Post #44 – STILTSVILLE (AND MIAMI) – Day 284, February 11, 2015 – On board: Paul, Hank, Jim K.
Talk about culture shock! For nearly a month we have been traveling along the Everglades, a deserted anchorage, the Florida Keys – often rural and rustic, always laid back and unhurried – “island time”. Suddenly we’re docked in downtown Miami – highrises tower over the waterfront and everywhere there is hustle and bustle. Not complaining, mind you, for Miami is a great and fun city – but things sure did change in a hurry!
Our 50 mile run from Key Largo was quite pleasant, and seeing the Miami skyline rise and grow on the horizon was very exciting:
As we approached Key Biscayne, we saw some houses standing by themselves out in the ocean, built on stilts. We decided to explore, and wound our way through a cluster of seven such houses, known as Stiltsville, with quite an interesting story. The first such house was apparently built in the early 30’s during Prohibition by a character named “Crawfish” Eddie as a gambling house, since gambling was legal at that time a mile or more offshore. He allegedly sold bait, beer, and crawfish chowder, the latter of which he made from crawfish he caught underneath his shack. Eddie’s fishing buddies and others constructed shacks on stilts as well in subsequent years, followed by the construction of several social and fishing clubs – all on stilts over a mile from land and accessible only by boat. In a February, 1941 issue, LIFE magazine featured an article about one such club, describing the Quarterdeck, an exclusive membership only club as a “…$100,000 play-palace equipped with bar, lounge, bridge deck, and dining room, …an extraordinary American community dedicated solely to sunlight, salt water, and the well-being of the human spirit.” At its peak in 1960, there were 27 structures in Stiltsville, when Hurricane Donna severely damaged the Quarterdeck and most of the houses. Some were rebuilt, however, and in 1962 a scam artist named Harry Church grounded a 150 foot yacht on the mudflats of Stitltsville and turned it into a social club called the Bikini Club in which drinks were free to women wearing bikinis, and which featured a sundeck for nude sunbathing and staterooms that could be rented, presumably by the hour. A few years later, the Florida Beverage Commission raided the Bikini Club and closed it down for selling liquor without a license. However, Hurricane Betsy in 1965, effectively destroyed the Bikini Club and again severely damaged most of the existing structures. Following Betsy, Florida decided to assert jurisdiction over Stitltsville, requiring lease payments, refusing to issue new Building Permits, and refusing to allow any structure which sustained more than 50% damage to be rebuilt. The leases expired in 1999 and required the owners to remove the structures at that time at the owners’ expense. However, in 1980, Congress expanded Biscayne National Park to include Stiltsville, so the United States Park Service now had control but agreed to honor the existing leases. Hurricane Andrew destroyed half of the 14 remaining structures in 1992, leaving just seven. As the 1999 deadline approached, the owners and several preservation groups attempted to list the remaining buildings on the National Register of Historic Places to keep them from being destroyed, but the applications were denied because the structures were not yet 50 years old. In 1998, 57 years after its first article, LIFE magazine featured another article about Stiltsville, this time describing the grassroots efforts to fight the federal government and save the buildings. Over 75,000 people signed a petition of support, and in 2000, the Park Service reversed its position and agreed to allow the houses to be preserved. Today the houses are vacant but are being maintained as the Park Service works with a non-profit Trust on a plan to preserve and utilize the remaining seven structures. Quite a story.
Here are some pictures of them:
After meandering through Stiltsville, we ran along the coast of Biscayne Bay and ducked into an anchorage known as No Name Harbor adjacent to a state park:
The twin cities of Miami and Miami Beach are vibrant, diverse cities with an incredible combination of cultures. Our week-long stay coincided with the set-up for the Miami Boat Show, so dockage space was difficult to find and we stayed two days each in four different places, each a unique experience. The first was the Miami Municipal Marina, immediately downtown, surrounded by highrise buildings and the “Bayside” marketplace featuring restaurants, shops, live music on the street, etc. We took several tours of the city to acclimate ourselves, Here are some images:
After two days in the Municipal Marina on the waterfront, all boats had to leave so they could set up for the Boat Show. We moved to a marina 1.5 miles up the Miami River. Here are some images:
Miami is an incredibly diverse city, characterized by many ethnic neighborhoods from various parts of the Carribean, Central America, and South America. Of course, Cubans dominate, since nearly 700,000 Cubans have emigrated to America, the vast majority to Miami, over the past three decades or so. The Cuban culture is pervasive throughout the City, but no more so than in Little Havana: Here are some pictures:
Another unique and fascinating ethnic neighborhood in Miami is called Overtown. As Miami developed in the first half of the 1900’s, blacks were segregated to an area west of the railroad tracks which was originally called “Colored Town”, now called Overtown. Within Overtown is the Wynwood Art District which features incredible murals painted on buildings and walls throughout the district. I’ve truly never seen anything like it on such a scale. Following are a number of photos of just a few of the murals. The artwork speaks for itself, so I have provided only a few captions:
From our dockage on the Miami River, we were fortunate to arrange for dockage for two nights at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Coconut Grove, an upscale area on the south side of Miami. Here are some images:
Our last stop in the Miami area was Miami Beach – built largely on fill over a mangrove swamp now some of the most expensive real estate in the country:
From Miami, we begin to slowly work our way in a northerly direction, though we’re going to leave the boat for a little over a week at the end of February to visit home, shovel some snow, and do some skiing.