When I moved to Miami in the late 1990s, I took up residence in a little roach friendly place just east of Biscayne Boulevard. People would act a little shocked when I told them where I lived, but I was either too naive, or too worldly to care. Yes, my occasional strolls to the local cafeteria did garner propositions for paid sex in broad daylight (while wearing a Green Bay packers sweatshirt I swiped from my dad). But, I could also sit at the end of my street, gaze out at Biscayne Bay, and on lucky days, get a visit from a manatee.
I left Miami in 2001 and returned in 2005. The first place I went apartment hunting? My old neighborhood east of Biscayne Boulevard. I figured my small savings could go a long way. But I returned in the middle of the real estate boom, and Biscayne Boulevard hummed and hammered with new condos. Rents skyrocketed. Starbucks replaced my cafeteria. The ceviche restaurant with the only beer-cooling generator in the neighborhood (how many almost-hurricanes did I spend there?) and the quaint Honduran restaurant were demolished. So I turned my back on Biscayne Boulevard and moved to Miami Beach.
Still, Biscayne Boulevard beckoned from across the bay, accepting gentrification on it’s own terms. In 2006, it earned designation as the MiMo/Biscayne Boulevard Historic District. By the time Miami’s real estate bubble blew-up, Biscayne Boulevard had metamorphosed into a strategically gritty thoroughfare. New wine bars, locally sourced restaurants and hip boutiques cohabited with run down mid-century motels and working women. The district hailed rave reviews for restaurants like Red Light and Michy’s, but not without the shady local real estate and politics that plague Miami.
In researching Biscayne Boulevard’s history, I wasn’t surprised to discover that two developers launched the project during Miami’s first real estate boom (and bust) of the 1920s. This sounds like the Miami I know and love:
“The abrupt fall of the Miami boom was cushioned in the first part of 1926 by the conception of Biscayne Boulevard…the creation of Biscayne Boulevard kept Miami going during the summer of 1926 despite the discovery that $50,000 lots no longer could be sold for one-tenth of that amount or that the “summer tourist season” of 1925 was nothing but a delusion.”
–Kenneth Ballinger Miami Millions 1936
Despite “keeping Miami going” after the real estate bust, the Biscayne corridor was never completed by the original developers. Only a few of the historic buildings on Biscayne Boulevard were built in the 1920s and 30s. Construction picked-up in the 1940s and exploded after World War II. In the 1950s, Biscayne Boulevard became renown for lodging that catered to car culture: the motel. Hence the mid-century modern/Miami modern moniker.
In the end, it is the hotel/motel that contributes to the unique look of Miami and Miami Beach. Like Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive, the motels of Biscayne Boulevard define the historic character of the district, and save it from becoming a tributary of South Florida’s never ending strip mall. For more information on the Mimo District’s restaurants, shops, architecture, walking tours and festivals visit: