Saniya Pradhan: Key Biscayne 2021

Student Bio

Aleksandra Baryshnikova / CC by 4.0

Hi! My name is Saniya Pradhan. I’m a junior in the Honors College at FIU, and I study International Relations and French. This project allowed me to spend a lot of time in one of my favorite places in Miami, and I learned many new things along the way. This travel guide is in no way exhaustive, in fact I’m sure it only just scratches the surface of the island’s rich history and what it offers. This guide is ultimately based off my own experiences, the words of Joan Gill Blank, and conversations with people who live, work, and go to school there. We can consider this a low budget, COVID-friendly guide for the island.

Geography

Key Biscayne, actually not a key at all, is a barrier island, or a constantly changing deposit of sand that forms parallel to the coast (according to the NOAA). Our Key was formed about four millennia ago, when a fierce hurricane tore through the eastern coast of Florida and caused a strip of land to separate from the mainland. Along the Western coast of this new island grew mangrove trees, which brought about the growth of other plants, and eventually the arrival of small marine animals and mammals.  – (JGB) .

Key Biscayne is separated from mainland Florida by Biscayne Bay, an important habitat for marine flora and fauna. Barrier islands are incredibly valuable for protecting against extreme weather, yet they are constantly shifting, appearing, and disappearing. Human activity has caused many barrier islands to erode away at alarming rates. In order to protect Key Biscayne environmentally, we must curb harmful activities such as ship traffic, hard levees, infrastructure projects, damming, and dredging.

History

On his quest for the fountain of youth, Juan Ponce de Leon came across a lush, green island bearing fresh water, where he and his men could fill their canteens and quench their thirst. He named the island Santa Marta and claimed it for the King of Spain. Santa Marta was later renamed Key Biscayne after a shipwrecked sailor from the Bay of Biscay was found on the island.

It would be impossible to get into the complete history of the island, so I will give a short overview before focusing in on a few interesting points.

Before Ponce de Leon ever set foot on the barrier island, it was inhabited by the Tequestas, part of the powerful Calusa Nation. They established a village with a fishing and whaling operation. His arrival marks the beginning of the colonial history of Key Biscayne. It marked the shift from indigenous population to settlers, and what was once a harmonic, peaceful environment became opened up to the evils of colonization and commercialization.

In 1940 the Matheson family donated 800 acres of their land on Key Biscayne to Dade county in order to form Crandon park. In exchange for this, they wanted a causeway to be built to the island. In 1947 the Rickenbacker causeway was opened, and this allowed Key Biscayne to open for large-scale residential development. The early 50s saw the development of a post office, schools, and residential areas.

In the 60s, Key Biscayne was under the national eye. Kennedy and Nixon famously met at the Old Key Biscayne Hotel after the 1960 election loss by Nixon. In 1969 Nixon buys his Florida White House. This is where he spent most of his time as the Watergate scandal unfolded.

In 1991 Key Biscayne was incorporated as a new municipality in Miami-Dade, and the very next year was the year of Hurricane Andrew. As a barrier island, Key Biscayne is our main protection against extreme weather, but it is also extremely vulnerable. Bill Baggs state park took the brunt of the storm, but one benefit was that the hurricane wiped out all the non-native vegetation.

Key Biscayne is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, as well as a rich source of South Floridian history. The rate of commercialization is alarming to many, although there are efforts to preserve as much natural beauty and history as possible.

Demographics

According to the site World Population Review, the population of Key Biscayne in 2021 is 12,682 people. In a place so richly diverse as Miami, Key Biscayne is a glaring example of the racial and economic inequality around us. It has a median household income of $226,086, and a racial composition which is 96.63% white.

The Village has its own fire department, police department, and public education system. In 2004, it completed a new civic center with indoor multi use courts, swimming pool, and a musical theater program.

Interview

Ricardo De la Blanca / CC by 4.0

Ricardo De La Blanca, or Ricky, is a freshman at Fordham University studying Business and International Relations. He moved to Key Biscayne with his family a little over 10 years ago from Venezuela, and he grew up and went to school on the island. He’s sharp with a passion for history, and a few interesting projects up his sleeve. One of those is an effort to raise awareness for and restore a forgotten Key Biscayne landmark.

After moving to the Key, Ricky immediately fell in love with the island life, and started reading whatever history books he could find, including the book I’ve cited by Joan Gill Blank. As kids, he and his friends heard about an abandoned house in Calusa Park, and they started going there for fun, until Ricky became curious about the old house and started to do his own research.

Ricardo de la Blanca / CC by 4.0

The Calusa playhouse is located at the entrance of Calusa Park, and if you’ve been to the park you’ve probably passed by it, and maybe wondered what an abandoned house is doing in the middle of Key Biscayne.

While working for Islander News, he wrote an article about the Calusa playhouse, which got picked up by Telemundo, and led to him meeting the renowned historian Joan Gill Blank. She showed him her old house, which was almost identical to the Calusa playhouse, but had unfortunately been abandoned for too long and beyond hope of restoration. Ricky said he hopes he can avoid losing any more monuments in this way.

In his article, Ricky writes “Built in 1917 by the Matheson Coconut Plantation, its original purpose was a barrack for the workers. It was not originally located in Calusa Park. In its early days, the shack was situated in present-day Grand Bay. The shack served multiple functions throughout its lifespan, ranging from sleeping quarters to a church, a school, and a hurricane shelter. In 1956, it was incorporated by the Key Biscayne Music and Drama Club to begin its career as a live theater stage.

Under the management of Music and Drama Club, the shack was uprooted and moved to the spot it holds today and was renamed the “Calusa Playhouse.” For 40 years, it has hosted musicals and plays. The Calusa Playhouse has greeted over 40,000 guests over the years, and has staged hundreds of acts.”

Unfortunately, complications following Hurricane Andrew led to a complete abandonment of the Calusa playhouse. Ricky started cleaning out and working on the house on his own and made it his goal to raise awareness about it in hopes of restoring it and perhaps one day converting it into a museum for the island.

According to Ricky, the history of Key Biscayne is so complex and interesting, yet most of its residents are not aware of it since many of them immigrated here from Latin America only in recent decades. This means that places like the Calusa playhouse are relatively unknown and not cared for.

His next steps are to build credibility and awareness, in order to actually start work on the house. He plans to reach out to the Historical Heritage Society of Key Biscayne, as well as the Matheson family, who still own the property which the house lays on. In the meantime, it’s all about spreading the word and building up support among the villagers as well as residents of Miami. I urge you all to check out his article on Islander news and his interview with Telemundo! (linked below)

Landmarks

Crandon Park

Saniya Pradhan / CC by 4.0

The first landmark is probably the most popular spot on the island, and it’s where I’ve spent the majority of my weekends this year. Crandon Park is a vast swath of land in the northern half of the island which offers many recreational activities. The park includes green spaces (see below), beach, trails, and a pathway that runs along the coast, perfect for walking, running, skating, biking, etc. Crandon beach is definitely my favorite in Miami, because it’s much less crowded than most other beaches, and it feels further removed from the city. The green spaces have both covered and uncovered picnic areas which include tables and grills. There are cabanas, many pathways to walk around, and even an open-air café (see below).

Cape Florida lighthouse & Bill Baggs

Saniya Pradhan / CC by 4.0

This lighthouse, located in Bill Baggs state park, is a symbol of Key Biscayne, and it can be seen from even the northern part of the coast. Unfortunately, due to COVID, tours and visits up the lighthouse are currently unavailable, but I was fortunate enough to go up my freshman year and take in the gorgeous blues of the limitless sea and sky. In his book The Prince of Los Cocuyos, Richard Blanco describes his personal connection to the lighthouse, having gone there with his family every year since he was a kid. The feeling of comfort and peace he found seeing (and hugging) the lighthouse is one that I can relate to after living in Miami for a few years, and I believe every resident of Miami should make their way down to the lighthouse at least once!

Green

Frankly, the whole thing is green. As you drive down the key, you’re surrounded by the happy green of the sea grapes and the lush green grass.

Crandon park zoo

What was once the Crandon Park zoo is now used by residents and visitors as a place to relax and go for a walk. After multiple hurricanes, and the onset of new zoos in Miami, the zoo closed. Its ruins are still up, and the location has been turned into botanical gardens, an intersection of manmade structures and natural beauty.

Bill Baggs state park & Crandon park

Along with a beach, a lighthouse, and a number of trails, the Bill Baggs state park and Crandon park offer green spaces and picnic tables.

Transportation

Driving on and off the island is only possible via the Rickenbacker Causeway, but the drive always promises lovely views of the water. A car and two feet is all you really need, but if that’s not possible there are other options —

The public transportation available on the key includes bus, light rail, people mover, and paratransit services, and bus #102 circulates around the island and connects to Brickell. The route and schedule are posted on the Bus #102 (Route B) webpage.

The closest access to the Metrorail is at the Vizcaya station.

Freebee is an app-based shuttle service which is completely free! There are two blue shuttles which circulate around the island, with a pickup every 20 minutes. My only complaint here is that at the moment, freebee mostly serves the residential and commercial portion of the key, so you could take it to get food or drinks but not to the beach.

Food

Pita pockets

Saniya Pradhan / CC by 4.0

This Middle Eastern restaurant is located on Crandon Blvd, and it offers a pretty large selection of salads, wraps, platters, as well as some Middle Eastern snacks, drinks, and ingredients. I ordered a veggie wrap and couldn’t stop myself from buying boxes of their tzatziki sauce and olives! The wrap was perfect to pack up and take to the beach, and the tzatziki and olives made yummy additions to my snacks in the following days. The owners are friendly, the food is fresh and well-priced, what else do you need?

Openseas Café

Saniya Pradhan / CC by 4.0

True to its name, this café is located along Crandon Beach, and offers covered and uncovered outdoor dining. The seating area of Openseas Café is charming and extremely fun, with many games such as jumbo jenga, connect 4, checkers, and cornhole. Their menu is pretty typical to Miami, with a variety of local and Caribbean dishes. If you’re hungry I recommend the fish tacos, and for a quick refresher definitely try the frozen lemonade. It is exactly what you need while roasting under the Miami sun. The café is a short walk from anywhere on the beach, but they also offer beach service, and will deliver food and drink right to you!

Ayesha Saffron

Ayesha Saffron is a great option for fine dining on Key Biscayne. This Indian restaurant has three locations in South Florida, and one of them is located on Crandon Blvd. They offer a wide array of dishes from India, including chole bhature for the vegetarians or lamb khorma for the carnivorous.

Businesses

Nice Twice Consignment Corp Key

One activity for a rainy day: thrifting! It is one of my favorite ways to have fun and get to know a city. Nice Twice is a consignment, vintage, and second-hand store, perhaps the only one of its kind on Key Biscayne. Adjacent to the post office, the store is a bit hidden away, but it is worth the search. They always have a variety of cool and unique pieces. They also offer shoe repair, alterations, dry cleaning, and more.

LimeBike

The one thing everyone sees on Key Biscayne are groups of people biking on the island and the Rickenbacker causeway. One easy and affordable way to get in on the fun is with LimeBike. Just download the app, and you can find, unlock, and rent a bike. The bikes are then easily returned to any LimeBike station.

Summary

I will leave you with the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas in her foreword to Key Biscayne, “What [Joan Gill Blank] shares with us is that the small island of Key Biscayne is a microcosm of the large world we live in – historically, environmentally, and politically.”

Works Cited

Blank, Joan Gill. Key Biscayne: a History of Miamis Tropical Island and the Cape Florida Lighthouse. J.G. Blank, 1996.

“Crandon Park Zoo.” Abandoned Florida, 13 Jan. 2021, http://www.abandonedfl.com/crandon-park-zoo/.

De la Blanca, Ricardo. “Did You Know… KB History: The Calusa Park ‘Shack.” IslanderNews.com | Locally Owned & Operated, 9 Jan. 2021, http://www.islandernews.com/news/did-you-know-kb-history-the-calusa-park-shack/article_ffbaeffe-f97b-11e9-a4c4-47d46d032c84.html.

“Key Biscayne, Florida Population 2021.” Key Biscayne, Florida Population 2021 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs), worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/key-biscayne-fl-population.

Miami, Ayer y Hoy : Los Secretos De Key Biscayne. YouTube, 3 Feb. 2021, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwGmNbOH2wI&ab_channel=Telemundo51Miami.

“Transportation.” Village of Key Biscayne, keybiscayne.fl.gov/index.php?submenu=_transportation&src=gendocs&ref=Transportation&link=Transportation.

US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “What Is a Barrier Island?” NOAA’s National Ocean Service, 5 Mar. 2021, oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/barrier-islands.html.

Saniya Pradhan: Miami Service Project 2021

STUDENT BIO

JW Bailly / CC by 4.0

My name is Saniya Pradhan, and I am a junior in the Honors college at FIU. I am studying International Relations and French, and my interests include: reading, writing, social sciences, yoga, learning languages, and hanging out with my cat.

WHO
On top of our day of volunteering at Chicken Key, I volunteered with Miami historian Cesar Becerra, a local academic and historian currently working on a book about the history of Miami, specifically the forgotten contributions of Mary Brickell.

WHY
I chose this research opportunity after meeting Mr. Becerra on a class outing. He taught us a lot about the history of the Everglades, and even showed us around to some hidden gems in the national park. When he told us about his research it was instantly interesting to me. As an international relations major, I spend a lot of time reading about and analyzing historical events. This story in particular is interesting because it relates to the city in which I live, and it forces us to consider what we’ve been told of our own history with a more critical eye.

During our first class outing for Finding Miami, we went to Downtown and heard the story of Julia Tuttle convincing Henry Flagler to extend his railroad down to Miami, thereby earning her the title of the “mother of Miami”, and the only woman to have founded a major US City. Mr. Becerra, along with a number of Miami historians and academics, have recently uncovered a story which may challenge Tuttle’s hold on the “founding mother” title. Although she was the catalyst which caused Flagler to come down south, he never could have been convinced to come to Miami if it hadn’t been for the Brickells. In fact, they had begun to homestead the Miami river 20 years before Tuttle even arrived on the scene. In order for Flagler to extend his railroad, he needed the land of both women and had to make deals with both of them. Mr. Becerra’s work uncovers this story and hopes to bring it to the public, so that we may finally give credit where credit is due.

HOW
I was lucky to have found this opportunity through Professor Bailly. When he told us Mr. Becerra was looking for student volunteers to help with his research, I went ahead and reached out to him.

WHERE & WHAT
Mr. Becerra explained to me the concept of his book and a general outline of the research he had already done. Then he asked me to help him with a specific topic: to find 2 or 3 cities in the United States that also have an instance of a forgotten founding person. After a basic google search, I decided to focus on 3 cities: Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Houston.

The next phase of the project was to contact historians, academics, and historical societies in these three cities to try to uncover some kind of controversy over its founding. For Salt Lake City and Nashville, this hunt ended relatively soon as there was not much new information ready to be discovered. Houston, on the other hand, proved to have a story very similar to Miami’s.

Once I narrowed in on Houston, I reached out to additional historians, and began compiling my own research as well. This is my synopsis of the founding history of Houston:

E-mail correspondence

From historian James L Haley jim@jameslhaley.com

From historian/author Mike Vance mikevance324@gmail.com

My synopsis

            On April 21, 1836, General Sam Houston wins the Battle of San Jacinto, winning Texas from Mexico. In August of the same month, brothers Augustus C and John K Allen, as well as AC’s wife Charlotte enter the scene with a large sum of money and a readiness to invest land in the newest state. Apparently, General Houston offered to call the city Charlottesville after Mrs. Allen, who refused because she believed the well-known name Houston would be better for the city’s prestige. In 1837 Houston is incorporated as the capital of Texas until 1839.

            American and Texan historians have largely forgotten about Charlotte Baldwin Allen since this time. A woman known for her brash temper and fierce independence was overshadowed by her husband and brother-in-law since she was not technically a legal landowner. Most sources will show that the founders of Houston are the two brothers AC and JK, and they fail to acknowledge two very important facts. The first is that Mrs. Allen’s is the one who financially backed the entire venture. Her father had made a fortune developing land in New York, which is probably where she and her husband got the inspiration to do the same in Houston. The money the Allen’s invested into Houston comes from Charlotte Allen’s family inheritance.

            The second point is that she is the one that stayed. Two years into their venture in Houston, JK Allen died of illness, and in 1850, Charlotte and Augustus split up and he returned to New York, while she remained in Houston. Charlotte stayed, remained deeply involved in the Houston real estate scene, and even donated pieces of land (technically not under her name), including the site of the first city hall, which today is Market Square Park.

            There is definitely a growing awareness toward this issue. Many women’s organizations and feminist groups in Texas are writing about Charlotte and her many contributions to the city of Houston. A high-profile instance of this is the reopening of the Doubletree by Hilton in Houston under the name C. Baldwin Hotel.

WHEN
This project, as it was research based, was very spread out, and offered me with the flexibility to contribute small amounts on my own time. I would make a phone call one day, respond to an e-mail the next, and I was doing research in between completing classwork or on a more laid-back day. Overall, I probably spent around 6 hours contacting people, conducting research and writing on the topic.


SUMMARY
I truly enjoyed the opportunity to conduct research and work with a local historian. I feel I have truly learned a lot about Miami’s history, and I’ve been able to contextualize it within the history of the United States as well.



CITATIONS
“Charlotte B. Allen – Houston’s Forgotten Founder – GHWCC: Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce.” GHWCC, ghwcc.org/2019/03/charlotte-b-allen-houstons/.

Gerbode, Christine. “Houston’s Forgotten Founding Allen.” Swamplot, 10 Mar. 2017, swamplot.com/houstons-forgotten-founding-allen/2017-03-10/.

“Houston Historical Timeline.” Houston, http://www.houston.org/timeline.Person.

“Downtown Hotel Honors the Respected ‘Mother of Houston’.” ABC13 Houston, KTRK-TV, 14 July 2020, abc13.com/charlotte-baldwin-allen-houston-hotel-launch/5048836/.

Saniya Pradhan: Miami as Text 2021

Saniya Pradhan/CC by 4.0

Hi, I’m Saniya! I am an Indian-American from Tallahassee, Florida, and I moved to Miami three years ago as a freshman at FIU. I’m currently a senior in the Honors program, majoring in International Relations as well as French & Francophone Studies. As it did for us all, the COVID-19 pandemic brought my life to a grinding halt. My plans to travel and study abroad were cancelled, and I was left scrambling to improvise a new plan – both academically and personally – for the next year or so. What I came up with, after months of isolated introspection, was to continue to reach for new and exciting experiences, just a little closer to home. After three years here, I feel as if I am still a stranger to Miami. My motivation for taking this class is directly related to my resolutions for 2021: to be present, to make the most of what I have, to learn, absorb, and grow as much as I can, and to gain a deeper understanding of Miami and the world around me. C’est parti !

The Unbearable Lightness and Heaviness of Being in Miami by Saniya Pradhan of FIU in Downtown Miami

Saniya Pradhan / CC by 4.0

Miami-Dade. Miami comes from the indigenous word “Mayami” meaning “big water”, and Dade comes from General Francis L. Dade, a major who was ambushed and killed by Native Americans during an attempt to move them from Florida. One honors the original settlers of this land, and the other honors the side responsible for their forcible removal and genocide. The dichotomous name of our city is representative of its history – rich and diverse, but also saddening and disappointing. Light, and heavy.

Flagler. Flagler college, Flagler county, or FIU’s very own West Flagler St? His name is everywhere, because he was one of those responsible for the early development of the state of Florida. On the suggestion of Julia Tuttle, he extended his railroad to South Florida, which led to the incorporation and founding of the City of Miami. While we celebrate him for his financial contributions to our state, we must also remember that he was responsible for first segregating Miami, thus starting the deep history of racial prejudice and systemic racism.

As we learned a little bit about the history of the Tequestas, now mostly lost to time, and the history of black people in Miami, used and put down, I found myself seeing Miami through their eyes. Today’s Miami is a special, diverse city which attracts people of all colors and backgrounds. Today, Miami is a place where anyone may feel that they belong. But our version of Miami is not the only one. The stories of the Tequestas, the black populations, and those who persecuted them, are now intertwined with our own. 

What happened in Miami is not unlike in the rest of the United States. It is tainted with death, exploitation, and injustice. In 2020 we had a reckoning against our country’s often wicked history, and people’s blindness to it. While the latter has had long-term effects on minorities in this country, the former is our biggest obstacle to meaningful change. So, how does one reckon with this dark past while appreciating Miami for all its beauty and diversity?

Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being opens with the philosophical comparison of lightness and heaviness. Kundera cites Nietzsche’s argument of eternal recurrence, the idea that the universe works in a cyclical nature, thus giving our actions weight or “heaviness.” Kundera, on the other hand, argues that each person only has only one life to live, so they must live in freedom or “lightness”.

In this context, lightness means individuality while heaviness means community. Miami’s strength comes from our diversity and receptiveness to humanity. Our stories are interconnected, so we have a responsibility to pass along the messages and the lessons of our past. Heaviness and intentionality mean that we must consider those that came before us, and those who will come after, and recognize our role in finding the way forward.

3, 2, 1… by Saniya Pradhan of FIU in the Everglades

Saniya Pradhan / CC by 4.0

At first glance, the cypress trees of the Everglades National Park seem to stand independently — each one spaced out from its neighbors. It takes just a little bit of slough slogging; however, to realize that this is not the case. The roots of the cypress trees form a complex underground network and support system which provides structure and life to the entire ecosystem. They provide a home to a host of flora and fauna, from air plants to gators to lichen to warblers. The trees have been there since long before you were born, and there they will remain, long past your death. They teach us of our own nature, of the deep interconnectedness of man and the Earth.

Going to the Everglades is easily the closest I’ve come to having a spiritual experience during my time in Miami. Visiting with Bailly’s class was an incredible introduction, but it left me with a hunger to return to the national park and explore what it has to offer. After spending about nine hours there, I know I’ve only barely scratched the surface of what there is to be learned and experienced.

I truly enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Park Ranger Dylan. She was extremely knowledgeable, and she taught us all a lot about the biodiversity of the everglades, the opportunities offered through the park, and the deep respect we should all carry for our planet and its inhabitants. When I asked about the biggest problems facing the Everglades, she said there were more than she could name. The biggest issues, she said, were water usage, fish deaths, and red tide. You can see more from her on Instagram @theswampandthesea.

What the West lacks is a deep reverence and connection to nature. Unfortunately, with the exportation of Western values and norms across the globe, indigenous populations seem to be the only ones left who fully grasp the harmony of nature and our role in protecting it. As much as we have tried to convince ourselves otherwise, we are not separate from planet Earth. Man can fight against it all he wants, but he is of this planet, and his destiny is one small part of its greater story.

When you’re standing there among the trees, breathe it in, absorb, listen, and accept. Accept that life is here, now. It is happening all around us whether we notice it or not. The trees are bearers of an ancient wisdom, and if you listen, they will share it with you. Then you will learn that mankind and nature are not antithetical — we are one and the same.

The Significance of Miami Architecture by Saniya Pradhan of FIU in South Beach

Saniya Pradhan / CC by 4.0

In popular culture worldwide, the term South Beach is used interchangeably with Miami. It evokes images of beaches, nightclubs, pastel buildings, and flashing lights. In a sense, this is pretty accurate, and remains true even during COVID-19. Take a walk (or bike, or skateboard, or rollerblades) down Ocean Drive. People are still gathering from around the world to experience South Beach. Surrounded by pastel facades and whimsical designs, you feel almost transported to another time. At night, you see their neon lights, and although tempered a bit since the pandemic, South Beach is still lively and full of people.

South Beach tells the story of how Miami became a city of cultural influence. This was probably due to a number of factors, such as its historically flashy reputation, and its being home to a vibrant LGBT community. Famous figures such as Gianni Versace, Andy Warhol, and Bruce Weber found inspiration among the warm weather, bright colors, and environment of political and personal liberation and self-expression. This history of cultural and artistic relevance remains true in Miami today and is most notably conveyed through the unique design and architecture of the city.

As is the case in popular tourist destinations around the world, Miami has struggled in promoting a lucrative tourism industry while maintaining the original beauty and culture of the city. South Beach is particularly vulnerable to losing its culture and history to commercialization of the area. In fact, the reason that we see the Art Deco buildings that we can is due to the efforts of Barbara Capitman, and others like her, who fought to preserve the architectural and cultural heritage of Miami.  

Saniya Pradhan of FIU at the Deering Estate

Saniya Pradhan / CC by 4.0

It’s like driving home, I think to myself as I drive my car down Old Cutler Road, on my way to the Deering Estate. By home, I mean my family’s home up in Tallahassee, a city with dense tree cover, towering live oaks, Spanish moss, and beautiful canopy roads. Normally, this is not how I experience driving in Miami, but while driving on Cutler I saw the daylight filter through the tall, leafy trees and felt a sensation of familiarity. I would come to realize throughout the day that the natural environment of the Deering Estate is magnificently varied, making it unlike the rest of Miami, or anywhere in the world for that matter. Deering is a celebration of South Florida’s wealth of natural beauty and multicultural legacy.

As we hiked along the paths of Deering, I got to see and experience many types of ecosystems, including a pine rock land, mangroves, and a tropical hardwood hammock. These ecosystems are home to many endangered and protected species, as well as host to a number of natural and archaeological treasures. As we walked, we saw how each ecosystem was different from the one before it, the role these ecosystems have played historically, and man’s role in the natural history of South Florida. One thing that marked me from our hike was the Tequesta Indian burial mound, left intact by the Deering Estate, upon which stood a massive oak tree. The oak tree, a symbol of strength, stands tall and proud above the rest of the trees. Attached to one of its branches is a beehive, buzzing with new life and energy. Life comes from the earth and life returns to the earth.

19 march 2021 by Saniya Pradhan of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

JW Bailly / CC by 4.0

The first steps into Vizcaya tell us all we need to know. We look up at Bacchus, who returns our gaze, welcoming us to his playground. We step into a courtyard flushed with sunlight and a cool breeze (in reality from the AC, but we can imagine it’s from the ocean just a few steps away).

Standing in his courtyard, on his marble flooring, gazing at his stained glass and statues, it’s easy to believe that the blue sky and water also belong to him. As a first-time visitor to James Deering’s place of residence, one senses his presence all around. He created Vizcaya in the image of the European bourgeoisie. In a truly Miami fashion, Deering drew influence from all over the world, prioritizing prestige and luxury over all else. This becomes increasingly clear as we continue down the rooms of the museum, each more decorated and appalling than the last. The museum opens onto the prim and playful gardens, a view of the ocean, and endless tiny paths into the South Florida mangroves.

The decadent home of a Euro-American aristocrat turned into an important historical and natural South Florida landmark and a must-see place for tourists in Miami. The history of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is closely intertwined with that of Miami and different people and artists residing in South Florida. It attracts intellectuals for its large collection of European art, as well as tourists for its picture-worthy spots (like the one of me above!) Overall, I recommend Vizcaya for anyone who needs an escape from the busy city life of Miami and a step into the life of James Deering, whose legacy molded the city of Miami.

Interconnectivity by Saniya Pradhan of FIU at Margulies

Aleksandra Baryshnikova / CC by 4.0

The entrance room of the Margulies Warehouse has two large pieces on the left side wall. One of the first ones we looked at was the Asia-Pacific Ant Farm by Yukinori Yanagi. It is made up of a number of plexiglass rectangles filled with sand to make up many different flags. The squares were all connected with small tubes, and ants were placed into this “ant farm”. This piece was very interesting to me because I recognized some flags– USA, UK, Thailand, South Korea, etc – but there were many I didn’t know, and even some I had never seen before. After some research I learned that the flags belong to recognized nations, colonial powers, and indigenous people of the pacific region. Yanagi himself traveled often between Japan and the USA. The movement of the ants, which break down the flags, or boundaries we have created as humans, represents a slow process of travel and exchange which eventually leads to interconnectivity.

Our class was extremely lucky to be able to get a tour of the warehouse by Mr. Margulies himself. As we discussed the artwork and he shared anecdotes with our class, he showed us how a pastime soon made him one of the most prominent collectors of contemporary art in the nation. He shared with us his own experience in the field and in life, and how the different artists and movements all made their way into his gallery.

One thing he said which stuck with me was that in order for a piece to be considered art, it requires a human being to interact with it. He said that often people try to understand a piece of art by looking for some kind of clue in the work, when in reality “understanding” a piece of art is highly subjective and an individual experience, even one that can change over time. The pieces at Margulies are beautiful, varied, stimulating, and interactive. His works deal with various themes, including those things are society struggles with today.  

The Margulies Warehouse (https://www.margulieswarehouse.com/) values accessibility to the art and promotes the educational and intellectual stimulation through its works. In fact, the warehouse is free to visit to any Florida student, $5 for non-Florida students, and $10 for normal admission!