Mimo/biscayne boulevard national register listing
Updated May 2019
PRELIMINARY SITE INFORMATION QUESTIONNAIRE
BISCAYNE BOULEVARD (FROM NE 50TH STREET TO NE 78TH ST)
The Miami area was originally inhabited by the Tequesta people, with European settlement occuring in the early 19th century. Three Seminole Wars (1817-18, 1835-42, and 1855-58) deterred outside settlers from permanently residing in one of America’s final frontiers. The Homestead Act of 1862 quickly changed the mentality of ambitious Americans, and granted 160 acres of land to settlers who resided for at least five years in the Miami area. Two early pioneers, William Brickell and Julia Tuttle, envisioned a “Magic City” where a swamp-like environment and precarious conditions welcomed most.
Prior to major road infrastructure expansion, the area of Lemon City, one of the first areas settled in Miami, was known as a “farm trade town with a lively port” through the late-19th century. In 1892, the county constructed the first railway from Lemon City to Lantana, and development expanded on both sides of the tracks. The buy-in of influential industrialist Henry Flagler to extend his East Coast Railroad and connect Miami to the rest of America was the beginning of Miami’s development into the metropolis which exists today.
The development of Biscayne Boulevard in the 1920s was an expansion of necessity to connect the northern suburb of Miami Shores south to downtown Miami. The Shoreland Company needed to provide a direct link to entice buyers of both the ease of access downtown and the attractiveness of the development’s tropical haven. During the boom of the 1920s, resort hotels influenced by Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel were erected in the downtown portion of Biscayne Boulevard. By 1925, Lemon City was annexed into the City of Miami.
Due to an economic downturn and the Great Miami Hurricane in 1926, the project halted but, subsequently persisted under the direction of Henry Phipps of Bessemer Properties. As a member of the Biscayne Boulevard Assocation, Phipps encouraged a new “Main Street of Greater Miami.” By 1927, over thirty blocks and an investment of an estimated six million dollars by the City of Miami were utilized to widen the new thoroughfare.
In 1929, the North Bay Causeway over Biscayne Bay opened and aligned with 79th Street, linking Miami Beach to Miami. Established by developer Henri Levy, its completion coincided with the popularity of the Hialeah Park Race Track, coupling “hostelries and wealthy winter residents with the racetrack and betting.” Biscayne Boulevard became a convenient adjacency between the two attractions.
Even though there was a downturn during The Great Depression, expansion along Biscayne Boulevard continued through the 1930s. During the 1940s, the Boulevard became a popular destination for young sailors and soldiers stationed in Miami Beach during World War II. Numerous nightclubs, lounges, and secretive gambling establishments catered to their whims.
As the “Magic City” continued to flourish, Miami’s interpretation of The International Style, “MiMo” (Miami Modern) began to define the architectural fabric of Biscayne Boulevard. Derivative of the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne designs of Miami Beach, MiMo exuded a functional simplicity suitable to the subtropical climate. Florida’s population grew by over eighty percent by the end of the 1940’s. In addition to a recovering economy, paid vacations and Social Security benefits became beneficial post-World War II innovations for South Florida. Biscayne Boulevard, also known as U.S. Highway 1, became a crucial node for motorists arriving on vacation, and grew into the main north-south route from Maine to Key West. As the consumption of personal automobiles increased, the rooms available at newly developed motels followed.
Most prevalent were the “typical roadside motels,” centered around a motor courtyard in order to celebrate the arrival of guests by automobile. Though these motels catered predominately to middle-class tourists, architects creatively maximized their street presence with “jet-age styling,” monumental neon signage, and unique themes to catch the attention of passing cars at any speed. Character-defining features included geometric patterns, curves, stylized sculptures, cast concrete decorative panels, and nautical themes. The urban lots along Biscayne Boulevard were smaller in dimension, as compared to their Miami Beach resort counterparts. Dense concentrations of MiMo architecture developed into a unifying style to compliment northern and western suburban expansion along Biscayne Boulevard.
The completion of I-95 in 1959 signaled the downturn of the once vibrant U.S. 1/Biscayne Boulevard thoroughfare. Traffic diverted away from the boulevard, affecting businesses and eventually le to abandonment. The popularity of the Urban Renewal period in the 1970s led to further decay and disrepair as families moved from downtown centers to suburban locales. Further externalities of the 1980s contributed to Biscayne Boulevard’s descent. Race riots, drug wars, and Hurricane Andrew in the 1990s exacerbated worsening conditions to Miami’s urban core. Abandonment and significant infill development led to the preservation and nomination of the local MiMo/Biscayne Boulevard Historic District in 2006 by the City of Miami. Through a variety of typologies and architectural styles, the District illuminates an exuberant history of Miami’s boom periods, providing insight to the comprehensive development patterns and significant design legacy of “The Magic City.”
Castillo, Greg, “Speedreading Biscayne Boulevard,” Miami Modern Metropolis, Miami Beach: Bass Museum of Art, 2009.
Ceo, Rocco and Allan T. Shulman, “Priviledged Views and Underwater Antics: Swimming Pools, Diving Towers & Cabana Colonies, Miami Modern Metropolis, Miami Beach: Bass Museum of Art, 2009.
City Directory. City of Miami, 1953-54, 1956, 1957, 1958-59, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974-75. Located at HistoryMiami archives.
City of Miami, “MiMo/Biscayne Boulevard Historic District,” 2006.
D’Amico, Teri and David Framberger, editors. Beyond the Box: Mid-Century Modern Architecture in Miami and New York. Urban Arts Committee: Miami Beach, 2002.
Dunlop, Beth. Miami: Trends and Traditions. Monacelli Press: New York, 1996.
Faus, Joseph. “Lemon City was cradle of Dade’s Culture,” The Miami Herald. April 3, 1955.
Hine, Thomas. Populuxe. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1986.
Hopkins, G.M., Plat Map of Greater Miami and Suburbs, Philadelphia: 1925.
Kleinberg, Howard. Miami: The Way We Were. The Miami Daily News: Miami, 1985.
LeClaire, Jennifer. “Miami Modern, or MiMo, Making a Big Comeback,” Architectural Record, December 1, 2004.
Leyden, Charles S. “How Lemon City Got Its Name,” Miami Daily News, October 31, 1949.
Mahoney, Larry. “Lemon City: Yes, Virginia, there is more to Miami’s past than Coconut Grove,” Miami Tropic, May 6, 1977.
Metropolitan Dade County Office of Community Development (MDCOCD). From Wilderness to Metropolis: The History and Architecture of Dade County (1825– 1940), 2nd Ed. Historic Preservation Division: Miami, 1992.
Nash, Eric P. and Randall C. Robinson, Jr. Mimo: Miami Modern Revealed. Chronicle Books: San Francisco, 2004.
Newman, Cathy. “Traces of Lemon City’s Past Lives On,” The Miami News, March 3, 1974.
Nepomechie, Marily R., “Biscayne Plaza: Miami’s First Suburban Shopping Center,” Miami Modern Metropolis, Miami Beach: Bass Museum of Art, 2009.
Pancoast, Russel T., and James Deen. A Guide to the Architecture of Miami. American Institute of Architects, South Florida Chapter: Miami, 1963.
Parks, Arva Moore. Miami: The Magic City. Centennial Press: Miami, 1991.
Parks, Arva Moore and Carolyn Klepser. Miami: Then and Now. Thunder Bay Press: San Diego, 2002.
Patricios, Nicholas N. Building Marvelous Miami. University of Florida Press: Gainesville, 1994.
Peters, Thelma. Lemon City: Pioneering on Biscayne Bay, 1850-1925. Banyan Books: Miami, 1976.
Peters, Thelma. Lemon City Tour Guide. Dade Heritage Trust: Miami, 1981.
Standiford, Les. Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That Crossed an Ocean. Crown Publishers: New York, 2002.
Written and researched by Laura Weinstein-Berman, AIA, LEEP AP