Italia Spring 2020 Ineffable Miami: Westchester by Cristine Arguelles

B i o g r a p h y

Photo by Nicole Arguelles (CC by 4.0)

Cristine Arguelles is a sophomore at the Florida International University Honors College majoring in Public Relations, Advertising, and Applied Communication (PRAAC). Although majoring in PRAAC, she plans on returning to FIU post-graduation to receive her certificate in Speech and Language Pathology with hopes of one day becoming a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) and achieve her dream of working with children. Apart from becoming an SLP, Cristine dreams of traveling to new places and exploring new cultures.

G e o g r a p h y

Map retrieved from Google Maps

Westchester is an unincorporated community located in Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States. The area is located at 25°44′49″N 80°20′13″W. It makes up the area between southwest 8th Street (also known as Tamiami Trail) south to southwest 40th Street (commonly known as Bird Road) and southwest 97th Avenue east to the Palmetto Expressway.

Westchester, FL (Photo and Edit by Cristine Arguelles)

Westchester is mostly a residential area that offers many things to its residents. It has a nice suburban feel to it filled with restaurants, shops, and more. There are many parks in the area such as Francisco Human Rights Park, Coral Estates Park, Rockway Park and Banyan Park as well as several walking  and bike trails where residents can enjoy themselves and relax. One benefit to Westchester’s geography is that it is right in the middle of Miami and very near the expressway. From Westchester, one may only need to drive 10-20 minutes to reach the malls, the airport, beaches, and other well known neighborhoods.

H i s t o r y

Although not officially established until 2001, the area of Westchester dates back to the late  1800s and early 1900s when Henry Flagler was working on the Florida East Coast Railway. Known as the “Father of Miami,” Flagler created this railway and helped found areas such as Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, and Palm Beach (“Henry Flagler Timeline”). Finally, in 1904, Flagler extended the railway south of Miami to reach the area of Homestead, which sparked the beginning of what we now  call Westchester (“Westchester: Community Background Report”).

The land that makes up Westchester was considered ineligible for the Homestead Act of 1862,  so it was not able to be developed or used in any way. At the time, it was basically a small meadow that would flood when it rained during the season. In order to fix this situation and expand the land, drainage canals were being constructed in 1907 which converted the land that was not inhabited into areas that would be full of houses and buildings in the future (“Westchester: Community Background Report”). Nearly 15 years later this land was ready for development and it was only a matter of time before it became inhabited. Post World War II, the area of Westchester was in high demand for buildings and homes. Many of the soldiers were returning home and in need of houses so the US Veteran’s Association offered low interest financing (“Westchester: Community Background Report”). This led to a quick spike of inhabitants in the area and constant development. Eventually, in 2002, the area of Westchester was officially established. Today, it is a great and very central area to live in filled with homes, offices, restaurants, shops, and more.

D e m o g r a p h i c s

According to the 2010 census, the population in Westchester was 29,862 people. The ethnic population is made up of people who are mostly hispanic and white. 93.78% of residents are White. Of this percentage, 13.7% are Non-Hispanic White while 85.31% of the population is Hispanic or Latino. Westchester is also made up of 0.61% African Americans, 0.51% Asians,  and 0.04% Native Americans. 2.81% of the population comes from other races, and 2.23% from two or more races (Wikipedia). The median age is 43 years and the majority of the population is composed of females rather than males. For every 100 females, there are 87.2 males. The annual per capita income is $17,264, with this 11.8% of the population falls below the poverty line. (Wikipedia)

Biography of Maria Arguelles (a Westchester resident)

Photo by Cristine Arguelles

Maria Arguelles, 52,  has been living in Miami since 1974 when her and her family moved here. She has been living in the area of Westchester since 1999, after having lived in Hialeah, Kendall, and Doral. Currently, Ms. Arguelles works as a School Psychologist with Miami-Dade Public Schools, a position she has held since 1993. 

Maria’s opinions on Westchester: 

Cristine: What is your favorite thing about Westchester?

Maria: I really enjoy how central the location is. It allows easy access to major highways which are essential for transportation. 

Cristine: What is your least favorite thing about Westchester?

Maria: My least aspect of Westchester is that some of the homes and buildings are outdated and need to be modernized. 

Cristine: Overall, do you enjoy living in the area?

Maria: Absolutely! It has been very convenient for me. 

Cristine:  If there was one thing you could change about Westchester, what would it be?

Maria:  I would change the age group, it tends to be mostly filled with the older generations. I would also like to change the homes and buildings to be more aesthetic and modern.

L a n d m a r k s

“WELCOME TO WESTCHESTER” Sign

“Welcome to Westchester” Sign (Photo by Cristine Arguelles)

Located on Bird Road, just west of the Palmetto Expressway, this landmark marks the official entrance to Westchester. Having been placed several years ago, this sign is an important landmark to the area and a great way for people to be welcomed to the neighborhood.

Youth Fair Statue

Youth Fair Statue (Photo by Cristine Arguelles)

Every year for the past 61 years, the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair takes place in Westchester. The Youth Fair, ranked as the largest fair in Florida, is typically recognized by the statues located at the entrance of the fair on Coral Way and 107th Ave. and is often seen by anyone who lives or drives by the area of Westchester. The 15 foot sculpture depicts a family holding hands while taking a stroll and is the perfect way to greet visitors as they enter the Youth Fair.

This wonderful sculpture, despite its importance and lengthy existence, does not have a plaque stating who the artist is or information as to how or why it was created, surprisingly enough. A few years ago, however, some information was discovered regarding this landmark. It all began when Alexander Okum designed the logo of the family of three holding hands. A few years later in the late 1980s, Ramon Lago, a 3-D sculptor, was contacted to transform Okum’s logo into the large sculpture that is now used at the entrance of the Youth Fair years later and remains an essential part of Westchester. 

“The Whale” Church

“The Whale” (Photo by Cristine Arguelles)

When visiting Westchester, it is likely that one may come across La Primera Iglesia Bautista de Coral Park (The First Baptist Church of Coral Park), commonly known as “The Whale.” Located at the corner of 16th St. and 87th Ave., this church is a well-known landmark belonging to Westchester whose whale-like structure (hence the nickname “The Whale”) cannot be missed. In 1972, before it officially became a church, the First Baptist Church of Coral Park was used as the Hispanic department of Coral Park Baptist Church and its pastor, Rev. Kenneth Gaskin, at the time (“Coral Park: History”). About 5 years later, on June 5th, 1977, it officially became a church. 

Today, this church has grown to become a family of Christians that worship God, preach the gospel, learn about Christian life and service in the world. Their worship is characterized as conservative as they use choirs, psalms, and traditional hymns to praise the Lord. Their services, given in both Spanish and English, are aimed towards people of all ages and at any stage of life: children, youth, marriages, adult singles, and the elderly. The church seeks to aid these people in their spiritual and life development (“What is Our Church Like?”). Having been around for several years now, “The Whale” still remains a prominent landmark to Westchester. 

G r e e n

One perk that Westchester provides to the public is a lot of greenery where residents or visitors can enjoy themselves and the great outdoors. Some of the parks in the area include the following:

Francisco Human Rights Park

Francisco Human Rights Park (Photo by Cristine Arguelles)

Located on Coral Way and 94th Ave., Francisco Human Rights Park is a small park in the West Dade Regional Library. This park has lots of open grass, benches, picnic areas, and a small playground for children. It is a family-friendly park that allows parents to enjoy a picnic and relax while their children enjoy the tot lot.

Coral Estates Park

Coral Estates Park is located right next to Coral Park Elementary School on 14th St. and 97th Ave. This is one of the larger parks in the area. It includes a few soccer fields, tennis courts, a playground, grass area and a gazebo. It even has its own soccer and tennis clubs that children can join.

Rockway Park

Rockway Park Entrance (Photo by Cristine Arguelles)

Rockway Park offers several amenities to Westchester’s residents and visitors. Besides being a regular park with greens and playgrounds, Rockway Park also has a public pool where they offer swim lessons to boys and girls of all ages including adults. Rockway Park also offers out of school and after school programs as well as summer camp to families with children. This is a great resource offered to people living in the area who may not have access to daycares or other camps during the summer.

Banyan Park 

Banyan Park is located near 87th Ave. across Christopher Columbus High School. There are not  many amenities to this park besides a playground and a large patch of grass which is useful for fun events and sporting activities. There is a sidewalk  in the park which can be used for visitors to stroll around, bike ride, jog, etc. 

T r a n s p o r t a t i o n

According to research collected in 2017, the amount of people that use public transportation in Westchester has decreased over the years. The most common form of transport is driving alone (83.9%), followed by carpooling (9.24%). A portion of the remaining percentage, about 3.54%, worked at home and did not need access to transportation (“Data USA: Westchester”).

Although most people own cars and drive themselves to and from places, public transportation is still offered in Westchester. Miami-Dade County offers a mass transportation system, the Miami-Dade Transit which assigns several buses to different areas within Miami-Dade. Buses number 8, 24, 40, and 87 serve Westchester specifically. These buses mostly travel on main roads such as 8th St., Coral Way, and 87th Ave. Tickets for the bus typically start at $2.25 per trip. There are several bus stops in the area where people can hop on and off and travel to different areas. 

F o o d

Frankie’s Pizza

Frankie’s Pizza (Photo by Cristine Arguelles)

Frankie’s Pizza, a famous mom-and-pop shop on Bird Road, serves delicious and fresh pizza on the daily. The pizzeria is named after Frank B. Pasquarella, who founded this shop after honeymooning in Miami with his wife, Doreen, and noticed that Miami had a lack of pizzarias. This local business, known as Miami’s oldest pizzeria, originally opened in 1955 near the University of Miami. Two years later, however, they relocated to the current location and have been there ever since. 

Today, Frankie’s Pizza is run by the Pasquarella sisters, Roxanne and Renee, who took over the business when Frank became ill. Everything is made from scratch everyday: the tomato sauce, dough, and cheese. The team puts in a lot of hard work and dedication into making great quality pizza for their customers and keeping their parents’ original recipe of the pizza. Having been open for over 15 years, Frankie’s Pizza still remains an essential part of the Westchester community. 

Arbetter’s

Arbetter’s (Photo by Cristine Arguelles)

Arbetter’s is a local business that serves hot dogs with their own twist, corn dogs, french fries, tots, onion rings, and more. Popularly known for its “World’s Greatest Chili Dogs,” this local restaurant has been around since 1959. The founder, Robert  “Bob” Arbetter, always dreamt of opening up his own hot dog stand since his father would always take him to one after school in Massachusetts to watch the Boston Red Sox. Thus, Arbetter’s was born. Bob and his wife, Flaminia Arbetter, always loved serving fresh and great food to their customers, which made Arbetter’s extremely successful until this day. 

Today, the shop continues to be a family run enterprise. From nephews, to children, to his wife,  and extended family, Bob and everyone included keep Arbetter’s up and running with hundreds of customers daily. They are hard workers who serve delicious and fresh food. Their goal is to open up one hundred Arbetter’s restaurants in the country over the next five years. 

B u s i n e s s e s

Westchester Animal Hospital

Westchester Animal Hospital (Photo by Cristine Arguelles)

Westchester Animal Hospital is a local business in Westchester that provides veterinary services to all pets at an affordable price. This hospital, established in 1967, began as a small business not providing many services, but since then has grown into a full veterinary hospital. This is a great place for residents to take their pets for any service such as boarding, grooming, preventative care, medical services and more. With a caring and dedicated staff, this animal hospital provides great care to all their visitors. 

Miami Iron Gym

Miami Iron Gym (Photo by Cristine Arguelles)

Miami Iron Gym is a local 24 hour gym with an old-school feel to it. This gym opened in 2015 by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Jorge Vazquez and Albert Rodriguez. Vazquez and Rodriguez were looking for an old-school lifting gym once their favorite local gym was bought out by YouFit. This gym is targeted towards bodybuilders who bench press over 400 pounds. Heavy metal music is played throughout the gym that is filled with 8,000 pounds of iron. This local business is a great place to stay fit and gain muscle. 

S u m m a r y

When people typically think of Miami, Westchester is usually not what comes to mind. People automatically think of the beaches and the tall skyscrapers. What people do not realize, however, is the strong Cuban influence Miami has. In this way, Westchester encompases Miami’s true Cuban culture. Over the years there has been a huge influx of Cubans as they immigrate from Cuba. Westchester seems to be one of the main places they settle, thus the hispanic community is extremely large. From Cuban cuisine to cuban traditions to spanish speaking residents, Westchester is one of the few places in Miami that truly embodies the Hispanic culture.

Westchester seems to be the perfect middle ground for family life, city life, and recreation. Although an older neighborhood, it is very clean and well kept which makes living in the area much more pleasing. Aside from the cleanliness, Westchester also offers a lot to its residents.  Whether it is a park, local restaurant, or shop, I can guarantee you will always find something to do in the area. It is very family friendly with many activities and areas designated to parents and children. Being that Westchester has a nice suburban feel to it, it is also the perfect place to escape the hectic city life that is offered in other Miami neighborhoods while still having things to do on the daily.

I truly enjoyed taking the time to learn about Westchester. Having lived here my whole life, I had never realized how great an area it is and all the amenities it offers to its residents. Being Cuban myself I can definitely see the Hispanic influence in the area, but this is part of what makes Westchester, Westchester. It is a calm neighborhood with an extremely central location, which  makes living here even more pleasant. I would definitely recommend anyone to live in or visit the area! 

W o r k s C i t e d

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

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

“QUIENES SOMOS.” Primera Iglesia Bautista De Coral Park, coralpark.org/quienes-somos/.

RomanSpecial, Rodolfo. “Dream Come True: Firefighters Open Hardcore Heavy-Lifting Gym.” Miamiherald, Miami Herald, 28 July 2015, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/west-miami-dade/article29177923.html.

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.” Miami Gated Communities, 12 Oct. 2017, http://www.miamigatedcommunities.com/westchester/.

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

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

Leave a Reply