February 23, 2010



DeBunking the Orange Blossom Myth, by Seth Bramson

September 15, 2009

For many years, because of the wonderful publicity generated by the City of Miami beginning shortly after its founding in July, 1896, it was believed that the legendary Henry Flagler extended his fabled railroad to the shores of Biscayne Bay because Julia Tuttle,”the mother of Miami,” sent him some orange blossoms following the great freezes of December of 1894 and January and February of 1895.

Wonderful story.

Totally false!

Mrs.Tuttle had beseeched first Henry Plant, the builder of the hotels and railroads in central Florida and on the state’s west coast, to extend his railroadacross the state, but Mr. Plant rejected the idea. Without a moment’s hesitation, she began pleading with Mr. Flagler to extend his railroad from West Palm Beach to the barely-a-pioneer-outpost 65 miles south, but was met with the same negative response. As Mr. Flagler pointed out, there was simply no reason to make the not inconsiderable expenditure. With the 1894 and ’95 freezes, Mrs.Tuttle knew that her time had come, and in a telegram to Mr. Flagler in early March, 1895, she wrote,”Region around shores of Biscayne Bay untouched by freezes. Please come see for yourself.”

Mr.Flager did not “come see” but sent his close associates, James E. Ingraham and Joseph R. Parrott, who returned to Palm Beach with bushels of produce and citrus and explained to Flagler that,while the freeze had killed almost all of the fruits and vegetables into what was then middle-Dade County,the region south of

what is approximately today’s 163rd Street in North Miami Beach was untouched by the horrific weather.

Flagler cabled Julia, asking, “Madam,what is it that you propose?” Her answer was to the point: “If you will extend your railroad to the shores of Biscayne Bay and build one of your great hotels, I will give you 50 acres for shops and yards plus half of my holdings north of the river and Mr. [William] Brickell will give you half of his property south of the river” and with that an agreement was made, a contract was signed and on April 15,1896, the first Florida East Coast train rolled into town followed, a week later, by the first passenger train.

Miami was incorporated on July 28,1896; the Royal Palm Hotel, on the banks of the Miami River, opened on December 31,1896; the rest, as they say, is history.

But there were no orange blossoms!

Miami Beach’s recorded history goes back to 1870,when father and son Henry and Charles Lum sailboated on to a large sandbar east of Fort Dallas (which would later become Miami). Returning to KeyWest, they arranged to buy the sandbar and it’s submerged vicinity for $.35 per acre!

Returning to the area in 1882,they sold the property to Ezra Osborne and Elnathan Field for about $.75 an acre, clearing a hefty – for the time – profit. Osborne and Field, several years later,would sell the same property to John S. Collins (yes,THAT Collins!) and his son-in-law Thomas Pancoast for approximately $1.25 an acre.

Eventually, running short on money, Collins and Pancoast sold most of their holdings to the Lummus Brothers (for whom the great oceanside park on Miami Beach is named) and Indianapolis automobilist Carl Graham Fisher,who is considered the father of Miami Beach.

Fisher filled and built Miami Beach, incorporating the city in March of 1915. Several years later he erected the beautiful monument in Biscayne Bay dedicated to Florida’s Empire Builder, the greatest single name in the history of the Sunshine State, Henry Morrison Flagler. Today the Flagler Monument, floodlit at night

and visible from the causeways during the day, is a fitting tribute to two of Florida’s most revered names.

Seth Bramson is considered Miami’s foremost and leading historian. The author of 14 books on Florida transportation and south Florida local history, he is Company Historian of the Florida East Coast Railway and is Adjunct Professor of History at both Florida International University and BarryUniversity. See more of his work at www.lchaimmiamibook.com. All images courtesy of the collection of Myrna & Seth Bramson.

Guide to Miami’s Native Plant Life

September 15, 2009

Miami is in the tropics. While this information isn’t exactly shocking, it is important to understand that the plant life here is different than anywhere else in the US. We have tropical temps, high humidity and high levels of sunshine that some plants, such as many varieties of roses, just cannot handle outdoors.

Plants here are hardy and can stand up to the heat and sun and thrive on them. Some native species, and others which are “newcomers” but have flourished include those below.

Mangroves: The word refers to both individual trees and the forest of them (to non-scientists anyway). Mangroves like salty water, so they are plentiful along the shorelines and estuaries of Miami-Dade County. Their amazing networks of roots and branches offer safe harbor for many species of fish, birds and other animals. Everglades National Park has many acres of mangroves.

Mangos: Although mangos hail from India and surrounding areas, they have been in Florida so long they seem native! A mango tree with flowers is shown to the left. Besides being delicious and beautiful, mangoes have another characteristic: they go splat. A lot. “Mango poop” is so common in South Florida that homegrown humorist Dave Barry has written about it. (Not to worry; it comes off easily in a car wash.) Mangoes are nutritious and are seen in many foods in Florida including shakes and smoothies, salsa, BBQ sauce and salads.

Sawgrass: It’s not really a grass, but the saw part is close! These plants grow any where from 3 to 9 feet tall and have little flowers on them, as well as sharp, sometimes serrated edges. Sawgrass is distantly related to papyrus, which was used in ancient Egypt to make paper. The Everglades is covered in sawgrass, hence its nickname, “the River of Grass.”

Palm or Palmetto Trees: Yes, they are everywhere. Many varieties are not native but they adapt well to the soil and climate of South Florida. The Sabal Palm is the state tree of both Florida and South Carolina and it is native to the southeastern US, as well as to the Caribbean. They grow very well in sandy soil and photos of them make lovely postcards!

Gumbo-Limbo: It’s not just fun to say! These small trees can grow to be quite tall but don’t get very thick in the trunk. The Gumbo-limbo used to be called the “Tourist Tree” because the tree’s bark is red and peeling, like the skin of sunburned tourists, who flock to the areas where it grows well. They also make great air fresheners.

Satin Leaf Tree: Native to South Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and a number of Carribean islands, the Satin Leaf tree has beautiful golden leaves, so although it produces edible fruit (called damson plums), it is usually used as just an ornamental plant.

Orchids: Orchids are the largest group of flowering plants, boasting more than 22,000 species. While some kinds, especially the ones that are more common in the US, can grow in pots and gardens, a lot of the more tropical varieties live on other plants and trees. An odd looking cluster of plastic rings attached to the side of a tree in South Florida generally means someone is cultivating orchids.

Boom to Bust! Great Deals on Miami Area Real Estate

September 15, 2009

Miami was one of the first real estate boom areas to start to bust, but that downturn is also bringing good news to potential investors in South Florida real estate. Prices in all areas of Miami- Dade and Broward counties have significantly dropped since the top of the real estate boom in 2006, through the second quarter of 2009.

At the same time that prices have dropped, foreign investments have helped to create some market stability not seen in other areas of the US. “While many factors have contributed to the decline in home sales in Florida, an increase in foreign home buyers has helped to decrease the amount of damage. Foreign buyers recognize U.S. real estate as a desirable, profitable and secure investment. Also, the weak U.S. dollar has made U.S., and particularly Florida, real estate investments even more attractive,” according to Pensacola realtor Howard Liggett.

Liggett said that the National Association of Realtors, in cooperation with the Florida Association of Realtors, conducted a survey in August, 2008, of Florida Realtors, asking about their experiences in working with international clients. “More than one quarter of the Realtors had one property sale to an international client, while 15% reported two transactions within the past 12 months…. One-third of Florida Realtor respondents also noted an increasing share of their business coming from international buyers over the past two years.”

The cliché “every problem is an opportunity” has never been more true! Will these prices go lower? Most likely not, based on the increasing pace of sales and declining inventory, coupled with continued local job growth as reported in local media. Today is a great time to buy your dream home in Florida!

Sea Turtle Nesting on Florida’s Beaches

September 15, 2009

From April through September, Florida beaches host the largest gathering of nesting sea turtles in the U.S.. Sea turtles once roamed the oceans by the millions, but over the past few centuries, their numbers have been greatly reduced. Since 1980, more than 505,595 endangered sea turtles have been hatched and released through Miami-Dade Parks’ Sea Turtle Nesting and Relocation Program. From approximately the end of July to mid-September, the public can participate in the release of hatchlings along Miami’s beaches.

Did you know?

• Sea turtles are on the brink of extinction.

• Only 1 out of 100 hatchlings will reach maturity.

• Sea turtles have been around since the dinosaur, 60 million years ago.

• Sea turtles deposit between 80-180 eggs in their nests.

• Each year, turtles will return to the beach where they laid to

deposit their eggs.

• It’s illegal to buy products made from sea turtles or any other

endangered species.

You can help:

• Never disturb nesting turtles nor turtles emerging from the sea.

• Watch out for disoriented hatchlings or turtles on the road.

• Be careful while boating to avoid collisions with turtles.

To participate in the hatchling release program, please call

305-361-6767, x120, for reservations during July and August. Programs fill up quickly. $6 fee.

– Tuesdays and Fridays, 8:30pm-10pm: Haulover Beach Park, 10800 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach.

– Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 8:30pm-10pm. Crandon Park Visitors’ and Nature Center, 6767 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne.

Who Are Collins and Flagler Anyway?

September 1, 2009

A Brief Guide to Miami Street Names

• Flagler Street: Henry Flager’s East Coast Railway made Miami possible. Before 1896, there was no easy way to move goods and people in and out of Miami. The railroad arrived in April, 1896, and Miami was incorporated in May. Henry Flagler is known as the “father of Miami” and his name graces many places in South Florida.
• Collins Avenue: John Collins was a farmer and land developer who built the first wooden bridge from Miami to Miami Beach in 1913. The opening of the bridge is seen here.

• Biscayne Blvd.: Named for Biscayne Bay.

Brickell Avenue: William and Mary Brickell owned a trading post on the south side of the Miami River in the late 1800s. Everything south of the river was called Brickell for many years.

• Julia Tuttle Causeway: Julia Tuttle was the “mother of Miami.” It was she who persuaded (badgered some say) Henry Flagler into expanding his rail line south from Palm Beach to Miami. Flagler wanted to stop in Palm Beach and did until the great freeze of 1895, which spared Miami. Tuttle sent him fruit from Miami to prove that the crops down here were still fine and Flagler changed his mind.

• Rickenbacker Causeway: Named after WW1 ace pilot and Medal of Honor winner Eddie Rickenbacker. He later became the president of Eastern Air Lines, which was based in Miami. He had a home for many years in Coconut Grove, not far from Key Biscayne, which is connected to the mainland by the Rickenbacker Causeway.

• Don Shula Expressway: Don Shula IS the coach of the Miami Dolphins to many, no matter who else has held the job since his retirement. in 1997. Shula holds the coaching record for most wins in the NFL (347) and coached the perfect season 1972 Dolphins.

Killian Drive: Named for pioneer Dan Killian, who had a country store south of what is now Coral Gables and was responsible for the first schools, streetlights and churches in this area.

• Kendall Drive: Named for Henry John Broughton Kendall, a director of the Florida Land and Mortgage Company, which bought the land that is now Kendall (a census-designated but unincorporated part of Miami-Dade County) from the state of Florida in 1883.

• Ives Dairy Rd. & Milam Dairy Rd.: At one time, these actually went to (you guessed it!) dairy farms. Now Ives Dairy Rd. runs out to Land Shark Stadium and becomes Dan Marino Blvd. and Milam Dairy Rd. goes to Miami Lakes. The Milam family name still graces their chain of local upscale grocery stores, Milam’s.

Miami’s Famous Firsts!

September 1, 2009
  • Miami is the first and only major city in the US conceived by a woman, Julia Tuttle, who is regarded as the “mother of Miami.”
  • The first photo-finish capability for deciding the winner of a horse race was installed at Hialeah Racetrack in 1936. The Racetrack is seen here as it was in 1925.
  • The University of Miami was the first academic institution in Florida selected to host a Presidential debate (2004); those were the first ever Presidential debates in South Florida.
  • UM’s Hurricanes are the first ever NCAA team to win more than 50 home games in a row. Their 58 game winning streak is a record that still stands in the NCAA.
  • Miami-based Pan American Airlines was the first international airline in the US. Pan Am was also the first airline to provide economy class service at a reduced rate to make mass air travel a reality. The globe from Pan Am’s headquarters can still be seen in the lobby of the Miami Science Museum.
  • The Miami Dolphins are the first, and so far the only, NFL team to have a perfect season. In 1972, the Dolphins went 17-0 and won the Super Bowl.
  • Joe’s Stone Crab of Miami Beach was the first ever restaurant to start cooking and serving stone crab claws. No one else had figured out what to with plentiful stone crabs until Joe!
  • Miami’s Virginia Miller Art Gallery made international history in 1991 when it became the first art gallery to photograph visitors using a Canon digital camera developed for use in the Persian Gulf War. Those pictures were manipulated and then printed using a Canon color bubble jet printer, making it the first gallery ever to use digital art.
  • In 1920, Miami resident Arthur Wynne, formerly from New Jersey, invented the crossword puzzle to entertain his children.
  • In 1933, Dr. William Homer Walker came to Miami from Pennsylvania and opened Miami’s first Savings & Loan Association. Dr. Walker was granted the first ever Federal Savings & Loan charter ever issued by the US government.
  • Gwendolyn Boyd-Savage was the first African-American woman to be sworn in as a police chief in North Miami, in 2002. She was the first Florida police chief, male or female, to hold a doctorate.
  • The first ever night racing in dog racing history was in Miami, in 1925. It was started by O.P. Smith of the Miami Kennel Club, who also invented the mechanical rabbit, and who is regarded as the “father of modern greyhound racing.”
  • Chalk Airlines, which operated in Miami well into this century, was the first airline ever to have scheduled passenger flights. It started flights to the Bahamas in 1917.

Miami’s Art Scene Is HOT!

September 1, 2009

With several major international festivals a year, entire neighborhoods revitalizing, thanks to art communities, and galleries featuring ever-changing exhibitions of the best in contemporary art, Miami has become a serious player in the global art world.

Although Art Basel Miami Beach, an offshoot of the Art Basel festival in Switzerland, gave Miami art a much needed PR boost with its arrival in 2002, artists have been quietly reinventing Miami for decades.

The now-famous Wynwood Art District started as long ago as 1986 with the Bakehouse Art Complex project, which provided for artists’ space inside an old bakery building. As artists started moving into other buildings, the District decided formally to unite in 2003, and today has more than 70 galleries. Every second Saturday of the month, a community-wide Art Walk affords visitors a chance to peek into a variety of galleries in one evening.

Another long-time pillar of the art community in Miami is Brazilian native Romero Britto. Britto, whose paintings and sculptures are featured on five continents, in more than 100 galleries, has been a fixture in Miami for 18 years. Besides his Lincoln Road gallery, Britto has a studio in the Design District and many works visible all over town, including on the sides of buildings.

Besides the wonderful Art Basel Miami Beach festival (Dec. 3-6, 2009), with more than 220 leading art galleries showing works from more than 2,000 artists, Miami abounds with other festivals during the “season.” The same weekend as Art Basel, Art Miami showcases still more art in the mid-town Miami area, home to MiMo (Miami Modern) architecture in the 1950s and 60s, including the historic Bacardi headquarters, seen here.

In Coral Gables, the Beaux Arts Festival (Jan. 9-10, 2010), on the campus of the University of Miami, is in its 59th year. The world-renowned Coconut Grove Arts Festival (Feb. 13-15, 2010) has been beautifying “The Grove” for 45 years!

Thanks to Art Basel and other fantastic art and events, the rest of the world is finally discovering that there’s more to look at in Miami than the beautiful beaches!

Primer for South Florida Cuisine

September 1, 2009

The food of South Florida is like nowhere else. It is a wonderful mix of the foreign and the familiar, the magical and the mundane. Known as Floribbean, this flavorful combination of Cuban, Southern American, Spanish and other Caribbean flavors, characterized by lots of seafood, tropical fruits and spices, was fusion long before FoodTV! The lists below give some information about the unique ingredients that go into the food here and give it that unique Miami spice!

There are as many kinds of empanadas, little turnovers, as there are islands in the Caribbean. Chicken, beef, veggie, spicy or mild, there are dozens. Try them from a street vendor – just like a hot dog or pretzel in New York.

Whether it is white rice or yellow rice (which gets its color from saffron, the world’s most expensive spice), rice is a staple in Floribbean cooking. It is frequently served with black beans (Cuban), pigeon peas (Jamaican) or red beans (Cajun, other Caribbean). Together, rice and beans

are a complete protein – and a delicious one from the stock, onions, garlic and chiles usually simmered into the beans.

Native to the waters around Florida, stone crabs are a delicacy only available from November to May. Fishermen remove one claw from the crab and return it to the water. The claw will regenerate to full size in about a year. Claws are usually served chilled, often with a mustard sauce. Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach is the first restaurant to ever serve stone crab claws.

Mangos are everywhere in South Florida! There is even an International Mango Festival here. Originally from India, mangos have spread all over the world’s tropics. Besides eaten fresh, mangos have found their way into chutneys, salsas, salads and even barbecue sauces.

Another popular Florida street and fair food are arepas – they are even sold at sporting events here! Arepas are corn cakes with melted mild cheese between them, sort of a Caribbean grilled cheese.

Grouper and snapper are native fish that are essential to true South Florida cuisine. Depending on the restaurant, they are fried, broiled, baked, grilled or sautéed, but they appear on a multitude of menus.

Plantains are a banana variety is not sweet when it is still green. Green plantains are often served deep-fried as chips or fritters and served as a side (tostones), while sweet ripe plantains are pan-fried to carmelize them (maduros) and eaten as a dessert, side or snack.

It’s not Flipper! Also known as mahi mahi or dorado, dolphin are a beautiful fish that also taste wonderful. Many area restaurants have adapted and changed the name for visitors, but there are holdouts which still list mahi mahi as dolphin. (Flipper and his cousins are really porpoises, not dolphins!)

Citrus fruits, including Key limes, oranges, tangerines, lemons and others, show up across South Florida in salads, sauces, marinades and more. Mojo Criollo, an essential Cuban marinade, is made from a zesty blend of garlic, onion and citrus.

Yuca is a fibrous root vegetable is often served battered and fried, like a thick French fry or in cubes, or boiled and doused with garlic sauce.

Native Florida avocados are much larger than their California cousins, called Hass avocados, and have smooth skins instead of pebbled ones. They also stay bright green when ripe. They have a much higher water content than Hass avocados and are therefore lower in fat. They are wonderful raw on sandwiches and in salads, but do not make great guacamole! Florida avocadoes are also known as alligator pears.

Very important to pastry, guava features in a lot of South Florida desserts! Many Cuban and Caribbean bakeries carry pastillitos, little pastries, filled with guava, sometimes guava and cream cheese together. It is VERY sweet with a sharp fruity flavor.

A creamy Spanish custard that is all over in South Florida, flan was originally a caramel flavor, but now flan is available in vanilla, chocolate and even fruity varieties.

Floribbean food is much more than what is above. Enjoy and experiment! There’s nothing else like it in the world.

Go Wild in South Florida!

August 5, 2009

Florida’s variety of wildlife is majestic and vital to the health of its delicate ecosystem. The Everglades and the reefs along the coast are home to lots of interesting species; Florida is also the winter home to almost every kind of bird on the eastern seaboard. In South Florida, the great outdoors is magnificent!

Alligators are important to the Everglades for many reasons, including controlling the rodent populations and keeping the wetlands wet during the dry season, thanks to the water that gets stored in their gator holes. Male alligators tend to be about 14 feet long, while females are closer to 10 feet when fully grown. Although alligators were endangered at one time due to over-hunting for their hides, there are more than a million of them in Florida today! While alligators are in almost every inland body of water in Florida, the best place to see them is Everglades National Park.

A close cousin to the alligator, the only American crocodiles in the US live at the tip of Florida, in Florida Bay. More docile than alligators, Florida’s crocs are also smaller, usually only about 5 to 6 feet long when adults. In recent years, several Florida crocs have somehow made it to the canals and lakes of the University of Miami. Crocodiles are a protected species; there are only about 1,000 of them left in Florida today.

Three main varieties of sea turtles nest in Florida: green sea turtles, leatherbacks (which, as

the name implies, do not have a bone type shell) and loggerheads. All three are endangered species. Sea turtles navigate by using the magnetism of the earth; females return to the nesting grounds where they were born year after year. Florida is, in fact, home to the largest nesting ground for loggerheads in the US! Sea turtles can live to be 80 years old. The biggest threat from humans to sea turtles is destruction of their nesting grounds and their entanglement in fishing nets or floating garbage such as balloons and six-pack rings.

Manatees are gentle giants which can be seen grazing on plant life in the canals and mangrove hammocks of South Florida. Distantly related to elephants, manatees can weigh up to almost 1800 pounds! Even their newborn calves weigh about 65 pounds. Like whales, they surface for air every 20 minutes or so. Half their time is spent asleep, and their very low metabolisms keep manatees in warm areas. Manatees are absolutely no threat to humans, and are in fact curious and friendly, but humans, especially in propeller driven boats, have harmed countless manatees. Of the nearly 300 manatee deaths reported as caused by humans in Florida in 2006, the majority involved boats, so be watchful on the water!

Critically endangered right now, the Florida Panther lives only in a few places in southern Florida these days. Living

only in Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, the panther population is down to less than 100 of these beautiful animals and occupies only 5% of its former territory. Development has been the biggest threat to panthers; driving at night in the Everglades, keep an eye out: automobiles are the leading cause of death for panthers.

The sailfish is one of the most sought after game fish in the world and it can be found in plentiful numbers at the edge of the Gulf Stream right here in South Florida throughout the winter months. Characterized by its large dorsal fin and elongated bill, the sailfish is capable of powerful runs, acrobatic jumps and reel blistering dives which may make your arms regret the ever tangled with this great fish.

Sometimes called the “ghost of the flats,” the bonefish is the pound for pound best fighting fish in the world. The first run of a bonefish, whether caught on fly gear or conventional tackle, will astound you as many a fish have stripped the reel completely of line leaving the angler only to wonder what might have been. Biscayne Bay, in the shadow of downtown Miami, is the perfect place to target wintertime bones.

Largemouth Bass is incredibly popular with locals and out-of-towners alike. “Old bucketmouth” has long been a staple of South Florida game fishing in freshwater and with places like the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and literally hundreds of miles of inland canals, there is no shortage of water to fish for this great species.