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Home > History > Journal
Miami Beach Journal
1868 - 1911: The Farming Period
1911 - 1920: The Early Development Years
1920 - 1929: The Boom Years
1930 - 1941: The Post Depression Boom Years
1942 - 1945: The War Years
1945 - 1965: The Post War Boom
1868 - 1911
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 coconuts.

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 Miami Beach.
1911 - 1920
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 the world.

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 island.

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 wells.

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 his land.

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 in Miami".

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.
1920 - 1929
The Boom Years
In January of 1921 President-elect Warren Harding spent the winter at the Flamingo Hotel.

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 on.

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 overnight.

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.
1930 - 1941
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 attraction.

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 opened.

In 1939 Carl Fisher died. The city dedicated a bronze bust memorial to him near his home on North Bay Road.
1942 - 1945
The War Years
The Tourist boom continued until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Tourism ended in 1942 when the Army Air Corps Technical Training Command took over the hotels for barracks and classrooms. The fancier hotels became officer training schools and the larger hotels became hospitals.

So, during the War, the hotel owners survived the economic hardship by compensation from the government who filled their rooms with men who were on their way overseas.

The real payoff came in the years after the War when the soldiers returned with their families, this time to stay.
1945 - 1970
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 America.

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 Hotel.

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 1970, 87,000.