MIM Ineffable Miami Spring 2020: North Miami Beach by Gabriela Lastra

Biography

Gabriela Lastra at the Real Alcázar de Sevilla (Photo by Yamilet Cuervo CC by 4.0)

Gabriela Lastra is currently a senior at the Florida International University Honors College, majoring in Criminal Justice and applying to law school. She spent the summer of 2019 traveling in Europe, first on a study abroad trip in Italy with Professor John W Bailly and then on her own in Spain. Having moved to Miami in middle school, she is unfamiliar with much of the local history of both the city and the state and jumped at the opportunity to learn a different facet of it through Professor Bailly’s unique Miami in Miami course. She hopes to continue traveling and never stop learning about all the amazing things that are hidden in all the corners of the world for those who look further than skin deep.

geography

Map of NMB. North Miami Beach, FL: public domain

North Miami Beach (NMB) is often confused with its more famous neighbors Miami Beach and North Miami, but this unique neighborhood has its very own flair. It is located in the northeastern side of the city. Due to its interesting borders, NMB is surrounded by several other neighborhoods: Sunny Isles Beach, Miami Gardens, Aventura, Ojus, Golden Glades, and North Miami. As you can probably tell, defining the borders of NMB is not quite simple. It is roughly bound on the northwest by the Interstate 95 (I-95) and the train tracks and Biscayne Boulevard mark its eastern border.

Despite its name and the sandy images, it brings to mind, NMB does not have much waterfront property. The only water it borders is the 0.3 miles of the intercoastal waterway. North Miami Beach is an urban landscape, with nearly every single plot of land in use in some way and several main streets with dozens of businesses and small residential roads connecting everything. There is not much left of NMB’s natural landscape due to its development. Before everything was urbanized, NMB was home to mangroves and marshes, with Miami’s typical limestone soil. Despite its urban landscape, NMB has been named a Tree City by the Arbor Day Foundation for the past 31 years.

history

The credited founder of North Miami Beach is Captain William H. Fulford of the U.S. Coastal Guard during the Spanish-American War. In 1881 while patrolling the Atlantic Coast, he explored what was then known as Big Snake Creek (now the well known Oleta River). In 1897, Captain Fulford used the Homestead Act to acquire the patent for 160-acres of free land from the federal government under President Grover Cleveland’s administration. The land along the Oleta River was fertile and many farmers settled there to grow peas, beans, sugar cane, and tomatoes. The area was briefly named Ojus, the Seminole word for “plenty”. Though the distance between Captain Fulfords homestead and Ojus was only around a mile, with poor road conditions and the constraints of transportation at the time this distance was not easy to traverse. In the early 1900’s they discovered that the rocky foundations of the area were ideal for road construction and many quarrys were established around the area, which created several small lakes in the area, especially in the Sky Lake area.

Intersection of NE 19th Ave and NE 172nd St (Photo by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

In 1912, Lafe Allen came to South Florida and purchased over 500 acres of land, including Captain Fulfords original lot. He planned to build a perfect city, with 80 foot wide residential streets and 125 foot wide commercial streets. Some of the streets now are laid out according to his plans, with his Fulford Boulevard now known as Northeast 172nd Street and Flagler Boulevard now known as Northeast 19th Avenue.

In the mid 1920’s, Carl Fisher was developing Miami Beach. He wanted to make Miami the winter racing capital of the world and so had the Fulford-Miami Speedway, the fastest speedway in the world, built at the north end of what is todays NE 19th Avenue. The speedway hosted 20,000 spectators at its first and only event before being destroyed by a hurricane in 1926. The hurricane ended the South Florida land boom and devastated the area. In this time of hardship, the local residents came together as the Town of Fulford and were incorporated in 1927 as the City of Fulford. At the time, parts of the beach in Sunny Isles Beach were part of the City of Fulford. In 1931, the state authorized a new charter for the city, renaming it North Miami Beach to capitalize on the growing fame and popularity of Miami Beach. By 1933 there was a council of 5 with a mayor as the capital head. In 1936, renovations began on the Fulford By-the-Sea power plant building on NE 19th Ave and NE 170th St as the new cite of City Hall.

Fulford-Miami Speedway after Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 (State Library and Archives of Florida; public domain)

IN the 1950s and 1960s, the completion of State Road 826 made North Miami Beach much more accessible to Americans in other parts of the country. During the 1980’s the city began to focus on development of the city, beginning to do neighborhood construction improvements in 2000. During this time, the city adopted the motto “Where People Care”.

demographics

Unlike Little Havana or Doral, North Miami Beach has no one overwhelming ethnic majority. It is, much like Miami as whole, an epicenter for people of all backgrounds. As of 2018, the total population of North Miami Beach is 45,887 people. The median age of the residents of the neighborhood is 38.5 years old, with 51.7% being female. The median household income for residents of NMB is $40,316, with men usually earning more. The average male income is $58,931 while the average female income is much lower at $44,078. The largest racial group in NMB is black, with a total black population of around 16,900 people. The second largest demographic is Hispanic or Latino with around 16,700 people. Though Miami has not Little Italy or Chinatown, it should be noted that there is a considerable Asian population in North Miami Beach, with 1,420 Asian residents.

Amanda Velazquez outside her home in North Miami Beach during 2020 quarantine (Photo by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

One resident of North Miami Beach is Amanda Yamilet Velazquez. Amanda is a black Cuban woman and has lived in the neighborhood since 2015, moving here from Coconut Grove in search of safe, and affordable, housing for her large family of 9. “The neighborhood is quiet and calm, with lots of nice little places to eat and its not that far a drive if you want to go to the more touristy areas. But really the neighborhood has a bit of everything you need, its got lots of markets plus the big stores like Publix and little parks every few streets and the community pool. It’s great,” she says. She enjoys living here because though it is not Miami’s most glamorous neighborhood it is well situated, close enough to the beach to still enjoy it without paying beach front prices or getting stuck in beach front traffic.

landmarks

City Hall Building & Julius Littman Performing Arts Theater
City Hall Building/Julius Littman Performing Arts Theater (Photos by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

This beautiful building can be found on NE 19th Avenue and NE 171st St. It doubles as North Miami Beach’s City Hall as well as the Julius Littman Performing Arts Theater. The Littman Theater is owned and operated by the City of North Miami Beach. The building was formerly a basketball stadium known as Victory auditorium. It was purchased by the city and renovated, opening its doors as the North Miami Beach Cultural Center in 1994. In 2004, the City recognized Councilman Julius Littman, without whom the Theater would not be there, by renaming it in his honor.

Fulford-By-the-Sea Monument

Located at the intersection of NE 23rd Ave and NE 172nd St, the Fulford-By-the-Sea Monument was built in 1925 by the Fulford-By-the-Sea Company. It was meant to be one of 5 similar fountains placed at the access points to the development. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 and the subsequent end of the Florida land boom meant that the other 4 fountains were never built. The fountain was added to the National Register of Historic Places as Fulford by the Sea Entrance on November 29, 2010. Now it features as the central image on the seal and flag of North Miami Beach.

The Ancient Spanish Monastery & Church of St. Bernard de Clairvaux
Ancient Spanish Monastery (Photos by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

The Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux began construction in 1133 AD near Segovia, Spain and was completed 1141 AD. After almost 700 years of use, the Monastery’s Cloisters were sold and converted into a granary and stable. In 1925 William Randolph Hearst bought the buildings and had them dismantled into over 11,000 boxes and shipped to the United States. Unfortunately he went bankrupt soon after and the crates stayed in a warehouse in Brooklyn, New York for 26 years until they were once again purchased and finally assembled. It was once again purchased in 1964 by Colonel Robert Pentland who presented it to the Bishop of Florida. Now it is the active congregation of the Church of St. Bernard de Clairvaux and holds services in both English and Spanish.

GREEN

Greynold’s Park

Greynold’s Park is one of the largest parks in North Miami Beach, with several children’s playgrounds, picnic and barbeque areas, volleyball courts, and lots of little trails for a walk through nature. Originally a quarry owned by A. Q. Greynold’s, the Miami-Dade County Parks department made a deal for 110 acres of land to turn into a park in exchange for dedicating it the MR. Greynold’s. It was dedicated in 1936, making it the second oldest park in Miami-Dade County. Entrance to the park is free for everyone.

Snake Creek Park
NMB Parks and R.E.C. Mural at Snake Creek Park (Photo by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

This small park along the Royal Glades Canal can be found behind the North Miami Beach Public Library. It is host to the Senator Gwen Margolis Amphitheater and sits next to the Patricia A. Mishcon Athletic Field. The park is one of several nestled along the paved walkway that borders the canal, dotted with benches and exercise stations where residents can come to enjoy the fresh air and all the cute little ducks waddling around.

TRANSPORTATION

NMB Line Route Map

North Miami Beach offers two methods of public transportation. The first is the NMB Line, which are free trolleys that run throughout the city of North Miami Beach. The trolleys run 6 days a week, the only day not running being Sunday, and offer 4 different routes. They also offer real time updates on their free NMB Transit app. The trolleys are air conditioned and also have security cameras for rider safety.

The second method of public transit is the Miami Dade Transit Bus system. Of the numerous routes that take you all over Miami-Dade County, 17 of them take you to and around North Miami Beach. Unfortunately, the lack of Metrorail’s and other more efficient means of public transportation in the area means that most people rely on personal vehicles and traffic on the major roads can be a nightmare.

FOOD

NMB is host to a variety of cultures and the food in the area reflects this perfectly. There are a myriad of different restaurants, cafes, and shops for any taste. There are a handful of Kosher grocery shops and restaurants in the area around NE 183rd St, where the Skylake Synagogue is located, and a variety of Latin restaurants from countries all over Latin America. I could really go one forever about all the delicious places there are to grab a bite, but I’ll walk you through some of my personal favorites, recommended to me by some of the locals.

El Rinconcito Argentino
El Rinconcito Argentino Bakery (Photo by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

This little bakery is definitely one of my favorites. With its decorations of my favorite Argentinian soccer team, River Plate, and its friendly staff it was already winning me over before I even tried the food. The empanadas come in a variety of options and are all delicious and freshly baked every day. Their balcarce cakes and other traditional Argentinean pastries I tried are all excellent, authentic, and fresh. It is a little corner of Argentina hidden in Miami.

Pho Mi 2Go
NMB Vietnamese Restaurant Pho Mi 2GO (Photo by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

This is another of those little hidden gems, the kind that I like best. Pho Mi 2Go is a small Vietnamese restaurant about one block up from the Ancient Spanish Monastery. It is family owned and operated, with a small but delicious menu. The locale is small with only a handful of tables, but the pho soup is worth the drive no matter what part of the city you live in. If you don’t want to dine in, you can order over the phone and pick up your food to enjoy it at home.

Blue Marlin Fish House
Historic Blue Marlin Fish House. Miami New Times: public domain

While not my favorite of the bunch as I am not very big on seafood, the Blue Marlin Fish House cannot be left off the list. The restaurant opened its doors as the Blue Marlin Smoke House in 1938 when it also doubled as a trading post for local fishermen. It was reopened once in 2005 by Florida Parks as Blue Marlin Fish House and is once again reopening in 2020 under new management as the Blue Marlin Fish House Restaurant & Adventures.

BUSINESSES

The Mall at 163rd
Mall at 163rd Main Entrance (Photo by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

The Mall at 163rd Street was the first regional mall in Florida when it opened its doors in 1956. At the time it was open to the air and boasted many shoppers. The Mall was enclosed in 1982. Today, it is not the shopping hub it might have been in the past, with few people wandering in to the Ross or Sally’s. Its business days are at the beginnings of the MDC public school years when the school uniform shop on one of the higher floors gets lots of local traffic.

Beijing Mart
Beijing Mart, local Asian market (Photo by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

As I mentioned before, while Miami does not have a Chinatown, NMB does have a pretty varied selection of different Asian restaurants and businesses. Beijing Mart is one of several Asian markets along NE 163rd St. Despite its name, it has a wide selection of goods from several East Asian countries.

SUMMARY

North Miami Beach is an urban, multicultural melting pot of a city. Though it shares a name with its more famous neighbors, it is a city all its own with a variety of people reflected in all aspects of the city. When the city was first constructed, they could not have predicted how it would expand. After doing this project, I have to admit I did not know my city as well as I thought. I have lived in North Miami Beach for around 5 years and though I knew somethings like the great places to eat and where some of the local parks were, I had never stopped to wonder what the fountain on NE 172nd St was or what the old stone building in front of my favorite Vietnamese restaurant was. One way I do think the neighborhood should improve is transportation. Because all the available transport is packed into small 2 or 3 lane streets and it is all buses/trolleys or cars, traffic during rush hour can be a nightmare to get through. One thing that I do really like about the neighborhood is how many small businesses there are all over and how close they are to the residential areas. It is perfectly feasible to walk from your home to any of the business areas.

Sources

https://www.littmantheater.com/history.html

https://www.miaminewtimes.com/location/historic-blue-marlin-fish-house-6414407

“History.” The Ancient Spanish Monastery https://www.spanishmonastery.com/history

“Fulford-by-the-Sea Monument.” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulford-by-the-Sea_Monument

“Getting Around NMB.” City of North Miami Beach https://www.citynmb.com/997/Getting-Around-NMB

“Greynolds Park History.”MiamiDade.gov.  https://www.miamidade.gov/parks/library/greynolds-park-history.pdf

North Miami Beach, FL https://gis.citynmb.com/gomaps/

“Our History.” City NMB https://www.citynmb.com/596/Our-History

“The Mall at 163rd Street.” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mall_at_163rd_Street

“QuickFacts North Miami Beach city, Florida.” United States Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/northmiamibeachcityflorida/POP815217

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