On NBC’s former television series, 30 Rock, one of its characters (Jack) explained when he was asked why he decided to take a trip to Miami: “Ass… and the burgeoning art scene.”

 

Well, both abound at Little Havana’s Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) in the heart of the Calle Ocho art gallery district (between 13th and 17th avenues on SW 8th Street).

 

 But seriously, folks… Miami’s art scene is beyond “burgeoning.” It’s solidified with the annual presence of Art Basel Miami Beach, monthly art walks in Wynwood’s Art District and a few other monthlies in area communities to bolster that. The Little Havana edition cannot be dismissed, as it proves to be a viable part of that whole mix.

 

Inaugurated back in May of 2000, Viernes Culturales is held on the last Friday of every month and features art exhibits, dance, music, poetry, theater, film, and neighborhood historic tours.  Of course, the art galleries open their doors, as well, and the artists that call Calle Ocho home are a pretty eclectic bunch with wildly varying styles.

 

This is where I come in:  A recent grant awarded to Cultural Fridays has afforded me the opportunity to offer an art gallery walking tour free of charge to the public for the next few months.  This is not to be confused with the existing historical tours conducted by the renown Dr Paul George.  In fact, you can think of these as less of a “tour” and more of a “guided walk,” jumping in and out of galleries, with brief moderated chats with the artists and curators that operate the venues that line this vibrant district.

 

So join me later this month (Friday, October 25th) at 8:30pm under the marquis of the historic Tower Theater for a 90-minute jaunt through Calle Ocho and meet the artists that live, work and practice their craft in Little Havana.

 

This month’s featured artists and spaces include:

 

Art is subjective, my friends.  Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, speaking one-on-one with the artists that do it for a living can give you an entirely different perspective on what it is that you’re viewing. 

I hope you join me later this month!

 

Romance Campesino. Oil on canvas. 48”x60”. Molina

Well, I’ve been absent while school has been heating up over the last month, so I have some catching up to do with the content…

This has been floating around social media circles in Miami for well over a month now, and it’s something that I’ve been hyper-aware of since I was 15. I had to be; I was in a theatre conservatory where they had to spank this new Miami twang out of me with corks in my mouth and other enunciation tricks…!

I’ll never forget the word, “belonging," how I would hit those two g’s way too hard.  I had no idea I was doing it until my acting teacher (incidentally of German descent) became enraged and pronounced it nearly 50 times for me so I would understand that the g’s are mostly silent…

I was also egregiously pronouncing the “l” in “salmon” into my early 20’s and only learned that “irregardless” is NOT a word at the age of 25.  But, alas, my years involved in the performing arts successfully erased the remnants of a dialect which is the norm in this county.

I have ALWAYS been fascinated hearing old-timers that call the city “Miamah.” One of the first nineteenth century spellings of this area was, in fact, “Ma-ama,” so those that pronounced it that way weren’t completely off their rockers.

Irregardless (wink wink), what has occurred in the creation of this dialect (or accent, if you prefer) is a living, breathing example of exactly the stuff that transformed New York’s “sound” over a century ago; Chicago, Philadelphia; Boston well before those; the Southland during the infancy of the nation, etc., etc. 

It’s a truly exciting and very American phenomenon that one can witness by visiting South Florida and speaking with Miamians!

Here’s the video (not new—for the benefit of you out-of-towners that have never seen it) in the link above that spoofs young Miamians speaking with one another, but nails the dialect with eerie precision…


The fact that it is being studied now (and recognized) in the halls of academia is what excites me the most.

Here’s a more general look at how we all differ in the way we speak American English across the United States via Joshua Katz’s fascinating study at NCSU (scroll through all of the maps—you’ll be amazed!):

Always featured in many of my tours, I thought I would re-blog this:

cacafueg0:

La Torre de Libertad/The Freedom Tower, Miami, Florida

Built in 1925 as headquarters of the newspaper ‘The Miami News’ it later became a base camp for Cuban Refugees fleeing the island once Castro took power in 1959. The refugees would get their papers done, have food and a temporary place to sleep until they would be relocated to homes throughout the 49 continental states. (Most returned to Florida as it was closer to the island and much similar culturally)

It was abandoned for a long time until it was purchased by Jorge Mas Canosa in 1997, founder of the CANF (Cuban American National Foundation) and restored the rotting and neglected building, and converted it into a National monument.

The Freedom tower is often nicknamed “Miami’s Ellis Island” as for many Cubans, it was the first stop into the U.S.

Ah! Not too many folks can tell you positive things about Summer in Miami. I mean, it’s oppressively hot and monsoon-soaked, not to mention the constant threat of tropical cyclones are always looming somewhere off the African coast and drifting toward our general area this time of year.  But, in Little Havana, there’s a little oasis that wears the off-season quite well: Los Pinareños Fruteria.  It’s a rustic slice of western rural Cuba, with a friendly pig, roosters, chickens, et al…

I’m definitely not the first person to write/blog about this little open-air fruit shop on Calle Ocho which has earned a whopping 4-1/2 out of 5 rating on Yelp via user reviews and a Best Mamey milkshake from the Miami New Times.  But, I have yet to find anything on the web really detailing the outstanding quality of the home-grown tropical fruit found at Pinareños, particularly during these rainy season months.

Sure, Miami Culinary Tours(I actually love the concept behind that company - more on them when I rate them in the coming weeks) will pass through the place and tout the guarapo (freshly squeezed sugar cane juice), because that’s pretty much the only reason why they stop there, but when you have a tropical fruit encyclopedia in Angel Hernandez Jr. who manages the shop along with his parents, Guillermina & Angel Sr., the owners for over 45 years now, visitors should (and do) walk out knowing a lot more than they ever did about Miami’s subtropical harvests.

The location itself has a long and storied past (as does the Hernandez clan), but that is reserved for one of my tours.  In the meantime, I will tell you that the avocados, mameys and mangoes that are currently stocked at the Fruteria are among the finest I have ever tasted; the mangoes, in particular, have to top my personal all-time list.  I grew up with tropical fruit trees in my back yard in Miami Shores: an enormous avocado tree, a mango tree, a papaya tree, several plantain trees and a guanabana (soursop tree).  So, when I met Angel Jr a couple of years ago, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical whenever he would see me and proudly announce that he has the best this or the best that in the southeastern U.S., or wherever.  After all, he’s a merchant and merchants actively sell products, right?  

Well, I’m afraid he’s right…  In fact, he usually doesn’t say anything if it isn’t the very best available anywhere else in the country!

The mangoes that I have been consistently tasting here this past month are grown from specific growers in Homestead or the Redlands area of Miami-Dade County (about 25 miles southwest of Miami) and the flavors so complex that they literally take my taste buds through a delightful trip, encompassing my childhood and new, unexplored regions of my palate that I’m so grateful to have found.  

No joke…!  

I’m not one to usually wax poetic, but this is really something THAT special…!  The slight bitterness near the skin and around the seed are merely present to offset the copious sweetness of the cheeks of one of these fully-ripened mangoes.  For the first time in my life, I have detected undertones of honey or some sort of syrupy taste that I have never, ever gotten from this fruit and the exuberant amount of juice that explodes out of its flesh is enough to ruin any appetite in the most beautiful, nurturing way possible.

I’ve been a bit spooked, quite frankly, because this was part of a second harvest within a relatively short time span (an early harvest occurred because of an unusually warm Dry Season which prompted early budding this year—the first harvest was nowhere near as good, as the fruit was mostly bitter, or just not as sweet as I prefer. They told me it was because of the lack of rain); spooked because of the Hernandez’s ominous warning about a multiple harvest season.  They purport that multiple harvests are an indicator of impending famine or extreme hardship.  I scoured the Internet to see if this is a widely-held belief in the Caribbean (or anywhere else, for that matter) and I’ve found nothing.  But I certainly fear doubting these folks… After all, they’re spot-on with everything else they peddle in this Calle Ocho landmark.

Reviewers and blogs have mentioned the fact that you can get all sorts of fantastic juices blended on the spot there, but they’ve never cited “El Caribeño,” aperfect amalgamationof watermelon, papaya, carrot, sugar cane juice and ginger on ice…  It blows my mind away just keying this in and remembering the general state of well-being that that concoction puts me in every time I have the pleasure of drinking it!

Halleluiah!! 

Occasionally, they do have some exotic fruit present.  Apples, for instance, are among them.  But this last time I went, Angel Jr presented me with those curious red, hairy little balls known as “Rambutan,” which are essentially Malaysian lychees (this batch was imported from Costa Rica).  They weren’t bad at all and I’m glad I took a few home with me, but the native fruit is pretty much the only thing I come here for.

Lastly, I can’t say enough about our Miami avocados and how I feel that they are the very best on Earth (though totally under-publicized—sure, some know them as SlimCados because they are always less fat and fewer calories than their California counterparts, but that Hass variety has had way too much pub and they are way overrated!), but I would have to leave that for another post.  

You and I will sample the mameys there…

Check out these videos on Mamey and Avocados grown in Miami-Dade County by the consortium of farmers in the area known as Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida; many of the groves featured there are where Pinareños' amazing fruit in the cardboard crates originate.  Though, there's really no replacement for an afternoon visit to this one-of-a-kind locale in Miami's Little Havana.

Oh… Don’t forget the Coco Frio!

"Mother of Miami" Remembered On City’s 117th Birthday

With the exception of a small statue in Miami’s Bayfront Park and the name of one of the causeways, Interstate 195, that spans across Biscayne Bay connecting Miami with Miami Beach, little else in the 305 is dedicated to the woman who envisioned Miami as the sparkling metropolis that it was to become.  
Visionary or delusional?
Perhaps a little bit of both, but it’s hard to deny that her dreams all pretty much became a reality in a relatively short period of time. This is why Julia Tuttle is often referred to as the Mother of Miami.
Check out just how creepy-accurate (almost psychic) her visions were (remember, there was practically no one inhabiting this mosquito-ridden settlement on the mouth of the Miami River and she never saw any of it even remotely come true as she died of meningitis only two years later):  In late 1896, E.V. Blackman, a Methodist minister and editor of Henry Flagler’s newsletter, The Florida East Coast Homeseeker, interviewed Julia Tuttle.  It provides a rare glimpse of an extraordinary woman and her vision.

Many thought Mrs. Tuttle a dreamer—a chaser of shadows—but the passing years have proven beyond question that she was a woman of great foresight, a woman who had a vision of the future that others were not permitted to see.  I remember one evening, in the latter part of 1896, Mrs. Tuttle sent me a note inviting me to come to her home.  It was a pleasure for me to grant her request.  On my arrival at her home, she said: “I have a new inspiration regarding the future of Miami and I want to tell it to you, for I know that you will remember it and some time use it.”  We were seated in her living room, she occupying a large setee on the south side of the room.
"Now," she said, "I want to talk to you, and don’t laugh at my predictions, for I feel sure that they will all come true. All these years I have had but one thought and that is to see Miami grow to one of the largest, if not the largest, city in all the southland.  I have had many discouragements—discouragements that perhaps to one of a different temperament might have proven fatal—but the one thought and belief that at some future time these dreams of Miami’s greatness would prove true has urged me on during all these years."…
Mrs. Tuttle had equally bright visions regarding the port of Miami.  Along this line she said, “It will not be many years hence when Miami will be the most important port on the Atlantic Coast in the South… South American vessels will finally ply between their home ports and Miami, and Miami will become the great center of the South American trade. Vessels from all ports of the world will call at Miami, making Miami the greatest commercial center in all the southland.  This may seem far-fetched to you, but as surely as the sun rises and sets all of this will come true.”  
Again, we ask, was this a day dream or was it vision or inspiration?

Unbelievable!  Perhaps we should rename the port…?


Fannie Tuttle standing with her mother, Julia Tuttle (right) in Miami.  Photo property of History Miami.

"Mother of Miami" Remembered On City’s 117th Birthday


With the exception of a small statue in Miami’s Bayfront Park and the name of one of the causeways, Interstate 195, that spans across Biscayne Bay connecting Miami with Miami Beach, little else in the 305 is dedicated to the woman who envisioned Miami as the sparkling metropolis that it was to become.  

Visionary or delusional?

Perhaps a little bit of both, but it’s hard to deny that her dreams all pretty much became a reality in a relatively short period of time. This is why Julia Tuttle is often referred to as the Mother of Miami.

Check out just how creepy-accurate (almost psychic) her visions were (remember, there was practically no one inhabiting this mosquito-ridden settlement on the mouth of the Miami River and she never saw any of it even remotely come true as she died of meningitis only two years later):  In late 1896, E.V. Blackman, a Methodist minister and editor of Henry Flagler’s newsletter, The Florida East Coast Homeseeker, interviewed Julia Tuttle.  It provides a rare glimpse of an extraordinary woman and her vision.

Many thought Mrs. Tuttle a dreamer—a chaser of shadows—but the passing years have proven beyond question that she was a woman of great foresight, a woman who had a vision of the future that others were not permitted to see.  I remember one evening, in the latter part of 1896, Mrs. Tuttle sent me a note inviting me to come to her home.  It was a pleasure for me to grant her request.  On my arrival at her home, she said: “I have a new inspiration regarding the future of Miami and I want to tell it to you, for I know that you will remember it and some time use it.”  We were seated in her living room, she occupying a large setee on the south side of the room.

"Now," she said, "I want to talk to you, and don’t laugh at my predictions, for I feel sure that they will all come true. All these years I have had but one thought and that is to see Miami grow to one of the largest, if not the largest, city in all the southland.  I have had many discouragements—discouragements that perhaps to one of a different temperament might have proven fatal—but the one thought and belief that at some future time these dreams of Miami’s greatness would prove true has urged me on during all these years."…

Mrs. Tuttle had equally bright visions regarding the port of Miami.  Along this line she said, “It will not be many years hence when Miami will be the most important port on the Atlantic Coast in the South… South American vessels will finally ply between their home ports and Miami, and Miami will become the great center of the South American trade. Vessels from all ports of the world will call at Miami, making Miami the greatest commercial center in all the southland.  This may seem far-fetched to you, but as surely as the sun rises and sets all of this will come true.”  

Again, we ask, was this a day dream or was it vision or inspiration?

Unbelievable!  Perhaps we should rename the port…?

Fannie Tuttle standing with her mother, Julia Tuttle (right) in Miami.  Photo property of History Miami.

What’s the difference between Misao Okawa (pictured above) and this historic photo of Avenue D (now Miami Avenue) just north of the Miami River facing north?


About 18 Months.

Happy Birthday, MIAMI!


Well, I had to throw in a photo of the oldest verified person currently alive as of this post to prove a point:  Miami is barely older!

Tonight, the Magic City will officially be a city that turns 117 years old.  Incorporated on the evening of July 28, 1896 in the second-story of “The Lobby” pool hall, 344 men cast their votes; apparently, it was the largest room available in the settlement.  The first on the list of electors was Silas Austin, a black laborer.  One hundred and eighty-one signers were black men (Miami did not have the requisite number of white voters, 300, to become a city if it weren’t for John Sewell’s (Flagler’s foreman of construction for the extension of the Florida East Coast Railroad and Royal Palm Hotel in Miami) black workforce.  

The ballots and signings went on nearly until midnight.

When Flagler received the news, he sent the new city leaders a telegram:

I congratulate the citizens of Miami upon harmony which marked the election yesterday and trust that the auspicious beginning will result in future prosperity which will equal the most sanguine expectation of the people of the new city.




Xavier Cortada’s mural at the base of a royal palm tree at the site of Miami’s incorporation on the northern bank of the Miami River.

Here’s a commemorative clip to Henry Flagler from WPBT’s (Miami PBS affiliate) 2012 Series “A Century In The Sun” aired last year.

More posts on Miami’s 117th birthday coming throughout the week.

My then 7-month-old son, O.A. de la Portilla, photographed immediately above and having a great time in “The Sea and Me” gallery at the Miami Children’s Museum - April 2013.


Alright, this one’s a no-brainer!  Out-of-towners with children in tow, particularly of the under-12 variety, have a place to go (at least to cover your needs for two to four hours)!  Certainly Miami is known as an adult destination, with its nightlife, haute cuisine, water sports and other “sinful” activities; but, for many parents traveling with the little ones, the Miami Children’s Museum has now come to the rescue…!  

Well, actually, MCM (or “MiChiMu,” as us locals affectionately refer to it as) has been around since 1983.  Originally in a mall in West Kendall (a southwest suburb of Miami), it has relocated several times until it found its state-of-the-art $25 million home on Watson Island on the MacArthur Causeway in 2003.  MCM will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in September.

The 56,000 square-foot facility boasts being among the largest of children’s museums in the nation and the 14 exhibits, two playgrounds and onsite Subway sandwich shop definitely will not disappoint.

How can kids go wrong when they can be firefighters, police officers, construction workers, gantry operators at the port and recording studio engineers all within the first hour of being there?  All of those activities have a distinct Miami flavor attached to them, as well, as the exhibit props and pieces are all set with a Magic City theme.

There are volunteers and resident artists and staff conducting scheduled activities and special events regularly, so there’s always something to do (even if your small companion is especially mopey the day you go).

I went accompanied by my seven-month-old son and his four-year-old sister and I expected them to enjoy it; but to adore it?

They did…

They didn’t want to leave…

It was a full afternoon of entertainment and I can’t say I was bored one bit, either.  The galleries are awfully nice and their Everglades-themed playground is a nice spot to switch gears to tire them out a little.  Of course, we ended the excitement at the Subway.

Beware of the gift shop, though.  There’s toys in there that I even wanted for myself (and, I admit, I actually bought…)!  Thank goodness children under 12 are free!

I’m going to have to side with the kids on this one:

Mr Miami Rating: A

Trip Advisor: 4 out of 5

Yelp: 4 out of 5 stars


Heck, I’ll even throw in a gratuitous Kardashian sister’s pic again for the fun of it.  After all, MiChiMu is so cool, the Kardashian gals couldn’t stay away!

Photo from http://kimkardashian.celebuzz.com

princessingrid09 asked: I just read your rating on HistoryMiami and it really warmed my heart. I currently work there and my love for Miami and its history has expanded . Your page is really interesting because its really hard to look through the Miami tag and find something that its geared to Miami's beginning but rather the party scene ...ah oh well ... :} i'll continue to look through your page

Well, thank you so much…! I just launched this about 3 weeks ago for a school project (FIU) and decided that it’s worth keeping it up and posting to it often… I, too, have looked everywhere for blogs that are dedicated to Miami’s history and attractions and haven’t found much out there either…
My time at the Museum was truly rewarding (all those 4th graders!) and memorable. Enjoy every minute of it!
Sure, Miami’s glitz and glamour will always trump this sort of content (though I WILL be including some “glitzy” stuff here, too), but I think it’s awesome and I’m glad that there are a few people like you that think it’s cool, as well!
Again, thanks! I’m extremely grateful.

Miami’s First Theatrical Cast Photo?
1897

Having been a member of a few casts myself in the Miami area, I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to be in a production of a play during the pioneer days.  Actually, I wondered if such a thing ever even existed… After all, early Miami pioneers had a lot more to worry about than rehearsing lines and making costumes.  Well, thanks to Thelma Peters, direct descendant of Solomon James Peters (an early tomato farmer), the above photo gives us proof that thespians had their place in South Florida’s pioneer days.  Though it was billed as an ecumenical affair—as members of the Methodist and Episcopal churches also participated—the Lemon City Baptists put on a play called “Aunt Jolly’s Wax Works" in order to raise funds to build their first church in the Lemon City pioneer settlement (today’s Little River and Little Haiti areas).
The following is an excerpt found in Mary Douthit Conrad’s book, “Tequesta,” which discusses the production in earnest:

Mrs. T. A. Winfield, an Episcopalian, wrote and directed a play for the benefit of the Baptist Church and many who took part were Methodists.
Mr. Merriwether Strayer, Mrs. Winfield’s brother, had been to London and seen Madame Toussand’s Wax Exhibit and that was the inspiration for Mrs. Winfield’s play. It was called “Aunt Jolly’s Wax Works.” Mr. Winfield made the scenery and dressed in women’s clothes to play the role of Aunt Jolly. Each character had to act like a wax doll and was first seen in a picture frame. Mr. Strayer then pretended to wind up the doll and it would step out of the frame and march across the stage, with body rigid and only the feet and lower legs moving.
We had quite a problem getting costumes for twenty-five people. My brother Bob wore Father’s big old black hat and represented Christopher Columbus. Mr. Spivey’s hat was so big for him it kept falling down over his face. “Get this hat off my face,” Mr. Spivey whispered to Mr. Strayer, since, as a doll, Mr. Spivey wasn’t supposed to move. It was a “stage” whisper and the audience laughed. Dellie Pierce and John Peters were others in the play. The play was a big success and netted $80 which was almost enough to buy a lot for the Baptist Church. In 1900 the Baptists got two acres near N. E. Second Avenue and 59th Street for $100. The church that was erected three years later cost $600.

The play was performed at Pierce’s sponge warehouse.

The Lemon City Baptist Church photographed many years after (1925) the final curtain call of “Aunt Jolly’s Wax Works.” Photo by Gleason Waite Romer [State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory}

Miami’s First Theatrical Cast Photo?

1897


Having been a member of a few casts myself in the Miami area, I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to be in a production of a play during the pioneer days.  Actually, I wondered if such a thing ever even existed… After all, early Miami pioneers had a lot more to worry about than rehearsing lines and making costumes.  Well, thanks to Thelma Peters, direct descendant of Solomon James Peters (an early tomato farmer), the above photo gives us proof that thespians had their place in South Florida’s pioneer days.  Though it was billed as an ecumenical affair—as members of the Methodist and Episcopal churches also participated—the Lemon City Baptists put on a play called “Aunt Jolly’s Wax Works" in order to raise funds to build their first church in the Lemon City pioneer settlement (today’s Little River and Little Haiti areas).

The following is an excerpt found in Mary Douthit Conrad’s book, “Tequesta,” which discusses the production in earnest:

Mrs. T. A. Winfield, an Episcopalian, wrote and directed a play for the benefit of the Baptist Church and many who took part were Methodists.

Mr. Merriwether Strayer, Mrs. Winfield’s brother, had been to London and seen Madame Toussand’s Wax Exhibit and that was the inspiration for Mrs. Winfield’s play. It was called “Aunt Jolly’s Wax Works.” Mr. Winfield made the scenery and dressed in women’s clothes to play the role of Aunt Jolly. Each character had to act like a wax doll and was first seen in a picture frame. Mr. Strayer then pretended to wind up the doll and it would step out of the frame and march across the stage, with body rigid and only the feet and lower legs moving.

We had quite a problem getting costumes for twenty-five people. My brother Bob wore Father’s big old black hat and represented Christopher Columbus. Mr. Spivey’s hat was so big for him it kept falling down over his face. “Get this hat off my face,” Mr. Spivey whispered to Mr. Strayer, since, as a doll, Mr. Spivey wasn’t supposed to move. It was a “stage” whisper and the audience laughed. Dellie Pierce and John Peters were others in the play. The play was a big success and netted $80 which was almost enough to buy a lot for the Baptist Church. In 1900 the Baptists got two acres near N. E. Second Avenue and 59th Street for $100. The church that was erected three years later cost $600.

The play was performed at Pierce’s sponge warehouse.

The Lemon City Baptist Church photographed many years after (1925) the final curtain call of “Aunt Jolly’s Wax Works.” Photo by Gleason Waite Romer [State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory}

What’s that little house doing in the middle of all those Brickell highrises, and who the heck is Dr James Jackson?

Inconspicuously set among the posh glass-facade skyscrapers that hug the bay along Brickell Bay Drive, tourists and locals likely miss this tiny neo-classical gem as they glide past it.  Erected in 1905 at a different location (it was constructed at a site just north of Flagler Street on N.E. 2nd Avenue), it served as the office of Dr. James M. Jackson, Miami’s first physician-surgeon.  Prior to opening his office, he was the doctor for Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad and later became the resident physician for the Royal Palm Hotel upon his arrival in Miami in 1896.

Jackson was born in 1866 in White Sulphur Springs, Fla.  He attended East Florida Seminary in Gainesville and graduated from Emory University at Oxford, Ga., in 1885 and Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City in 1887.  He went on to practice medicine with his father in Bronson, Fla for eight years before joining Flagler’s FEC railroad.

He was a founding member of the Dade County Medical Association where he served as president three times and was also the president of the Florida Medical Association in 1911.  Jackson went on to form the Miami City Board of Health in 1914.  When he died in 1924, all businesses in Miami closed and the city commission immediately voted to change the name of the Miami City Hospital to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

The office was acquired by the City of Miami in 1977, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and currently houses the offices of the Dade Heritage Trust.

Jackson’s office at original site (today’s NE 2nd Avenue, ca. 1906). Photo from From Florida Department of State archives.

Cape Florida Lighthouse in Key Biscayne Attacked by Seminoles - 1836


Nearly 177 years ago, the Second Seminole War was raging on throughout Florida and Key Biscayne became one of its theaters of battle.  However, no US troops showed up to fight and the few settlers in the area fled to Key West several weeks earlier fearing Native attackers.  Only the lighthouse at Cape Florida, the oldest structure built in Miami-Dade County which was completed in 1825, was occupied.

On the morning of July 23, 1836, the only two inhabitants of the Miami area—assistant lighthouse keeper John Thompson and his black assistant Aaron Carter—were surprised by a large group of Indians who chased them into the light.  The two managed to get to the top of the edifice with several pursuers shooting at them and they successfully destroyed a segment of the stairs to halt the aggressors from catching them.  The Seminoles weren’t satisfied and weren’t going away: after several hours of gunfire on the lighthouse, they lit an enormous fire at the base of the tower fed by the wooden stairway that was soaked with oozing lamp oil from the bullet-ridden storage tanks.  The fire was so intense, Carter succumbed to the heat and his wounds.  Thompson, fearing that defending the position was futile, desperately chucked a barrel loaded with gun powder down the shaft.  Miraculously, the explosion caused the fire to go out.  The Indians, thinking that no one survived, left back to the mainland.  A U.S. Navy schooner heard the explosion from 12 miles away and approached Cape Florida to investigate the following day.

They were amazed to find Thompson alive with three musket balls embedded in each foot and burned from head to toe.

The lighthouse remained inactive for a decade after that incident.

This is the way I remember the lighthouse at Key Biscayne as a kid. It’s evident where the newer bricks imported from Massachusetts for an 1855 renovation rise from the original 65-foot structure to the present-day 95-foot tower.  The lighthouse was painted to its original white color in 1996. (Photo by John Krulik)

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park website

Ah!  Those open windows along the sidewalks that are strewn throughout the city, with the whirring sound of an espresso machine behind them and that unmistakable aroma emanating—almost slapping one joyfully—as it’s approached.  This is Miami’s gift to everyone, regardless of age, nationality, ethnicity or creed.

I must admit: I have my own machine at home.  I am not alone, as I estimate that a considerable amount of Miamians are addicts of the curiously-strong, curiously-sweet concoction known as Cuban coffee.

On ALL of my tours, with very few exceptions, you will partake in the sidewalk cafecito experience with me and I will always say the same thing at the very moment you are holding your thimble-sized serving: “When in Miami, do as Miamians do.”

But when I saw this morning’s Miami Herald to find that a fellow Cuban-American, PR practitioner and Facebook friend, JennyLee Molina, has launched a social media phenomenon with the “3:05 Cafecito” campaign, I nearly spilled mine on my desk.  It’s such a phenomenal idea, I almost wish I had come up with it myself!  But, I’m glad she did…

It’s actually pretty deep.  

Sometimes I’m asked what it’s like to be a Cuban-American in Miami by out-of-towners; what it’s like living “in the hyphen.”  My response is always the same: It’s like being an Italian-American in New York, an Irish-American in Boston or a Polish-American in Chicago.  I’m American, but more succinctly, I am Miamian; one of the most misunderstood creatures north of 215th Street.  One that has retained the language of my forebears and gained a few of the customs of their fatherland along the way.

Miami-born Cubans are a distinct American ethnicity not often portrayed in popular media.  We are a group of sons and daughters, and grandsons and granddaughters, of Cuban immigrants who have assimilated by attending American schools and universities and are strewn all over the US like those cafe cubano windows are throughout the 305 area code.

There are a lot of things, other than our afternoon coffee break, that distinguishes folk of my ilk.  But this is definitely a worthwhile tradition to embrace for starters.

Even the Kardashian sisters can’t resist walking up to the Cuban coffee window (Photo from Zimbio.com)

Oh oh…  A clash between civic leaders and a visual artist in Miami-Dade’s most artistically progressive city?  Internationally-acclaimed German conceptual artist, Tobias Rehberger, has a bone to pick with Miami Beach city leaders when he learned about a planned landscaping that will surround his five-story sculpture, “Obstinate Lighthouse,” which was commissioned by the city for $500,000.  To add insult to injury, he objected to what the area of the park where his piece is erected has been recently designated: an off-leash area for dogs.  

South Pointe Park on the very southern tip of the island underwent a $22.5 million face lift back in 2009 and has quickly become a local favorite with breathtaking views of Government Cut, Fisher Island and the Port of Miami.  Miami Beach Parks & Recreation Director Kevin Smith fired back by contending that it is not a ‘dog park’ and that dogs can run leash-less in the area from sunrise to 10 a.m. seven days a week, and 6 to 9 p.m. on weekdays. He also mentioned it’s a pilot program that expires at the end of the year. The nearest dog park is two blocks away.

Rehberger is probably not a dog lover.

 

Having been published on April Fool’s Day, it read like a gag gone wrong.  Internationally renown journalist, T.D. Allman, promoting his new book, “Finding Florida:The True History of the Sunshine State,” had a short opinion printed in the New York Times, encapsulating the often-scathing commentary contained within his pages.  It appears to be a complete rewriting of Florida history as we know it and it is purportedly based on over a decade of Allman’s own research.
It’s important to note that Allman has been obsessed with Florida, particularly Miami, throughout a large chunk of his career, and has offered insightful commentary on the Magic City in other major works in the past.  But his latest piece, while proving to be an entertaining read by most critics, is one of his darkest.  His prologue did provoke a few chuckles for me as he cleverly stated, “People are constantly ruining Florida; Florida is constantly ruining them back” and the parts that he cites all of the charlatans misnaming towns like Frostproof (which frequently experiences hard freezes during the winter months) and North Miami Beach (which is NOT on the beach).
 
But as one of the reviewers of his book, John Williamson, said, “'l'll sum up my feelings on this book in three words for those who scan reviews looking for some assessment: depressing, demoralizing and disheartening.”
 
I concur.
 
Also, for the fastidious historian: Get your post-it notes out and ready, because I (and several other people are already hollering) am finding a few discrepancies in Allman’s retelling of our state’s history as I delve further into it.
 

Book A Hotel… In Little Havana?? It might be possible sooner than you think…


When Barlington Group (BG), a Miami-based urban redevelopment company, acquired the historic three-story hotel on the 1400 block of SW 7th Street a little over a year ago, it managed only to garner a tiny little blurb in the Miami Herald.  The $1.7 million acquisition included two adjacent houses that will serve the hotel, billed as “boutique,” as its courtyard, bar and restaurant, and meeting space.  Only one block from Calle Ocho’s core attractions, BG managing partners Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla are well underway with the restorations and hope to be much closer to a grand opening in 2014.  In a Florida Investor Magazine interview Fuller said, “After 60 years of ownership under the same family, we are excited about the opportunity to redevelop the hotel, restoring the property to its former glory as the place to stay in Little Havana.”

Pinilla concurred.  ”The addition of a new boutique hotel in the heart of Little Havana will give tourists a reason to stay here for longer than an hour or two.  The fully-restored Tower Hotel will be just what Little Havana needs to begin attracting overnight visitors,” Pinilla said.

Jeremy Marquard, an associate of Fuller and Pinilla at BG, wrote in an e-mail to MrMiamiTours:

I have been quickly won over by the passion and pulse of the neighborhood.  It’s amazing to see the upward trajectory of the community and to contribute to a thriving neighborhood where tourism, commerce and the arts all flourish.  As we push forward with the opening of the Tower Hotel, tours and activities like [yours] will be key attractions for our guests.”

Let’s get this show on the road, BG!