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Historical photos reprinted from Miami Beach: A History by Howard Kleinberg, with permission from Centennial Press, Miami
A Trip up Collins Avenue is an Architectural Trip Down Memory Lane
Way back when Miami Beach was
first developing, a new road, Collins
Avenue, was carved out parallel
to the beach. The road meandered north
alongside fine mansions set in
oceanfront estates. Today Collins Avenue,
also known as State Road A1A is the main artery of Miami Beach stretching almost to the Broward County line. A journey along its dozen miles crossing numbered streets from 1st to 192nd, offers a potted history of this tropical playground.
Let's start our northward drive at the tip of Miami Beach where Collins Avenue begins at the junction withSouth Pointe Drive. To the east is Ocean Drive and the hub of SoBe excitement, to the west, Alton Road andthe MiamiBeach Marina. Behind us the towering condos of South Pointe Towers and Yacht Club at Portofino condominiums. Beyond them, South Pointe Park borders Governor's Cut, a deep water channel that marks the "front door" to the Port of Miami for cargo vessels and cruise ships. Across the channel rise the Mediterranean style buildings of tony Fisher Island, accessible only by ferry.
Collins meets Biscayne Street at the landmark Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant. Here in 1914 Joe and Jennie Weiss started the first restaurant in Miami Beach in a wooden house among the mangroves. Business boomed along with the town and adding stone crabs to the menu in 1921 really put Joe's on the map. Over the years the restaurant has hosted politicians and celebrities galore and nowadays, in high season, guests can anticipate a two-hour wait to get a table indoors or on the tropical garden terrace.
At this first few blocks of Collins an island of chic spills over from neighboring Ocean Drive with clubs and restaurants housed in old low-rise buildings. At night, born-again sophistication appears as Collins Avenue comes alive with crowds dressed in party casual chic heading for the action. One distinctive building just southwest of 2nd street was once a synagogue, now it has gone through various incarnations as night clubs, most recently Amnesia. Rumor has it that a movie studio/ production center will appear on the site.
At 3rd Street a short block away on Washington Avenue the Sanford L. Ziff Jewish Museum of Florida is housed in a former synagogue designed by noted Deco era architect Henry Hohauser in 1934 and now on the National Register of Historic Places. Heading north, a faded 50s look of low-rise apartment buildings and little grocery stores along Collins south of 5th Street evoke an area that has passed its heyday. But not for long!
Redevelopment, renewal and gentrification are about to change this. The area is beginning to blossom with condominium buildings, time-share hotels and town houses. Cascada, a new European-style community, has homes inspired by the Mediterranean architecture of a Tuscan villagio. 5th Street cuts a swathe across South Beach from Ocean Drive on the east to Alton Road on the west where it becomes the Mac Arthur Causeway, the main link with downtown Miami. North of 5th begins the official Art Deco district stretching northto 23rd Street and concentrated in three parallel streets, Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue. After years of neglect and plans for the wholesale demolition of buildings, the fanciful architecture of the 30s and 40 was given a new lease of life in 1979. Led by Barbara Capitman and Miami Design Preservation League, a square mile of South Beach was granted a listing in National Register of Historic Places and Art Deco District was born. Now South Beach is on the cutting edge of cultural and nightlife and rated on the Travel Channel's list of the world's top 10 beaches. It earned high marks for its wide sandy beach; its clear, clean water; good-size waves that are not dangerous; the sunny weather; the nightlife and the Art Deco architecture.
Shopping becomes the focus at the intersection of Collins Avenue and 8th Street. This is the center of the South Beach designer district, actually two still-evolving retail districts of designer boutiques and interesting, locally-owned shops. From 6th to 9th street you will find stores such as A/X Armani Exchange, Nicole Miller, Benneton, Nike, the Gap, Urban Outfitters and Banana Republic. 8th street between Washington Avenue and Ocean Drive, where Versace, Todd Oldham, Kenneth Cole, Cynthia Rowley, Hugo Boss and Betsey Johnson are located. The stores are comparatively new arrivals, the hotels lining the street date back to the heyday of the 1930s and 40s. Most were built as perfect examples of Art Moderne or Mediterranean Revival style and have been sensitively remodele
Back on Collins heading through the North Shore, the years fall away at the 74th Street shopping area, a perfect example of a 1950s' main street, gussied up with new sidewalks and palm trees. Woolworths and the two movie houses are closed but the butcher, baker and drug stores together with a branch public library, make it a busy neighborhood oasis. Behind Collins along the sand dunes, Ocean Terrace evokes South Beach's Ocean Drive in miniature.
Now Collins passes through the Altos del Mar area, an shady enclave with the only beachfront private houses in Miami Beach. North Shore park starting around 85th street, is a pristine treasure of shade trees and greenery stretching to the dunes along the beach. Rustic shelters with picnic tables and chairs are the only signs of civilization here.
Miami Beach segues into the township of Surfside as Collins reaches 88th street. At 8701 Collins Dezerland Hotel, guarded by a 1959 Cadillac at the front door, is a 1950s automobile wonderland. A dozen mint-condition classics site around the grounds and lobby, and a mosaic of pink Caddy is worked on the bottom of the swimming pool. Until recently Surfside was a sleepy town but now new condos are springing up on both sides of Collins Avenue. The Surf Club's low white buildings take up a whole oceanfront block . Like the Bath Club it was the epitome of high society in its day. It still resounds to the sounds of parties and charity galas, but the threat of redevelopment is never far away.
Collins crosses 96th Street which goes west to Bay Harbor Islands and the Broad Causeway to Miami. This street is also the boundary between Surfside and Bal Harbour and although they have the same zip code, the ambiance is very different. Bal Harbour is Upscale. The landscaped median between the now two-way Collins Avenue and manicured grounds and fountains in front of exclusive high-rise condominiums, set the scene for a definitely high-income area. Bal Harbour Shops, called Florida answer to Rodeo Drive, is an outdoor, flower-festooned mall of designer stores and boutiques. Across the way, the Sheraton Bal Harbour Beach Resort, built as the Americana in the early 60s, is President Clinton's favorite Florida watering hole. The hotel was redesigned and redecorated three years ago.
Bal Harbour beach has an exercise course and shady jogging path leading to a fishing pier. Collins Avenue leaves Bal Harbour as it soars over the Baker's Haulover bridge. Before the channel deepened and the bridge was built, a Mr. Baker used to haul-over goods across the spit of land. Drivers going north on Collins avenue tend to do a double take as they cross the bridge and see flying cows and pencils. Not to worry, they are kites marking the only outdoor kite shop in South Florida. The breezes blowing from the Atlantic Ocean across the grass to the bay make this a perfect site for kite-flying.
On the east at the equivalent of 105th street, (there are no numbered streets here) Haulover Beach has great surf casting fishing (although the old fishing pier was damaged in Hurricane Andrew), jogging paths, a secluded nude beach, and a popular picnic area along the road. On the west, deep sea fishing boats and private charter boats are moored at Haulover Marina on the Intracoastal. Every afternoon when the boats come in, the fisherman sell their fresh catch on the dock. Haulover Park features public tennis courts and a par 3 public golf course with very affordable greens fees. The longest hole is 125 yards in a pretty bayside location with a view to
Beyond Haulover, more condominium towers and motels, Three white towers mark Oceania on the beach side. Across the road on Oceania Island, the fourth Tower is on site of the Castaways motel, with its subterranean Wreck Bar, a favorite haunt of the Beatles celebrities and tourists in the 1960s. At 163rd Street the road arches into a bridge that takes traffic west to North Miami Beach and the Golden Glades intersection of Florida's Turnpike, I-95, Route 441, and The Palmetto Expressway (836).
On Collins Avenue the traffic is more leisurely, this is the start of Sunny Isles Beach, a traditional tourist-focused area. Gilbert Samson Park gives entry to the beach and the Newport Pier. Fishermen pay $3, other pays $1 to watch them or walk out to sea and admire the view of the shoreline The Lighthouse lends a nice nautical touch to a Seven Seas restaurant next to The Newport Beachside Resort.
Sunny Isles Beach is changing fast as the old mom and pop beachfront motels give way to luxury apartment towers. The motels were fun with names like Tahiti, Dunes, Driftwood, Blue Seas and hokey, marzipan-style decorations to advertise their theme. A few of the old places are still there. Look for the Sahara, marked by two stuffed camels and the figure of an Arab in full flowing robes and the Suez with its Sphinx; The Thunderbird has a southwestern motif; the Desert Inn sports concrete horses and a wagon while the Chateau has a two-part roof, white steeply pitched on one half and half-timbered pink stucco on the other.
Another old time landmark is alive and well. Lines still wind around the Rascal House Deli Restaurant, waiting to sample their mile-high deli sandwiches and home-made matzo-ball and chicken soup. Shopping centers line the west side of Collins throughout Sunny Isles Beach but new luxury towers are changing the skyline on the east. The Pinnacle's five towers of descending heights can be seen for miles. New condo-hotels, Williams Island Resort, Ocean Grande and Ocean Pointe are going up in this stretch and more are planned.
Just past the turnoff to the Aventura-bound Lehman Causeway (192nd St.), Collins Avenue leads to ritzy residential Golden Beach. The storied avenue which links the past and present of Miami Beach now changes into Ocean Boulevard and then plain old Highway A1A.