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If you are a history buff, a business expert, or maybe a little of both, you might enjoy reading my latest articles, written for the Dade Heritage Trust’s bi-annual magazine, Preservation Today. Find out what some of Miami’s oldest businesses have to say about their secret of survival.
It’s easy to take things for granted. Many of us never take the time to see what’s in our own backyard.
Miami’s Stiltsville was a unique, raucous, lively, storied, and often infamous, cluster of shack houses about a mile offshore in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Known for both wild parties and old-fashioned family weekends in the sun, Stiltsville was a destination that promised fun and a hint of the unknown.
When I moved to Miami in the 70s, I took Stiltsville for granted, passing up opportunities to visit. The community had rebounded from Hurricane Donna in 1960, and Hurricane Betsy in ‘65. But then, on August 24, 1992 – it was gone. Or at least most of it was gone. What was left after the fierce winds of Hurricane Andrew was mired in controversy and political wrangling. Not considered old enough (50 years) for designation by the National Trust for Historic Places, powerful people wanted the remaining seven damaged structures demolished.
My husband and I were among the fortunate few when we recently visited Stiltsville on a glorious, sunny afternoon, and spent some very special time (with very special friends) relaxing at the colorful Bay Chateau House.
For four decades, our good friends’ family owned home #14, “Haven from Slavin.” I’ve always enjoyed their family stories of weekends spent fishing, swimming and exploring the tidal flats surrounding the homes. Water levels on the flats are 2-3’ and during low tide drop to just a few inches; a perfect aquatic playground. Their three sons, now with children of their own, enjoy an exceptional shared history of their days on the Bay. It’s one of those sons who is now part of a group of caretakers for the Bay Chateau House.
Today, there are no private owners left at Stiltsville. Instead, there is the unusual relationship forged by the Park Service and former owners; the non-profit, public-private Stiltsville Trust formed in 2003. Owners were transitioned to caretakers of this incredible resource. The U.S. Government now owns the entire area, a part of America’s only national park 95% under water, Biscayne National Park. Visitors can see the area by boat, but very few have the opportunity to actually enter one of the homes.
At its height in the 60s, there were 27 buildings, most on pilings raising them about 10’ above the sandy flats. Earliest records indicate man-made structures as early as 1922, and in the 30s Eddie “Crawfish” Walker sold bait and beer from a shack nailed to a barge. Later in the 30s, things got really hopping with off-shore private clubs. Then the Quarterdeck Club had a long run from the 40s until it burned in 1961, but much of Stiltsville’s boisterous reputation is due to the Bikini Club. The Bikini Club, run out of a yacht towed out and grounded in 1962, made quite a name for itself in its short three-year history. Its reputation was for hard-drinking, gambling, nude sunbathing and who knows what else. The club was closed down for operating without a liquor license and possession of 40 under-size, out-of-season crawfish.
Private clubs notwithstanding, most of the stilt homes were owned by private families, who just loved the beauty, freedom and camp-like vibe of the natural setting. Of the seven surviving structures, one is the Miami Springs Power Boat Club started by firefighters, policemen and workers who lived near the airport. The others are known as the Leshaw House, Hicks House, Baldwin-Sessions House, Ellenburg House and A-frame House.
I’m told by locals that Flipper’s famous TV scene going from deck to Bay was filmed at the A-frame House. Stiltsville also had many famous human visitors, including several Florida governors, local judges, Steven Stills, rib-master Tony Roma and Ted Kennedy. It’s been featured on film and in print, including TV shows Miami Vice and Sea Hunt, as well as several books by local best-selling author Carl Hiaasen.
Who knows what treasure will be the next to disappear. Look around . . . while you can.
For More Info:
For a well-done 30-minute documentary produced by WLRN and featuring local expert, professor Dr. Paul George, visit Stiltsville through this link: http://video.wlrn.org/video/2365452261/
Biscayne National Park: https://www.nps.gov/bisc/index.htm
Bimini is the closest Bahama Island to Florida – about 51 miles away. We’d heard about the new high-speed ferry and thought we’d give it a try for a quick day-trip to the island. It’s two hours each way and leaves from the Port of Miami. As my husband said this was a “one & done”, we won’t be doing this again, but we did have fun checking it all out and spending the day with good friends.
Here is what you need to know:
- The ferry is absolutely freezing (they say it helps reduce seasickness); I am not exaggerating, take a blanket.
- Maybe it helps to keep it cold, but people were still sick. Take meds in advance like we did and you should be OK. There was a large carton of motion sickness packets at the boarding gate – but it was empty.
- Get a golf cart so you can drive around, they have 2 and 4-seaters and even some 6; it will set you back $50 for the day.
- Resort has a small casino, it is closed during most weekdays.
- There is no straw at the Straw Market.
- Eat some conch salad – it will be good, conch fritters not so great. We had a nice lunch at the Big Game Club, one of Hemingway’s former hangouts.
- Check out the Dolphin House Museum, it was charming; a work of love and tribute by a local craftsman/poet.
- Trash cans on the island all seem to be from Miami-Dade?
- If you do go by ferry, get a discount ticket on Groupon; a business class ticket will buy you a snack and drink along with your ticket.
- On the ferry you can book water activities through the Resorts World Bimini & they do sell snacks, coffee and soft drinks to everyone on board.
- Be sure to take your passport.
- Divers wold enjoy the options here, for everyone else a few hours is enough.
- Enjoy the views of the beautiful turquoise Caribbean waters.
Check out my latest Pinecrest Magazine story: about lost love; or is it?
Magic, Madness or Marvel? Miami’s Historic Coral Castle Just Might be a Little Bit of Each
Well, prepared by the ladies at Antojitos Doña Pili in Cozumel, Mexico, it’s delicious.
Authentic quesadillas are a pretty basic affair in Mexico, a small tortilla (usually corn), a small amount of the main ingredient, and maybe a little bit of Oaxaca cheese. Add salsa if you dare.
Nopales, from prickly pear cactus was our favorite of the local homemade quesadillas prepared for us at the first of our six stops during our amazing Mexican food tour. We also tried tasty poblano pepper as well as huitlacoche, which is a mushroom-type fungus that grows on corn and was bland without the sauce.
Our group of six has a bunch of dietary restrictions and our enthusiastic local foodie-guide Geraldo (Jerry for the Anglos), very professionally and seamlessly, managed necessary substitutions. This food tour is designed to get visitors around to off-the-beaten-path local eateries. We booked it independently, while in town on a cruise ship stop. It was a great choice.
We enjoyed conchinita pibil tacos, which are cooked with sour orange juice in banana leaves, a favorite in the Yucatán peninsula. Like the quesadillas, tacos are not the Tex-Mex orgies we get in the States; they are simple, just the chopped pork and some onion held together by a corn taco. The next stop was for a large bowl of Sopa de Lima, a soup full of shredded white meat chicken and a broth with a hint of lime.
Voted winner of the day: Pescadoria San Carlos, where we feasted on incredible grouper ceviche and whole fried freshly caught grouper. Those of us from Florida who are used to fresh (even whole fried) fish thought it was wonderful and our other friends pronounced it the best fish they had ever had. It was really good.
The gregarious owner of this colorful restaurant sang for the group and apparently, is also a popular local comedian.
Along the way we had all sorts of great drinks to try including local Montejo beer, Hibiscus water (Agua de Jamaica), Pepino (cucumber & lime), Horchata, a milky sweet drink, and Chia Fresca complete with floating chia seeds. We stopped at a local market to get a first-hand view of the various ingredients we were eating and we ended the 3-hour tour at a bakery, but were too full to sample more than a bite of the large local pastries.
If you want to go: contact email@example.com They book through Viator, Inc and we booked through Cruise Planners/ShoreTrips.
Thanks to our daughter and her fiancé we had a wonderful time on our morning whale-watching excursion. Leaving from Balboa Island at 9 AM, I quickly forgot my concerns about the (really) chilly weather and potentially rough seas, when we spotted two grey whales just as we left the harbor. We followed the whales for quite a while as they headed south on their long journey from Alaska to Mexico. As the marine haze lifted it turned into a beautiful, clear day.
During the 2-hour trip with Newport Coastal Adventures, we zoomed around in a 6-passenger zodiac at 20-30 mph and that was a thrill ride all its own. Another highlight was finding ourselves in the middle of a pod of hundreds of playful common dolphin.
It was a blast. We loved it!
We got the day going with a short river cruise on a traditional “bumboat” which used to ferry cargo here. We cruised around the interior bay for a nice perspective and enjoyable 40-minutes. Then we trekked over to the iconic Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay, eventually figuring out how to get a ticket for the OCBC Skyway, 66 feet up.
Walked over the Dragonfly Bridge to view the dramatic evening light show among the Supertrees. Standing by Dragonfly Lake was a perfect spot to take in the perspective. They do the 12-minutes show twice a night – at 7:45 and 8:45. The complex is huge, with domes gardens and a wide array of specialty gardens, you could spend a week.
No visit here would be complete without a visit to the adjacent Casino and the huge, multilevel high-end shopping mall, all by the Marina Bay. The good news was the Casino has seriously limited smoking, the bad news was the minimums were $50 in honor of the Chinese New Year. In case you’re wondering, maximum bet allowed (at a normal table) was $500K. We did not see any craps tables and no, we did not win money. The mall mirrored shops like Prada, Tiffany and Armani found on Singapore’s famous Orchard Street. They love to repeat stores here, so for example, you might see three Cartier shops within a block and a half. You could spend some serious money here.
Our final dinner in this great city was for typical dumplings, wontons and egg fried rice at Ding Tai Fung a famous Taiwanese spot, rated one of the top ten by the NY Times. Floor to ceiling windows allow visitors to watch the young men make the intricate dumplings. The food was great, we were not disappointed.
It’s hard to find anything bad to say about Singapore. It’s clean and buildings are either new, freshly painted, or painstakingly restored. Lots of former British Colonial buildings have been repurposed as things like cultural centers and even hotels. It’s actually reminiscent of EPCOT, except for the lurking presence of a Universal Studios on one of the adjacent islands. The only downside is the heat and humidity, but then that’s just like summers at home in Miami.
Growth here is controlled, there is good rapid transit, and cars are very expensive ($125K for a Toyota sedan); therefore, traffic is under control. This island city/state is very green with good use of vertical and rooftop spaces. Feng Shui also plays a key role in architectural and planning decisions. Our Miami-Dade planners should come over here and take some notes.
There is a bit of Big Brother here with cameras pretty much everywhere, even on many cars. Petty crime is low because they WILL have your crime recorded. International crime may be another story – we saw a huge Interpol building, and the banking laws attract many uber-wealthy à la the Swiss and Caymans. There are all sorts of fines for bad behavior, and you’d better not chew gum because that is one of their many rules. People here do follow the rules, and I enjoyed the security and order of it all.
We really enjoyed our time here. To make the most of it, we hired a great, young guide (contact info below) recommended by some friends, and spent an entertaining six hours touring the various neighborhoods and important sights. When we visit a city, we always love to see the neighborhoods, and we covered the gamut here, from the upscale Dempsey Hill area, to the ethnic enclaves of Indians, Muslims and Chinese, as well as the beautiful embassies, mansions and restored (now-coveted) black and white houses from the Colonial days. We also went up to Faber Peak for the cool breeze and nice view back towards the port area.
One highlight was a visit to one of the traditional hawker areas (Tiong Bahru) for some delicious local food. Hawker stands are like food courts, but with more of a food-truck vibe and cuisine; one even has a Michelin star. We trusted our guide to just get different types of dishes for us to try, with our one caveat to not be too spicy! We had an amazing eggplant dish, chicken, noodles and some sort of wrap. I do have the names of the dishes, but doubt I will ever find them on a menu again.
We caught one of the two evening light shows on the Bay, where they did some incredible things with holograms. Having managed to eat and drink quite a bit during the day, we settled for a late-evening tea and pastry before calling it a night.
Tip: Great guide Phil Choo: firstname.lastname@example.org
I finally got to go to a Cat Cafe!
I knew they were popular in parts of Asia and was thrilled to find out there were several in Singapore.
There were 15 cats – all rescues. Very cute with their individual collars, bows and scarves. The $15 (Singapore dollars) fee goes to their support and maintenance. Visitors leave their shoes at the door and Purell their hands before entering this kitty-haven. You can stay as long as you like, order a coffee or food, pet them, play with them or just let them sleep on your computer while you do your homework, whatever. Cats curled up on table tops and backpacks, one was walking along beams about 10′ off the ground and another was trying to escape. They had plenty of play towers and special beds. Most were sleeping soundly and all were hard to photograph.
I wish I could’ve stayed longer and I hope my kitty, Pippi, never finds out . . .