ASC See Miami Fall 2020: Trent Martino

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Who am I?

My name is Trent Martino. I am a junior at Florida International University, studying Electrical Engineering, and I am in the Honor College taking Professor Bailly’s Art Society Conflict class. Even though I am a STEM student, I like to think that I have a decent interest in the arts. Since I was a kid I have played musical instruments, and I have been known to doodle quite a bit in those boring classes. In short, I would like to clarify that even though I am a STEM student, I still do have a lot of respect for the arts.

Where did I go?

For my See Miami assignment, I chose to go to the historical site Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. This was originally built by James Deering, with the help of several key designers and architects, starting in 1910 and was completed in 1923 (Kidd, 2016). Today, the estate acts as a museum and vast garden, filled with historical artifacts, artwork, and many plants. It is located in Coconut Grove in South Florida, and is open to the public with the purchase of an admission ticket.


Historical Background

James Deering

James Deering was born to a wealthy family in Maine in 1859. After inheriting some of his familie’s wealth, he entered to several of his own busniness adventures. He moved his family all around the United States, invresting in many agricultural developments, most notably in agricultural machinery, which helped him expand his wealth. He ventually settled with his family in Illinois, and was able to retire when he was fairly young in his early fifties. Not long after retiring, he was diagnosed with anemia. At the time, doctors recommended living in a warm climate to help control the disease, so he decided to use his fortune to build an estate in South Florida (“Who Was James Deering?”, vizcaya.org). He employed some very prominent artists, designers and architects to help make this “winter home” as extravagant as possible. The most notable of these designers were Diego Suarez, Francis Burrall Hoffman, and Paul Chalfin. James had this vision of making a tropical paradise that he could escape to, and hopefully better his health while he was there. James first moved into the estate on Christmas in 1916, and it served as this winter retreat for him and his family until he passed away from his aforementioned health complications in 1925.

Major Contributors to Vizcaya’s Original Design

Francis B Hoffman was hired by James Deering in 1912 to be the main architecht for his estate, even though he was not trained as, or even studied architecture. Deering and Hoffman worked closely together to make Deering’s vision come to life. He is credited with the design of the entire property (however, the gradens were designed by Diego Suarez), and his work on Vizcaya went down as his most prominent accomplishment. Unfortunately, Hoffman had to leave the project in 1917 to join the army for World War I, so he was not able to see the project get completed (“Francis Burrall Hoffman, The Architect,” vizcaya.org).

Another major contributor to the development of the grandeur at the Vizcaya estate was Paul Chalfin. He was essentially the interior designer for the house. He was responsible for many of the unique design choices that you can see throughout the house. Two of my personal favorites being a painting that was converted into a cabinet to hide the pipes for a pipe organ, and a French fireplace that he added layers to to make it look even more magnificent. It is without a doubt that his contributions make the house a unique building altogether.

Another major contributor is the man who designed the extravagant garden portion of the property, Diego Suarez. Unfortunately, however, he did not get much credit for this until much later. Due to arguments between him and Chalfin, Suarez left the project in 1917, which lead Chalfin to take credit for the design of the garden. Thankfully, in the 1950’s, Hoffman acknowledged Suarez’s work, and he then received credit for making one of the most beautiful gardens in the United States and in the world (“diego Suarez, Landscape Architect For Vizcaya’s Gardens,” vizcaya.org).


Vizcaya Today

Vizcaya’s Mission

The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens organization works to preserve the estate as best as possible. Currently, they are undergoing a massive rennovation project, funded by the Save America’s Treasure’s grant that was implemented by the Trump administration. They were awarded $500,000 to preserve parts of the property, and they are using the funding to restore the Superintendent’s House (“Vizcaya Awarded $500,00…”, vizcaya.org). Many organizations are coming together to help with this project, including the National Parks Service (NPS) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Vizcaya is home to many great artworks, garden landscapes and some beautiful architecture, so it makes sense why so many people who want to help preserve it. It is very heartwarming to see so many organizations come together to help keep this treasured landmark standing proud in my home city of Miami.

Private Property for Public Consumption

This being a museum, almost the entire property is available to the public to consume its contents. While Vizcaya started out as a rich man’s winter escape, today it stands as a publicly-accessible museum where anyone can go. Although the ticket prices seem to be a little steep for a museum, compared to other similar organizations, the price of admission in my opinion seems fair. It is also worth mentioning that there seem to be sales on tickets right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so if you have been waiting to go, this would be a good time.

The beginning of the path leading to the entrance of the Vizcaya Museum. Photo by Trent Martino/ CC BY 4.0

Although you have to purchase ticket to get into the main part of the property, the walkway towards the property (basically the entire area surrounding it) is open to the public, and is filled with native plants, and even has some statues along the path. This public path really sets the tone for the entire museum, as there is a nice mixture of art and nature, and it’s very nifty that anyone can walk through this part of the property.

Visitor

While I was at Vizcaya I made an effort to talk to some people to get their opinions on the museum. But, due to the pandemic, a lot of people were not willing to get in close proximity to a stranger for the purposes of talking to them (which, if I am being honest, is entirely understandable). However, I was able to find one other guest that was willing to talk to me. Below is a loose transcription of the questions that I had for them, along with their answers.

What made you want to come to the museum today?
“I wanted to see the art and the beautiful gardens.”

Have you ever been to the Vizcaya museum before?
“No, this is my first time, actually!”

Okay, my follow-up question for you saying yes would have been how this experience due to COVID-19 is different, but if you would still like to give your opinion you can.
“I’d say my experience here, even with the pandemic going on, is still pretty good. There really aren’t that many people here, so the museum isn’t all that crowded, and there are even a lot of safety measures here in place. I like how they set up the rooms in the house as one-way paths.”

What is your favorite part of the museum?
“My favorite part is either the garden with all of the orchids, or all of the topless statues.”

What is your least favorite part, if you have one?
“There is a lot of construction going on, so it seems like we aren’t able to see a lot of the museum. Also, there are no bathrooms near-by.”

Do you have a favorite piece of art here, and if so, what is it?
“My favorite piece was the one of this statue with a woman kissing a bird. I would to hear the background story of that one!”

Would you come to the museum again?
“I would come again, just to be able to see and experience the parts that are currently under construction or renovation, whatever it is that they are doing.”

If you could describe the museum in one sentence, what would it be?
“Some dude got a lot of money to spend. (laghuter) But seriously, it’s a great picturesque place will take you back in time.”

On a scale of one to five, how would you rate your visit here?
“Probably a 4.”

Portrait – Response from a survey sent to an employee

While looking for guests to ask questions for this project, I also wanted to get opinions from an employee there. Most people I saw there were busy, but I was able to get one person to agree to fill out a survey that I sent them via email. here is a copy of that survey response:

What is your name, and what do you do here at Vizcaya?
My name is Jennifer Canals and I am a Visitor Services Associate.

How long have you worked here?
I’ve worked at Vizcaya for 2 years.

What lead you to end up working at Vizcaya?
I graduated from the University of Florida with a BA in the History of Art. I moved back home to Miami and wanted to begin my career in the museum field.

Can you describe what you normally do here?
My role has changed so much in the past couple of years and especially during Covid. My day-to-day mostly looks like enforcing mask policies while engaging with visitors. This engagement ranges from wayfinding and ticket sales to historic discussions and questions about archival material.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic effected the museum and your job?
The museum has mostly been affected economically. So much of our visitor base is foreign and tourist based. We’re also known to host elaborate and large community programs. With travel and large gatherings virtually impossible, we’ve taken a huge hit to our budget. Personally, Covid put me back in a frontline position. In February, I transitioned out of a position in education (developing content, providing tours, engaging with visitors) to an office job in Community Programming (more losigistical, data anaysis and visitor base focused). However, as Community Programming shut down, I transitioned to a role in visitor engagement. I stayed employed but lost my job in some ways.

What are some of your favorite parts of the museum?
I love that it’s a capsule for so many historic periods. The collection ranges over hundreds of years and over so many mediums. It’s also picturesque— not a bad place to come to work every day, that’s for sure. Lastly I love the community here. All of the employees are really connected.

If you could change something about Vizcaya, what would it be?
MONEY! I wish this place had more money. We’re finally getting some much needed capital projects done through funding from the Knight Foundation but I wish we had more money generally. Money grants you freedom to play and to experiment. Sometimes it feels like there’s so much at stake with everything we do here— it’s all very calculated.

Are there any future changes that are coming to the museum (that you are able to share with me)?
There are quite a few restoration projects under way. In the future, we hope to have the second floor open again as well as the Fountain Garden and Tea House. In the future future (looking much farther ahead) the museum has plans to open the Village to the public. It will increase accessibility as a free resource to the community just next to the Metro Rail. We hope to have changing exhibits and access to our archives there.

If you could describe the museum in one sentence, what would it be?
Vizcaya is a time capsule and a treasure untouched by time and nestled in history.

Summary

Overall, I think the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is a fantastic institution. It feels so welcoming on the way in, and has this gravitating allure to it with all of the history that surrounds you as you stroll the property. If it were up to me, I would have everyone visit this site at least once in their life. It combines so many historic periods and geographic influences, it really blows your mind when you see it.

Works Cited

C., William. “A Brief History of Miami’s Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.” Florida Insider, 25 November, 2019, https://floridainsider.com/travel/a-brief-history-of-miamis-vizcaya-museum-and-gardens/. Accessed 12 December, 2020.

“Diego Suarez, Landscape Architect for Vizcaya’s Gardens.” Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, https://vizcaya.org/posts/diego-suarez-landscape-architect-for-vizcayas-gardens/. Accessed 12 December 2020.

“Francis Burrall Hoffman -The Architect.” Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, https://vizcaya.org/posts/francis-burrall-hoffman-the-architect/. Accessed 13 December 2020.

Kidd, Lawrence. “A Brief and Fascinating History of The Vizcaya Villas.” The Culture Trip, 15 August, 2016, https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/florida/articles/history-vizcaya-villas/. Accessed December 12, 2020.

“Paul Chalfin – The Accidental Artist Director.” Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, https://vizcaya.org/posts/paul-chalfin-the-accidental-artistic-director/. Accessed 13 December 2020.

“Vizcaya Awarded $500,000 Grant for Resoration of Historic Superintendents House.” Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, https://vizcaya.org/posts/vizcaya-awarded-500000-grant-for-restoration-of-historic-superintendents-house/. Accessed 12 December, 2020.

“Who Was James Deering?”, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, https://vizcaya.org/posts/who-was-james-deering/. Accessed 12 December, 2020.

ASC Service Project Fall 2020: Trent Martino

Self Bio

Hello, my name is Trent Martino. I am a junior at Florida International University, studying Electrical Engineering. I am also in the Honors College, and this semester I am taking Professor John Bailly’s class: Art Society Conflict. For this class, Professor Bailly asked us to volunteer with an art institution, and I chose to volunteer with the Deering Estate.

Where and Why

The Deering Estate is home to one of the oldest civilizations in South Florida. This is true whether you are talking about the original indigenous tribes of the Tequesta people, or if you are talking about one of the first major settlements in the area when Charles Deering decided to build his estate here in the early 1900’s. When the State of Florida acquired the Deering Estate in the 1980’s, the began a mission to preserve both aspects of this historical landmark.

The Deering Estate is also a great place for platforming artists in the community. When I was in middle school, I went to Southwood Middle School, which is down the street from the Deering Estate, and I was in the orchestra magnet program. They would hold recitals that students of all ages could participate in or come watch. Not only that, they actually hire and support local artists. Professor Bailly is one of the resident artists at the Deering Estate, where he has an art studio, and is given access to the property to help inspire him in his work.

All of these reasons gave me a grand amount of respect for what the Deering Estate does in their goals and their mission. It’s a nice mixture of preservation and innovation. Because of this, I wanted to help them out in any way possible. So, I reached out to some volunteering coordinators there to ask them if there were any opportunities for me to help them out. They sent me a list of events that they were hosting where they needed volunteers, and I chose to participate in their Historic Holiday Evening Strolls event on December 4th. The Historic Holiday Strolls is a yearly event that this organization holds where they decorate the property with holiday-themed decorations, and guests can come and walk around the property to see how they transformed it for the holiday event.

The event that I volunteered for is called the Historic Holiday Strolls. This is an event where organizers and staff decorate the entire residential part of the property (where the houses and cottage is located) with holiday decorations. the place is really transformed for this and similar events! If you are a fan of the aesthetic of Christmastime, this is a must see, whenever you can.

What I did

This event was hosted by the Deering Estate for their members and the community at large (however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the spots were limited and guests had to register beforehand). The entire property was decorated with winter holiday decorations (mainly Christmas, but there were some Hanukah decorations thrown in as well). They really transformed everything into a beautiful landscape, and it feels like you’re walking through a South Florida version of the North Pole, with all of the lights and trees put up. For this event, I acted as a greeter. I sat a table at the entrance to the event, and along with another volunteer, we would help direct the guests to the many events on the property that night. We would also pass out fliers that had other events that the Deering Estate was holding throughout the first quarter of 2021. There were many people who were interested in what they Deering Estate had to offer, which was very exciting and encouraging. I was also asked to help families take pictures as they walked in.

Towards the end of the event, I was re-stationed to the exit of the event, where I was asked to pass out more of the fliers of the Deering Estate’s future events.

I hope that the organization has good turnouts throughout these events, even with the pandemic going on, because I would like to see their operations expand and for their to do more projects. In the future I would consider participating in more events that they host and become a regular over there.

Key Takeaways

By participating in this event, I think that I got a good behind-the-scenes look at what the Deering Estate does to earn extra funding. This event was very grandiose, and it looked as though they had a large turnout. Overall, i wold say that these events work in their favor. They are giving people the opportunity to come into the prestigious property and get a unique experience – seeing a historical house decorated for the holidays in a very grandiose fashion.

Overall, I feel like the people responsible for running the event did an excellent job of setting it up and giving people the needed information. However, many people from the community, including “members” came to the front confused about the ticket limit that was imposed on the event due to the pandemic. While this is something that the organizers made obvious on their website, I suppose that there could have been more efforts made to ensure that other members of the community were aware of the changes.

In the future I hope to get the opportunity to help the Deering Estate with more of their endeavors. I would love to help with more of the art projects that they have on the property as apart of the organization. Even though I am a STEM major, I think that the art world is extremely interesting and important, and I believe that the Deering Estate is doing an excellent job of supporting this fantastic part of our culture.

Confirmation for my volunteer hours on MyHonors.

Trent Martino: Miami as Text

Biography

Me with my first electric guitar that I got during Summer 2020

Hello Everyone! My name is Trent, and I am a student at Florida International University, and I am taking John Bailley’s 2020-2021 Art Society Conflict course. My major is Electrical Engineering, but I’d say that my interests are far greater than just math and science. Ever since I was a young child, I was in love with just about everything related to the arts. My notebooks were filled with doodles of action heroes, obscure vehicles and of course, some of my favorite animals. When I was in middle school, I played violin in our school orchestra at Southwood Middle School. I’d say that while the violin was not necessarily my passion, I definitely developed a love for playing and making music. Now, as a hobby I am trying to learn to play the guitar. Middle school was also where I got in to skateboarding, which has been a passion of mine since.

As I got older, I started to become more interested in politics and the way people operate, and how we got to where we are. I am excited to learn in this class not only how people think, but how they express what they think through art and how these two things shape my home city of Miami.

Deering as Text

“Miami’s Home of History” by Trent Martino of FIU at Deering Estate

September 9, 2020

Your first impressions of the Deering Estate might be misleading if you have never been there before. The drive to the property will take you through some very modern neighborhoods, and in particular Miami fashion, none of the houses seem to belong next to each other, and they all creep right up to this historic site. However, once you step on to the property you will get to experience how breath-taking it is.

Our class as we walk through the entrance of the Deering Estate

The history at the Deering Estate begins many years before John Deering ever stepped foot on the property. The original inhabitants of this land was a tribe of indigenous people known as the Tequesta. Inside the Richmond cottage, there is a display of some of the artifacts and tools that were made and used by the Tequesta’s.

The older of the two houses on the property, the Richmond Cottage, was originally constructed in 1896 by S. H. Richmond, and was reconstructed by his wife Edith Richmond in 1900. 16 years before Charles Deering purchased the property. After Edith did some renovations to the property, the Richmond Cottage acted as the southernmost hospitality resource in the United States. The docks right behind the cottage made it an ideal spot for wealthy travelers looking for a tropical get-away along the Atlantic coast.

The other main building on the property is the Stone House. The stone house was build after Charles Deering purchased the property. Construction began in 1922 and took about a year to complete. This house served as the primary residency of Charles Deering and his family when they were in South Florida.

A view of the western side of the Stone House
A view from the top of the Stone House, looking northeast towards the coast

The architecture of the Stone House is probably the best physical representation of Miami that you can find. It was designed by Charles Deering, who was a European white guy from Maine, and much of the construction on the Stone House was done by One of his inspirations for the building came from Islamic architecture, which can be seen from the pointed and onion-shaped arches along the outside of the building. What is even more fascinating is that this building, designed by a white man, inspired by Islamic architecture, was built by a ton of other ethnic minorities from around the area.

I believe that the construction of the Stone House points to an amazing quality of Miami: a bunch of cultures and ethnic groups coming together in one giant melting pot, forever living with each other, giving and taking influence, so much so until original ideas are hard to pinpoint as they mesh together.

South Beach as Text

“Strip of History” by Trent Martino of FIU in South Beach

September 23, 2020

This week, Professor Bailley took us on a trip around South Beach in Miami. As a South Florida native, I have been to South Beach many times in my life, and to be quite honest, I was not excited for this trip at first. I think that since I have lived in such close proximity to the area my whole life, I had become jaded to what the atmosphere of South Beach was. To me, it was just crowded beaches with weird building and over-priced food. But I put my trust in Professor Bailly to show me something new. In all honesty, he blew my mind. He was able to introduce me to so many amazing and interesting things about Miami, and I am so glad that I was able to take this tour with him. I now have a much deeper appreciation for South Beach, and Miami as a whole.

I used to think that the architecture on South Beach was just a random mess of strange buildings with no rhyme or reason to them. While this may be true for some, I now understand that the style of South Beach is totally unique, and each building is essentially a piece of fine art. The reason why it looks so disorganized is because each person who wanted to make a building had their own vision in mind for the architectural style, and walking down the street is like walking through time, seeing how ideas and tastes change as Miami developed. Professor Bailley informed us on the major design styles: “Mediterranean revival,” “Miami Modern” or “MiMo,” “Art Deco,” and while this is not necessarily a style, there are some old western style building along South Beach as well. I think that out of all of them, my favorite design styles are MiMo and Art Deco. Those two look extremely unique, and I don’t think that I have seen those design styles any where else. But to be honest, I never took the time to appreciate them until now.

I like how Miami is very different from other places. While I still think that it’s “messy” in terms of its style, I now appreciate that mess as people trying to experiment with different things, and to express themselves through the designs of their businesses. And in the end, I think that is what South Beach is all about: expression and freedom.

I think another aspect of this trip that made this trip especially interested is that we went during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, South Beach was pretty much vacant. While there were some people there, it was absolutely nothing like a typical day in Miami. A lot of the famous businesses were closed to the public and even some public facilities were as well. While this may seem like a bummer, I think it really gave us an opportunity to see and appreciate everything without the added stress of trying to navigate around crowds of pedestrians.

Here you can see just how empty South Beach was during our trip. Compared to a normal day, this makes South Beach look like a total ghost town. Even the restaurants were almost begging for our business as we were passing by.

Bakehouse as Text

“Repurpose for a Purpose” by Trent Martino of FIU at the Bakehouse Art Complex

October 7, 2020

The Bakehouse in Wynwood is currently working on a fantastic exhibit that is using art to teach the public about an extremely important scientific issue. The leading artist, Lauren Shapiro, is working with environmental scientists to create an exhibit that is going to show people the damage that we are doing to the Earth’s coral reefs.

Coral reefs are a vital part of our ecosystem, and without them, tons of ocean life will perish, and consequently, much of the life on land will follow with it, since so much of the two environments depend on each other. There are many ways we pollute the ocean, including trash that escapes into the ocean, runoff from farmland, construction along the coast, over fishing, and much much more. All of these things can cause the coral to go through a process called “coral bleaching,” which is where they lose their color as they die. Lauren Shapiro and the artists she works with are using clay to demonstrate this process. Lauren worked with a group of scientists that create realistic 3D models of coral, and she used those to make molds out of a silicone-based substance. She then uses those molds to make clay versions of those different pieces of coral. They also built these massive wooden structures that the clay gets placed on. Over time, the clay will dry up, becoming pale and cracked, and also fall off of the wood, to visually simulate what happens to our coral reefs due to our negligence.

The silicone molds that Lauren made using 3D models of coral reefs from researchers
Some of the clay models that were made using the silicone molds

I think that the best part of this exhibit is that it beautifully combines a scientific issue with an artist application. I think that the hardest part of conveying a message as important as climate is that the information and the consequences can be difficult to explain with words alone. In order to show people the real consequences, we need artists that can think of amazing ideas like this that will really resonate with people. I hope that more artists get the opportunity to make informational exhibits like this, and I hope more scientists are open to doing the same.

Rubell as Text

“Private Ownership for Public Benefit” by Trent Martino of FIU at Rubell Family Collection Art Museum

October 21, 2020

The Rubell Museum is a fantastic and beautiful gem within Miami. I have never been to an art museum like it before, and Professor Bailey was able to explain to me why that is, and why it is so important.

The Rubell Museum is privately owned by the Rubell family. It is, in every sense, their own personal art collection that the family opens up to the public. Since it is a privately-owned museum, they are allowed to display whatever they want to. A lot of artwork in their museum could be considered controversial. There are many sexually-explicit pieces of art here. It is quite shocking if you are not used to see this type of stuff in a professional setting (well, an art museum is considered to be “professional” to me), but to be honest, it was very refreshing and enlightening. It was not disturbing, but just surprising. Being exposed to how vulnerable many of these artists can be when they express their art really changed my perspective on what art can be. If this were not a private collection, and was instead operated by as a government entity, they would never have shown the type of artwork that is currently in the Rubell Museum.

Let me be clear that the Rubell Museum contains a lot more than just sexually-explicit art. They have an expansive collection of contemporary art (all of the pictures that I took at the museum are some examples of the kind of artwork that can be found here at the Rubell Museum. I just think that being able to display artwork that is controversial is important. Professor Bailly made the point that artwork as explicit as the pieces displayed at the Rubell Museum would never be allowed to be put up at any government-owned facility, such as the Frost Art Museum at FIU. I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing that FIU would not put up this type of art, I just believe that everything needs its place, and the Rubell Museum has the freedom to display what other institutions cannot.

I know that these revelations may seem trivial to others, but these are things that I never really considered before. This trip allowed me to learn more about the world of contemporary art, and how much it matters.

Deering Hike as Text

“Authentic Miami” by Trent Martino of FIU at Deering Estate

November 4, 2020

Today, we went on a special hike through the Deering Estate that is not normally open to the public. On this hike, we got to see what Miami was originally like, with all of the natural habitats still (barely) untouched by modern development.

Through the Deering Estate, there are many natural areas that seem vastly different, but coexist right next to each other naturally. There is a grove of mangroves, sitting on top of the water, right next to a dessert-like field of pine trees. This is the most beautiful site I have ever seen in South Florida. I think it is amazing that the Deering Estate has preserved these natural areas. I am a huge fan of maintaining nature, and I think that every effort that humans make to destroy or alter natural habitats is a crime against the Earth, so seeing such a beautiful place being preserved is a very comforting thing.

One of the coolest things that I saw during the whole hike are these massive chunks of limestone (although Professor Bailley called it by a different name, I cannot think of it at the moment) that have been cut into and formed by the water that flows through and around it. There are even caves made from this naturally-cut limestone, and it blows my mind when you think about how long these rocks and these waters must have been here for these sights to have been formed.

Not only has the nature of the Deering Estate been protected, but relics of the native population have also been kept intact. Throughout the site, you can find the tools that were used by the native people who originally lived here, and they are made out of shells! These tools can be found all over the place, hidden in the muddy waters around the mangroves. You can see how the shells were broken and sharpened into tools such as knives and digging tools. Professor Bailly was willing to show us these tools, and holding them was a cool experience to see how innovative the native people were. What is even more amazing is that all of these small tools remained in the area after all these years of urban development and massive storms.

Downtown Miami as Text

“Miami: Conflicting History; Contradictory Values” by Trent Martino of FIU in Downtown Miami

November 25, 2020

For this days lecture, Professor Bailly took us on a walk around Downtown Miami. We got to see some historical sights and learn more about the city. From this trip, I learned more about how Miami became a city and its early days of being incorporated.

The first house built in Miami, which belonged to an interracial couple

Before Miami was a city, it was used as farmland by some of the first big investors in the area. In one of the parks within the city, there are two historic buildings (however, this is not their original location, this is where the local government decided to place them as a way to preserve them). One of them is the first house ever built in the Miami area, which was made by a German immigrant who married a black woman who already had children from a previous marriage. So this is a white man who has a black wife and black stepchildren, and to make it even better, he would later befriend native people in the area and would have them over for dinner. This really is a great story of how Miami is, a diverse group of people from different backgrounds coming to sit at a table together.

The other historic building does not have as happy of a story, but it is still very important and very interesting. It was a small hut-like building, which was built by and used to house slaves. However, it did not remain that way. Throughout Miami’s history, it took on many roles as community buildings, even serving as a courthouse, where actual trials took place!

Plaque commemorating Major Dade outside of the Miami Dade Courthouse

When Americans wanted to colonize the original area of Miami, it was inhabited by Seminoles, which was a group mixed of displaced natives and escaped slaves. One of the American military groups that was coming to attack the Seminoles was lead by Major Francis Langhorne Dade. He led 117 men down through South Florida and was ambushed by around 200 Seminoles, and Major Dade and all of his men perished. Learning this, I think it’s weird that we deiced to name our county after a man who died trying to kill another group of people for the sake of colonization. What’s even more bizarre is the plaque that’s on the Miami Dade Courthouse, with its description of the events that occurred. I’ll leave it here for you to discover.

Statue of Henry Flagler that can be seen outside of the courthouse in Downtown Miami

When Miami was about to become a city, the residents in the area had to vote to determine whether or not to incorporate the area as a city. Henry Flagler was a major proponent for making Miami a city, and argued that his workers should have the right to vote since they worked and lived on the land. He was able to get his workers the ability to vote, and Miami became incorporated as a city. Afterwards, Flagler kicked out 300 of his black workers, and then segregated them into a town that he designated as Colored Town, which is now Overtown. I understand that Flager was extremely important to the development of Miami, but I still think that it is important that everyone living here learns about the bad things that he did as well. As professor Bailly put it, “He brought the railroads to Miami, but he also brought segregation.” On that note, I think it is inappropriate that, right in front of the plaque commemorating Major Dade in front of the Miami-Dade Courthouse, a building that is supposed to represent unbiased justice, there is a statue of Henry Flagler.

Exploding bowl of oranges and orange peels
Graffiti under bridge going over the Miami river

Even though Miami has a pretty rough history, it is still worth mentioning that it is a great hub of art and culture. On just our little walk, I was able to see two great pieces of public art. One of them is a broken statue of a bowl of oranges, exploding with pieces of the bowl and parts of the orange flying everywhere, which is next to the Government Center Station for the Metro Mover. The other piece is some street art found under one of the bridges going over the Miami river. This is a good reminder of how Miami can be really ugly from one perspective, with its gentrification and class segregation, but it can also be really beautiful with its dedication to art.