France Ineffable Miami: Westchester by Ana Estevez

Student Biography

Photo by Anne Mejias (CC by 4.0)

My name is Ana Estevez. I am a junior in the Honors College, majoring in Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies. I ultimately hope to go to graduate school and obtain my PhD in Psychology. I was born in Cuba, but most of my experiences and memories come from my time in Miami, mainly Westchester. I appreciate the opportunity to look deeper into a suburb that I have called home for so many years, and will soon be leaving.

Westchester

Geography

Westchester is a suburb of Miami-Dade County that runs west of southwest 77th avenue up until southwest 97th avenue. From south to north, it is located between southwest 40th street, or Bird Road, and southwest 8th street. However, many locals would dispute these borders, as they are not strictly defined by its residents. Its coordinates are 25°44′49″N 80°20′13″W and is about 4 square miles total.  Multiple main streets reside in Westchester, including Bird road, Coral way, and 8th street, as well southwest 97th, 87th, and 77th avenues. It also borders the Palmetto Expressway (or 826) and is near the Florida turnpike (or 821).

Westchester is a very residential area, which is home to many small businesses, unique places to eat, chains, as well as Miami classics. The flora mainly consists of palm trees scattered all around the city, and whatever you can find at a typical park. There a number of local schools in this area, such as Rockway Elementary and Middle School, Columbus Senior High, and Southwest Miami Senior High. There isn’t much of a night life scene, as it is a quiet suburb mainly composed of families. It is also very central to the rest of Miami, as it has easy access to the turnpike and expressway.

History

Westchester got its start when Henry Flagler, who is responsible for being the development of much of Miami, extended the Florida east Coast Railway from Miami to Homestead. However, Westchester was not deemed suitable for habitation at this time due to concerns of flooding in what used to be mostly swamp land. It was not a part of the Homestead act of 1862 and did not receive funding for development for these reasons. In the early 1900s, federal legislation finally approved Westchester for development and these lands were reclaimed. The installation of drainage canals allowed for the land to dry enough to build upon. Thus, by the early 1920’s, the area that we now call Westchester was born. It experienced a boom in residency right after World War II, when the United States had been experiencing and economic boom right after the grueling Great Depression. Veterans from the war bought houses in Westchester due to their access to low-interest financing, and Westchester became closer to being what we know it as today.

Until 2002, Westchester was unestablished and unincorporated. The residents of this area began seeking incorporation in the 90s, when they started feeling like they were paying too much in taxes for what they were getting back. They eventually received the recognition they aimed for in the very early 2000s. Westchester is now a fully developed neighborhood, and a prosperous one at that compared to the greater Miami area. It is currently undergoing another boom to due the establishment of Florida International University and its increasing success every year. Although FIU is not technically within Westchester’s borders, it has been a huge influence on the increasing real estate prices, lowering poverty levels, and increasing job availability within Westchester.

Demographics

The most recent data from 2017 shows that Westchester is home to approximately 30,500 people. 64.3% of residents were born outside of the United States, which is a significant amount. The extreme majority of the population is Hispanic or Latinx (92.3%), followed by White Alone (6.36%0, Asian Alone (0.58%), Two or More Races (0.338%), African Americans (0.262%), American Indian and Alaska Native (0.144%), and 0% of any other races. The most common nationalities are Cuban (951,787) by far, followed by Haitian (321,904), then Mexican (272,262). 78.1% of Westchester residents are American citizens, which is lower than the national average at 93.2%. The average age of native-born residents is 25, while the average of foreign-born residents is 55. The overall average in 2016 was 45.

Resident Interview

By Anne Mejias, CC by 4.0

Raul Estevez was born in Cuba in 1971 and moved to the United States in 2007 in search for a better life. He has lived in Westchester for 13 years and is very fond of the neighborhood. He is a self-employed information technician, husband, and my father.

(This interview is translated to English)

Why did you move to Westchester?

Life really led us to Westchester. We had to move to Miami from Cuba, and we had a relative that owned a house in Westchester. He rented it to us for much cheaper than we were going to find anywhere else. We heard that it was a good neighborhood with good schools, and it was nearby the rest of our family that also lived in the United States at the time.

What is your favorite thing about Westchester?

It’s a very central place in Miami. It’s close to many different neighborhoods, different places to eat, and it’s a nice place for a family. There are also many other Cubans which made the transition to the United States much easier.

What would you change about Westchester?

The living cost of the neighborhood keeps increasing which has made us look to buy a home elsewhere. The traffic has also increased over the years and made driving more difficult, especially around March when the County Fair opens up.

What makes Westchester, Westchester?

The people. Westchester is like Cuba away from Cuba. You can find authenticity, but also modernity. It has something for anyone, especially people looking to make a home. It’s a combination of all the best parts of Miami and what we used to call home.

Landmarks

Westchester is not the best location for tourists, mainly because of the lack of historical landmarks. However, I have chosen to highlight a few landmarks that, although it doesn’t seem like much, hold significant value to its residents and this neighborhood.

Monument of Ronald Reagan

Photo courtesy of Carlos Enrique, CC by SA 4.0

This statue of 40th president Ronald Reagan is located in Tropical Park. It is mark the park’s equestrian center, hence the horse next to him. It was made by the Cuban sculptor, Carlos Enrique Prado, and revealed in 2018. The commissioner of Miami-Dade, Javier Souto, claimed that this piece was supposed to “represent different things for different people, I personally believe that (the statue) sends a good message, a very clear message of order, seriousness, good relations, and many good things.” I question how the statue of a decisive political figure is supposed to express this message, but I digress. The equestrian center was already named after Reagan, and this statue was meant to represent that.

law enforcement officers memorial

The Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was opened in Tropical park in 1981. It is a memorial to honor all law enforcement officers in Miami-Dade that have fallen in the line of duty. It is a central piece of Tropical Park and one of the first things you see when you enter the park. Four granite walls with the names of all the deceased were built in 2001. 143 names are now etched onto these walls. There is also a 9-11 memorial to honor the law enforcement officers who lost their lives, and a K-9 memorial to honor the 8 police dogs that have lost their lives serving the citizens of Miami-Dade.

Miami-Dade Youth Fair Statue

By Ana Estevez, CC by 4.0

This statue stands marking the location of the Miami-Dade Youth Fair, right by FIU. It is a statue of a mother and her two kids, taking her by the hand, presumably displaying their excitement for being at the fair. it was designed by Alexander Okum and sculpted by Ramon Lago in the late 1980’s. It has recently gotten a “makeover” in the form of vibrant blue, green, and yellow paint.

Green

Blue lakes park

By Ana Estevez, CC by 4.0

Blue lakes park is a small neighborhood park located minutes away from Southwest Miami Senior High. It contains a basketball court, a small playground, and a shelter with picnic benches. Although it doesn’t seem like much, it gets packed after the school day is over by the local high school students playing basketball and hanging out.

tropical park

By Thomas Mencia, CC by 4.0

This is Westchester’s most infamous park, and I can assure you that anyone that has grown up there can list multiple memories they have in it. It is a huge park that holds the possibility for you to do basically anything you’d want to do in a park. It has sports fields from basketball to baseball to tennis to an entire football stadium. There are tracks, an equestrian center, a lake, different playgrounds, group bikes that you can rent for the day, hills to roll down, and I’m sure there are parts of the park that I haven’t even discovered yet. Every Sunday this park is packed with kid’s birthday parties, baby showers, you name it. If you want to enjoy nature but never have to worry about getting bored, this is the park for you.

Transportation

Westchester greatly depends on cars to get around. A whopping 83.9% of residents drove alone as the most common method of transportation in 2017, followed by carpool (9.24%), and then working from home (3.54%). Only 2.7% of residents rely on public transportation, and this has been on a steady decline. The average household owns two cars, since they are so heavily reliant on them for transportation. The average commute time in Westchester is 29.2 minutes. The reliance on cars is probably due to the lack of access to public transportation in Westchester, which is a problem in Miami overall. The only option is the Metrobus, which, many say, aren’t the most reliable. There is a trolley in Sweetwater, which is nearby, but isn’t very convenient to Westchester residents. The nearest metro station is by Dadeland Mall, which is about a 20 minute commute, and it only goes further downtown.

Food

Frankie’s Pizza

By Ana Estevez, CC by 4.0

Frankie’s Pizza is THE place to go if you’re craving Italian food in Westchester. From pasta, to square cut pizzas, salads, delicious garlic rolls, and s selection of desserts, Frankie’s has got it all. Frankie’s is one of the oldest, longest standing businesses in Miami. They opened in 1955, which makes them 65 years old this year. It’s an interesting restaurant because it doesn’t seem like it fits in with the overall vibe of what Westchester is now, but they are still super busy every day and have definitely lasted the test of time.

Dos Croquetas

By Ana Estevez, CC by 4.0

Dos Croquetas, although fairly new, has already become a Westchester staple in my eyes. It symbolizes the growth of Westchester as a neighborhood, as it is a modern take on a classic dish. I have never met anyone that doesn’t love croquetas, and with menu items like “toston preparadas” and “bacon cheeseburger croqueta” how could anyone dislike this eatery? It has received a significant amount of traction in the few years that it has been open, and brought a lot of people to Westchester that wouldn’t have a reason to visit initially. It definitely appeals to the younger population of Westchester and is a great addition to the many classic businesses that call Westchester home.

Arbetter’s Hot Dogs

Photo courtesy of Phillip Pessar, CC by 2.0

Arbetter’s Hot Dogs competes with Frankie’s for how long they have been open, with Arbetter’s trailing behind by just four years. However, it is truly an anomaly to me how a simple hot dog restaurant like this could still be so popular so many years after and still be packed often. Arbetter’s feels entirely like a small mom-and-pop shop, and it really feels like you’re back in 1959 when you step inside. When consulting my fellow Westchester residents for restaurants I should highlight, every single person mentioned this one. If you are a fan of hot dogs, this is the place for you. They have all kinds of toppings you could add, and you even customize your own. They even have vegan hot dogs! The day that Arbetter’s is no longer here, Westchester would lose a big part of it’s soul. Sadly, there is a Nathan’s Hot Dogs opening across the street, and I would hate to see a Miami classic go out of business because of a large chain restaurant.

Businesses

Bird Bowl

By Ana Estevez, CC by 4.o

Every Westchester-an knows that if you’re bored, Bird Bowl is the place to be. Good luck finding a resident that hasn’t been to at least one birthday party at Bird Bowl. Although they provide great bowling for a reasonable price, they also have Billiards, an arcade, and great food. They also have at least one food truck outside at all times. The Bird Bowl sign and colorful exterior has basically become a Westchester landmark at this point. Home to a whopping 60 bowling lanes, Bird Bowl is the place to be on any given weekend, or weekday for some special discounts.

Yesterday & Today Records

By Ana Estevez, CC by 4.0

Yesterday & Today Records is one of the only classic record stores still open. They supply all of the classics, mainly rock, but also many other genres of music. They complete 38 years of being open this year, which is extremely impressive for a store that sells a type of media that was mainly forgotten until recently. With the resurgence of the popularity of vinyl records and CD’s, they have been receiving new clientele and introducing many of the younger generation to a forgotten art. This is a one of a kind business who fulfills a certain need for more stores like it in Miami. As “vintage” clothing, media, and photography become more popular, I hope that more people will begin to see the value in businesses like Yesterday & Today Records.

Miami Twice

Photo courtesy of Phillip Pessar, CC by 2.0

Miami Twice is a boutique that sells a combination of vintage clothing, costumes, modern clothing, jewelry, and more. They are a family business who have been open since the mid 80’s and have also seen a recent resurgence in interest in vintage items. They carry a vast array of items across many different decades and sell truly unique pieces. The great thing about vintage and thrift stores is that no two are the same, and this definitely goes for Miami Twice. The interior is extremely well decorated for a store and it gives you the impression that you are not just merely shopping, it’s a little more glamorous than that. You can get lost in there for hours just looking through their collections. Although this boutique is definitely on the pricier side, you are paying for the whole experience and curated items, which is how this boutique has been so successful throughout so many years.

Summary

Overall, Westchester is a neighborhood I will always love and admire. I spent my formative years there, and I have so many memories of the entire neighborhood. Westchester does not lack culture or character. You can see the history and its development in all the buildings, businesses, restaurants, parks, and people that reside in it. However, with its increasing economic prosperity, which is great for the neighborhood itself, I worry that it will lose some of its character. It has already driven me out of this neighborhood. I would hate to see Arbetter’s turn into Nathan’s, Bird Bowl turn into a generic bowling alley, and Frankie’s into a Pizza Hut. Westchester, like many neighborhoods, is characterized by the popular businesses within it. Without these classic locations, I worry that Westchester will not be Westchester anymore.

Works Cited

“About Us.” ARBETTER HOTDOGS, Dave Arbetter, arbetterhotdogs.com/about-us.html.

“Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.” POAT, poat.org/law-enforcement-officers-memorial/.

McGillicuddy, Dan. “Community Background Report.” Westchester Community Background Report, 1 Jan. 2011, dpantherdev02.fiu.edu/ITIS/CBR/westchester.html.

“Miami Unveils a Statue in Honor of Former President Ronald Reagan.” The Sun Post, 16 Apr. 2018, thesunpost.com/2018/04/16/miami-unveils-a-statue-in-honor-of-former-president-ronald-reagan/.

Scheckner, Jesse, and Jesse Scheckner. “Original Frankie’s Famous Pizza to Celebrate 60 Years, Feb. 14.” Miami’s Community News, 5 Feb. 2015, communitynewspapers.com/kendallgazette/original-frankies-famous-pizza-celebrate-60-years-feb-14/.

“The Youth Fair Landmark by Ramon Lago and Alexander Okum.” Art of Miami, 13 Mar. 2014, artofmiami.com/2014/03/13/the-youth-fair-landmark-by-ramon-lago-and-alexander-okum/.

“Westchester, FL.” Data USA, datausa.io/profile/geo/westchester-fl/.

“Westchester, Florida.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westchester,_Florida.

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