets, small harbors, temporary portages, and swampland became a place of wild buccaneering, Indian trading posts, and general outlawry, governed by its own local codes of conduct.
Smuggling era and Coconut Grove
While the buccaneering days of the West Indies mostly came to an end by the late 1700s, minor pirates, European and American adventurers, black Maroon terrorists, and a small but surviving group of mixed European and Indian farmers and tradesman put the place on the maps of European colonialists as Coconut Grove. However, with the slow decline of the Spanish Empire, and the all pervasive might of the British Navy, and more commercially safe developments in the British colonies to the north, the areas principal standing as a smuggler and pirate center stagnated, causing much of the small town to slowly retreated into nature. But for the use of St. Augustine to the north, and the continued growth of shipping commerce and subsequent wrecks the area would’ve disappeared back into swampland, but instead enterprising British sailors and traders from the Bahamas came to South Florida and the Florida Keys in the early 19th Century, to hunt for the remains of an international array of ill-fated ships that crashed onto the treacherous Great Florida reef or to trade with the local small and mixed group of Indians and Europeans. Yet even with this new arrival of commerce the future was grim for the area.
However, this slow decline into swamp was checked and reversed with the final end to the Spanish Empire and its replacement with a new English Republic, the United States. Following centuries of savage warfare by black Maroons and Spanish backed Indians upon the British settlers and their American descendents, a new nation had arisen in northern Florida coalesced around Anglophobic and anti-American hostile Indians and escaped Black slaves, but also including Spaniards and enslaved British women and children. Together, these people and their descendents, became known as the Seminoles. In turn, backed by Spanish Armies and arms, this mixed nation of Seminoles, Black maroons, and Spaniards would pour from St. Augustine to raid, rape, and pillage advancing American settlements in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. British and subsequently, American diplomats and war leaders had checked the Spanish raids until a low level cold war had existed on the border of Spanish Florida and the State of Georgia thereby fixing Spanish gaze from polyglot and mostly subversive community of Coconut Grove and Miami Beach northward toward the Americans. Thus, Miami remained a stagnate but convenient way station where both sides could trade, negotiate, and commerce in secret. Yet, with the independence of America, a new more aggressive policy was implemented as covert raids, Filibuster missions, and strong diplomacy finally forced the Spanish to relinquish Florida in its entirety. In 1821, the Spanish flag was lowered and the Stars and Stripes raised over Florida. (Florida became a U.S.Territory in 1821, but did not become a State until 1845.)
Early American history
This caused a new and rapid change in the area of present day Miami, one from a small mostly covert settlement of mixed mostly Anglo-American settlers and Indians to a larger more American town. But before this occurred came a generation of warfare which almost led to the final genocide of the small community. With the exclusionary barriers raised by Spanish imperial policy eliminated and with Spanish Arms departing, the Seminoles lost their key support and centuries of righteous hatred toward them by the Americans was unleashed. Several wars, campaigns, and unrelenting advancement quickly pushed the Seminoles and their allies out of northern Florida and southward toward the barrier island (actually still a peninsula) that would become Miami Beach in 1915. Until then, however, the first structure to be built on this uninhabited oceanfront was the Biscayne House of Refuge, constructed in 1876 by the U.S. Lifesaving Service at approximately 72nd Street. Its purpose was to provide food, water, and a return to civilization for people who were shipwrecked. The next step in the development of the future Miami Beach was the planting of a coconut plantation along the shore here in the 1880s by New Jersey entrepreneurs Ezra Osborn and Elnathan Field, but this was a failed venture. One of the investors in the project was agriculturist John S. Collins, who achieved success by buying out other partners and planting different crops, notably avocadoes, on the land that would later become Miami Beach. Meanwhile, across Biscayne Bay, the City of Miami was established in 1896 with the arrival of the railroad, and developed further as a port when the shipping channel of Government Cut was created in 1905, cutting off Fisher Island from the south end of the Miami Beach peninsula. Collins' family members saw the potential in developing the beach here as a resort. This effort got underway in the early years of the 20th century by the Collins/Pancoast family, the Lummus brothers (bankers from Miami), and Indianapolis entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher. Until then, the beach here was only the destination for day-trips by ferry from Miami, across the bay. There were bath houses and food stands here, but no hotel until Brown's Hotel was built in 1915 (still standing, at 112 Ocean Drive). Much of the interior land mass here at that time was a tangled jungle of mangroves, and clearing it was a herculean effort. The Town of Miami Beach was chartered on March 26, 1915; it grew to become a City in 1917. Carl Fisher was the main promoter of Miami Beach's development in the 1920s as the site for wealthy industrialists from the north and midwest to build their winter homes here. In addition, Fisher built five hotels here (none still surviving). In the 1920s, Fisher and others literally created much of Miami Beach as landfill by dredging Biscayne Bay; this manmade territory includes Star, Palm, and Hibiscus Islands, the Sunset Islands, much of Normandy Isle, and all of the Venetian Islands except Belle Isle. The Miami Beach peninsula became an island in April 1925 when Haulover Cut was opened, connecting the ocean to the bay, north of present-day Bal Harbour. The great hurricane of Sept. 17-18, 1926, put an end to this prosperous era of the Florida Boom, but in the 1930s, Miami Beach still attracted tourists, and investors constructed the mostly small-scale, stucco hotels and rooming houses, for seasonal rental, that comprise much of the present "Art Deco" historic district.
This community, long sympathetic toward first the British and then the Americans, quickly called for help, and the United States Marine Corps and navy vessels were dispatched to aid the hard pressed community. After several years, the United States Navy and Marines had pushed the Seminoles out of the coastal areas of Florida and Miami Beach, whilst the earlier community which had been spread out along the beach and inner harbor, had congregated around Miami Beach and the safety of American arms and the sea. Finally, in 1836, the United States Army backed by Marines launched a series of offensives which finally drove the Seminole and their Black and Indian allies out of Miami, permanently securing the countryside with the establishment of Fort Dallas. For the next twenty years, American soldiers, marines, and seaman fought the Seminoles to secure and protect what remained of the community. At war's end, what remained of the Tequesta and their intermixed descendents had either joined with the Seminoles and remained in the Everglades or had been incorporated into the American protected community of Coconut Grove. In turn, these troops brought with them various families and camp followers which brought added numbers to the Coconut Grove community thereby advancing the boundaries of the small settlement with their newer neighborhood. Thus, by 1850, Miami was a collection of old Anglo-Dutch-French refugees and Buccaneers, Tequesta Indians, Anglo-Bahamians, and American adventurers and soldiers. However, the areas’ notoriety as a long Buccaneer, Pirate, and Smugglers haunt became little more than a colorful past as the American Army’s new Fort Dallas and troops as well as its new Navy port, and Marines quickly put an end to all but the most harmless smuggling.
Tranquil era and early expansion
For the next few generations, protected from the Seminole Indians by the Everglades and the fort, and by foreign powers by the sea and the US Navy, Miami Beach settled into a more tranquil and peaceful era of quiet but colorful small shopkeepers, merchants, and a few enterprising ship captains, while the remainder moved to the countryside or other parts of Florida and the United States. Nonetheless, with the Seminole threat still existent, periodic petty piracy still occasional, and the geopolitical location of importance, Miami Beach periodically entered the national narrative with swamp rangers, small night-raids, a few daring smuggling operations, and eccentric American plantation owners and notables. Yet, aside from a few minor raids during the War Between the States, the area enjoyed one of its few periods of peace throughout its centuries of Buccaneer campaigns, Spanish-Indian wars, Seminole-Indian raids, and general lawlessness. Thus, with the arrival of the Americans and the State of Florida, Miami Beach had left its earlier period of frontier town and pirate haunt to a more tranquil time of peace and general prosperous small town. Indeed, by the late 1800s, the peacefulness of the area resulted in the abandonment of Fort Dallas and the break-up of much of the Navy port. Thankfully, the next era of change was peaceful enough that these military losses were not too far felt.
The area's next greatest change came thanks to a visionary Cleveland widow and noted Gilded Era socialite, named Julia Tuttle, who purchased 640 acres of a former Confederate plantation on the north bank of the Miami River in 1891, moving her family into the abandoned Fort Dallas buildings. Within four years, Tuttle—the "mother of Miami"—convinced fellow friend and Standard Oil co-founder Henry Flagler to extend his railroad to Miami, build a luxury hotel, and lay out a new town. The railroad arrived in 1896. The City of Miami was incorporated on July 28 that same year.
Middle American history
Coconut Grove golden era
The railroad, advertising by Tuttle’s robber-baron businesses, and general boosterism, brought in a new group of people to the newly established city. Much like other Southern coastal areas such Mobile, Alabama, Jacksonville, Florida, and New Orleans, Louisiana, Miami had a previous history of rowdy even outlawed behavior by a group of adventurers of mixed European and Indian nationality which had only been quieted and integrated with wider American and Southern culture in the middle 19th century. This new group was to reverse those gains as large numbers of Irish and German Catholics as well as typical Northern Yankee Americans arrived. The old Southern establishment already long crippled by the Civil War was quickly brushed aside, with the election of Miami's first mayor who also was an Irish Catholic. However, most of the early merchants remained Southern or of old Judeo-American background so Southern they became notorious in later years for their disdain and discrimination toward Jews from New York City. Additionally, the old Coconut Grove community of mixed American, Black, Indian, Anglo-Bahamians remained in politics controlling one-third of the city's incorporators. Backed by real estate boosterism, Greater Miami never lacked for forward thinkers, including John Collins (a New Jersey Quaker) and Prest-O-Lite king Carl Fisher, who together in 1913 embarked on an agriculture venture on a spit of oceanfront beach and started a bridge across the bay.
Great Depression and the new immigrant elite
During the Depression, Pan American Airways launched the era of modern aviation with "Flying Clippers" from Miami's Dinner Key. Even then, Pan Am advertised Miami as the "Gateway to the Americas." However, much as elsewhere the Depression significantly hit the fortunes of the North-Eastern elite and just as quickly as Miami Beach’s high-flying escapades made for movies on the silver screens so did it depart. Although the native elite of Coconut Grove and Miami Beach had certainly lost on much of the wealth creation of the Northern elite, the native Miami Beach establishment had been fairly integrated into the development and expansion of Miami Beach. Thus, whilst the loss of the money and elegance provided by the Northern elite was felt economically, Miami Beach still retained its old ways and community.
However, in the destitute period of the Great Depression, Miami Beach attracted a new group, who found its numerous vacant vacation homes and elegant hotels, and still extant working class world and old line but almost decrepit families tracing back centuries, almost impossible to resist. Thus, did the North-East’s immigrant communities of Italians, Irish and predominantly Jews, come to Miami Beach and take-over and sub-divide its large hotels and mansions into smaller hotels and town homes and finally force most of the remaining old line families to sell out their ancestral land and homes. In turn, with land so cheap, the new Jewish and Italian businessmen, bought most of the remaining farmland and beach front portages for small craft dating from the buccaneers and which dotted the inner harbor of Miami, and in turn paved them over with buildings of stark modern lines along lower Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive to create Miami Beach‘s world famous Art Deco district.
With this came the final end of old Coconut Grove, which from the 1500’s had been a haunt of shipwrecked adventurers, notorious pirates, famous buccaneers, imperviously strong refugees and survivors of the Counter-Reformation and the Seminole Indian wars. Public Houses which claimed descent as Privateer dens were torn down, piers which had repaired many a sole surviving ship of a fleet destroyed by storm, and almost ancient plantation houses, all were destroyed and its former citizens thrown to the wind. Although, the changes are seen as a travesty today and a huge loss of Miami Beach‘s culture, the building boom helped bring the area out of the Depression and forty years later would become the world-famous Art Deco District, which includes the internationally renowned South Beach area.
Post World War American history
With this new modern era also came new waves of Americans. Both World War I and World War II brought the geopolitical importance of Miami Beach back into the mindset of America’s leadership and new military facilities were established. In turn, this brought in another 100,000 people to Greater Miami and the Beaches when the Army Air Corps and the navy established major training centers. Many of these servicemen made the area their permanent home after the war. By the end of the 1950s, South Florida had doubled its pre-war population.
When Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1959, no one dreamed that the revolution would change Miami as much as Cuba. The Cuban exiles who were just beginning to pour into the area were bringing the next change to Miami with them. Although most of the Cuban exiles in the early 1960s did come in significant numbers, their make-up as mostly upper-class and middle class Cubans of principally European descent, mostly only encouraged Miami’s American citizens to move for houses on the outskirts for reasons of better housing rather than out of fear of foreign manners and crime. However, starting in the 1970s, school integration, new arrivals of Black Americans and Caribbeans brought in a new crime wave and fear of children’s lives leading to a wave of white-flight of what remained of Miami Beach’s American community.
Thus, after thirty years of change starting with the great buy-out of the Coconut Grove elite during the Great Depression, most of Miami Beach had become principally a Jewish and black enclave. But even this period would quickly end as the Mariel Boat Lift brought in hundreds of thousands of a new class of Cubans, many of whom were professional criminals. In total, starting in the 1960s more than half a million Cuban exiles fled to Miami to start a new life, adding onto the hundreds of thousands of Americans suburban settlers, and the hundreds of thousands of early immigrants from the North East, resulting in the permanent change of Miami Beach from an exclusive community of wealthy North Eastern Americans and old South Florida natives to a large, heavily suburbanized metropolis of Americans from across the country and naturalized Americans from across old Europe, Cuba, and the West Indies.
Modern American history
In contrast to the early era of silver screen representations of Miami Beach, with its breezy lifestyle of patrician wealth mixed with haunted memories of honorable buccaneering days and plantation lifestyle, this new era of human vacuous life, stark neighborhood lifestyle, media glamour, criminal racketeering, felonies, smuggling, and vice, became typified in numerous movies and television shows. Starting in the 1930s with the displacement of the Coconut Grove Elite, onto the new suburbs of Miami during the post-war era, and into the 1960s and 1980s of Cuban and Caribbean immigration, Miami Beach had suffered mind-boggling change to become what many call the "Capital of the Americas." Once an elegant place of plantation houses, beachfront hotels served by seaplanes, interspaced with open land, small farms, and quaint seafaring communities, Miami and Miami Beach had descended into a area of poverty and stark modernity. However, the 1980s and early 1990s brought a multi-billion dollar infusion of investment capital that produced a beautiful new Miami downtown skyline, a reborn Miami Beach, a modernized transportation infrastructure and a new way of life that features betters aspects of modern art, culture, sports and entertainment, all with a mostly international Latin accent. Although it has changed almost beyond recognition, Miami Beach has thrived amidst change and overcome many difficulties. Today, Greater Miami airport has overtaken New York's JFK airport as the nation's leading gateway for international arrivals with 5.1 million international travelers arriving in the U.S. through Miami in 1994. Thus, Greater Miami and the City of Miami Beach continue to be an international Mecca for travel, business and to establish a home.