SuperiorApts.jpg

Superior Motel & Apts, c. 1950's, Historic Postcard


II. SIGNIFICANCE

Statement of Significance:                                                                                       

The Superior Apts is significant for its association with the development trends of Greater Miami during the mid-twentieth century and the growth of the Little River/Little Haiti community, historically referred to as Lemon City. The building is an excellent example of MiMo architecture along the 79th Street thoroughfare and is noteworthy for incorporating elements of post-World War II automobile culture. It is also notable for its details, materials and craftsmanship, as reflected in its symmetrical U-shaped building footprint, open-air verandas with catwalks, patterned stucco with slump brick details, original ironwork, and a distinctive monument sign. It is the last extant example of a 1950’s/1960’s MiMo motel/apartment composed of a U-shaped footprint within the Little Haiti neighborhood.         

As the City progressed from a resort destination to a diversified economy, extensive new suburban areas were expanded and the automobile became a dominant force in influencing architecture.[1] An extensive number of motels appeared along Biscayne Boulevard during the 1950’s expansion, with more affordable options extending westward along the 79th Street corridor towards the popular Hialeah Park Race Track. Additionally, this era marked a new fashion in building design that incorporated “jet-age styling” and advanced materials. The structure was completed in 1953, with renovations to the west building in the mid-1960’s. Serving intially as a motel with efficiency apartments, budget travelers visiting Miami for seasonal, monthly, weekly, and overnight visits were provided a cost-effective means of vacation. Today, the property is undergoing rehabilitation, conforming to the Secretary of Interior Standards, to maintain affordability within the historic Little Haiti area while preserving its architectural identity.

[1] “MiMo on The Beach,” City of Miami Beach, www.mimoonthebeach.com. Accessed November 27, 2017.


The building is an excellent example of MiMo architecture along the 79th Street thoroughfare and is noteworthy for incorporating elements of post-World War II automobile culture. It is the last extant example of a 1950’s/1960’s MiMo motel/apartment composed of a U-shaped footprint within the Little Haiti neighborhood.   


Relationship to Criteria for Designation:                                                                                                                     

As stated above, the Superior Apts has significance in the historical and architectural heritage of the City of Miami; possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association; and is eligible for designation under the following criteria:                

(3) Exemplify the historical, cultural, political, economical, or social trends of the community;

Following the outbreak of World War II, Greater Miami became a major training center for the Armed Forces. The end of the war brought an influx of people, including former soldiers, and the area of Little Haiti was simultaneously experiencing an influx of immigrants, concentrating in this area.[1] Consequently, Greater Miami experienced a post-World War II boom with expansion along its former outskirts. For the first time, automobiles were a dominant force in city planning and architectural programming. Businesses, resorts, and motels along major thoroughfares catered to automobile drivers. It was in this climate that the Superior Motel and Apts was developed, capitalizing on its central location along the 79th Street thoroughfare, just blocks from the U.S. 1 highway, with the beaches to the east and racing tracks to the west. Affordable seasonal, monthly, weekly, and nightly rental apartements composed of individual efficiencies with kitchenettes allowed visitors from modest economic backgrounds to enjoy cost-effective vacations.     

(4) Portray the environment in an era of history characterized by one or more distinctive architectural styles;

Superior Apts embodies characteristics of the MiMo (Miami Modern) style which was popular from 1945 to the mid-1960’s.[2] It represents an motel/apartment interpretation of Subtropical Modernism, an adaptation of The International Style to the local climate.  The Superior Motel and Apts capitalized on the booming post-World War II tourism economy, providing a cost-effective vacation for America’s middle-class population, reflected in its interpretation of MiMo architecture.

(5) Embody those distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or method of construction;

Superior Apts is an excellent example of the application of the post-World War II MiMo (Miami Modern) style of architecture to the South Florida environment. The building is particularly noteworthy for its stylized monumental sign wall, original ironwork, patterned stucco with slump brick details, open-air verandas with catwalks, semifloating staircases, and symmetrical U-shaped building footprint. The monumental neon logo was prominently placed on the sign wall in order to attract the attention of passing motorists. Its central parking courtyard reflects the era’s motor-age sensibilities towards tourism, transportation, and technology. It is the last extant example of a MiMo motel/apartment composed of a U-shaped footprint within the Little Haiti neighborhood.

[1] Dunn, 332.

[2] Nash and Robinson, 9.


III. HISTORICAL INFORMATION                                                                                      

Date of Construction:

1953

Addition in 1965

Architect:

Unknown

Builder/Contractor:

Unknown                                                  

Historical Context:                               

Bordering the Little River area to the north and Little Haiti to the South, the building location was originally included in the expansion of the City Map of Miami from 1920-1925.[1] (Figure 1: Map of the City of Miami, 1935). On the 78th Street block, major development had not been constructed until the mid-1950’s. The 1925 G.M. Hopkins Plat Book of Greater Miami, demonstrates fifty-foot wide plats belonging to “Crosel Heights” with a few scattered wood-frame structures on the 78th Street block of NW 2nd Avenue. (Figure 2: 1925 G.M. Hopkins Plat Book of Greater Miami) Known historically as Lemon City, the area was most likely used as agricultural land in the late 19th-century by early Miami pioneers and homesteaders.[2] (Figure 3: Little River homestaed by Alva F. Woods, 1843)

As one of the first areas settled in Miami, Lemon City was known as a “farm trade town with a lively port,” through the late-19th century.[3] The Business Directory and Guide of Dade County, 1896-97 stated, “Lemon City was, up to the beginning of Miami, the largest place on the Bay, and has a prosperous settlement for several miles back.”[4] (Figure 4: Rock Road between Buena Vista and Lemon City in 1902) As with the modernization of most Miami neighborhoods, development was predicated on the expansion of railroad infrastructure in 1896 and access to water. The 1925 map demonstrates the proximity to the Florida East Coast Railway a few blocks south from the Crosel Heights plats. The natural landscape of Lemon City had few mangroves, allowing easy port access.[5] In 1892, the county constructed the first railway from Lemon City to Lantana, and development expanded westward. By 1925, Lemon City was annexed into the City of Miami.

The area served a diverse population. Though never officially designated as a city or port, the neighborhood was a “community of people… The population in the early years included Crackers and Midwesterners, Tar Heels, and Conchs, black and white Bahamians, so many Europeans it was necessary to have a French Mike and a Dutch Mike (the latter actually a German as were so many Lemon citizens) and, of course, the haunting presence of the oldest group, the Indians.”[6] Beginning in the late 1920’s, the area began to be developed to facilitate Miami’s building boom.[7]

In 1929, the North Bay Causeway over Biscayne Bay opened and aligned with 79th Street, linking Miami Beach to Miami and continued westward. Established by developer Henri Levy, it’s completion coincided with the popularity of the Hialeah Park Race Track, coupling “hostelries and wealthy winter residents with the racetrack and betting.”[8] Previously there were only two bridges connecting Miami to Miami Beach over the Biscayne Bay; the southern “Causeway” linked to 5th Street in South Beach and the northern Venetian Way which linked to Dade Boulevard. (Figure 5: 1925 G.M. Hopkins Plat Book of Greater Miami)

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.[9] Biscayne Boulevard, also known as U.S. Highway 1, became a crucial node for motorists arriving on vacation, with the development of boulevard motels as “typical roadside motels or prewar motor courts.”[10] Biscayne Boulevard was dominated by motor courts and motels constructed in the early 1950’s, and became a representative example of the MiMo typology.[11]

The urban lots along Biscayne Boulevard were smaller in dimension, as compared to their Miami Beach resort counterparts. Dense concentrations of MiMo architecture developed in a consistent style to compliment northern and western suburban expansion. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the intersection of 79th Street and Biscayne Boulevard developed into a suburban urban center, creating a new concentration for a commercial downtown. Beginning in the early 1950’s, the 79th Street thoroughfare was completed by 1959. (Figure 6: Development of 79th Street) The Biscayne Plaza Shopping Center at 7900 Biscayne Boulevard was completed in 1953, the same year as 7800 NW 2nd Avenue. Its futuristic architectural forms set the stage for development along 79th Street’s westward growth.

The Mol-Ral Motel was erected in 1953.[12] Built as efficiency apartments, the main appeal was its central location, “close to shopping center, race tracks, [and] fishing” and “within 5 minutes to the beach.”[13] The importance of the automobile in post-World War II America changed the speed at which people could not only navigate Miami and the beaches, but also influenced the built environment from urban planning contexts to the individual development of MiMo architecture. This was a significant advancement in the advertisement of cost-effective vacations for people of diverse backgrounds. (Figure 7: 1950’s Advertisements) The Mol-Ral Motel highlighted it’s convenience along U.S.1 and the 79th Street thoroughfare.

The height of MiMo in the 1950’s evolved from earlier Art Deco and Streamline Moderne designs, which inspired the rehabilitation of the building in 1965. Influenced by The International Style movement, architects experimented with form and geometry to create bold, dynamic, and futuristic designs to entince the attention of passing automobiles. Motifs typical to MiMo architecture included a monumental sign wall stylized at an acute angle with a neon sign to provide a dynamic entrance for the automobile, original geometric ironwork, open air verandas with catwalks, exterior floating staircases on the west building, contrasting patterned stucco with slump brick detailing, and an outdoor patio and seating area to maximize the enjoyment of the tropical climate. Air conditioning was introduced as a novel modern convenience which added to the comforts of living in South Florida, allowing a yearround economy.[14]

Miami tourism grew and the popularity of the Hialeah Park Race Track intensified. By the time the property had become the Superior Motel & Apts in 1965, it advertised convenience to “...recreation & all race tracks”. [15] The reputation of the Hialeah Park Race Track as the world's most beautiful race course helped South Florida to become known as a desirable vacation destination and  played a significant role in the development of South Florida tourism.[16]

As seasonal rentals became more affordable to budget travelers, the area of Little Haiti/Little River (historically referred to as Lemon City) began to experience an influx of immigrants from the West Indies and the Caribbean, particularly Haiti. With the construction of I-95, original residents began to move out of the area, allowing immigrants to settle in large concentrations. Though the initial Haitian diaspora in the 1950’s led to immigration in New York, by the 1960’s, Caribbean blacks, including Haitians, Jamaicans, and Dominicans became attracted to Miami.[17] By the spring of 1974, at least four hundred Haitians settled in the area surrounding the property.[18] As the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, it was estimated that by the 1970’s nearly twenty-five thousand escaped the poverty of Haiti to the South Florida area alone.[19] Increased concentrations of new immigrants in the Little Haiti area led to a shortage of “suitable, affordable rental properties.”[20] Though the Haitian architectural legacies were not reconstructed in significant quantities, their culture endures through language, music, food, dances, and religious beliefs.[21] Today, Little Haiti contains the largest concentration of Francophone West Indians, mainly Haitians, outside of Haiti.[22]

[1] Sauer and Seghy, Map of the City of Miami and Environs, 1935. Courtesy Library of Congress.

[2] Previously the Tequesta and Seminole Indian tribes dominated the area. Homesteaders were promised 160 acres in return for living on the frontier as a deterrent to native Indian occupants. Peters, 75; “Lemon City came very near being named “Motlo,” after a Seminole Indian chief of that name. In fact, when the citizens of the community asked the government to establish a post office there (about 1870), Motlo was the name agreed upon.” Leyden, Section B.

[3] Mahoney, 17.

[4] Ibid., 171. “Though Lemon City was a port it never was a port of entry; though it called itself “City” it had no local government, no land taxes, no police or fire department, no newspaper, no zoning, no garbage pickup, no sewer, no water system, and until 1909, no electricity.” Ibid., 3.

[5] Peters, Lemon City Tour Guide, a1.

[6] Mahoney, 22.

[7] Dade County Historic Survey, April 1980.

[8] Nash and Robinson, 25.

[9] Ibid., 14.

[10] U.S. Highway 1 became the main north-south route from Maine to Key West. Ibid., 26.

[11] City of Miami, MiMo/Biscayne Boulevard Historic District, 2006. See motor courtyard/motel typologies in Appendix C. There is another example within the Little Haiti area at 7111 N Miami Avenue, but it was constructed in 1974 and is a commercial example of an interpretation of The International Style.

[12] See City of Miami Directories in Appendix A.

[13] See Historic Postcards in Appendix B.

[14] Nash and Robinson, 14.

[15] The Hialeah Park Race Track was formerly known as the Miami Jockey Club or Hialeah Race Track or Hialeah Park. The Hialeah Park Race Track is one of the oldest existing recreational facilities in southern Florida. Originally opened in 1922, the property was determined eligible for designation as a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior on January 12, 1988.

[16] National Park Service, Hialeah Park Racetrack, 1988.

[17] Previously fearing segregation, many fled to the Northeast, concentrating in New York and New Jersey, however with civil rights activism in the 1960’s, Miami became a viable option for immigrants. Dunn, 333; Brown, 70.

[18] Ibid., 323.

[19] “By the late 1970’s… Some fled the oppressive Duvalier government, which had ruled the island for decades before the Duvalier family was deposed in early 1986… After the Reagan administration took office in 1981, a policy was instituted to interdict fleeing Haitians at sea and use the Coast Guard to escort them back to Haiti… By the early 1990’s it became apparent that a new flow of Cuban and Haitian refugees were coming to Miami.” Ibid., 323-4.

[20] Ibid., 331; Brown, 4.

[21] Bregmann, 6. “Walking down the street, the pedestrian hears the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of compas and zouk music. A few restaurants serve native dishes such as griot, hard chicken in orange sauce, and rice with beans. Catholic churches preach to masses on Sundays in Creole. Occassionally, one can hear roosters from some of the homes, sometimes a sign of Vodun, a religion based on those that slaves brought with them from Africa to Haiti centuries ago.”

[22] Ibid., 8.


IV. ARCHITECTURAL INFORMATION

Description of Building:                                    

The Superior Apts is a U-shaped structure wrapping around a central motor courtyard utlized as a parking lot. The central building is two stories flanked by one-story wings on either side. The apartments are predominantly composed of a studio/efficiency layout within the north and south buildings, intact from its original concrete block construction in 1953.[1] The west building underwent renovations in 1965 and remains synonymous with its depiction in the c.1970’s historic postcard.[2] A study demonstrated that this strucutre remains the last extant MiMo U-shaped footprint adjacent to the 79th Street thoroughfare.[3] Though there are remaining examples preserved along Biscayne Boulevard, this is the only typology remaining in the Little Haiti neighborhood.

The stylized monumental sign wall at the east entrance was designed to entince passing motorists. Identified by an acute angle to the sky in order to provide a dynamic, futuristic focal point, the neon sign originally announced the “Mol-Ral Motel,” but was changed in 1965 when the property was renamed “Superior Motel and Apts.” The lettering alternates between italicized and bold san serif fonts, typical of the 1950’s style. The textured stucco is patterned to convey oolitic limestone on the sign wall, influenced by ideas of domesticity prevalent in the Prarie Style, popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. To the west of the sign wall was a telephone booth, present in historic postcards. The outline of the original telephone booth remains on the central concrete pedestal, along with a patio seating area. The courtyard and parking area is surfaced with asphalt and a central landscaped grass area.

The concrete block and stucco walls on the eastern-facing façades of all three buildings are combined with patterned stucco and slump brick to provide a textured finish. The ornamental effect provides a relief pattern to the facades facing the main entrance along NW 2nd Avenue. The original hipped red cement tiled roof has been repaired and replaced to reflect updated building code requirements. The updated windows are similar in style to the original metal frame fenestration confirgurations. The updated flat panel doors of the motel rooms are flush to the wall and painted white, referencing 1950’s MiMo elements. 

All three buildings are connected by a tiled raised concrete platform, with catwalks facing the interior motor courtyard. Typical to MiMo architecture, the passageways provide an effective means of exterior corridors and circulation. The pedestal-and-tower motif was adapted by MiMo architects to provide a distinctive South Florida resort style composition. The interior and exterior blending of space to capitalize on South Florida’s hot-humid climate was characteristic of Modernist design. The original diamond-patterned geometric ironwork remains on the exterior column infrastructure of the catwalks on the north and south buildings. The concrete architectural balustrade on the second floor was replaced after the 1965 renovation, which originally included geometric ironwork. The original diamond-patterned geometric ironwork can be found on the handrails of the symmetrical semi-floating staircases that flank the west building. The space-age delineation of the semi-floating staircases were typical of MiMo architecture.

The west elevation of the motel’s two-story section, which faces the courtyard, has three distinct bays. The first-story of the central bay was expanded from its original use to include the second-story and connect the two flanking north and south structures, maximizing the available apartments for rent. Much of the original doors and window locations are intact, with the exception of clerestory PTAC (Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner) units on the second floor which have been covered.

There are elements that have been altered or updated since it was originally constructed. However, the resource still retains integrity and exhibits major character-defining elements of MiMo architecture.                                                   

Description of Site:                                                      

The Superior Apts is located on the block bound by NW 79th Street to the north, NW 77th Street to the south, NW 2nd Avenue to the east and NW 3rd Avenue to the west. NW 78th Street runs perpendicular to the east side of the property. The main entrance is on the east side at NW 2nd Avenue. The courtyard and parking lot face NW 2nd Avenue. The block is surrounded by commercial structures to the north along the NW 79th Street thoroughfare, and a mixed commericia/residential neighborhood to the south. Most notably the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese Miami and St. Mary’s Cathedral are located within a couple blocks south of the property.

[1] See Appendix B: Historic Postcards.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See typology study in Appendix C.


V. PLANNING CONTEXT                                                                              

Present Trends and Conditions:                                                                                 

The Superior Apts is an excellent example of the vernacular interpretation of the MiMo style in the City of Miami. With its original purpose as a motel with efficiency apartments, its preservation as affordable rental housing architecturally maintains a majority of the original building elements intact. Furthermore, there is a need for continued awareness and appreciation of underrepresented communities and their role in the architectural evolution of the City of Miami. The Superior Apts is an excellent example of preserving vernacular forms of post-World War II MiMo motel architecture along the 79th Street thoroughfare, as well as preserving the affordable housing stock in the City of Miami. As part of the Miami-Dade County Surtax Program, the buildings are being rehabilitated to preserve affordability in the Little Haiti community with a 30-year restrictive covenant.                                                                                                   

Conservation Objectives:                                                                                            

Over the years, the Superior Apts has deteriorated due to deferred maintenance by previous owners as it evolved from an efficiency motel to condominium units to affordable housing, and is currently undergoing substantial historic rehabilitation. It is a unique example of the development of the Miami Modern era near the important corridor along 79th Street Causeway, and any future alterations or additions should respect its historic character.                                         

If the City of Miami adopts the Florida State Statute Section 196.1961, which allows a 50% reduction in an historic property’s assessed value, this will further the objectives of the project as an historic rehabilitation that maintains economic affordability for its current residents. An interpretation of this statute was recently adopted by Miami-Dade County at a 25% tax reduction. In addition to the current rehabilitation which conforms to the Secretary of Interior Standards, the owner will utilize the economic benefits of designation to restore the “Superior” Apts monumental sign wall, replace the existing second floor concrete balustrade with a metal railing to match the historic ironwork delineated on the side floating staircases, and return an artistic interpretation of the phone booth and central patio area, present in both historic postcards.

The designation of Superior Apts can act as a catalyst to encourage subsequent historic designations within the Little Haiti area, which remain critical for understanding the development trends of Miami. While establishing a context for future development and sustainable growth, its designation as a historic resource will help preserve the area’s cultural heritage and architectural fabric for future generations. 



VII. BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bregman, Michael. Economic Redevelopment in Little Haiti. Graduate Thesis. University of Florida: Gainesville, 1993.

Brown, David C. The Story of Little Haiti: Featuring Its Pioneers. Sustain-a-village: Miami, 2006.

City Directory. City of Miami, 1954-54, 1957, 1958-59, 1960, 1972. Located at HistoryMiami archives.

City of Miami. Lemon City Cemetery, Designation Report. City of Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board, November 3, 2009.

City of Miami. MiMo/Biscayne Boulevard Historic District. City of Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board, 2006.

City of Miami. Vagabond Motel, Designation Report. City of Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board, 2003.

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.

Dade County Historic Survey. Survey Findings in the Buena Vista, Lemon City, and Little River areas. Miami-Dade County: Miami, April 1980.

Deckelbaum, Yetta. Little Haiti: The Evolution of a Community. Master’s Thesis. Florida Atlantic University: Boca Raton, August 1983.

Dunn, Marvin. Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. University of Florida Press: Gainesville, 1997.

Faus, Joseph. “Lemon City was cradle of Dade’s Culture,” The Miami Herald. April 3, 1955.

Fields, Gregg. “High Hopes and Hard Times in Little Haiti,” The Miami Herald, February 15, 1993.

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.

National Historic Landmarks Program. Hialeah Park Racetrack. National Park Service: Washington D.C., 1988.

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.               

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.


Written and researched by Laura Weinstein-Berman