Category Archives: Florida

Miami-area Heritage Parks

You may never have heard of Heritage Parks, but just like brick and mortar buildings, they play an important part in a community’s history. To find out about the seven stunning Heritage Parks in Miami-Dade County, check out my article in Preservation Today, the magazine of Dade Heritage Trust:

Preservation Today Magazine. 2018.Heritage Parks

If you want to know more about the area’s history (and I hope you will) visit the Trust’s website and sign-up for some of their excellent programs. www.DadeHeritageTrust.org

Pictured: Homestead Bayfront Park

Hunting for History

Hunters in front of the Wat Buddharangsi Buddhist Temple.

 

 

It’s crazy, informative, quirky, and fun, all rolled into one hectic experience.

I look forward every year to The Villagers’ Historic Hunt.

For more than 30 years The Villagers have held their Historic Hunt in various parts of Miami-Dade County.  This year, they sent hunters to the far-south Redland area.  For those who haven’t explored this part of greater Miami – it’s known for agriculture. The long straight roads are lined with farms and nurseries, many with exotic tropical plants. Here and there are wonderful berry farms and amazing fruit markets. Stopping for a strawberry shake is always at the top of our to-do list when we are anywhere nearby.

Counting the squares at the Redland Farm Life School Building. Do the ones over the side features count?

But the Hunt didn’t allow any time for malingering – we had just two hours to find 10 sites and answer the clues.  Historical gems were still to be found where you would least expect them. We visited the 100+ year-old Redland Farm Life School, Art Deco-inspired Seminole Theater (The Villagers donated funds to restore the iconic marque), and the pink St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church with its gigantic black church bell sitting like a sentry on its front porch.

My favorite find was the Lilly Lawrence Bow Library, now the Homestead Redevelopment Center. To get to this limestone rock building, we drove through the entrance of Pioneer Village – a charming residential area of Homestead I didn’t know existed.

Most hunters were captivated by the beautiful Buddhist Temple (there really was a sign on one of the buildings that proclaimed “Welcome to Buddha Land”).  The sprawling campus certainly has an important place in our modern-day history.

We finished in third place, but having so much fun with friends, sharing new experiences, and learning fascinating historical facts, we all felt like winners.

Bell at St Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

Foodie or Art Fan? Either Way a Winner.

 

 

What could be a better combination than food, art, and a beautiful sunny day?

We ventured on a Miami Culinary Tour of Wynwood and played tourist with a mostly local group of new friends. Wynwood is a rapidly transitioning area of central Miami that is home to the now famous Wynwood Walls, galleries and amazing restaurants. During this walking tour, our exceptional guide Mirka did a great job of keeping the group together while explaining the story behind the iconic art and artists as well as details about the food we tasted.  It was a foodie dream.

Although food options may change depending on the tour, even those of us who had been to Wynwood many times, came away with some new info and experiences.

A quick rundown of our tastings:

  • GKB for Peruvian ceviche and pork taquito slice
  • The Taco Stand (a California-based enterprise) for an exceptional handcrafted chicken taco
  • Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, where it all began, for a ropa vieja empanada, maduros & tequeno
  • Nationally renown Zac the Baker for a potato knish and babka tasting
  • Recently opened, Flavian for uniquely flavored gelato (think walnut & fig or pear & ginger)

Servings were ample, and trust me, you are not hungry after this 2 ½ hour tour. Somehow, I was too busy eating to take any pictures of the food.

Artist Peter Tunney was on-site when we visited his gallery and “Excerpts from the Taj Mahal” work, all created with salvaged remnants from the bankrupt Atlantic City casino. It was an unexpected treat to hear him explain his thought process and experiences in putting together the collection, just in time for last December’s Art Basel.

Bon appétit!

For info on this tour or other Miami-area culinary tours, check out: https://www.miamiculinarytours.com/

786-942-8856

For more about the international artists and their work showcased on the Wynwood Walls, visit: http://www.thewynwoodwalls.com/

A section of one of the Walls.

 

This sculpture is made from re-purposed trash. Look closely – that’s an endangered Florida panther on top.

Magical Days & Nights at Universal Studios

I love all things magical, AND I love to read.  My fascination for the wonderfully magical all started when I was introduced to Mary Poppins books around age nine.  Then I came to know the wise magic of Merlin through stories about King Arthur’s Court.  A few decades later, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have brought the wonder of magic to a new generation of readers.  And, yes, I read all the books.

As a lark, to take a break from reality, my husband recently took me to Universal Studios in Orlando to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Universal cleverly spread the fun between two theme parks, necessitating the purchase of a two-park pass.  Unless you are a glutton for punishment, be sure to splurge on the Express pass so you can cut about 2/3 off the wait time to get on the rides.

I absolutely LOVED Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.  The creative folks have done an amazing job of putting you right into the movie. I really felt like I was flying through the air along with Harry, through the Quidditch court, evading the Death Eaters. This was in Hogsmeade at Hogwarts Castle, located in Islands of Adventure. Diagon Alley is appropriately in London, at Universal Studios. Both are authentically styled and staged, true to the books and movies.  We lunched on typical British fare at Three Broomsticks, sipped (surprisingly delicious) Butter Beer, watched entertainers straight from the pages of the books and enjoyed just strolling around the shops and alleys. The Hogwarts Express, complete with digital enhancements at both your window and compartment doors, transports you between the two Wizarding locations.

Wand shops are everywhere, with Ollivanders (of course) being the most popular.  There you can watch the shopkeeper direct

How to find those secret magical spots.

wizards and witches to the special wand just right for them. There are all sorts of wands, including those from all the well-known Potter characters. Mostly wood, they are interesting, beautiful and some a bit macabre.  It’s hard to make a choice.  Some are interactive and come with a map of special locations where their owners use special spells to perform tricks.  It was cute to see all the kids waving their wands and uttering Potterisms to turn on water features, move objects in window displays, or turn on lights.

 

Can you guess which character has a wand like this? Pippi thinks it’s one of the Hogwarts professors.

Of course I bought a wand!

Oh, and be sure to catch the evening light show at the Hogwarts Castle. Photos and videos do not do it justice. To call it a light show doesn’t begin to describe it, it’s amazing.

 

Keep the kids reading . . . Lumos!

Gringotts Bank. Another good 3D ride experience here.

 

 

Miami’s Oldest Companies Tell it Like it Was

The Dade Heritage Trust, located in the 1905 original office of Dr. James Jackson, Miami’s first physician.   https://dadeheritagetrust.org/

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.

How to Succeed in Business.Preservation Today.Spring-Summer 2017

 

The Magic of Miami’s Stiltsville

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.

The Bay Chateau House.

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.

Anyone for a swing-jump off the deck into the bay?

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

 

 

The A-frame House. Can you visualize Flipper sliding off the dock?

The Ellenburg House.

With the Miami skyline as a backdrop, the Baldwin-Sessions House. The most elaborate structure still in existence, it was once featured in a national ad for Pittsburgh Paints.

Miami’s Coral Castle.

 

The 20-foot tall crescent moon (weighing 23 tons) and Saturn are visible behind Ed’s Throne Room featuring several unusual chairs. The largest chair (throne) weighs 5,000 lbs.

 

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

Pinecrest Mag.Coral Castle.Feb2017

Let Go at Alabama Jack’s

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Just where Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties meet, you’ll find Alabama Jack’s. “Docked” off Card Sound Road, before the bridge to Key Largo,  a slice of real Florida still exists. For more insight about the adventures enjoyed by AJ’s eclectic mix of loyal fans, see my latest article in Pinecrest Lifestyle Magazine:

Pinecrest.Alabama Jacks.7-2016

 

A South Dade Treat

Fruit and Spice Park Sign.DSC_0128

Lobster Rolls.Mango Cafe.IMG_5526

If You Like Lobster Rolls . . . .

Click the link to read all about the Mango Cafe in my latest piece in Pinecrest Lifestyle Magazine.   Pinecrest Mag.Mangos.6-2016

The River of Grass

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Florida’s Everglades.  I can’t think of a better way to bid adieu (or I guess it should be adios) to sunny South Florida, than a ride through the River of Grass with a few friends. Dillon, the third generation of this family-owned business did an excellent job as captain and tour guide, explaining the complex ecosystem to this crowd of locals.  The Coopertown crew has helped with a lot of filming for TV and movies. Currently they are on a TV show in France, can’t remember the name, but it sounds like it’s the French version of Amazing Race.

Riding on an air boat is just plain fun – at any age.DSCN5034

Coopertown Air Boat rides: 11 miles west of the Florida Turnpike on US 41 (Tamiami Trail).  305.226.6048 http://coopertownairboats.com/ Call to reserve.  There is also a brief wildlife show and a restaurant with a menu featuring frog legs and gator tail.

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