As a native Miamian, I remember early Miami in the late 1920s as a town with lots of vacant lots to play in; coconut palms in thick plantings; tough, indestructible palmettos everywhere; sandspurs all along the sand dunes covering the sweeping emptiness of the beachfronts that seemed to stretch toward forever; and sidewalks and lampposts often out in the middle of nowhere, signs of some developer’s scheme too ambitious for its time.

Houses in the 1920s were usually built in the bungalow style. You can still see their look-alikes today in Little Havana, then known as Riverside Heights and Grove Park. Some still serve as residences with a Latin flavor, their ruling center now called Calle Ocho, once simply SW 8th Street. Others were converted to funeral homes and florist shops when the area was no longer residential.

It wasn’t until George Merrick’s Coral Gables (once a grapefruit grove with carriage tracks lying a good day’s trek from downtown Miami) popularized the Spanish style and North Bay Road on Miami Beach upgraded to the grander Mediterranean and Italian villas that variety began to surface. Not all of the architectural ideas put forth were in harmony with their setting, however, or the subtropical climate or even the comfort of those who lived in them.

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