Until 1870, the area that today is known as South Beach was basically unsettled farmland. That year, 160 acres of it was purchased by the Lum brothers for the specific purpose of growing coconuts. It was the daughter of one of the two brothers that named the area “South Beach”. It wasn’t until 1886 that they actually built the first farmhouse. But they, strangely enough, actually left the island in 1894 to a gentleman by the name of John Collins who in turn discovered fresh water and also expanded his parcel all the way up to what is now 67th street.
In 1912, two Miami businessmen, the Lummus Brothers, purchased 400 acres from Collins and they were the first visionaries with the idea of developing the island by building “modest” single family homes. It was Collins who decided that a bridge from Miami to the island would be needed, so with the help of some local resident investors, construction of a bridge began in 1913. As is often the case with such ventures, Collins ran out of money before completion. It was a gentleman by the name of Carl G. Fisher that had the vision of creating a city completely independent of Miami that infused $50,000.00 into the bridge project and the bridge was completed later that year. The “Collins Bridge” was then later replaced by the Venetian Causeway.
Driven by the consolidated efforts between Lummus, Collins and Fisher, the Town of Miami Beach was incorporated in 1915 and the actual land boom began in 1920. With roads such as Collins Avenue, 5th Street, Washington, Ocean Drive all being suitable for automobile traffic, this became a playground for the rich, and perhaps, famous. Notable members of the upper crust such as the Firestones, J.C. Penny, Albert Champion all had mansions built in this area.
Starting in 1964, what really brought Miami Beach into the hearts of so many was this rather “significant” and delightful television personality by the name of Jackie Gleason. Who could forget the this hour of comedy, taped weekly at the Jackie Gleason Theater, and each week Mr. Gleason would broadcast yet another warm, sunny endorsement of Miami Beach.
Miami Beach became a retirement community for many who in their later years wanted to escape the cold and spend the rest of their days enjoying the warm weather, the gentle Atlantic breeze, and the calm swaying of the coconut palms.
Unfortunately, most of these senior citizens lived on modest and fixed incomes and they soon found out that living along the salt waters of the ocean would require much higher maintenance to properties and buildings as would be required further inland, so with the ensuing exodus of not just a few, Miami Beach soon took on a rather run down and ramshackle appearance. In fact, much of the movie “Scarface”, released in 1983, was filmed in Miami Beach. All of the shots requiring run down, ghetto-like sets, with drug infested buildings and neighborhoods, were shot right here in Miami Beach. The reason given by the studio was the “little modification would have to made to create such image”
Not until the late 1980’s did Miami Beach once again rise from her ashes to become one of the most affluent, commercially successful, beautiful, and once again, the playground of the rich and famous. People from literally all over the globe consider South Beach a “must visit”… And they always return, again and again.