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Time magazine called it “the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle.” A cloister and refectory built almost 1000 years ago as part of a monastery in Sacramenia, Spain was salvaged from a Brooklyn warehouse and the estate of William Randolph Hearst – and reconstructed in Miami. There were 35,000 pieces in 11,000 wooden crates, mixed-up and misnumbered.
In 1925, Hearst purchased the former Cloisters of St. Bernard de Clairvaux with the intention of using it to surround his pool at his California San Simeon estate. Completed in 1141, it was occupied by Cistercian monks for almost 700 years. Hearst’s plan was derailed by an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Spain, causing concern by U.S. officials who quarantined the shipment, burning the hay protecting the carefully numbered and packed stones. Workers must not have been too concerned with any sort of system as they repacked the massive shipment. Read the rest of this entry
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:
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
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. Read the rest of this entry
This fall I’m planning to go to India. As part of my pre-trip prep, one of the things I’d like to learn is more about Indian cooking. I’d really like to understand all the spices and various uses . . . it seems like an insurmountable task, but I began to scratch the surface with a cooking class offered at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
Under the direction of Chef Billo Jolly we learned about some of the favorite snack foods in a typical Indian household. One of the things I loved about Chef Billo was her practical approach, she would show us the traditional method and then share today’s reality, complete with shortcuts. Read the rest of this entry
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
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.
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.
There is a lot more you can do at the beach besides bake in the sun. The Beach Walk on Miami Beach beckoned for one final call before the weather turns unbearably hot and sticky. I’ve written about this before, so won’t take space to expound, but will share a couple of shots from a fun afternoon escaping the realities of a routine day. Of course, it’s always fun to pick a spot along Ocean Drive for lunch and people watch while you cool off.
Craftsman Al, makes replica lifeguard stands, a perfect souvenir or just plain fun to have. Priced from $40 – $55, he can be found at the 17th Street entrance to the Beach Walk..
Check out my recent story, in Pinecrest Lifestyle magazine, about this incredible group of historic preservationists: