Category Archives: Historic Interest
Sites, museums, UNESCO, & more
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
Just realized I never actually posted this item I wrote while in NYC last week, just saw it lurking in a draft folder . . .
If you like the mansions in Newport or the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, you will love visiting The Frick. The wonderful European art on display seems like a bonus. Located on 5th Avenue, across from Central Park, I don’t know how I never tuned into this beautiful building before.
Finished in 1914, the home was built on property that once housed the Lenox Library, behind the property was a chicken farm. Henry Frick bequeathed his home and art collection so the public would always have access, and after the death of his wife, it opened to the public in 1935.
Much of the furniture is in place and the art is hung as it would have been in the home, eye level and without barriers. It’s wonderful and intimate; a very relaxing way to enjoy such beautiful old masters. Frick like beauty and avoided art that was violent or disturbing, so there is an emphasis on portraits and landscapes. At the moment there is a major exhibition of Van Dyke’s work.
Of course, visitors can’t take pictures, so you will have to go on-line for details, but I enjoyed the Van Dykes as well as paintings by Vermeer, Degas, Velazquez, Reuben, Taylor, Rembrandt and many, many more. Not to mention the gorgeous carpets, Limoges enamels, bronzes, porcelains and French furniture. At the grand stairway, you can look up and see the massive organ installed in the home. Frick employed his own organist who performed concerts twice a week. There are plans underway to restore the upper floors and eventually allow visitors.
You are truly transported to the Gilded Age during a visit to The Frick.
Details: A free audio tour is available. Docents give presentations several times a day about the history of the Fricks and the home, as well as how the collection was put together. There is also a short movie that explains much of the same information.
The small gift shop has a terrific selection of art books, as well as a nice assortment of specialty items.
The Frick is open six days a week (closed on Mondays), and due to the accessibility of the art, does not allow children under 10. Hours: Tue – Saturday, 10 AM – 6 PM; Sundays 11 AM – 5 PM. Adults $20; seniors $15; students $10. Sunday from 11 AM – 1 PM pay what you wish.
As we conclude our most recent trip to NYC, I thought I’d finished with anything blog-worthy, and then we went on a brunch cruise around Manhattan with Classic Harbor Line.
The Classic Harbor Line uses old-world style yachts in the Roaring Twenties-style. For the brunch cruise, the maximum number of guests is 40, and everyone has a window seat. Their brochure states they are “classically designed for contemporary experiences” and that is very well said.
Our trip was on the Manhattan II, just one year old, but built to resemble a vintage yacht. I’ll let my photos tell that story.
As we cruised up the East River and down the Hudson, we ate. Brunch was a delicious four-course affair, served buffet-style. First with bagels, lox, pastries and self-made waffles, followed by frittata and incredibly good pork sausage (which we are seriously trying to locate for purchase). Spiral-cut ham, potatoes and salad were followed by a wonderful fruit assortment, puff pastries, small napoleons and cannolis. A glass of Champagne, Mimosa, or Bloody Mary was included along with soft drinks and coffee; a full bar was also available.
The crew was amazing. They could not have been nicer or more helpful. The Captain’s commentary was interesting but not intrusive. Many of the passengers also asked the knowledgeable crew for more information about what we were seeing.
It didn’t hurt that it turned out to be an incredibly beautiful day. We ventured outside for some photo-ops, and often pulled back the large sliding picture windows by our comfortable table to snap a good iPhone shot.
The entire 2.75 hour trip was quiet, relaxing, un-hurried, interesting and very scenic. A perfect adventure for all the ages in our group, from 30-something to 85.
Classic Harbor Lines is the same company that offers architectural harbor tours narrated by the AIA NY and sailings on majestic schooners. Boats leave from Pier 62 at Chelsea Piers, and Pier 5 at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Marina. Check out the options at: Sail-NYC.com or call 888.215.1739. You may also be able to find a discount voucher if you search on-line. BTW, the bathrooms on board are comfortable and pristine.
This was a great tour. Led by fourth generation Italian-American, Eric Ferrara, we really gained an insight and understanding into the origins and evolution of the five major New York crime families and the history of New York City’s Little Italy.
Eric founded the Lower East Side History Project and has consulted on several projects including programs for TV’s History Channel, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the recent Great Gatsby movie and the Mafia Museum. He has written several books including the Manhattan Mafia Guide. Eric has not only researched his topic, he has lived it. He was clearly very comfortable in the area and able to tell many personal stories about his life and that of his family members.
There are a lot of similar tours available, but what I liked about this tour was the focus on fact versus sensationalism and media-driven urban legends. Eric set the record straight about many misconceptions and put a face on the daily struggle faced by the vast majority of the men involved with the Cosa Nostra. We learned about the speakeasies, the social clubs, early investment in the drag clubs of NYC, and the lynching of Italians. Eric had photos and newspaper articles to help tell the story and visualize the past.
I was surprised that what was once known as Little Italy is really now only about four one-street blocks of very tourist-oriented restaurants. Once a large and thriving section of town, it was eventually cleaned-up by NY Mayor Giuliani and has now become gentrified, with expensive boutiques and new construction. It was sad to learn that much of the area’s original character has been erased.
The tour was interesting, educational and, as a bonus, we found out which were the better area restaurants with the most authentic family history. We all received an information sheet summarizing key spots visited and follow-up resources.
We ended our two-hour tour in the restaurant area. Eric stopped to say hi to actor Tony Danza, who was just hanging out, sitting outside by a cannoli vendor, reading a paper.
After the tour we took a break and enjoyed some pizza at the Mulberry Street Bar. This restaurant was the setting for regular scenes on the Sopranos and has appeared in Donny Brasco, Godfather III, and Law & Order. We made one more quick stop to grab a cannoli (for me) and gelato (for my husband), before we headed back uptown. Do you think Tony is an investor in that cannoli stand?
Tours are offered twice a week, on Saturdays and Wednesdays at noon and generally last 1.5 hours. For more info, check out:
Who’s hanging out on Mulberry Street?
This charming enclave of The Met is housed in a re-constructed ensemble designed to resemble a medieval-era monastery on four acres in Fort Tryon Park. Located in the Bronx, the lovely park runs along the Hudson, with views across the river of the New Jersey Palisades’ plateau, and is beautiful in the spring.
The museum focuses on medieval art, architecture and gardens with the main focus on religious artifacts. It’s not large, but beautifully appointed and you truly feel you are transported to a hilltop somewhere in Europe. It’s hard to believe you are a short subway ride from the middle of Manhattan.
Open since 1938, The Met Cloisters has been heavily endowed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., including the gift of the famous Unicorn Tapestries, my favorite. There is an incredible collection of striking tapestries on display. Exhibits span from the Romanesque through the Gothic periods.
If You Go:
Open seven days a week, during the day from 10 AM, closing hours vary slightly by season, so check the website for up-to-date details. Adults $25; seniors $17; Students $12 and children under 12 free. Tickets also entitle same-day admission to other Met museums. If you go by subway, take the “A” train to the 190 Street stop and walk through the gardens to the museum. Or, grab an Uber to 99 Margaret Corbin Drive. There is a nice gift shop as well as a café (open April – October) on premises.
A few interesting scenes from around the city.
While researching the art on the SOHO building above, I came across a great blog called Ephemeral NY: Chronicling an ever-changing city through faded and forgotten artifacts. Fellow history-lovers will enjoy it: https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com
Current sculpture at Rockefeller Center, “Van Gogh’s Ear.” Really?
Check out my recent story, in Pinecrest Lifestyle magazine, about this incredible group of historic preservationists:
One of the oldest in Miami-Dade County and the oldest south of the Miami River, the Pinewood Cemetery is nestled in a residential area, among the beautiful homes of Coral Gables. Founded in 1855, and known as Larkins, Cocoplum and Pineywoods Cemetery, it eventually encompassed four acres and today is known by its last name, Pinewood.
The 268 plots were 50% sold and experts guess there are probably several hundred early settlers buried there. Through the decades and Florida’s rain and humidity, stones became eroded, records were lost and descents moved away erasing memories of the past. In the early 1980s local citizens got involved, cleaned up the property, found missing ancestors and recovered lost records. Where possible, missing stones were restored and new stones installed.
Today the grave markers offer an interesting snapshot into the early days of Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. Inscriptions and etched graphics reveal professions, birthplaces and the cause of death for many. Among those buried here were a farmer, blacksmith, electrician, carpenter, librarian, sponge fisherman and journalist. Men were veterans of the Seminole, Spanish-American, and Civil Wars. There are too many children and babies. Among the causes of death are the 1926 hurricane, a boating accident, and one young mother who died from “burns sustained while cooking supper,” one epithet I am unlikely to share.
Pinewood Cemetery is open 7 days a week, from sunrise to sunset. There is no admission and informational brochures are posted at the entry. Located on Erwin Road (SW 47th Ave), a half block south of Sunset Drive (SW 72 St).
Pick a day and check out some of the area’s great history. You might be surprised what’s just around the corner . . .
In my recent article for Pinecrest Lifestyle Magazine we spotlight some well-known and some not-so-known sites. You can also get an idea of the impact of The Villagers, a local historic preservation group celebrating “50 Years of Saving Places” this year. Full disclosure – I am a member, and love that I learn something new every time I’m around that talented. knowledgeable group.
Find out more about The Villagers: http://www.thevillagersinc.org