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Florida Guide > Other Florida

A Brief History of Miami – Part 2

A Brief History of Miami – Part 2

The 20th Century and beyond.

Despite many setbacks, which included the yellow fever epidemic in 1896, Miami continued to grow, and in 1906 the State of Florida embarked on an ambitious programme to drain the Everglades, and provide fertile new agricultural land. The Miami canal was started in 1909, and when it opened in 1912 it began the drainage of the Everglades. Reclaimed land grew in value, and by 1910 the population had risen to nearly 5. 500. The city’s first skyscraper, Burdines department store, was built in 1912, and had 5 storeys. Miami emerged as one of the nation’s aviation centres, due to its wonderful climate, level ground and close proximity to water. Glenn Curtiss, a famous aviator, established a flight school soon after 1911, and by the outset of World War 1, there were several schools in the area, one of which trained future combat pilots in the War.

Tourism boomed and many prominent visitors to the area built fabulous stately homes along Brickell Avenue, which soon became known as ‘Millionaire’s Row. ’ People from all over the US came to the area in search of wealth, and speculators were rife. Beautiful developments began to be built, many with Spanish or Mediterranean influences. The city of Miami expanded from 13 to 43 square miles, and the boom continued. But with the boom came a breakdown of law and order, fuelled by bootleggers, and the number of violent deaths soared. By 1926 the boom was over, and speculators made a mass exodus. In September, 1926, a massive hurricane, with winds approaching 125 miles per hour swept into the area, killing as many as 300 people in its wake. Thousands of homes were destroyed, and the area plunged into severe economic depression. The University of Miami opened its doors soon after the hurricane, and it is said that the university’s sports team is called the ‘Hurricanes’ in memory of this terrible disaster.

When Pan American Airways and Eastern Airlines established their headquarters in this city, tourism began a resurgence. This was helped by the establishment of special events and activities such as the Orange Bowl Festival, which began in the mid 1930’s. Miami gained notoriety when President-elect, Franklin Delano Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt in 1933.

When the US entered World War 11 in 1941, Miami and its suburbs became a huge training base for hundreds of thousands of members of the armed forces. Over 500, 000 servicemen trained here. A submarine school was also operated out of the port of Miami, and local businesses worked double shifts to build ships, and complete other government contracted projects. A little known fact is that the mother of Paul Tibbits, the commander of the Enola Gay (named after his mother), the B-29 which dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima in August 1945, actually lived in Miami.

It is said that once you have ‘sand in your shoes’ you will always return to Miami, and indeed, many war veterans who trained here returned as permanent residents, living out their latter years in this wonderful climate. Miami International Airport was built, and the new Port of Miami was constructed on Dodge Island. By 1950 there were 172, 00 residents, and there was a large annual tourist population.

The population of Miami was greatly increased when vast numbers of Cubans escaped from Cuba to Miami, after the takeover by Fidel Castro. From 1965 through to 1973 the US sponsored ‘Freedom Flights’ and more than 150, 000 Cubans were airlifted to Miami, which became a refugee haven for those fleeing the Caribbean and Latin America. But becoming a refugee haven placed a tremendous financial burden on the city which, by the 1960’s had became one of the poorest cities in the US.

The city became notorious for drugs, and crime, an image which was made more famous by the popular TV programme, Miami Vice, in the 1980’s, which introduced a new genre in police drama. This iconic series, with Tubbs and Crockett as two undercover Miami cops, was immensely popular in the mid 80’s. It is even thought that the two officers in the computer game ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’ represent the two leading characters in Miami Vice. Few of us will forget watching these two cops as they sped along Miami streets in a Ferrari Daytona Spyder, or raced over the waves in their 39 ft Chris Craft Stinger 390 speedboat. Later on the Ferrari was blown to bits in an episode by a stinger missile launcher, during an illegal arms deal, and was replaced by a white Ferrari Testarossa.

But how many of us know that it was Crockett’s unshaven appearance which brought about that minor fashion trend known as ‘five o’clock shadow? ’ The show had a huge influence on fashion. Gianni Versace designed the show’s costumes, and the wearing of a t-shirt under an Armani jacket was popularised by these two offbeat policemen, as well as the wearing of pastel coloured suits, with rolled up sleeves, and Rayban sunglasses.

Many famous actors, musicians, sportsmen and other celebrities were happy to play cameo roles in this series. Amongst those who appeared were Bruce Willis, Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, Helena Bonham Carter, Frankie Valli, Willie Nelson, Melanie Griffiths and Phil Collins, Leonard Cohen, and Little Richard. Indeed, the series itself is credited with the resurgence of the Art Deco district, and a wave of support for the preservation of this famous architectural area.

The area survived the catastrophic hurricane Andrew in 1992, which resulted in over $45 million of damage, and continues to expand and develop.

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Page added on: 15 May 2007
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