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"COLLINS AVE" by KAREN WILES
Way back in the 1880s when Miami Beach was little more than a tangle of mangroves and swampland, John Collins, a Quaker businessman from New Jersey, joined a group of investors in a coconut farming venture at the southern end of the island.
The plantations failed and Collins bought out his partners leaving him the sole owner of a strip of land known as Ocean Beach. Collins still fancied fruit-growing, so this time he planted avocado groves, protecting them from the ocean winds by a windbreak of Australian pines, which still sand today along Pine Tree Drive.
When Collins' son Arthur and son-in-law Thomas Pancoast arrived from New Jersey they brought with a new idea for using the land; sell waterfront lots for homes and develop the tropical island into a classy winter resort - and so the Miami Beach Improvement Company was born. With financing from two Miami banks, (each headed by a Lummus brother) Collins bought and platted 580 acres at the southern tip of Miami Beach. Lots were offered for sale and the land rush was underway.
At that time Miami Beach was a virtual island, accessible only by ferry from Miami. In 1912, John Collins decide to building a bridge linking Miami Beach to the mainland. When money ran out before the bridge was finished, auto parts magnate Carl Fisher loaned Collins $50,000 to complete the bridge. He also acquired a strip of land ... and then bought more land which he cleared with the help of elephants laboring alongside the workmen. Slowly they hacked their way through the mangroves and swamps and despite the mosquitoes, snakes and horseflies, roads were marked out and the first coral rock houses began to sprout among the newly planted palm trees and tropical vegetation.
Excitement reached new heights in February 1913 with the Dammers auction. Showman Doc Dammers turned the land auction into an entertaining and highly successful event with hot air balloons, parachute drops and gifts of silver and china. In three days $66,000 worth of lots were bought for development. On June 12, 1913, dozens of cars chugged across the wooden Collins bridge from Miami marking the beginning of a new era for Miami Beach. Today the historic Venetian Causeway follows the route of that first bridge.
In 1915 the city of Miami Beach incorporated, combining Collins' and Pancoast's #Miami Beach Corporation; the Lummus brothers' Ocean Beach and Carl Fisher's #Alton Beach company. In 1920 there were only 644 permanent residents of Miami Beach with just 80 phones listed on one page of the Miami telephone directory. John Collins and the other founding fathers continued to spark interest in Florida real estate by advertising in northern newspapers. At the same time railroads were trying to attract passengers and hotels wanted guests. 1920 Carl Fisher took publicity to a new level when he purchased a huge illuminated sign proclaiming "It's June in #Miami" in Times Square, New York. Billboards of bathing beauties enjoying white beaches and blue ocean waters appeared around the country. Now Miami Beach was as "hot" as its temperatures. Down came the ‘tin can tourists' piled into Model T cars or by train, all eager to buy a piece of Florida real estate. In 1923 Carl Fisher sold $6 million worth of lots that had been scooped out of Biscayne Bay.
After boom came the bust in 1925. The following year a killer hurricane devastated South Florida. It took nearly a decade for Miami Beach to overcome the Depression years. In the mid ‘30 #Miami Beach regained its luster with hundreds of new buildings constructed in the new Art Moderne style architecture -- or, as we know it today #Art Deco!
April 22nd, 2013
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