'Moon Fountain', Coral Castle, Homestead

Just outside the Miami suburb of Homestead stands a monument to the one man’s lost love. Edward Leedskalnin was born in Riga, Latvia on August 10th, 1887. Jilted by his fiancée Agnes the day before their planned wedding, he left Latvia for the United States. In April 1912 he briefly settled in New York before moving to the Pacific Northwest. 10 years after arriving in the USA, he relocated to Florida, possibly as a result of tuberculosis. He bought some land in Florida City and there he set about  building what became known as  ‘Ed’s Place’ by quarrying and sculpting the local limestone. Working mainly at night, he did this on his own as a monument to his lost love. During the day he allowed visitors to view the site.  In around 1936 he decided  to move to a new site near Homestead, and to take the rock sculptures with him. It took him three years to complete the move, working on his own as always. At the new site he built a stone gate in the rear wall, so he called the sculptures ‘Rock Gate’. Leedskalnin always deflected questions about how he built Rock Gate so theories abound ranging from use of levers to reverse magnetism and even supernatural abilities. He died in 1951 and later the land was bought by retired jeweller Julius Levin who turned Rock Gate into a tourist attraction and eventually changed its name to Coral Castle. In 1981 it was sold to Coral Castle, Inc who continue to operate it as a tourist attraction.      Click Tab 2 to see 'Mars, Saturn and the Crescent of the East',

Miami City Hall, Coconut Grove

In 1918 the US Navy opened an air station on Dinner Key, south of downtown Miami. It was short lived with the Navy pulling out at the end of World War I but their place was taken by commercial flying boat operators. The original air station was destroyed in the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane. In 1930 the newly formed Pan American Airways (Pan Am) acquired an airline that flew flying boats to Buenos Aires. Pam Am decided to make Dinner Key the base for their flying boat services. The airport opened using a a converted Cuban houseboat as its terminal but in 1933 this was replaced by a  purpose built Art Deco terminal. International Pan American Airport thrived as the major hub for flights between North and South America. In 1943 President Franklin D Roosevelt flew from the airport to Casablanca to meet with Winston Churchill.  By the end of World War II the flying boat was fast becoming obsolete. In 1945 Pan Am abandoned its flying boat operations and transferred its flights to Miami International Airport. In 1954 the abandoned terminal building became the new Miami City Hall, replacing one built in 1907 which was demolished. Recent restoration has brought back the decoration of its days as an airport terminal including signs of the zodiac on the ceiling and roof beams with stylized ‘wings’ and bands in the Pan Am  colours. 

Stone House, Charles Deering Estate at Cutler

William Deering was born in 1826 in South Paris, Maine. He invested in farmland in several parts of the US, returning to Maine in the 1850s. During the Civil War he sold uniforms to the army then after the war he became a dry goods wholesaler. Around 1870, Deering gave up that business to manage E.H. Gammon’s harvester manufacturing plant in Plano, Illinois. He bought out Gammon in 1883 and moved the plant to Chicago and Deering Harvester was born. Deering’s son, Charles, joined the business and in 1902 he became chairman of  the  International Harvestor Company which was formed by a merger between Deering Harvester and McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. Charles and his younger brother James both appreciated fine art. While James filed his Miami mansion Vizcaya with art, Charles kept much of his in mansions in Sitges, Spain. In 1916 he purchased land in the Cutler area of Miami on which stood a former inn called Richmond Cottage. This wooden cottage, which dated back to 1900, was maybe not grand enough to become Deering’s winter home and certainly not ideal for his fine art. He therefore had a Mediterranean Revival Stone House built adjacent to the cottage. Deering lived in the Stone House for five years until he died in 1927. His estate is now preserved as the Charles Deering Estate at Cutler, and is open to the public for tours.  Click Tab 2 to see the wine cellar in the Stone House.

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'Moon Fountain', Coral Castle, Homestead, Miami, FL, USA USA
Stone House, Charles Deering Estate at Cutler, Miami, FL, USA

Casa Casuarina, Ocean Drive, Miami Beach

You will find more about the architecture of Miami Beach on the Miami Beach page, but Casa Casuarina is famous for more than its architecture. It was built in 1930 by architect Alden Freeman, son of Joel Freeman who was Treasurer of  The Standard Oil Trust. When his father passed away Alden inherited fabulous wealth which enabled Alden to retire and travel. On a visit to Santo Domingo (the Dominican Republic) he came across Alcazar De Colon. He was so inspired by this historic building that he decided to build his own version in Miami Beach. It was designed as a set of apartments, with Freeman living in a top floor one and the others available to rent to his friends when they visited Miami Beach. Freeman died in the house in December 1937. The house passed through several hands until in 1992 fashion designer Gianni Versace was on vacation in Miami Beach and fell in love with the house. He bought the house and the neighbouring Hotel Revere which he demolished in order to add a garden, swimming pool and a south wing. It took 3 years to complete the work. On on July 15, 1997 Versace was returning from a walk  when he was shot and killed on the steps of the house by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. His sister Donatella sold the property in 2000 and since 2015 it has been an upmarket hotel called The Villa complete with restaurant called Gianni’s..

Casa Casuarina, Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Miami, FL, USA

Locomotive No 113, Gold Coast Railroad Museum

Naval Air Station Richmond saw service during World War II but after the war it became redundant. In 1956 the abandoned railroad tracks on the former base became the home of the  Gold Coast Railroad Museum. In 1984, the museum moved to the area where Hangars #1 and #2 of the air base previously stood. The museum has over 40 historic railcars, including the ‘Ferdinand Magellan’ Presidential Railcar, otherwise known as US Car No. 1. Built as a sleeping car in 1929 by the Pullman Company, it was named after the famous Portuguese explorer. During World War II the Pullman Company rebuilt it as an armour plated car for President Franklin D Roosevelt. The main picture shows Florida East Coast Railway Steam Locomotive #113 which is on display in the museum but not in an operational state. Diesel hauled train rides are available;  at present none of the steam engines in the museum are operational. Rides are also available on a narrow gauge railway hauled by a compressed air powered Crown locomotive. Click Tab 2 to see the ‘Ferdinand Magellan’ Presidential Railcar,.

Locomotive No 113, Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Miami, FL, USA



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Villa Vizcaya from the waterfront, Miami

Is it an 18th or a 19th century villa in the picture? Villa Vizcaya is actually a product if the 20th century. Built on the shore of Biscayne Bay in the style of an Italian Renaissance villa, it was completed in 1916. Designed by Francis Burrall Hoffman, Jr, the  34 room house was the winter retreat of  James Deering. who had amassed a fortune through the Deering Harvester Company. The formal gardens were completed in  1921. The estate originally covered 73 hectares (180 acres) but now only 20 hectares (50 acres) remain. Deering died in 1925 then in 1926 the estate was damaged by the  Great Miami Hurricane. The Deering family tried to restore it to open it as a museum but another hurricane in 1935 caused further damage. The house was left in a state of disrepair and in 1945 much of the land was sold. In 1953 the villa and gardens were restored and opened as a museum. Click Tab 2 to see the Stone Boat that sits in the water in front of the Villa or Tab 3 to see a view of the Villa through the gardens.

 Vizcaya House from the waterfront, Miami, FL, USA

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When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, a Tequesta Indian village called Mayaimi stood where downtown Miami now stands. Early European settlements were short lived but the Indians still succumbed to their diseases. In 1870 William Brickall bought land on the Miami River south bank and set up a trading post that operated to the end of the century. In 1891 newly widowed Julia Tuttle purchased land on the north bank. She tried, but failed, to persuade  Henry Flagler to extend his  Florida East Coast Railway from West Palm Beach. The destruction of citrus crops by frost in 1894/5  helped her to change Flagler’s mind by demonstrating that the Miami area had not been affected. In April 1896 the railroad arrived and later that year Miami was incorporated as a city. Miami boomed in the 1920s until it was hit by a hurricane in 1926. This left downtown Miami with many historic buildings, an area that we have yet to visit.

Miami City Hall, Coconut Grove, Miami, FL, USA
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- Some wonderful historical buildings, especially Vizcaya.
- Coral Castle, as long as you don’t believe some of the wilder claims about how it was built.
- Historical buildings that don’t belong in Florida, such as the Ancient Spanish Monastery.
- Don’t forget that Miami is at risk during hurricane season.
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Main House, The Barnacle SHP, Coconut Grove, Miami, FL, USA

Main House, The Barnacle State Historic Park

An 1891 house in the Coconut Grove area of Miami provides an insight into the days when all travel in the area was by boat. The Barnacle was the home of pioneer Ralph Middleton Munroe who founded the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club. Monroe was from New York City and he first visited South Florida on a vacation in 1877. He returned in 1881 with his wife who had contracted tuberculosis, but even the Florida climate could not save her and she is buried in Coconut Grove. Monroe returned to the area regularly until in 1886 he purchased a 16 hectare (40 acre) plot of land on the shore of Biscayne Bay. Monroe was a keen yacht designer, so it is not surprising that his first priority was to build a boathouse. From 1887 he lived in the upper floor of the boathouse until 1891 when a bungalow that he called ‘The Barnacle’ was completed. Monroe remarried in 1895 and by 1908 the bungalow was too small small for the family. It was jacked up and a new lower floor was built underneath it. The house survived the 1926 hurricane but the boathouse was destroyed; Monroe rebuilt it on more solid foundations. The Barnacle passed to Monroe’s children who turned down all offers from developers.  In 1968 they sold it to the State of Florida who have preserved it and opened it to the public as The Barnacle State Historic Park. It is the oldest house in Miami-Dade County still standing in its original location. Also on display are replicas of two of Monroe’s sailboats, the Egret and the Flying Proa. Click Tab 2 to see the Living Room.

Cape Florida Lighthouse, Bill Baggs State Park, Key Biscayne

Just offshore from Coconut Grove is Key Biscayne, originally an island but now connected to the mainland by road. In the 18th century it was a haunt of pirates and wreckers. A lighthouse was needed to help with safe navigation and in 1822 Congress approved funds to build one on Cape Florida, the tip of Key Biscayne. In 1825 the lighthouse was completed and the first keeper moved in to the isolated location. In 1836 the lighthouse was attacked by a band of Seminole Indians. Only the assistant keeper and a handyman were present at the time. The lighthouse was set on fire, the handyman killed and the assistant keeper left for dead at the top of the tower. He was rescued the following day, but hostile Indians delayed the rebuilding of the lighthouse for 11 years.  The height of the tower was increased in 1854 and apart from a break during the Civil war, it continued in service until 1878 when it was replaced by the the offshore Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. The Cape Florida Lighthouse was then abandoned and in danger of being swept into the sea. The tip of Key Biscayne including the lighthouse was purchased by the State of Florida in 1966 and  Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park was created on the land. The original keeper’s cottage had been swept into the sea, so a new one was built and in 1978 the lighthouse was relit, a hundred years after it was extinguished.    Click Tab 2 to see the rebuilt Light Keeper's Cottage.

Cloisters & St Bernard Church, Ancient Spanish Monastery, North Miami Beach

In North Miami Beach stands an ancient monastery, but one that should not be there. Construction of the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux was begun in the year 1133 AD, and the date gives a clue that it was not in Florida. The monastery was built in Sacramenia, near Segovia in northern Spain and it was completed in 1141. It was originally named ‘The Monastery of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels’ but was renamed in honour of Bernard of Clairvaux after his canonization in 1174. It was a Cistercian monastery for nearly 700 years until social unrest in the 1830s resulted in it being seized and sold off. It was then used as a stable and granary.  US Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst had bought up a lot of European antiquities and incorporated many into his home at Hearst Castle. In 1925 he purchased the Cloisters and the Monastery outbuildings. He had them dismantled,  each part numbered and packed up in crates for shipment to the USA. Hearst hit financial problems, so the crates remained in a Brooklyn, NY warehouse for 26 years. After Hearst’s death the crates were purchased by  Raymond Moss and William Edgemon, who eventually reassembled them in North Miami Beach, adding parts from other historic Spanish buildings including a 15th century chapel. The Ancient Spanish Monastery is now owned by the Episcopal parish of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, it is open to the public and also used for worship.

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Cape Florida Lighthouse, Bill Baggs SP, Key Biscayne, Miami, FL, USA
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Cloisters & St Bernard Church, Ancient Spanish Monastery, North Miami Beach, Miami, FL, USA
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