It seemed like everyone from all over the world knew about Miami when I was growing up there in the ’50s and ’60s. It had become one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world after Henry Flagler helped to develop it.
Flagler, one of John D. Rockefeller’s partners in the oil business, extended his Florida East Coast Railway in 1896 from Palm Beach on down to Ft. Dallas: the original name of the settlement. The settlers wanted to rename it after Mr. Flagler, but he suggested they name it after the Native American river running through the area; the “Miama” River.
Though known all over the world, Miami in the mid-20th Century was a relatively small city, and its economy catered to visitors. It didn’t have a reputation as possessing much but great winter weather. Unbeknownst to most, it also touted lots of winter produce. It was a somewhat schizophrenic place: a southern agricultural town on the one hand, and a playground for the snowbirds on the other. With an international reputation for being the “sun and fun capitol of the world,” it dismayed many in my hometown that Miami didn’t boast a better standing. Miami was in the hunt to become more than a mere public relations tag in an advertising insert, but few took it seriously.
Fast-forward to today, and there may be some truly great news for Miamians in their quest for “global standing,” and some really great news for architectural preservationists. The Miami Marine Stadium, a 1963 structure just off of the Rickenbacker Causeway on the way to Key Biscayne, is going to be saved and hopefully put to use. For those who know about the Marine Stadium, you are probably asking right now: Is this guy kidding? Global standing? From that piece of junk?
Sure, global standing: something that takes time and a degree of maturation. Something that I believe Miami has finally done: matured. I’m not saying this because it has some really great sports franchises, although I thought we had surely arrived years ago when Griese, Morrall, Kick, Csonka, Warfield, Morris, Yepremian, and the whole bunch brought home the only perfect season in NFL history and a Super Bowl trophy. Joe Robbie and what’s-his-name-the-coach made us feel like we were on top of the world, just like the HEAT has done. But global standing?
Up against many of the great cities around the world, back when the Marine Stadium was built, Miami had been considered as new, young, immature, and long void of culture. We didn’t create much of our own culture; we shipped it in. Up until that time, Miami wasn’t a city, it was a town.
“Miamah” (as pronounced by the old-timers) was a southern town, except when the millions of New Yorkers came down during the winter. South Florida produced a good portion of the winter produce consumed by Americans. There were tack shops on US1, and away from the limelight of the winter tourists, there were farmers, ranchers, and rednecks. There’s a Pizza Hut where I used to hunt quail in the okra fields beyond where Sunset Drive was a dirt road. And if you ever spent any time in the Everglades back in those days, you know what I’m talking about. There wasn’t much more redneck and fun than WEDR radio and the old Wild Boar Jamboree.
It’s hard to explain to folks today, especially the newest generation of South Florida kids, what it was like growing up in paradise. As youngsters we went barefoot and fished all the places that now have signs that say “no fishing.” We rode our bikes everywhere without fear of getting squashed by the hordes of cars, or worse. The snowbirds came down by the droves and the South Florida economy fleeced ’em. And for those of us who grew up in the old Miamah, we knew that tourism was what paid many of the bills.
Even architects, the likes of Morris Lapidus, participated in amusing the tourists. Many years ago he told me the story about designing the Fontainebleau Hotel as a theater to amuse the New Yorkers. That’s paraphrasing a story that was much more fetching, animated, and involved. I’m not doing it justice; nor am I doing justice to one of the great architects who helped shape Miami. I should tell that story in more detail one day.
Until Florida changed its banking laws and Disney came to the state, the South Florida economy functioned on cash coming from other parts; kinda like what Branson, Missouri does today, with the exception that the tourists came for “fun in the sun,” not country music. And as a tourist, if you had your portable radio with you on one of the many beaches, WFUN AM radio (or maybe it was WQAM radio) would ring a bell every 15 minutes and say, “time to turn over.” We knew how to take care of our transients. Oh. . . I mean tourists.
We shipped in our entertainment, our music and our art, that is until that wonderful transitional period when the New Yorkers began to really settle in on account of the beautiful Miami weather, and the subsequent influx of the new non-transients who came to our shores thanks to Fidel Castro.
The City of Miami proper had a population about the size of Little Rock, Arkansas today. It was a playground and it was terribly transient. These new groups that settled in began to define Miami in a more permanent way with new homegrown art, music, and architecture. It was a clash of north, south, and foreign. Yet it was a culture beginning to be defined by the local environment.
An Integral Factor
The Marine Stadium became an integral factor in that transitional period. Sure the stadium was a continuation of the playground tourism mentality erected to titillate the masses with boat races, but it was not just any piece of junk. It was a wonderful work of architecture by a brilliant architect. What was significant at the time: a shift occurred in the existing political system’s hierarchy. It resulted in an architectural commission being awarded to one of the new transplants who was helping to define Miami’s culture from within. This was a bold and important move by the old-time Miami power structure. In the matter of a few decades we went from the old-timers’ “Miamah,” to the New Yorkers’ “Mee-ammee,” to the Cubans’ “My-jamie,” and the art and music began to flourish because of these beautiful people.
Did the Miami Marine Stadium change all that? Kinda yes, and kinda no. Let me explain.
The catalyst for me writing this column was an email I received a few weeks ago from a friend about Marine Stadium’s preservation. My friend, Laura Camp, a brilliant attorney who specializes in eminent domain law, said that a nonprofit group was put in control of the stadium redevelopment plan. She knew I would be interested because she knew of my love of Miami’s history, as well as my professional love of architecture and community planning. She and I grew up around each other in South Florida. Our dads were partners in Miami’s biggest law firm, and our families hung out together even though I was in South Miami, and she in Miami Shores. Actually, in my mind, she was from North Miami; any community north of downtown we South Miami-ites considered to be North Miami.
Laura’s email was great news. There was a real effort underway to preserve the Marine Stadium. This is very exciting for those of us who grew up under the shadows of the old eyesore-a once magnificent piece of architecture.
Those who want to learn more about the coming preservation of this architectural icon (one of the 11 most endangered historic places in America) you need to read the wonderful article that Carlos Harrison wrote for Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation: an article about the Miami Marine Stadium and Hilario Candela, the brilliant Cuban-American architect who designed it. It is a really really really great article.
But for those who want to better understand the nexus between a seemingly hopeless and ineffectual governmental sector, and the unbeknownst link at the time to the development of a post-industrial or third-wave economy . . . read on. (If you are unfamiliar with these economic terms, you can read about them in Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s book The Third Wave, or in my book, The Chicken Came First – a primer for renewing and sustaining our communities.)
Miami Art, Music and Culture
One of South Florida’s newcomer New Yorkers in the ’50s was a woman who eventually became one of the greatest female artists of the 20th Century: Edna Glaubman. Edna and others helped to establish the arts scene in Coconut Grove, which became the mecca for artists from the ’60s thru the ’90s; an arts scene which was the underpinning and an early predecessor group to Miami’s current Art Basel.
Art in Miami was beginning to take off as a result of the many transplants that helped develop the cultural landscape. Even more importantly, this replanted New Yorker and many others developed a brilliant educational system that pushed for excellence from Miami’s children.
Meanwhile, a replanted Mississippian – via Julliard Music School – settled in Miami and set about to create great music and great musicians. Along the way he and others participated in creating a musical dynasty that led Miami to becoming a musical magnet. His name was Robert P. Bobo and he recruited elementary-aged children for his Junior High Orchestra, which was a feeder school to a high school symphony that he eventually led, along with the All Miami Youth Symphony. He carted his kids all over South Florida to every venue imaginable, showcasing their talents, from old folks homes to churches to schools and parks. His High School Symphony became top in Florida for many years, and at one point (I think around 1967) was selected by the Southern Regional Musical Educators National Convention as the best high school symphony in 13 southern states.
What is important about this to our story? Some of Mr. Bobo’s students continued with his vision of taking the finest live music to the people of Miami, which was a radical departure from how music was disseminated at that point in time-all this a little after the Stadium was built.
I need to mention here that as a high-brow musical venue, the Marine Stadium sucked. As a unique setting for a community that lived and played outside, it was a tremendous addition to the South Florida scene.
In the early years, the Stadium showcased the likes of Melissa Manchester, Pete Fountain, Beverly Sills, Tony Bennett, and George Shearing. Roberta Peters, The Carpenters, Joan Baez, The Temptations, Roberta Flack, Henry Mancini, and Dave Brubeck. And of course the Miami Philharmonic used the venue all the time. There was Chuck Mangione, Al Hirt, Dionne Warwick, Doc Severinsen, Cleo Laine, Teri DeSario, KC and the Sunshine Band, Lionel Hampton, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Bobby Caldwell, Spiro Gyra, Herbie Mann, James Galway, and Joe Williams. Most of the talent was shipped in from elsewhere.
I mention all of these individuals and groups because the Marine Stadium was not just exciting to be around, but was the learning location for many young students who were enthralled with the music industry. This venue acted as a staging ground for two of Mr. Bobo’s students who started an organization which became a South Florida institution, helping to create a multi-billion dollar industry.
One of the great concerts during the Stadium’s early days was the Miami Philharmonic conducted by the incomparable and iconic Arthur Fiedler from the Boston Pops. After the concert Mr. Fiedler hung around Miami for an extra day so that he could visit with and conduct Mr. Bobo’s famous high school youth orchestra. For those who understood the extreme importance of provoking the dreams of youth, this would prove to be an important event in Miami’s history . . . and might not have taken place had it not been for the unique and quirky Miami Marine Stadium.
The development of the Boston Pops by Mr. Fiedler had catapulted him into the public eye. He became one of the pivotal personalities in the early stages of changing where and how music would be encountered and heard. What’s important about this: Mr. Fiedler – and the paradigm shift that he represented in the delivery and presentation of music – would alter the lives of two young students and would change Miami forever.
The works and talents produced at the Marine Stadium helped to solidify the students’ imaginations, and they went on to create the largest public musical outreach program in US history. At its peak, this musical outreach organization was producing 1,500 concerts a year; concerts of every type in every venue imaginable, free to the public. That was PACE and Mr. Bobo’s students were Rod Glaubman and Steve Parsons. They put music in every park, on street corners, in band shells, and mobile stages throughout Dade and Broward counties, thereby giving venue and voice to local musicians. This organization helped to develop an industry which benefited Miami immensely.
Some wonder if music would have occurred in Miami to the same degree without the Stadium and without PACE. No one can say for sure, but I would imagine that Miami would have taken the same route that Jacksonville, Atlanta, Chicago and most other American cities took: a model that required selling tickets, beer, and T-shirts at gate-able venues in hopes that a profit was made and the artist could get paid.
PACE changed the demand and supply components. They expanded the market and the expectations, and opportunities by marrying real-life crowds with young want-a-bees. They put money in the pockets of the talent who could then stay home to hone their craft because they had plenty of gigs in Miami. They didn’t have to travel all over the country trying to survive and catch a break. They were creating the culture of Miami from within, not just shipping it in. While Rod and Steve ran PACE, producing 16,000 to 17,000 concerts, one group which got to stay home and perfect their craft was the Miami Sound Machine. Wonder what that group eventually meant to Miami’s image and economy?
Marine Stadium as Inspiration
Over the last few decades I have written and lectured about the creation of post-industrial sustainable communities. Part of my passion for the subject arose in the shadows of the Miami Marine Stadium nearly 35 years ago: I sculpted in the sand the first-in-history, third-wave city of the future. I named it Prodigy: an economic and planning model eventually recognized by the Reagan White House in1982. The long version of this you can read about in my book. The short version is this: Rod Glaubman’s experiences with the Marine Stadium and our ensuing discussions about the venues needed in South Florida for developing a third-wave economy-a basic sector which creates wealth from the creative efforts of people-and a resulting thriving music industry, was pivotal in creating a model for developing a post-industrial sustainable community. This occurred because the Marine Stadium existed and was fodder for discussion. It was a catalyst for questions being asked by curious kids.
I love telling stories about our history and how some of these past events have shaped who we are today. These stories act as tangible examples of the importance of really living and enjoying our lives in the present. They show the value of engaging with each other in our communities, the questions we should be asking, and what we can do today to shape our future. These stories underscore why we should never underestimate the effects our individual and collective actions and decisions have on determining who we become as a community.
The Marine Stadium was an important piece of the City of Miami’s past that helped create what exists today. The exciting part of this new chapter in Miami’s history is that if the Stadium is redeveloped properly, it can once again be instrumental in shaping Miami’s future; but which future?
Of the multiple futures that can be selected, each will take Miami to a different place. Which future should be selected is a matter of the desires and needs of the community in the present, and the dreams and aspirations of the community for the future. I’ll take a look at those possible specific futures (in a shorter column!) in my next CFR offering.
Understanding which future should be selected is done by educating oneself about the various possibilities which exist based on local, regional, and global trends, on business and cultural cycles, and on demographics, and how to take advantage of these components. From my perspective, and my bias, the Stadium can become a pivotal component in the further expansion of Miami’s post-industrial economy and become a showcase in the development of a third-wave sustainable community that creates wealth and opportunity for the people of South Florida . . . with the ability to repay debt.
There is so much more to all this than a story about one of Miami’s architectural icons and what is going to be done to repurpose it. It is for us to recognize the human dynamics that cause communities to grow, mature, prosper and appreciate themselves. It is about a stadium as a symbol of the history of a great people. It is about the interchange between people that creates a community and creates a culture. It is about the preservation of the symbols of the brilliance of a community of individuals who worked together towards a common goal of making the world a better place.
To me, the Miami Marine Stadium became both a figurative and literal symbol of a city’s transition, its arts, and the eventual transitional development into a more diversified economy and to a more mature community. Regardless as to what is decided in the Marine Stadium’s redevelopment, saving this wonderful symbol of a great city’s maturation is a strong signal being sent to the rest of the world. Saving this icon proves to me that Miami does have global standing as one of the great cities. For this courageous move, I applaud you, Miami. Actually, I give you a standing ovation.