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90 Years of North Beach

A Synopsis of the History of the Northern


Portion of the City of Miami Beach

Prepared by Carolyn Klepser


For the City of Miami Beach Planning Depertment
June 6, 2001

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NINETY YEARS OF NORTH BEACH
Long before the incorporation of Miami Beach in 1915, even before this desolate barrier
island became a coconut plantation, the area now known as North Beach entered the annals of
history with the construction of a U.S. Government lifesaving station on the beach at what is now
72nd Street. Known as the Biscayne House of Refuge, and later as Coast Guard Station #209, it
was one of five such structures built along the Florida coast in 1876 by the U.S. Federal
Lifesaving Service, precursor to the Coast Guard. The House of Refuge was a two-story frame
structure that served as a haven for shipwrecked seafarers and housed a keeper, and sometimes
his family, who kept a lookout post from a wooden tower by the sea.1 Reputedly the first person
born in what would later become Miami Beach was Richard Peacock, born in this house on
November 4, 1886, the son of the keeper at that time.2

In 1882, soon after the House of Refuge was built, a coconut plantation was established
along the coast here by New Jersey entrepreneurs Elnathan Field, Ezra Osborn, and Henry Lum.
They purchased about 60 miles of oceanfront land extending from Key Biscayne to Jupiter,
Florida, and planted it with over 300,000 coconuts that were brought by boat from the Caribbean.
The importation of the coconuts was overseen by Hamilton Pierce, keeper of the Biscayne House
of Refuge at that time. His son Charles helped with the planting, as did Ezra Osborn’s 26-year-
old son Frank. Frank Osborn began acquiring land here in 1882,3 and would reappear later in the
history of North Beach.

The House of Refuge had been built on a 10-acre strip of oceanfront land claimed for the
U.S. Government by executive order of President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875. In 1891, the
Department of the Interior increased the government’s holdings to extend from ocean to bay. In
1921, President Warren G. Harding restored part of this tract to the public domain (to become
known as Harding Townsite), but a 500-foot-wide strip from ocean to bay was retained for use
by the U.S. Coast Guard -- an area of 22 acres, with 72nd Street as its southern boundary. The
House of Refuge, situated on this property, remained in use until 1926 when it was heavily
damaged in the September hurricane and subsequently demolished. As times changed, property
values rose, and the Coast Guard left the site idle and overgrown, many appeals were made for
the release of this land from government ownership, but the original 1875 decree prohibited its
sale. Finally in 1941 the Coast Guard exchanged this property for the site of its present station on
Causeway Island, and the land between 72nd and 73rd Streets came into the possession of the
City of Miami Beach.4

In the meantime, the areas to the north and south of the government tract had been
developed by various pioneers and speculators:

One of the investors in the 1882 coconut plantation was John S. Collins, a horticulturist
from New Jersey. When the project failed commercially, Collins came to Miami to investigate,
saw the potential for success with different crops, and bought out 1,675 acres from the other
partners -- a tract that extended from present-day 14th Street to 67th Street.5 West of Indian
Creek, he farmed avocados; east of the Creek his family, together with Carl Fisher, began the
development of a seaside resort.

1
“Lifeguard Service Requires Vigilance and Bravery,” Miami Herald, 11/26/22, p.1-B.
2
Howard Kleinberg, Miami Beach: A History; Centennial Press, Miami, 1994, p.7; also Romer Photo #7B, Miami
Public Library, Florida Room.
3
Kleinberg, pp.11-12.
4
Harding Townsite/South Altos Del Mar Historic District Designation Report, CMB Planning Dept., 1996, pp. 12-
16.
5
Kleinberg, p.20.

2
The first land north of Collins’ holdings to be platted was the Atlantic Heights
subdivision, filed by Frank and Viola Osborn on February 21, 1919, nearly 40 years after he had
helped plant the coconuts here. This tract, about 700 feet wide, extended from ocean to bay, and
the present-day 69th Street (called “Atlantic Drive” on the original platting) ran down the center
of it.6

Also in 1919, the first two of the eventual six Altos Del Mar subdivisions were filed by
the Tatum Brothers. Altos Del Mar #1 and #2 reached from present-day 75th Street to 87th
Terrace, from the ocean to half a block west of Collins Avenue. Altos Del Mar #3 followed in
1923, adjoining #1 on the west and extending to Dickens Avenue between 75th and 81st Streets.
Altos Del Mar #4, 5, and 6, platted in 1923-5, were located in what is now the Town of Surfside,
between 90th and 96th Streets, Ocean to Creek.

The Tatum brothers -- Bethel Blanton, Johnson Reed, and Smiley M.-- were natives of
Georgia, sons of Aaron S. Tatum, a minister, and Elizabeth Johnson Tatum. Bethel Tatum
moved to Florida in 1881 at age 17, worked in the newspaper business and for a time was owner
and publisher of the Miami Metropolis. In 1907 he went into real estate. Johnson Tatum, born in
1866, went to business college in Louisville, Kentucky; he later moved to Tampa and to Miami
in 1911, working in banking and insurance. The third brother, Smiley, majored in chemistry at
the University of Georgia and worked for many years in analytical chemistry in Bartow, Florida,
until acid fumes injured his eyes. He moved to Miami in 1902.

In Miami the brothers formed a number of development firms. Bethel Tatum was
president of the Tatum Brothers Real Estate & Investment Company, one of the area’s largest.
Johnson Tatum was president of the Tatum Brothers Company and Bethel was its secretary.
Under these various entities, the Tatums developed 200,000 acres of the Everglades for
agriculture and habitation, as well as the town of Florida City and the Miami subdivisions of
Riverside, Riverside Heights, and Grove Park.7

It was in the course of landclearing for Altos Del Mar #4, 5,and 6 in 1923 that traces of
the true original settlers of North Beach were discovered: a burial mound containing numerous
skulls that were later determined to be those of Tequesta Indians. Unfortunately after an initial
flurry of publicity the bones were dispersed and most of the site was paved over.8 In 1933-4,
Florida State Archaeologist Vernon Lamme excavated what remained of the site, which was
located “near the shore...on the west side of Bay Drive” in the Town of Surfside. Both a
habitation mound and a burial mound were discovered, with remains of at least 50 individuals,
including 19 skulls found in a group. Unfortunately again, the artifacts were lost in shipment to
the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC and they have not been seen since.9 It is quite
possible that more artifacts still lie buried in the vicinity of North Beach.

The following newspaper notice from 1924 sheds light on designated land use in the
Tatum subdivisions. It is referring to the establishment of the business district that still exists in
Surfside, on Harding Avenue between 94th and 96th Streets:
“Considerable interest was aroused about a week ago when the Tatums announced their
plans for No. 6 Altos Del Mar. All previous allotments put on in the past few years by the
Tatums were highly restricted for residence purposes only; and repeated requests for

6
“Plat of Atlantic Heights,” Biscayne Engineering, Feb. 1919; CMB Public Works Dept.
7
Florida: The East Coast, Miami Herald Co., c. 1925, pp. 111-113.
8
Kleinberg, pp. 2-3.
9
Vernon Lamme, Florida Lore Not Found in the History Books, Star Publishing, Boynton Beach Fla., 1973, pp. 82-
85.

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modifications of restrictions so as to permit the erection of hotels, apartment houses and
businesses have gone unheeded, and then without previous intimations No. 6 plans were
shown with a business section and with a section for the erection of hotels and apartment
houses. A careful examination of the map of upper Miami Beach is conclusive proof that
No. 6 is the logical place to locate a business section and it is evident now that the
Tatums had this in mind long ago.”10

The Tatum brothers “eventually (were) responsible for the subdivision and platting of
virtually the entire area between 75th Street in Miami Beach and the northern Dade County line.
Included, in addition to a significant portion of Miami Beach’s north shore, was most of the
present-day town of Surfside, Bal Harbour Village, Sunny Isles and Golden Beach. The original
Altos Del Mar subdivision produced the seed around which the north shore would develop, as
others soon followed the Tatum Brothers’ lead and, based on the success of the pioneer
subdivision, filed plats of their own. The Tatum Brothers eventually completed their
development of the area after the close of WWII when they filed the Tatum Waterway
Subdivision in 1946.”11

One who followed the Tatums’ lead on the north shore was Henri Levy. Born in
Hochfelden (Alsace) in 1883, Levy emigrated to America in 1900 and settled in Cincinnati,
where he became successful in owning a chain of movie theaters. He moved his family to Miami
Beach in 1922 when one of his daughters, Clemence, needed a warmer climate for her health. In
1924 they built the “coral rock” house at 1030 Washington Avenue, which is still standing, and
lived there until 1940.12

June Newbauer, Henri Levy’s youngest daughter, recalls that her father purchased land
in the northern part of Miami Beach from Carl Fisher in 1923, but being Jewish he could not
associate with Fisher.13 Levy was responsible for three projects in the North Shore area in the
1920s, financed by his thriving business in Cincinnati and all named for his homeland. The first
was the Normandy Beach Subdivision, located from 87th Terrace to 90th Street, between the
Tatums’ Altos Del Mar #2 and #4 in what is now Surfside. It was filed on Feb. 9, 1924.

Levy’s second development, Normandy Beach South, lay between the Osborns’ Atlantic
Heights Subdivision at 69th Street and the U.S. Government tract that began at 72nd Street. It
was filed by Henri Levy and his wife Rose together with Reuben and Ethel Gryzmich on October
7, 1925. Present-day 71st Street ran down the middle of it.

Levy’s third project and greatest challenge was Normandy Isle, on a natural (though
swampy) land mass in Biscayne Bay, directly west of Normandy Beach South. 71st Street
connected the two, and at one point was graced with a grand archway announcing the name of
the development (see photo).

“On the bay side of Miami Beach, a real estate syndicate composed of several members,
among them the Gryzmich brothers and Henry (sic) Levy, bought a mangrove patch
named Mead Island from A.P. Warner and the Mead brothers for $250,000, renamed it
South Island and began its development. Just above South Island was another mangrove
patch called North Island. (Existence of the two mangrove islands can be traced back as
far as Bernard Romans’ mid-18th century survey of the area.) The syndicate originally
planned to name the development’s streets after persons. But the Dade County
Commission, which had control of street names, rejected the idea, and the developers
10
“Tatums’ New Tract Sales Set New Mark,” Miami Herald, Feb. 2, 1924, p. 24.
11
Altos Del Mar Historic District Designation Report; CMB Planning Dept., 1987, p.6.
12
Interview with June Newbauer, Henri Levy’s daughter, by Phillippe Bardo, Sept. 3, 2000.
13
Ibid.

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decided to name the streets after French towns and provinces. Included in the new
naming was a change, again, of the island’s name from South Island to Normandy Isle. In
1925 the first housing, comprised of four apartment houses, was begun along with the
fountain at the east end of the island.... North Island was to remain in its native state until
1939 when the City of Miami Beach bought it, pumped up the land and created
Normandy Shores Municipal Golf Course.14

Much of the land was initially under water. For over two years, huge dredges operating
24 hours a day pumped up the bay bottom to create Normandy Isle from the south parcel.
Barracks were built for the imported workers, many from the Bahamas. Plants, mostly palms,
were imported from the Caribbean and stocked in a nursery for use in landscaping. Henri and
Rose Levy designed the fountain, streets, lighting, sidewalks, arched entrance gate at the east,
pavilion at the west entrance, and an extensive plant nursery (site of the present park and pool)
on Normandy Isle. They were clearly inspired by the City Beautiful Movement of the time, as
well as Henri’s memories of France. A comparison of several French town plans shows that
Miami Beach’s Normandy Isle most closely resembles the seaside town of Granville, one of
Henri Levy’s favorite places.15

Normandy Isle was traversed from east to west by two roadways: North Everglades
Concourse (now Normandy Drive) and South Everglades Concourse (now 71st Street). The land
was laid out in three sections: Oceanside, the farthest east, extended from Indian Creek to Rue
Bordeaux; the Trouville section, in the center, extended from Rue Bordeaux to the Trouville
Esplanade, including the lots facing it on the west. These two sections were filed by Henri Levy
in 1926, shortly before the great hurricane.

The hurricane in September 1926 leveled most of the completed work, sank the dredges
and wrecked the workers’ barracks. Levy mortgaged his Ohio business, collateralized his
property, and was forced to seek outside financing. Family and friends in Boston and Ohio
formed a private corporation, issued stocks, and with the infusion of cash restored Normandy
Isle.

Levy then worked on realizing his dream of connecting his Miami Beach properties to the
mainland with a navigable causeway across Biscayne Bay. The two existing connections were
the Venetian Causeway, which was too low for boats to traverse, and the County Causeway at
5th Street, which was so narrow it had one-way traffic, reversed every hour. An engineer by
the name of Lassiter was hired and plans undertaken to sell the idea of the 79th Street Causeway
to the U.S. Government through the Corps of Engineers. After numerous trips to Washington,
much re-designing, and an arduous and expensive construction, thanks to the efforts of Henri
Levy the causeway was finally completed in 1929.16 (It is called the 79th St. Causeway for its
western connection in Miami; at its eastern end it connects to 71st Street on Normandy Isle and
Miami Beach.)

The third section of Normandy Isle, Miami View, lay west of the Trouville section and
was filed in various subsections in 1936 and 1939 by Mortimer and Florence Gryzmich. This
lapse in time and change of ownership probably resulted from Levy’s setbacks in the 1926
hurricane, his efforts to get the Causeway built, and the onset of the Depression. Reuben
Gryzmich, Levy’s partner in Normandy Beach South, and Mortimer Gryzmich, who developed

14
Kleinberg, p. 94.
15
Interview with June Newbauer by Philippe Bardo.
16
Interview with June Newbauer by Phillipe Bardo

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the western end of Normandy Isle, were brothers from Boston who had a successful cigar-
manufacturing business.17

In 1938, as Europe headed into World War II, the Levys went to France for the first time
and visited Henri’s native city in Alsace. He tried to convince members of his French Jewish
family to flee to America, but was unsuccessful. This distressed him greatly, and he died at the
age of 55 of an ulcer flare-up a few months after his return home.

In August 1971, the fountain and park at the eastern end of Normandy Isle were named
for Henri Levy in a dedication ceremony attended by his widow, Rose Levy. A plaque was
unveiled, which has since disappeared from the park, reading: HENRI LEVY
1883-1938
To honor the memory of a pioneer whose dreams became
reality with development of Normandy Isle. He donated these streets, park, and
fountain in 1926 to his beloved adopted city, naming them for his homeland
France.18

In 1925, as Levy was working on Normandy Isle and, farther south, the Roney Plaza was
under construction, two resort facilities appeared on the oceanfront just south of Atlantic
Heights. The first was the Gulf Stream Apartments, a seven-story building and nine cottages at
6039 Collins Avenue.19 Nearby, the palatial Deauville Casino and Hotel was built by Joseph
Eisener, a former salesman for Carl Fisher. Its name may have been influenced by Levy’s
French-inspired projects nearby. It was heavily damaged by the hurricane within months of its
construction, but survived for thirty years.
“Eisener built what was proclaimed as the largest swimming pool in Florida as part of the
Deauville Casino, which opened at 67th Street and the ocean in early 1926. The pool was
165 feet long and 100 feet wide and located on the second floor behind the hotel rooms.
Planned as an entertainment capital, the Deauville provided dining rooms, ballroom
dancing, entertainers, exhibitions by champion swimmers and divers and state-of-the-art
bathing facilities....The Deauville had a checkered life, eventually was sold to health
faddist Bernarr MacFadden and demolished in 1956 for a new Deauville Hotel.”20

Early photographs show the Gulf Stream and the Deauville to be almost the only
buildings in North Beach in the mid-1920s, but apparently the seclusion appealed to the social
set. Within a few years two private clubs joined them in these nether regions of the beach: the
Bath Club at 59th Street in 1927, and the Surf Club at 94th Street in 1930.

The Gulf Stream and the original Deauville are gone, but a few private homes still
survive in the North Beach area from the early development days of the 1920s: 6966 Byron Ave.
(1925), 7626 Harding Ave. (1925), 7134 Carlyle Ave. (1926), and 7823 Collins Ave. (1927).

As development progressed in this area in the 1930s and early ‘40s, more hotels
appeared, built by the same architects and in the same Art Deco style as seen in South Beach.
Most impressive was the seven-story Tower Hotel, now demolished, designed by Martin L.
Hampton in 1935. It stood directly north of the Gulf Stream Apartments and was built in only 70
days.21 A few of the smaller hotels still survive from this time, including:
-Forde Ocean Apartments, 6605 Collins Ave.; L. Murray Dixon, 1935
17
Norma Orovitz, "Normandy Isle: The Nuance of France Pervades This Patchwork of People," Miami Herald,
March 17, 1980, pp. 1C, 3C.
18
Ziff Jewish Museum of Florida archives, Miami Beach.
19
"Gulf Stream Apartments," brochure, Historical Museum of Southern Florida.
20
Kleinberg, p. 104, p. 223.
21
Architectural Forum, Sept. 1936, p. 217.

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-Normandy Plaza, 6979 Collins Ave.; L. Murray Dixon, 1936
-Rowe Hotel, 6606 Collins Ave.; David T. Ellis, 1939
-Olsen Hotel, 7300 Ocean Terrace; V.H.Nellenbogen, 1940

Public utilities for the growing community also appeared, such as:
-Fire Station, 6860 Indian Creek Dr.; Robert Law Weed, 1937
-Southern Bell Telephone, 6909 Abbott Ave., 1937
-Post Office, 7132 Abbott Ave., 1940
-Comfort Station, 72nd St. Beach; August Geiger, 1940

As Miami Beach was transformed into a training camp for the U.S. Army-Air Forces
during World War II, with 85% of its hotel space leased by the military to serve as barracks,
North Beach also did its part. The Gulf Stream Apartments and Tower Hotel were among the
leased properties, as were the Normandy Plaza, Rowe, and Windsor Hotels and 15 surviving
apartment buildings. It does not appear, however, that the Army leased any properties on
Normandy Isle.

The years of the Postwar Boom were North Beach’s heyday. As architect Russell T.
Pancoast wrote in 1963:
Almost two decades ago a policy of tranquillity in services and surroundings was tacitly
abandoned as a background for tourism, then as now a chief support of Greater Miami’s
economic structure. In its place came an aggressively promoted policy of titillation that
inevitably conditioned the approach to hotel design. Pleasure, excitement, ostentatious
richness, all the outward signs of affluence and luxury -- these were design standards
quite as much as they were watchwords of successful hotel operation. They have been
expressed with such prodigal imagination and such lavish hands as to create what is
almost a monotony of richness throughout the hotel strip.22

What the Art Deco style was to South Beach, the Postwar Modern and “Mimo” styles
were to North Beach. First was Roy France’s Martinique Hotel at 64th Street (now demolished),
with 137 rooms the largest of the six hotels built in Miami Beach in 1946 and the first hotel in
the City to be completely air-conditioned. The following year, Henry Hohauser’s Sherry-
Frontenac Hotel appeared at 65th Street, “the first postwar multi-million dollar glamour
hostelry,”23 with 250 rooms. In 1950 Roy France’s Casablanca Hotel was built at 63rd Street, a
landmark of exotic fantasy adapted to the automotive age, with huge neon signage and a carport
supported by four turbaned figures. 1951 saw the construction of two hotels by Albert Anis: the
Monte Carlo, just south of the Sherry Frontenac, and the Biltmore Terrace, at the Miami Beach
city limits, on the Ocean at 87th Terrace. These all preceded Morris Lapidus’ Fontainebleau, a
marvelous but certainly not the earliest example of Mimo architecture.

Other landmarks of the 1950s style in North Beach are the Carillon Hotel (Norman
Giller, 1957) and the new Deauville (Melvin Grossman, 1958), constructed on the site of the old
Deauville Casino. The new Deauville became a landmark for more than just its architecture; it
was also the site of the Beatles’ performance for the Ed Sullivan TV show in 1964. And all this
was less than 90 years since the founding of the Biscayne House of Refuge!
___________________________________________

Despite its long and rich history, North Beach has always seemed the stepchild of Miami
Beach. Many published texts fail to even mention it. The north end of the City was slower to
22
Russell T. Pancoast, “Miami Architecture So Far,” Guide to the Architecture of Miami, A.I.A., Florida South
Chapter, 1963, pp. 18-19.
23
McAskill’s Report, in Ruby L. Carson, “40 Years of Miami Beach,” Tequesta, Historical Assn. of Southern
Florida, 1955, pp. 23-24.

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develop than the south; although the land itself sold well here in the 1920s, it seems that little
was built on it for many years. With this review of past events, several causes become apparent.

Geography was one factor. The City of Miami, on which early Miami Beach was
dependent, was nearer to the South end, where the County (MacArthur) Causeway and Collins
Bridge/Venetian Causeway made connections. Construction of the 79th Street Causeway in 1929
joined this area to the mainland, but probably caused it to be more closely linked to North Miami
and the new racetrack at Hialeah than to the South end of Miami Beach. The Tatums’ restrictions
against commercial development in Altos Del Mar may also have been an impediment. Having
the unused Coast Guard tract tied up for many years may have discouraged investment in the
vicinity. The 1926 hurricane was a setback, but it devastated South Beach as well. Another factor
was the competition of Carl Fisher’s showmanship in promoting his own developments to the
south; North Beach never had a Carl Fisher.

Probably most divisive, though, was the early land usage of the oceanfront strand
between 44th and 60th Streets, which is no longer evident today. This was ‘Millionaires’ Row,”
where Carl Fisher sold large tracts of beachfront land to wealthy northern industrialists for their
winter estates. Due to the narrowness of the land here between the Ocean and Indian Creek, few
other uses would have been practical, and this was a lucrative solution. While the wealthy
residents valued the privacy and exclusivity of this situation, it made for a long, desolate ride up
Collins Avenue for the general public and effectively severed the island into two disparate parts
that have even now not quite reconciled.

Today the private estates have all been replaced by a stretch of high-rise apartment
buildings commonly called “Condo Canyon,” but this usage continues to create the same effect:
a long, pedestrian-unfriendly stretch unbroken by commercial or public space, with both the
buildings and the beach shut off to access and the ocean out of view.

As land usage and design sometimes cause such problems, in them can also be found the
solutions. Ideas such as the Indian Creek Greenway Project and alternative transportation
systems such as the Electrowave or a Water Taxi service may help overcome present problems.
Careful consideration of land use and the role of historic preservation should be made. Study of
the past, together with innovative planning for the future in a public forum is the challenge of
creating our Miami Beach -- North and South -- for the next 90 years.
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