South Beach – Miami Beach

South Beach, or SoBe as it’s often called, is actually the southern section of the city of Miami Beach, which is divided into South, Mid, and North. Just as New York City has its uptown, midtown, and downtown, the lower 23 blocks of downtown Miami Beach is South Beach. The northern boundary along Dade Road to Lincoln connects to 23rd Street, with a number of cross streets and avenues within the area. Ocean Drive, Lincoln Road, Collins, and Washington Avenues are familiar names associated with South Beach.

The first house was built on South Beach in 1886 by Charles and Henry Lum, whose coconut palm plantation turned out to be an unsuccessful business venture, and they eventually sold the property to John Collins, a Quaker and berry farmer from New Jersey. After losing the coconuts to rabbits and rats, Collins turned the plantation into growing avocados, and began the construction of the first wooden bridge from Miami Beach to the mainland. Although his primary purpose was to bring real estate developers to the area, he soon ran out of money before the project was completed.

In 1912, two Miami bankers, J.E. and J.N. Lummus, acquired more acreage from Collins, and by 1913, the Lummus brothers and Carl Fisher, another successful businessman, saw the potential of an oceanfront city. The three consolidated and incorporated the town of Miami Beach, and the next five years were spent in clearing the land. After a few lots were sold, some uncleared and still underwater, two years later the Macarthur Causeway was completed connecting the area to the mainland. However, people saw the area mainly as a beach attraction and real estate was slow to develop, with lots remaining unsold or given away. During WWI, N.B.T. “No Back Talk” Roney took a wild gamble and purchased a lot for $2,500,000 where he built the Roney Plaza Hotel.

The 1920’s brought more money into the area, along with the art deco revolution of the 30’s. Today, South Beach is still known as the center for Streamline Moderne art deco architecture, the largest concentration of this type of art deco existing today, and as such is carefully preserved on the National Register of Historic Places. For a while after Jackie Gleason’s TV series popularized the area in the 60’s, SoBe consisted mainly of a quiet, retirement community until it began to feel the pressures of crime and the drug trade. Once again, television brought the area to the forefront with the Miami Vice series, and the 1980’s saw the arrival of the fashion industry and the return of filmmakers and celebrities. South Beach had become a place to see and be seen.

There are several residential districts in SoBe including SoFi, or south of Fifth Street, where the most expensive properties are located and only a few nightclubs, bars, and restaurants. Flamingo Park, located north of Fifth, consists primarily of apartment buildings, parks, and recreational facilities, with very few retail establishments. Flamingo West is a community of family homes from Lincoln Road to Michigan and Lennox Avenues. The most upscale and fastest growing district in South Beach, however, is Collins Park bounded by 17th, 23rd, the Atlantic Ocean, and Washington Avenue. The area around Collins Avenue, across from the Miami Convention Center, is the art deco district of South Beach. Here, the architecture is primarily art deco from the 1930’s and 1950’s, and along with the ongoing refurbishing of outdated 1960 buildings by enterprising condo developers from New York and South Florida, an old neighborhood has become one of high property values and upscale development.

Arts and culture are as much a part of SoBe today, as is the sizzling nightlife. The 30th annual Art Show and Weekend Festival, a part of Art Miami sponsored by the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), is held at the Miami Convention Center in the Collins Park Art Deco District. Over half the 115 participants this year are new arrivals to Art Miami including photography by Chinese artist Li Wei, modern and contemporary art from Venice Contini d’Galleria d’ Arte, four Korean galleries, seven from Germany, and 18 from the U.S. In addition, there are returning and new participants from Spain, Turkey, and Ireland to what promises to be the biggest fair to date. The theme for the January 12-14, 2007 show is “East Meets West Art Deco from Shanghai to Miami.” From 5th to 15th Street on Ocean Drive, collectors, tourists and art enthusiasts can explore the numerous exhibits of paintings, sculpture, glass, and photography, as well as view films, lectures, parades, musical, and dance performances.

Lincoln Road, an open-air mall between 16th and 17th Streets, is the main shopping district and a combination of restaurants and boutiques. Ocean Drive forms the eastern edge of SoBe, a place of well-known nightspots such as Pearl and Nikki Beach, Mango’s restaurant, the Clevelander, and the site of Gianni Versace mansion. Another trendy, unique area in South Beach is Espanola Way, planned by N.B.T. Roney in 1925, and designed as a historic Mediterranean village of art galleries, restaurants, and shops.

South Beach has long been thought of as a hot spot, synonymous with music, parties, and nightlife. There are over 150 clubs and bars, many of which have existed for years, and just as many more as passing fads that come and go with each season. Washington Avenue is undoubtedly the liveliest section of SoBe, with large, crowded nightclubs and traffic-congested streets, where the action goes on from dusk to dawn.

People have discovered, however, there is much more to see and do in South Beach, aside from Spring Break revelry, party going, and people watching. Today, tourists flock to SoBe for shopping and entertainment, of one kind of another, from casual and fine dining to fashion and sunbathing. While roller bladers and vintage cars parade on the streets of SoBe, people fill the outdoor cafes on Ocean Drive enjoying the weather and the sights. It is an international destination for many, a mix of European, Asian, and Latin American languages and culture.

Tours: The MDPL sponsors 90-minute walking, self-guided, private, and school group tours, leaving from the Art Deco Welcome Center at 1001 Ocean Drive at 10th Street, on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10:30 a.m., Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $20 — adults, $15 — seniors and students with college ID, free for South Florida students accompanied by an adult, and MDPL members.

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