Christopher Myers: Miami as Text Spring 2023

Miami encounter as text

Miami: diversity in all shapes and sizes by Christopher Myers on January 29, 2023

There is a very common and accurate way to describe Miami. A melting pot. It is no mystery that Miami has a very large international presence and is one of the most popular cities around the world. Anyone with the smallest familiarity with Miami knows about the large Hispanic influence in south Florida. Spending a semester venturing around parts of Miami really sheds light on how diverse it really is and that goes way beyond the food, culture and people. There were times that we were meeting in an area that I have already been to and I wasn’t how much I would actually learn but there is A LOT to learn hiding around every corner. You could go to the same place numerous times and find something new and different every time.

The Betsy Orb, a sculpture sitting one block away from the popular Ocean Avenue in South Beach. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Of course all of this wouldn’t happen without one key component, professor Bailly. Having an expert show you what corners have something new and exciting is beyond helpful. It was a lot of fun learning about the history and the oldest communities of Miami. Doing it as a class with a passionate teacher was the best part. There is so much more to the city of Miami besides the sports teams, the beaches, the nightlife, the celebrities and the luxury. That’s what we had the opportunity take in. The special parts of the city that takes research and the turning of pages to discover.

Group exploration in the mangroves on the way to Chicken Key. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Miami has a lot to offer that is very distinctive and different than anything else around the world. A lot of unique history dating back even before the city was incorporated. There is so much to see, it could take years to experience it all. What I encountered is something that I will take with me no matter where I live. Learning how to navigate the city and find the true individual characteristics that represent it. Discovering what makes that city special, where it started and how it got to where it is now. Becoming a tourist within my own home is the goal after seeing everything Miami has to offer. Although there may not be as much and each city with have its own characteristics, recognizing and sharing them with others seems like a must.  

Everglades as text

The For-Everglades by Christopher Myers on January 29th, 2023

Such a unique ecosystem that you cannot see anywhere else. You could say there are two rivers in the Everglades, the flowing water and the sawgrass swaying in the wind. It is such a unique location, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. A Biosphere and Wetland that was deemed international importance and we got to wade through it like it was an everyday activity.  As Florida residents, how lucky are we to have that in our backyard?

The river of sawgrass. photo taken by Christopher Myers
“The bleeding tree” photo taken by Christopher Myers

As modern-day humans, we were clearly out of our element. Standing in knee deep water as a group when we heard it, the bellow of a dinosaur, I mean an alligator, not far away in the same waters. The roar of a dinosaur, a creature dating back to 65 million years ago, just feet away letting us know, we were not alone. This is something that anyone can do with entry to the park. Wading through the water does not require a special permit, just a desire for a little adventure.

An ecosystem that gets along. The bromeliads and ferns covering the cypress trees causing no harm, just two plants growing together. The cypress trees creating a dome and a depression to hold water year-round giving the fish and alligators a sufficient habitat to survive. Exiting the cypress dome to a sea of sawgrass for as far as the eye could see with tree islands scattered throughout. 

Coconut Grove as text

Brick by Brick by Christopher Myers on February 5, 2023

Like many other areas, Coconut Grove has a deep history dating back to before the incorporation of the city of Miami. Visiting the area and seeing the architectural innovation of early buildings and structures was very unique. Visiting “The Barnacle,” the 1891 home of Ralph Middleton Munroe and the oldest building still standing in its original location in Miami-Dade County. Learning that the first floor was actually at the second-story level and the second floor was just above ground level was a bit mind-boggling. Munroe designed and built the house out of materials found around the area, including the nearly extinct Dade County Slash Pine, along with wood from shipwrecks and ships that ran aground and deemed immobile. The house sits on its original foundation, but there is a twist. “The Barnacle” was eventually raised above the ground and put on stilts and continually raise higher and higher until it was at the level of a second story and a new first story was built below it. A bit confusing to call the first story the higher level and the second story of the house the lower level but that’s what makes the construction and renovations of this building so unique. 

The octagonal shape of the upper story of The Barnacle. possibly one of the numerous reasons the house still stands today. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Next, stood the boathouse on Munroe’s property, although it was the second version of the house and the original was lost due to the Miami hurricane of 1926. But Munroe’s innovation continued onto the second version of the boathouse. The idea to build a collapsible, breakaway wall to allow severe winds to blow through the building and prevent total loss was another one of those impressive feats that were well before it’s time. Probably an innovation that could have used all around Miami to prevent significant infrastructure loss, but again, something way before it’s time. 

The perforated top and sides of the entryway helps with airflow to keep the house cool all year long. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Moving on to just a short walk down the road, visiting the Plymouth Congregational Church completed in 1917 and this was another mind-boggling experience. Again, another structure built with local materials, the walls being Miami Oolite (limestone) from top to bottom. These walls were put up by one man, Felix Rebom, and an assistant, with some very basic tools from the early 1900s. Standing up close and observing the precise construction and fitment of each block. It’s incredible in the detail that was given it’s so unique and unlike anything you will see you today. Within the main entryway stands a robust, wooden door. Said to have come from a Spanish Mission in Mexico, it mimics what you would see in cathedrals throughout Spain.

Each individual block of oolite calculatedly placed by hand to create to walls of the church. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Coral Gables as text

Tropical Spain by Christopher Myers on February 19, 2023

If you were to take a part of Spain and surround it with palm trees and tropical weather, you would have Coral Gables. From the architecture to the extra-wide sidewalks along the shopping strip, this is a community built with longevity in mind. The Mediterranean Revival building styles were found in some of the principal budlings of Coral Gables, the inspiration was clearly late-15th century Spain.

“Azulejo,” a glazed tile found around Spain and Portugal, at The Biltmore Hotel Coral Gables, FL. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Starting at the Coral Gables City Hall, with tile on the roof, stucco and, and detailed exterior including a 3rd story stone railing. On the inside, you will find a painted mural on the ceiling centered by the main squared-shaped stairway. What stands out the most is the colonnade curved front of the building and it undoubtedly captures your eye. The key component that makes this common architecture unique is the locally sourced oolitic limestone used to construct the columns and main structural walls of the City Hall. Again, we’re talking about Miami, there is always that one detail that makes it stand out.

The painted mural found on the ceiling inside the Coral Gables City Hall. photo taken by Christopher Myers

 Right outside of the City Hall, you will find Miracle Mile. This is a shopping strip along Coral Way that was originally designed to have every business available within a two-block walk. Still lined with a variety of shops but certainly no longer the only shopping choice available in the town. Along the sidewalk designed with plenty of space for people to stroll up and down the strip you will find Live Oak trees on either side. An evergreen oak will have leaves year-round with a growth rate that slows as it ages. This is another hint at the vision of long-term beauty that was anticipated for Coral Gables. 

Norton Museum of Art as text

The Art of Perception by Christopher Myers on February 22, 2023

Monet, Pablo Picasso, Braque, Jackson Pollock. All famous names. So is that what makes art great, is it the artist? Or could it be the style, the innovation, the material, or the subject and scenery? That is something that I started to question as I left the Norton Museum of Art. The collections have great examples of many styles of art from varying artists from all over the world and all generations of art.

But, I think the most important thing that makes art great, is perception. At the Norton, there are world-renowned works of art by world-renowned artists. And don’t get me wrong, they’re all great works of art and creative and different and unique in their own ways. I am sure if I would have seen some of them when they were originally completed, I would have been highly impressed.  

I am nowhere near an expert, nor am I very knowledgeable about art and art history. I can certainly appreciate it but for me to learn why most are considered a great piece would take some research and learning. There are many examples of art that was way ahead of its time whether it was the technique or the materials used. Some just had a different way of thinking and expression that has not been seen before. True original works of art.

The most impressive piece to me and the one that caught my eye the most was one that I could appreciate the skill and physical labor needed to create it and that’s what made it stand out the most. It was a bust of a woman in solid Iranian white onyx. The sculpture is called Purity and it’s by a modern-day sculptor, Barry X Ball. It was positioned right in front of a window, that would let the sunlight shine through and show the depth through the sculpted translucent mineral. The shading and detail that was created within the solid stone are stunning. I found myself staring at this piece, changing angles and staring some more. Finding different details, different shadows, and depth and contrast from every angle. I could have looked at and appreciated this work for the entirety of our time at the museum. The lines of the fabric draped over the women’s head. Being able to see a face behind the fabric and even see the expression on her face. It’s beautiful.

This made me reflect on my perception of art and how different it could be from others. Sometimes it’s about what you can see and find and appreciate. It’s about how you can relate to the art, the artist, the technique, and the colors and display. The Norton has hundreds of pieces of all ages, varieties, shapes, and sizes. It is certainly a great collection, there is no doubt about that. Around every corner is an extremely impressive piece. Something that will most certainly catch the eye of at least one individual.

Purity by Barry X Ball found at the Norton Museum of Art , West Palm, FL. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Key Biscayne as text

The Key to Freedom by Christopher Myers on March 26, 2023

I have never been to key Biscayne before, and I found it to be a nice little retreat from Miami. It was very unique to drive to the Key and for there to be only one road in and one road out. Although we didn’t explore the town but it has a very secluded feel in person and on the map.  

Getting the experience to visit and go to the Cape Florida lighthouse was a one-of-a-kind. From the heavy metal door to spiral staircase, there was so much about it that made you understand why it was so stout. It was clear why this structure was still standing for nearly two centuries and why it withstood two separate attacks. Being able to look out over the ocean and over Key Biscayne from 95 feet in the air is a one-off experience and made the climb up 109 steps totally worth it. You could see Stiltsville to the south, a group of stilt houses located on the sandbanks in Biscayne Bay, stingrays wading their way through the seaweed just off the bank below the lighthouse and all of the beach visitors to the north. Certainly not a frequent view that can be found in the ever-so flat South Florida. 

The lighthouse was very interesting but not the most important part of history to learn about in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. There were two other factors that stood out. The more significant historical fact about the state park is that it was a part of the underground railroad, and before the lighthouse was built, it was a common location for freed slaves to find their way to the Bahamas. Since it led to the ocean, it was deemed the Saltwater Railroad. That is such a deep and important part about the Key. The location that serves as the escape and the freedom for so many who were so wrongfully treated. To stand in the same spot where many people stepped foot off that island and that was the last step they had to take to be free. A very important piece of history and one that led to a much better life for so many. 

The next piece of history leans towards the environmental side. It’s great to learn that there was significant effort to not only to prevent development on the southern end of Key Biscayne but there was also a full ecological restoration effort as well. To look out across the landscape of natural plant species and no longer see any of the Australian Pines that were planted years ago to dry up the soil shows that the effort was very successful and it will continue to thrive and be taken care of as a natural Florida ecosystem. 

Very meaningful history, a historical structure, an ecological restoration, and a town of over 10,000 can all be found within one mile and there is only one road to get there. Key Biscayne is a small part of Miami but has so much to offer that makes it so unique in its own way. 

The 109 step staircase in the center of Cap Florida Lighthouse, photo taken by Christopher Myers

Author: chrismyers123

Christopher Myers is a senior at Florida International University pursuing his BA in Sustainability and the Environment. After completing his degree, he plans to start a second career in the Environmental Field and hopes to be involved in nature conservation.

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