|Miami Beach Journal
The Farming Period
|In 1868 Pennsylvania farmer,
Henry B. Lum, sailed up the coast from
Key West to Miami to explore the beach
wilderness area on the east side of Biscayne
Bay. He saw three palm trees growing on
the beach and they gave him the idea to
try his hand at Coconut farming.
With the help of his son, Charles, the
Lum's convinced a group of investors to
purchase 165 acres on South Beach for
75 cents and acre for the purpose of harvesting
In 1870 the Beach was little more than
a collection of small islands with sand
beaches on the ocean side, dense Palmetto
growth in the middle, and mangrove swamps
on the bay side.
In 1886, Charles Lum built the first home
on Miami Beach; a two-story house at the
site of the present Tides Hotel at 12th
Street and Ocean Drive.
The dense mangroves
made farming difficult. The mosquitos
they attracted were too much for the laborers
to bear and the men were driven away.
By 1894, the coconut venture proved unprofitable
for the Lums, so they left the Beach,
leaving their plantation in the control
of John Stiles Collins, a wealthy Quaker
farmer from New Jersey.
When Henry Flagler extended his railroad
south to Miami, John
Collins took the train from his
home in Morristown New Jersey, to inspect
his investment. The coconut plantation
had been carved out of beach sand and
mangrove swaps which were not ideal for
farming. However, to the west and north
of this area, Collins discovered a ridge
on which Pine trees were growing out of
black sand. This indicted there was fresh
water on the island. Collins bought an
additional five-mile strip of land between
14th and 67th Streets and planted bananas,
mangoes, avocados, corn peppers and tomatoes.
At this time, John and James Lummus, each
president of a different Miami bank, began
acquiring bay and beachfront land on the
Southern end of Miami Beach. They established
The Ocean Beach Reality Company. Their
vision was to build a city fronting the
ocean made up of modest single family
residences. The Lummus Brothers also recognized
the need for a good beach for the tourists
which were now pouring into Miami thanks
to the railroad.
The "barrier beach' became a popular
recreational spot for Miami's mainland
residents. A ferry operated between Miami
and the Beach. A bathing pavilion called
Tatum Pavilion was connected to the ferry
by a wooden boardwalk, which cut through
the mangroves. The Tatum Pavilion represents
the first permanent facilities built to
accommodate recreational activities on
The Early Development Years
|In 1911 Collins started
the Miami Beach Improvement Company. He
was beginning to tire of making the 10-mile
boat trip across the bay to bring harvest
to market. His vision was to first dredge
a canal through Miami Beach which would
allow him to move his fruits and vegetables
to the Bay followed by the construction
of a wooden bridge that would connect
Miami Beach to the mainland.
The Collins Bridge Project
was costly. Collins borrowed money from
the Lummus Brother's banks to finance
the project, but at $50,000 per mile,
funding for the bridge ran out just a
half a mile short of completion.
In 1913, Carl
Fisher, a wealthy Midwestern industrialist
appeared on the development scene. Fisher
loaned Collins the money to complete the
bridge which opened on June 12th, 1913.
At over two miles in length, the Collins
bridge was the longest wooden bridge in
Fisher also loaned money to the Lummus
Brothers to carry out improvements on
the southern end of the island such as
draining the swamps and dredging the bay.
Fisher establishes the third real estate
company on the Beach, the Alton
Beach Reality Company, and acquired
the land between 14th and 19th Streets;
linking Lummus to the south and Collins
to the north. Fisher also had a vision
for the island--to create a city existing
in an of itself - not as an adjunct to
the established city of Miami across the
bay. Immediately, he draws the plans to
build a luxury outdoor commercial center
(Lincoln Mall) and large residential homesites
to lure the wealthier residents to the
On March 26, 1915, the leaders of the
three land sales companies consolidate
their efforts and incorporate the young
community into the Town of Miami Beach.
The following year the name was changed
to Miami Beach.
At this time 80% of the population lived
at the southern end of the island in the
Lummus tracts and there were only thirty-three
registered voters in the community. J.N.
Lummus was elected Mayor and plans were
made to supply electricity, telephone,
sewage and water, which at the time was
supplied by windmill powered underground
In 1916 the sale of the land was sluggish.
Both Lummus and Fisher had invested large
sums of money in improvements, but the
land sales did not meet their expectations
and they were compelled to create further
incentives. Lummus offered free lots to
anyone who promised to build homes on
In 1919 Collins and Fisher became partners
to sell real estate and promote the area.
Fisher had a flair for promotion. He brought
in an elephant to pose
with celebrities for publicity photos.
During the winter months, he bought a
billboard on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street
in New Your which flashed "It;s June
Fisher's vision began to be realized as
wealthy visitors saw Miami Beach property
as solid. He raised the prices of his
lots and increased his marketing efforts.
He built the luxurious Flamingo Hotel
to house visitors until they could settle.
Never did he envision a city dominated
by large scale hotel development for transient
seasonal population. Significantly he
refused to locate any of his many hotels
along prime oceanfront property.
The Boom Years
|In January of 1921 President-elect
Warren Harding spent the winter at the
World War One was over. It was safe to
travel by train or ship and the tourists
returned to Miami Beach.
New hotels were opening on the beach and
each fought to become the fashionable
hotel to spend the winter season. The
rich and famous wanted their place in
the sun. Polo grounds and golf courses
turned the island green. The boom was
Between 1920 and 1929 millionaires like
Harvey Firestone, J.C. Penny. Harvey Stutz,
Albert Champion, Frank Seiberling, Rockwell
LaGorce, Roy Chapin, Alfred DuPont, R.J.
Renyolds, and William Randolph Herst built
mansions on the three-mile stretch known
as "Millionaires Row."
Between 1921 and 1925 Fisher built several
elegant hotels, none of which were located
on the ocean.
Real Estate values soared 1000 percent
between 1914 and 1925 leading speculators
to believe they could make huge profits
In 1921 there were five hotels and nine
apartment houses on Miami Beach. The following
figures reflect this period of rapid growth.
By the end of 1925 the community boasted:
- 56 hotels (4,000 rooms)
- 178 apartment buildings
- 858 private residences
- 308 shops and offices
- 8 bathing casinos
- 4 polo fields
- 3 golf courses
- 3 schools
- 2 churches
Then, on September 19, 1926 Miami Beach
was struck by a severe hurricane.
Hotels were damaged, telephone and electricity
service was knocked out and almost 400
people were killed. The hurricane turned
the real-estate boom into a bust.
On February 11, 1928, John Collins died.
Later that year, Al Capone's gang moved
to Miami Beach, buying a house on Palm
Island. Gambling and bootlegging activities
proliferated on the Beach before his arrival,
but when Canoe's gang showed up, the illegal
operations became big business.
The stock market crash of 1929 turned
the nation's economy into a Great Depression.
The depression forced the rich Miami Beach
residents to close their estates and move
off the beach.
The Post Depression Boom Years
|Although Miami Beach entered
into an economical decline two years before
the worldwide crash of 1929, it also began
its recovery sooner.
The 6,500 permanent population of 1930
doubled to 13,350 by 1935, and doubled
again to 28,000 by 1940. The winter population
in 1935 swelled to 60,000 and in 1940
reached 75,000. This new surge in the
seasonal population was not limited to
the elite, as in the 20's. Tourism rather
than land speculation became the major
The new wave of tourists sought to forget
their gloomy, Depression-ridden northern
cities. Architects for the new hotels
responded by designing buildings with
Mediterranean and abstracted ornaments.
These structures from 1930 -1935 form
the transition period on the Beach from
Mediterranean-eclectic to the three dimensional,
Streamline, Moderne brand of Art Deco
In 1935 the city of Miami Beach purchased
the recreation grounds of the Flamingo
Hotel for $300,000 to create a city park
called Flamingo Park.
In 1936, 38 hotels, 110 apartment buildings,
and 320 houses were constructed. In 1937,
another 150 hotels and 508 apartment buildings
In 1939 Carl Fisher died. The city dedicated
a bronze bust memorial to him near his
home on North Bay Road.
The Post War Boom
|The War changed the outlook
of Miami Beach. In earlier years, hotel
owners and shopkeepers catered to the
rich patrons who composed the majority
of the winter population. However, during
the War years the transient population
changed radically. When promoters resumed
their campaigns at the War's end to sell
the "lure of the Beach" they
broadened their scope to include middle
Middle America responded in ever increasing
numbers. The Beach answered by building
more and more hotels. In less than two
decades, Miami Beach was transformed from
a place with a low skyline to a city with
high-rises and a vanishing shoreline.
In 1952 Ben Novak bought the one-block
Firestone estate and commissioned the
controversial architect, Morris
Lapidus, to build the Fontainebleau
The building and tourist boom continued
causing the elimination of "Millionaires
Row" which was replaced by the current
image of Miami Beaches "Hotel Row."
By 1950, the population had increased
to 46,300 nearly doubling from 1940. In
1960 the population was 63,200 and in