Miami seems to reinvent itself with regular frequency, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own deep footholds in history. Let’s take a bit of a video journey back to five Miami moments captured in time, preserved at the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives. They’re dedicated to preserving and digitizing archival footage from all across Florida, with more than 35,000 hours of film and tape stretching back to 1911. The clips below come from old newscasts, private donations, and even home movies. As these are archival videos, not all of them have sound, but they all show a side of Miami you might not have ever seen before.
Biscayne Bay in the twenties
These home movies from all the way back in 1926 provide a rare glimpse at Miami’s early skyline. Looking across Biscayne Bay, you can see the newly opened Venetian Causeway and the MacArthur Causeway, then known as County Causeway and first built in 1920. Miami had been officially incorporated just 30 years before this film was shot.
Before there was Andrew, there was Hurricane Donna. In 1960, this category 5 storm tore through South Florida, proving especially devastating to the Keys. After slamming into Florida, it just kept going, tearing a swath of destruction that ended all the way up in Long Island. It’s still the only storm to bring hurricane-force winds to every single state along the East Coast, leaving 50 dead and causing $3.35 billion in damages. Winds in Miami hit 97 mph, and Marathon was battered by a 13-foot storm surge.
Hurricane Donna is the only hurricane on record to produce hurricane-force winds in Florida, the Mid-Atlantic States, and New England (Sombrero Key, FL: 206 km/h [128 mph] sustained winds; Elizabeth City, NC: 133.6 km/h [83 mph] sustained winds; Block Island, RI: 152.9 km/h [95 mph] sustained winds).
Little Havana is born
Little Havana only became Little Havana in the 1960s. The influx of Cuban exiles transformed the neighborhood, bringing back a little bit of Cuba and changing Miami forever. These early street scenes show the start of that transformation.
The forgotten Miami Riots
They were overshadowed by the LA riots in 1992, but at the time, the 1980 Miami riots were the worst the country had seen since the sixties. After four white Miami-Dade police officers were acquitted of all charges in the death of Arthur McDuffie, a black man who died of skull injuries sustained while in their custody, more than 5,000 people came together to protest. Things turned violent fast. The National Guard was called in and a curfew put into effect, but 18 people died and 350 were injured by the time things calmed down.
Whether Miami’s skyline was built on cocaine or not is debatable, but it can’t be denied that we were at the epicenter of the drug wars in the 1980s. Here, a cocaine raid in a South Beach neighborhood now much better known for having some of the most expensive hotel rooms on the beach ends in a giant (controlled) explosion.