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Miami history: What was there before?

Nothing in life is permanent. Things change, life goes on, and old haunts become Starbucks and fro-yo shops. But, there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Places are not completely forgotten; they live in that warm place in our minds that harbors memories. Take a look back at the grand places we all once visited in Miami history — what they were and what they are now.

Pinecrest Gardens & Jungle Island (formerly Parrot Jungle) (1936-2003)

Before moving to its fancy new location on Watson Island in 2003, Jungle Island was known as Parrot Jungle, and we suspect there are many folks out there that still refer to it as such (old habits die hard). With abundant greenery and a cozy setting, its habitat was very much Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse meets Gilligan’s Island, featuring birds galore along with reptiles. One of their most famous residents was Pinky, the bicycle-riding cockatoo. Fun fact: Their flamingos were used for the opening credits of Miami Vice. The new location has expanded to include lemurs, a kangaroo, primates, and a liger. In 2011, the institution celebrated its 75th anniversary. (We hope they got diamonds.) Pinecrest Gardens is now a Cultural Arts Park and home to the weekly Farmers Market.

Carter Square & Don Carter Kendall Lanes (1976-2006)

Bowling at Don Carter in 1981. (Flashback Miami)

Bowling at Don Carter in 1981. (Flashback Miami)

Opened in 1976, Don Carter’s Kendall Lanes was the type of place that stayed stuck in the 1970s throughout its 30-year reign. With its light wood paneling, dark ambiance, kitschy bowling decor, smelly tattered shoes, and a bland beige and brown exterior, this is where many of Southwest Dade’s residents spent their childhoods, from birthday parties to family weekend outings and group dates. It featured 72 lanes split into two sections of 36, billiard tables and a bar in the middle, and an arcade including pinball machines in the north corner. And of course, allegiances were strong. Don Carter’s folks rarely went to Bird Bowl and vice-versa. After years of empty threats, it finally closed in 2006. Now, it’s a 67,000 square foot shopping center with a Staples, Chipotle, Panera Bread, and difficult-to-find parking spots.

 

The Shops at Sunset Place & Bakery Centre (1986-1996) & Holsum Bakery (1934-1980s)

For decades, the corner of US 1 and Red Road was the home of Holsum Bakery and the best smelling intersection in Miami. Their elaborate Christmas displays were the highlight of the season. Plus, Sam and Carl’s Deli was right across the street (extra delicious). As South Miami developed and more residents moved in, this was no longer a viable space for a factory-like setting. Additionally, investors were adamant about creating an entertainment center for the community. Enter the Bakery Centre. According to newspaper archives, the project was doomed from the beginning because of differing planning visions. However, it lasted a decade partly because of its most popular tenant, the AMC Theatres. The mall reopened as The Shops at Sunset Place in 1999 and brought a refreshed wave of excitement. In more recent years, it has lost big stores like Virgin Megastore, Urban Outfitters, and Niketown, and has faced a bit of a decline while competing against nearby Dadeland. However, the mall’s surrounding streets with its boutique shops have gained immense popularity. We’re still dreaming about that amazing Virgin Megastore, though.

Dolores, But You Can Call Me Lolita/Sushi Maki &Salero/Mosaico (2004-2006) & Miami Fire Station No. 4 (1922-1984)

Delores But You can Call Me Lolita used to be Miami Fire Station No. 4. (Ebyabe/Wikipedia)

Delores But You can Call Me Lolita used to be Miami Fire Station No. 4. (Ebyabe/Wikipedia)

The two-story building on the corner of South Miami Avenue is one that pre-dates 1925 Miami. Built in the Mediterranean Revival style, it gained a place on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1984 for both its architectural design and origin date. The building features lots of unique details that are often overlooked like arcaded porches, quoins and cornices, stucco walls, and balconies. It officially opened and operated as Miami Fire Station No. 4 for decades. Along the way, it switched gears to entertainment palace and experienced various reincarnations throughout the years. There were a few Firehouse Restaurants and then the raucous Hardaway’s Firehouse Four. In terms of Miami food history, it is important to shine light on its tenant in the early-mid aughts. Helmed by Ferran Adria alum, Jordi Vallès, it was a dual dining space. Downstairs was Salero, featuring a casual tapas experience. Upstairs was Mosaico, a more upscale dining experience bordering on molecular gastronomy. Alas, it was too early for its time and had a short lifespan. In 2007, Dolores But You Can Call Me Lolita opened in the space. Part of the space is occupied by Sushi Maki, which opened in 2010. As Brickell catapults into sky-high power, both restaurants sit on what is poised to become an even cooler corner.

Future home of Marriott at Miami Worldcenter & Grand Central Park (2012-2013) & Miami Arena (1988-2008)

We always knew it would temporary, but then we experienced it and we wanted it to be a forever park. An ad-hoc park in downtown Miami, it began as rubble and became something grander, serving many purposes — skate park, open green space, and event space. The lot is the future home of the Marriott at Miami Worldcenter. The lot will sit empty until the project breaks ground. But, the land has even more nostalgia. It was once the site of the Miami Arena, that 1980s outfitted pink elephant we were all so proud of. It was the home of the Heat’s inaugural season, University of Miami basketball teams, the Florida Panthers, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and concerts galore. Eventually, shinier new arenas opened up and event producers began flocking to them like moths to a flame. The building was demolished in 2008, just short of celebrating its 20th anniversary.

FIU & Miami Executive Airport (formerly Kendall-Tamiami Airport) (1940s-1967)

From airport to state university… The Miami Executive Airport is now located further out west in Kendall, but it originally called the land located off of the Tamiami Trail home. Back then, this part of town was still the wild, wild West. Records show that it was built sometime between 1944 and 1947 and featured 3 short runways, the longest coming in at 3,800 feet. As the area became more populated, however, landing became more dangerous, and they moved locations in 1967. The space lay abandoned until 1969, when former FIU president Chuck Perry and three other individuals began holding meetings in a control tower, creating the vision for the school. FIU officially opened in 1972. That control tower is now known as the Ivory Tower and is the only reminder of the airport’s former home. Miami Executive Airport is one of the busiest airports in the state and even houses an aviation museum, Wings Over Miami. Fun fact: One of Miami’s early aviation schools, the Kendall Flying School, started out at that airport in 1955. Even cooler, it was owned and operated by Mary Gaffaney, a well-known aerobatics champion.

U.S. 1 & 126–128th Streets & Miami Serpentarium (1947-1984)

The Serpentarium is one of Miami’s most beloved lost attractions. Home to snakes and snake shows, you couldn’t miss the building, since it featured a 35-foot hooded concrete cobra out front. Snake lover, Bill Haast, was the mastermind behind it all. A snake handler and scientist, he spent his life developing and promoting the theory that venom could treat a number of diseases including lupus and Parkinson’s. At its height, the facility housed 500 snakes. Haast lived to be 100 years old, and throughout his life, he injected himself weekly with his own cocktail of venom. He closed the Miami Serpentarium after a fatal accident involving a young child and a crocodile. He eventually opened a private research facility in Punta Gorda, Florida in 1990 to continue his work. Since that time, the population in the area has increased dramatically. The land features a number of strip malls and Anacapri Italian Market & Restaurant, McDonald’s, and Mitch’s Westside Bagels. There are no snakes in sight.

A few more interesting places from Miami’s past …

In 2013, the ever-expanding HistoryMiami acquired the old Miami Art Museum space, doubling their exhibition capacity. The site on which the EPIC Hotel stands is the former home of the DuPoint Plaza Hotel (1957-2004) and even further back in time; it made up part of the land on which the Royal Pam Hotel once stood. On Lincoln Road, the Lincoln Theatre was converted into an H&M, while the Van Dyke Café is now home to Lululemon Athletica. For foodies, Wet Paint Café, where Chef Douglas Rodriguez got his start, is now another popular restaurant, Meat Market, and Norman Van Aken’s Mundo World Café & Market is Yard House at Village of Merrick Park. Nightlife connoisseurs will remember Transit Lounge in the Blackbird Ordinary space and Electric Pickle was previously Circa 28.

By Mandy Baca
Mandy Baca is a Miami native and freelance writer, who is obsessed with her city. She is also the author of The Sizzling History of Miami Cuisine: Cortaditos, Stone Crabs and Empanadas, Discovering Vintage Miami, and the upcoming Cuban Cuisine from South Florida.