Catherine Carrasco is a Junior studying Behavioral Neuroscience at Florida International University through the Honors College. She is an Executive Board member of the Alpha Epsilon Delta Honor Society and regularly volunteers with non-profit organizations. During her free time, she enjoys performing and training in the traditional art of Mongolian contortion.
Fisher Island is a 216-acre private island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Miami Beach. No roads lead to and from the exclusive man-made island. Travel to the island is done by ferry or yacht. Access to the island is limited to residents, and guests require an invitation. The neighborhood consists of the Fisher Island Club Hotel, private beach, condominiums, golf course, 17 tennis courts, four pickleball courts, two marinas, an aviary, observatory, and theatre. In addition, residents have access to a day school, fire station, bank, post office, island market, health center, dry cleaners, and a wellness center.
In 1905, the United States government authorized the opening of Government Cut, a channel now standing between South Beach and Fisher Island. The process involved cutting a 900-foot piece through the tip of the peninsula. The dredging resulted in a more accessible voyage into the Port of Miami and created what is now known as Fisher Island.
In 1918, Dana Albert Dorsey, one of South Florida’s first African American millionaires, purchased the then 21-acre island. The self-made businessman purchased the land during segregation and planned to develop a resort tailored to the black community. However, according to an interview with the Executive Director of the Black Archives History and Reach Foundation of South Florida, Dana’s plans came to a halt as he received backlash from the surrounding community. A newspaper article headlined “Negro Buys 1/3 of the Keys To Erect A Colored Resort.” Unable to make the dream a reality, Dana sold the land to Alton Beach Realty in 1919.
Carl Fisher, a developer whose interests ranged in highways and automobiles, owned Alton Beach Realty. After his initial plan to turn the island into a seaport for cruise ships failed, he sold part of the island to William K. Vanderbilt II. In 1927, Fisher traded 7 acres of the island and $1 in exchange for William’s 265-ft yacht “The Eagle.” Shortly after, the Vanderbilt’s hired Maurice Fatio, a famous architect, who oversaw the construction of the family’s Mediterranean-style winter home, surrounding guest suites, tennis courts, aviary, and pools. The designer finalized the $1.5 million project in 1936.
After Vanderbilt died in 1945, Garfield Wood bought the estate. Garfield, the inventor of the hydraulic lift, lived on the island for around 25 years, continuing his life’s work on ships and electric cars. Wood also extended the mansion and added what is now known as Garwood Lounge. Ownership of the island changed throughout the years and even served as a quarantine station for the City of Miami. Eventually, it was left vacant for over 15 years. The development of the resort community began after establishing the Fisher Island Club in 1987. In 2007, an island-wide restoration project started which included the Vanderbilt mansion, guesthouse cottages, golf course, tennis courts, spa, fitness center, and marinas. The Equity Club completed the $60 million restorations in 2013, and the community currently has about 800 residencies.
Data collected by the United States Census Bureau in 2020 determined the total population of Fisher Island to be 561. Further exploring the population into single races, counts demonstrated 440 were White, 19 Asian, 7 Black or African American, 4 American Indian and Alaska Native, 0 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 16 identified as other. Significant majorities within the population include 79.0% were married, 68.5% of households were married-couple families, 78.9% spoke English only, and 59.5% worked at a private company.
Additional Data demonstrated:
• 50.1% of the population were female and 49.9% male.
• The largest ancestry group is Irish at 16.7%, followed by 13.1% German, 8.4% French, 8.4% Italian, 7% Polish, and 0% Scottish, English, Sub-Saharan African, and Norwegian.
• The mean income for households to be 423,490, with 48% averaging over $200,000.
• A median age of 71.1.
• 81.5% had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
• 0.0% without healthcare coverage.
According to the Fisher Island Club, the marketplace for residencies ranges from $2 million – $40 million, making it one of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States.
Initially named Alva Base after William K. Vanderbilt’s mother, the estate is a Miami-Dade County historical landmark. The 2-story home features a Mediterranean Revival exterior, bronze-framed windows, antique European paneling, and marble fireplaces. Some of the later additions not done by the original architect include the ballroom, kitchen, and lounge. The mansion is located at the center of The Fisher Island Club & Resort and follows strict regulations. For example, the 2nd-floor study is open only to equity members, and access to the next landmark, the Garwood Lounge & Piano Bar, is also limited. Garfield Wood added the structure in 1946, and it is now an elegant 5-star steakhouse.
The historic cottages honor the surrounding the mansion honor the 1930’s-era and were the original guesthouses designed for the Vanderbilt family. Each boasts European kitchenettes, French patterns, a marble interior, and a private courtyard. The 2,000 sq ft., 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom home built for the Vanderbilt’s daughter is known as Rosemary’s Cottage. Additionally, the North and South Cottage once served as quarters for the servants.
The neighborhood participates in the Clean the World initiative, which recycles soap and donates it to needy communities. As part of their effort to eliminate plastics, utensils at restaurants have been replaced with plant-based alternatives or made from biodegradable sources. The community’s sensors and lighting have also been upgraded to help with energy conservation, but eco-friendly practices are limited.
The Fisher Island Transportation Department manages the 24-hour ferry system available to and from the private community. The ferry services depart every 10 minutes and can accommodate passenger vehicles. A security clearance is required to gain access to the island.
Golf carts are the preferred method of island transportation, further encouraging the slow, relaxed lifestyle. Strictly enforced within the community is the 19mph speed limit.
The Snooker Club is an elegant restaurant with a relaxed setting found on the 2nd floor of the Vanderbilt mansion. Only equity members are allowed access and can enjoy live music and entertainment.
La Trattoria is an Italian restaurant offering indoor or outdoor seating with views of the main marina. It provides a casual atmosphere and serves pasta, salads, and pizza.
Beach club is an outdoor venue overlooking Biscayne Bay, offering only breakfast and lunch. The casual setting provides sushi, cocktails, and themed evenings like Full moon parties and Spanish nights.
Spa Internazionale is a luxurious, Mediterranean-style full-service spa. It is made up of a wellness center, salon, and spa. They offer hair, nail, and wax services as well as skin treatments and massages. Clients also have access to a jacuzzi and lap pool. However, the spa is only open to hotel guests or equity members. Fitness experts help clientele reach the best in physiological performance and offer classes in barre, yoga, Pilates, cycling, water workouts, salsa, ballroom dancing, tango, and more.
The Fisher Island Day School is an independent education facility accessible to students from age two up to middle school. Their state-of-the-art classrooms specialize in STEM education, and classes do not exceed a maximum of 14 students. Weekly art and music classes complement their rigorous curriculum.
The Links is a 9-hole golf course found at the club. Membership includes group or individual instruction by PGA experts with advanced training techniques like the Flight Scope X3 Launch Monitoring System. Here members can also find a restaurant and golf shop.
Overall, the neighborhood is one of Miami’s most elegant and exclusive communities. It’s tailored only to the wealthy and advertised as a way to live a relaxed, pampered, and private life. Clearance to get on the island is extensive, making it one of the safer neighborhoods to live in. There is an extreme attention to detail in service, aesthetics, and safety. However, there seem to be aspects of the island that are not ideal for a community. Since there is only one school on Fisher Island, not all students seem to have a fair opportunity to receive education and are waitlisted for quite some time. High school students must also leave the island or learn at home as there isn’t any education offered for those grade levels.
Another troublesome feature is the limited healthcare on the island, as there is only one medical facility. The University of Miami Health System runs the unique concierge medical service. However, there are not many specialists besides a Nurse Practitioner and Internal Medicine Physician. The community does offer its residents the best in technology, nutrition, and physical fitness. Experts at the golf club and wellness center are available in each field, providing clients with the opportunity to live in peak health conditions.
There are also no genuine acknowledgments of the original history, including Dana Dorsey. Yet, glorified throughout the island is 1936 as the year when it all began. The community is also not without legal troubles, as former residents have filed lawsuits because of the excessive regulations within the community.
“Government Cut Centennial Commemoration.” Miami Dade County. 30 Aug 2015, https://web.archive.org/web/20060213195135/http://www.miamidade.gov/portofmiami/centennial.asp
“Fisher Island CDP Florida” United States Census Bureau. 2020, https://data.census.gov/cedsci/profile?g=1600000US1222375
“Historic Vanderbilt mansion gets new life on Miami’s Fisher Island.” Viglucci, Andres. Orlando Sentinel. 16 May 2013, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/travel/os-xpm-2013-05-16-os-travel-miami-mansion-20130516-story.html