South Beach wasn’t always the hot, trendy, party-central, vacation destination that it is known for today. The beach has a rich history that is still very present in the area today. South Beach was established in the mid-1800s; it was a remote sandbar of Miami Beach. Back then, South Beach looked very different. The area was just a beach with swamp land and mangroves lining the coastline. The area wasn’t settled, and most of it was farmland.
In 1870, South Beach was purchased by John Lum, an investor. He bought all of Miami Beach for only 35 cents an acre. He wanted to build a coconut plantation. The land wasn’t fertile, so Lum backed out of owning this land. In the early 1900s, John Collins, an entrepreneur, decided to grow avocados on the land. Although the avocados were growing, there was no easy way to deliver them for sale on the mainland. Collins began investing in the creation of a canal and bridge that would connect South Beach to the mainland. Unfortunately, Collins ran out of funds before the project was finished.
By 1912, two more men, John and James Lummus, wanted to make the area a tourist destination. They created a bathhouse on the beach that people could access from a ferry from the mainland. One of the Lummus’ daughters named the area “South Beach.” Another man, Carl Fisher, who wintered in Miami, knew of Collins’ unfinished bridge and worked together with him to finish the bridge, along with the creation of a luxury hotel on South Beach. Fisher also helped create the Lincoln Road shopping district.
By 1920, the area was changing a lot. Mangroves were removed. The bay was dredged. Everglades’ soil was brought in to use as fill. Trees were planted along streets. Five hotels now existed in South Beach and mansions, owned by big names like J.C. Penny and the Firestones, were popping up left and right.
Art Deco, which is the architecture style South Beach is famous for, came to the area in the 1930s and 1940s. At this time, more people started to move to the area, especially military families who were training in South Florida. In the 1950s and 1960s, television shows, like Jackie Gleason, taped in South Beach hotels, giving the area national attention. In the 1970s and 1980s, South Beach soon began attracting retirees from up north and refugees from Cuba.
It was also at this time the city was going through a “renaissance,” because many of the buildings needed renovations and repairs. The saltwater had made much of South Beach’s building look run down, old and decrepit. In the 1980s, the area was beginning to look beautiful again and the Art Deco architecture was restored.
More investors, entrepreneurs, and tourists began to flock to the area, creating the fun, aesthetically-pleasing hot spot that people experience today.
Stay in South Beach
South Beach’s history has such an influence on the way the city looks and operates today. You can experience the city’s finest architecture first hand by staying at the Cavalier Hotel, located in the heart of South Beach. The Cavalier is a restored Art Deco building. To book your stay at the Cavalier, call 305-673-1199.