50 Images That Show What Miami's Past Was Like
Miami is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with a population of nearly 500,000 people. Those people all come from different walks of life and it is reflected in the city as you can see tons of culture and diversity. However, this coastal metropolis didn't always start off that way, like many cities, Miami had its humble beginnings and it took a while for the city to become what it is now. If you would like to get a glimpse into Miami's past, scroll through this gallery and check out what the early days of Miami looked like.
Miami Car Hops in 1952
According to reports from the time, 1952s Miami was a wild place with lots of activities. The Miami Herald reported the burgeoning trend then in which local drive-in restaurants would hire scantily dressed young ladies in order to attract customers.
It became something like a race to see who could hire ladies with the briefest shorts and tightest wears. The paper reported that about seven-eights of the drive-in restaurants were known to have carhops or curb girls going between the kitchen and the car.
Early 20th Century Miami Airport
The first recorded flight from the Miami International Airport happened in September 1928 when Capt. Edwin Musick took off from what was still a dirt runway at the time. With him was 340 pounds of mail and two passengers all headed for the West.
The airport came to be as a result of Pan American Airways moving its operations to Miami from the West. The airport was transformed rapidly after then; the dirt runway became two runways, two hangars were created, and a modern terminal was constructed. Here you can see a picture of some of the first passengers getting ready for their trips.
Matheson Hammock Park
The Matheson Hammock Park was created in 1930 as a result of the pioneer Matheson family’s donation of 85 acres of hardwood land off the Old Cutler Road to Dade County. The Matheson family intended for the beautiful tropical land to be used for the enjoyment and benefit of the public.
It was supposed to be a botanical park that would be protected and preserved in a wild condition. The Matheson Hammock Park is the oldest park in the county, and one of the largest as it covers 629 acres of land.
Apparently, reading books was a major pastime for people in 1920s Miami. The city had a lot of bookmobiles then; it all began in 1928 when the first bookmobile in Miami began. Soon after the first bookmobile began, many more erupted and they became the conveyers of books and culture for many people in the suburbs and outlying areas.
At a point in the 1970s, there were roughly 20 bookmobiles spread out all over Dade County. Hundreds of thousands of books were read off bookmobiles then. Here is an example of what then bookmobiles looked like, although they look a bit small, they held lots of books.
The Orange Bowl Parade
The first Orange Bowl was held in Miami in January 1936 as part of a festival created to attract tourists and provide support for the University of Miami football team. The parade was moved from Biscayne Boulevard to Southwest 12th Avenue in its second year, as it became an annual tradition that was only broken up by World War II.
The first Orange Bowl Parade featured eight bands and twenty-six floats, but the parade wasn’t televised until 1949 when WTVJ did the broadcast. The Orange Bowl is still held today as part of the college football bowl games, although as you can imagine, it has become a much bigger event.
Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach
In 1972, the Democratic and Republican national conventions were both held at Miami Beach; that was the last time both conventions were hosted in one city. The Democratic Convention was a four-day event held in July; it was relatively tranquil as only two people were injured, and two others were arrested.
The Democrats spiced up the convention by bringing several celebrities such as Henry Fonda and Shirley MacLaine with them to Miami. Senator George McGovern’s acceptance speech wouldn’t be delivered until 3 a.m however. To this day Miami is considered a Democratic city with roughly 53% of its population voting Democrat.
Miami Shores Village
The Miami Shores Village was founded in 1932 and is home to about 3,000 homes and 11,000 residents, a lot of which are historic. The story of Miami Shores began in the years characterized by destruction after the Civil War; the then lieutenant governor of Miami, William Gleason, settled in the region that became known as Miami Shores.
Gleason called the area Biscayne and it served as the Dade County and County Commission home for a while then. You can see from the tropical skyline and clear view that the village was stunning even then, and has only risen in beauty since.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park is a 1.5-million-acre wetland preserved in Florida that is closed off to real estate developers but can be accessed by curious visitors and tourists at any time. The park is home to some stunning views and natural environments that are hard to find nowadays.
It also holds dozens of species of wading birds and is also home to the American alligator and crocodile. The park was made a protected national park in December 1947 and President Harry S Truman was there to dedicate the park at the ceremony.
Miami’s Women’s Club
Since the Miami Women’s Club was created as "The Married Ladies’ Afternoon Club" in 1900, Women’s clubs have had a significant impact on the socio-cultural life in Miami. In the beginning, the Miami Women’s Club was located at Flagler Street but in 1925, its location was soon changed to Bayshore Drive overlooking Biscayne Bay, which is its current location.
The gatherings at the clubs generated quite the buzz over the years so The Miami Herald would often document these events. The clubs functioned with a heavy emphasis on improving daily living in South Florida. Here you can see their old meeting building in Flagler Street that has since been abandoned.
Miami City Hall
Miami City Hall wasn’t always Miami City Hall because it was originally built as a worldwide flying-boat terminal by Pan American Airlines in 1934. However, it was sold to the city of Miami in 1946, after which it was converted to Jackie Heller’s Dinner Key Terrace restaurant for a while.
It was eventually converted to the Miami City Hall in 1954; shortly after it became City Hall, the gigantic globe of the planet was transferred to the Museum of Science where it would become more useful.
Miami’s Dadeland Mall was launched in October 1962. The Mall is located on Kendall Drive, and it was known as deadland because North Kendall Drive, which lies in front of the mall was known as the Road to Nowhere. The Dadeland Mall was constructed as an open-air strip center.
It measured 400,000 square feet and was home to its only anchor Burdines, and about 61 other merchants as well. However, Dadeland soon became a thriving retail outlet as a result of the explosive population growth in the city and the construction of affordable tract housing.
The Dinner Key Auditorium
What is now known as the Dinner Key Auditorium served another purpose entirely at first; it used to be the seaplane base for the Pan American World Airways at the south end of 27th Avenue but it was converted to the Dinner Key Auditorium in the early 1950s.
The place went from being a plane base to being an auditorium and exhibition hall that people remember for the hugely popular concert of Jim Morrison in 1969. The concert wasn’t made popular by an exceptional performance by Morrison, but because he got arrested after exposing himself to the crowd.
Miami’s Parrot Jungle
The Parrot Jungle was launched in the region now known as Pinecrest in 1936. The jungle is a symbol of the tropical and exotic landscapes in Miami; it came to be as a result of Frank Scherr’s decision to rent 20 acres of cypress and oak hammocks to open a tourist attraction.
In the beginning, Scherr charged people 25 cents to be admitted into his attraction where lush gardens and brightly-colored birds awaited them. It became a tradition for children to visit the Gardens for many years, and tourists also got to take photos with attractive birds.
Miami City Ballet
The inaugural opening of the Miami City Ballet was held at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in 1986. The event was sold-out, and the audience got to enjoy thrilling works of George Balanchine such as Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Allegro Brillante.
The company had been founded by Toby Ansun and Edward Villella in 1985, and it has grown leaps and bounds since. The Miami City Ballet has since performed in New York, Washington D.C., and even Paris, France. To date, the City Ballet remains an important piece of city culture but looks much different now than what you see in this picture.
Veteran’s Village in Miami was born as a result of the attempts of a Miami American Legion Post to address the shortage of housing for military members and their families. They started by re-opening the World War II houses on the field now known as Miami International Airport in 1946.
They offered families 16 feet by 16 feet wooden huts without cooking facilities or water for $20 a month. The conditions in the village weren’t exactly ideal so newspapers soon caught up and people gradually moved away; the village was empty again by 1947.
Ronald Reagan’s Visit to Miami
It is quite likely that Ronald Reagan took a liking to the city of Miami in the early 1980s as he visited the city twice; first in 1982 and then again in 1983. During his first visit in 1982, the U.S. Coast Guard Vessel that conveyed him to the city was docked just outside Miami.
He left it with a souvenir hat on his head, and in 1983, he visited the Little Havana neighborhood and was welcomed with open arms by the Cuban community in Miami. Reagan’s hard stance on drugs and comments on the regime in Cuba earned him lots of supporters in the city.
The Floating Homes of South Florida
South Florida was home to the floating homes in the 20th century, homes that were made popular by free spirits on the hunt for incredible views and an aquatic living in South Florida’s many tranquil communities. We know this sounds like a bad idea, but with the calm waters in Miami, it actually worked.
This type of home was quite popular in the 1960s, and one name most often associated with their popularity in the 60s was Travis McGee, a romantic detective who lived in a houseboat and therefore popularized them. However, floating homes became less popular in the 1970s for environmental reasons.
The Seaboard Railroad
The Seaboard Railroad played a crucial role in the organization of business activities in the 1920s. The station responded to the insufficiency of Henry Flagler’s East Coast tracks in handling all business activities by building new stations.
The best thing about the railway was its timing, as it arrived at the perfect moment to bolster the economic growth of the city of Miami; it provided the first rail link between the West and East coasts of Florida bringing in people and everything they might need.
Miami’s Wynwood Neighborhood
The Wynwood neighborhood of Miami is one of the hippiest neighborhoods in all of Miami and is also a kind of local arts summit. The neighborhood also bears some historical significance as it was known as the golden gate for immigrants of Latin American origin.
The neighborhood was thriving with economic activity and was, therefore, home to several factories in the 1950s but by the mid-1960s, most of the middle class moved out. By the 1970s, the garment district of the neighborhood had become a major tourist attraction.
The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel
Here we can see The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, in all its glory still rocking the older Miami Vice color. The Hotel opened in 1930 and eventually was renamed Carlyle Hotel and became a combination luxury apartment hotel as opposed to just being a hotel.
Unfortunately, the Hotel has since been painted all white to keep up with the times, but we have to say, it looks much better in the old school light blue and pink paint. The building was an Art Deco-style building and was named after Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish essayist.
The Coral Gables area of Miami is home to several city landmarks and it was also the first Miami-Dade municipality to pass a historic preservation ordinance. The founder of the city, George Merrick, did a great job in creating the city by meticulously planning and designing what was his dream village.
He drew inspiration from the Mediterranean style of fountains, public buildings, and beautiful plazas. In the 1920s there was a lot of real estate interest in Miami, so Coral Gables was created in 1925. You can see how uniformed the houses looked during this time as well.
Miami’s Bayfront Park was built in 1925. You wouldn’t be wrong to call the park the home of beauty; it is home to lots of flowering gardens and sufficient trees. As a result of the beauty and tranquility of the park, it quickly became a spot for political speeches and activities, and it soon became a tourist attraction as well.
At a point, the park even had its own fishing piers, a bandshell, and a public library, none of which still exist today. The concerts at the bandshell attracted lots of tourists. If you took a trip to the park and looked at this picture, the park would be unrecognizable as it has since added lots of new buildings and venues.
Miami’s Bowling Culture
Between 1960 to the mid-1990s, South Florida became an international bowling hub due in part to the 1967 ABC Bowling Tournament held in the Miami Beach Convention Center; that event attracted tens of thousands of bowlers from across the country to Miami.
However, bowling had been a big deal in the city even before then, as the Bird Bowl, which had been opened in 1956, was home to some really good bowling leagues in the South. At one point, the Greater Miami area was home to about 17 bowling centers that hosted 40,000 league bowlers per week.
Miami Beach Wartime Training Center
South Florida became a warzone during World War II courtesy of the Nazi U-boats that invaded the territory and sank some ships off the coastline. In light of this, it was only right that the Miami Beach training center for soldiers be opened in 1942 to make sure the city was protected.
It quickly became one of the biggest officer candidate schools in the country during the Second World War. The war department leased roughly $2,000,000 worth of assets for a meager $6 per annum. As a result of the training program, 85% of the hotel rooms in Miami Beach were taken by members of the armed forces.
South Beach has always been home to neon lights, lots of sun, and models; it is as a result of these that the city’s fortunes have varied wildly over the years. The area gets its charm from the many Art Deco buildings found within it.
These were constructed in the 1930s but they didn’t attract tourists as much as the influx of TV stars like Jackie Gleason who brought attention to the city by using its beautiful palm trees and tropical moon as a backdrop. The city’s renewal kicked off fully in the mid-1980s and it has continued to thrive ever since.
The Bicentennial Park in Miami
The Bicentennial Park is a 35-acre facility located between Biscayne Bay and Biscayne Boulevard, south of the MacArthur Causeway. The facility was scheduled for opening in 1976 but only a third of the project had been completed at that point, and it was opened a year after.
The park was designed by famous landscape architect Edward D. Stone who created it as a special kind of retreat from the pressures of urban life. The park has since been named Maurice A. Ferré Park in order to honor Maurice Ferré who was the mayor of Miami.
The Home of Beauty Pageants
Miami was home to several beauty pageants in the 1960s and 70s; first, the Miss USA pageant was brought to Miami Beach all the way from Long Beach, California by Harold Glasser in 1960. You can really see how different life in Miami was back then, as today these pageants are a lot more reviling, but times back then were more conservative.
Then a spin-off of the original pageant, Miss Universe, was also hosted there; Miss Universe and Miss USA ended up entertaining the world from Miami Beach for eleven years. Ever since then, several pageants and beauty contests have been hosted in and around the city of Miami.
The Webster is a historic Art Deco building that was designed by renowned architect Henry Hohauser in 1939. The Webster was initially built as a hotel and it housed South Beach tourists for many long years but it has since been transformed into fashion boutiques.
The four-story hotel has been modified into a three-story luxury boutique. The vibe of the building remains decidedly Art Deco 40s while it hosts some incredible luxury wears for men and women alike.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Miami
In the 1960s, Miami hosted several members of the civil rights movement as Martin Luther King Jr. moved around Miami organizing and preaching to everyone along the way. As a result, Miami residents celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on the third Monday in January by holding special celebrations and memorial services.
Several city streets, schools, and parks have been named after the activist as a result of his work in combating racial inequality in the city. The annual parade usually features readings from his famous speeches and music. Now, Miami is home to one of the most diverse populations.
The Greynolds Park
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), built the Greynolds Park which was officially opened in March 1936. Renowned landscape architect, William Lyman Phillip, oversaw the task force created to construct the park; together, they constructed bridges, roads, trails, and landscapes.
They also constructed a caretaker’s house, a boathouse, and several restrooms from sturdy oolite. The park is also home to the mound, an elevation that used to be the highest point in Dade County; to date, it remains one of the most important public spaces in Miami Dade county.
The Christmas Tradition in Miami
Different cities make the holidays come alive differently, and Miami’s tropical landscape and lush scenery simply make the holidays better. You can’t argue that Christmas lights look great in the Miami sun and weather; the holiday is also a big deal in the city.
It has been historically celebrated in the city with sleds on green grass, abundant palm trees with lights around them, and reindeer on rooftops. During the holidays, the downtown area of the city is typically decorated as a sort of winter wonderland.
The Miami Book Fair International
The Miami Dade College and a couple of local partners founded the first Miami Book Fair International. The first event took place in 1984, and the fair has grown leaps and bounds since that first event was held.
It has grown from a local book gathering known as Books by the Bay to become the biggest literary festival in the US; the fair routinely takes over sections of Miami’s downtown area. Lots of celebrity authors, literary experts, and politicians have since been hosted at the fair.
Crandon Park Zoo
The Crandon Park Zoo was a popular attraction from the 1950s to the 1980s. The Park Zoo was the place to go for people that wanted to see birds, monkeys, tigers, bears, and a host of other animals housed at the park.
The zoo became the first zoo in the county when it opened in 1948, and it is conveniently located in the 900-acre Crandon Park. Several animals have been purchased, traded, and received as gifts over the years; the zoo even had a small train that carried visitors around its periphery.
Miami’s Lemon City is a neighborhood named after the lemon trees that populated the area. The city hosted some of the oldest schools in the county, including the Lemon City School, and the Lemon City Library.
The Rockmoor Grocery was one of the early markets in Lemon City, and it soon became the first-ever Winn-Dixie store. In 1895, the population of Lemon City was 300 and the place was already home to three general stores, two saloons, a blacksmith, a barbershop, and many more facilities.
Miami’s Barefoot Mailmen
Things were done quite differently in the 19th century for sure, and because there were no smartphones then, mail was quite a big deal. Post Offices were quite important then too but they weren’t quite sufficient for the task.
In the rush of the holiday season, there would often be a scramble to get holiday mail packages delivered so alternative measures were employed in the form of Miami’s legendary barefoot mailmen. These men delivered packages and mail all the way from Biscayne Bay to Lake Worth for only $600 per annum.
The Pioneer City
Miami’s Pioneer City was a western-themed amusement park located in Western Broward County. Unfortunately, the park wasn’t around for a long time, as it was opened in 1966 and closed down some months after.
When the park was built, TV westerns were in their heyday so the park was modeled after them. The park was made as a built-to-scale Dodge City complete with cowboy actors that initiated gunfights at noon, a saloon, and a general store. After the park was closed down, the area became known as Long Key Nature Center.
Christo’s Giant Lily Pads Art Installation
In the early 1980s, Miami witnessed a wave of race riots, violent crime, and a sinking economy. Despite all the gloom, Miami artist, Christo, and his wife decided to dress 11 spoiled islands in the Biscayne Bay with floating pink skirts.
He called it Giant Lily Pads after the pink floating tarps he wrapped around a couple of small islands. At the end of the day, the art installation cost a whopping $3 million but the timing of it was great as it helped attract attention to the city when it needed it.
The First Underwater Park in the US
Bet you didn’t know that Miami was home to the first underwater park in the United States. In the 1950s, the only living barrier reef in the United States was attacked by divers armed with hammers, dynamite, and chisels so they could harvest queen conch and attractive corals for vendors.
A decade later, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park became the first underwater park in the United States. The park was created to help preserve the coral reef, and it was named after the then associate editor of The Miami Herald, John D. Pennekamp.
Miami Marine Stadium
The Marine Stadium in Miami is an architectural marvel located on Biscayne Bay. The place was known for hosting several speedboat races as well as music concerts featuring artists from different parts of the world such as Ray Charles, Jimmy Buffett, and Fela Kuti, the late Afro-pop star.
The stadium is best described as a relentlessly innovative one; it owes that to Hilario Candela, the Cuban exile that designed it. The stadium was designated a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1963.
School Integration in Miami
The Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling by the Supreme Court was effected in 1954 but it wasn’t effective in many states immediately. In Miami for instance, segregation continued for four years until 1959 when the first set of African American students were admitted to the Orchard Villa Elementary School, which before then only had white students.
Liberty City School was also part of the integration story of Miami; four black students walked on the school’s grounds for the first time, and the school gradually became a school for black students. As mentioned earlier, this only helped Miami become one of the most diverse cities in the world.
Meter Maids are basically parking violation officers that go about enforcing parking rules and ensuring compliance. Of the many meter maids in 20th century Miami, Tania Ledesma became quite popular as a South Miami Police meter maid.
The legendary meter maid was known for her work ethic, having been described as the kind to not take breaks after working for several hours non-stop. She also wasn’t fazed by the occasional thunderstorms or the Miami heat, and she simply loved her job. Wonder if the other Meter Maids shared a similar passion.
The Barnacle Historic State Park
The Barnacle Historic State Park is a historic house with a curious name that was built when things were much simpler. The Barnacle was built in 1891, and it offers a peek into the frontier life of the Era of the Bay; back then the only way to get in and out of Miami was by sea.
One of the most influential people in Coconut Grove, Middleton Munroe, called the State Park home; he also preserved the forest around his property, and as a result, lots of gigantic old trees litter the property to this day.
Cape Florida Light
Cape Florida Light is a historic lighthouse in Miami as the oldest structure in the Miami-Dade area. This makes it an important piece of the rich history of Florida; it was erected back in 1825, and has remained standing for roughly two centuries despite several hurricanes, and years of erosion.
Not even an attack by Seminole Native Americans that involved a gun powder and lantern oil explosion could bring the lighthouse down as it still stands to this day. The cultural landmark was originally built to guide sailors around the Florida reef.
The Avalon Hotel
Lots of iconic architecture can be found in South Beach, and discussions of these iconic buildings would be incomplete without the Avalon Hotel. The Avalon was among the first art deco properties to be reconstructed on Miami Beach, as you can see from this picture, for the time, it was considered a beautiful building.
Although it was officially reopened in 1987, the hotel has been in existence for much longer. The Avalon Hotel has always been surrounded by some great shopping spots with bustling sidewalk cafes, art deco buildings, and the wild nightlife of South Florida.
Ocean Drive in Miami
Ocean Drive is one of the most popular areas in Miami; located in South Beach, it is home to the best restaurants, hotels, and bars in Miami Beach. The street’s vibe and atmosphere are great all day every day and apparently, this has been the case for decades.
In this vintage picture, the street was lined with the cars that people drove then with the beautiful buildings standing in the background. Ocean Drive has become one of the Miami boulevards to see courtesy of its art deco gigs, lovely cafes, and more.
Mafia Boss in Miami
Meyer Lansky (right) was a real-life gangster and mafia boss that spent his final years in Miami Beach. Lansky had known ties to organized crime until he died at Miami Beach’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 1983. You can see from this picture how different life in Miami was back then, you had mafia bosses just walking up and down the streets.
Although it was never proven in the courts, the popular belief then was that this man taught the leaders of Miami’s mafia the ins and outs of financial manipulation and how to hide proceeds from gambling and bootlegging. You wouldn’t realize all he was capable of from looking at his small, thin, bowlegged frame.
Miami’s Metrorail Network
At its inception, the Miami Metrorail system was the biggest public works project in the history of Florida. The construction of the Metrorail began in June 1979 but planning for the project had begun in 1958. Here in this picture, you can see how the city looked during its construction.
Two years after construction began on the Metrorail, the estimated budget for the project had gone from $867 million to $987 million as a result of inflation, land costs, and construction costs. The opening of the Metrorail was met with several delays, and when it was eventually opened in May 1984, its train ran for only 11 miles.
Hanging with the Pups
Miami has always been thought of as a chill city, but back in the 90s, the city took chill to a whole other level. Here you can see a man driving down Ocean Drive, South Beach with his dog looking really happy with the cutest hat and sunglasses on to protect his eyes from the sun.
The picture was taken in 1992 and you can see how many people are out and about enjoying their day, while these classic cars are cruising around. The man driving his dog around is definitely getting ready for a fun time as you can see his surfboard in the car ready to be used.
A Now Booming Street
Here you can see an older view of how South Beach used to look, specifically the 1200 Block of Washington Ave. Visitors of this street would easily mistake this for another street as it looks much different today. This building seen in the picture is no longer there and has been replaced by a Chase building.
The street is also much more crowded nowadays since the sidewalks have been redone and it looks like a much nicer place to stroll around. There is also some shopping that can be done in the area now and is now closer to the water, so you are sure to have a good time, unlike this picture that looks like a ghost town.