It’s where Jimmy Buffett once cooked up his “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” where you could catch a Queen concert for $3 — even by boat — and where some of the world’s fastest speedboats were throbbing. national viewers in Biscayne Bay.
The latest effort to restore the venerable Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key is more than just preserving the concerts of a floating stage. It’s about throwing a lifeline at one of the few remaining rungs of Cuban architectural marvels in the Miami area.
“Some of us don’t have a history in Cuba,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado, who was born in Miami. “There are very few buildings from the 60s and 70s (with a Cuban design). People come from everywhere and they can return (to their own architecture). We don’t have that lujo (luxury). Miami Marine Stadium is that for us.
On Monday night, Regalado hosted a Zoom panel discussion titled “Miami’s Most Cuban Building…From Havana to Miami: The Architectural and Cultural Significance of Miami Marine Stadium” with several dignitaries. Among them was Hilario F. Candela, who in 1963, as a 28-year-old Cuban immigrant, designed the 6,566-seat stadium that survived hurricanes, humidity, and even a hasty demolition decision.
“Miami Marine Stadium stands as special,” he said during the all-Spanish speaking chat. “There have been many opportunities over the years for the city (of Miami) to listen … but many years have passed since its great presence and there have been many changes, such as climate change and the 1992 hurricane (Andrew) that did so much damage… The voice of Miami Marine Stadium has emerged and I’m here for the city.
Candela pointed out that after Andrew, a city study “said the stadium was damaged, but that was wrong…and they were going to tear it down.”
In 2008, the World Monuments Fund jumped on board (along with the local Friends of Miami Marine Stadium), putting it in the same breath as magnificent otherworldly structures worth preserving, like Machu Picchu in Peru and the Taj Mahal. in India.
Candela said as early as 2010 that he used the word pausa (pause) to explain the progress because “every time they kept talking about it, the public wanted it and there was international support for it.
“This break is a bit longer than it should be and I think there should be no more breaks,” he added. “It has to stop and reality begin. The stadium is tired of breaks. The stadium wants to come back in an extraordinary art form.
When the stadium was built, costs were about $1 million — under budget, Candela said — and there was a $900,000 charge to dredge the basin.
The 326-foot-long structure — built on land donated by the prominent Matheson family — has eight large, sloping columns and a cantilevered folding plate roof that defies its age.
“I’ve always loved Miami,” Candela said. “This stadium (and the location) was like a dream, the most important area for (the view) of water and land – very few places in the world where a place like this existed.”
“The roof is like a replica of the water reflection and the sound of the water against that roof is a memory,” Candela said. “It was a dream, but it had to be done with care…We had carpenters on the roof who had experience in woodworking (craftsmanship) on ships in Miami.”
Today, despite tropical heat, summer storms and even hurricanes, the roof has stood the test of time, said Rosa Lowinger, president/chief conservator of RLA Conservation of Art+Architecture, who has shown a screenshot of the roof from a video.
“Hurricane after hurricane didn’t knock it down,” Lowinger said. “It hasn’t had any maintenance for 30 years, but the close-ups of the roof, which give this structure its identity, look immaculate.”
Lowinger said contemporary and modern architecture is not easy to understand.
“(Back) in the 20s and 30s, Art Deco took a long time to catch on,” she explained. “Buildings like these represent a specific moment. … it is important in Cuba in the 50s and 40s. This architecture (without copying other countries) represents its own community. … We don’t have a Chrysler Building or, say, Independence Hall. Our region is (built on) modern architecture.
The stadium has been the scene of Elvis Presley’s “Clambake,” concerts by Gloria Estefan to the Boston Pops to the Beach Boys, Easter sunrise services, professional boxing matches, horse racing seaplanes and even a memorable onstage hug from President Richard Nixon (then a resident of Key Biscayne) to entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.
“The list is so long,” Lowinger said. “It was difficult to maintain this level of programs.”
She explained that after Hurricane Andrew, when the city declared the structure unsafe, FEMA provided money for demolition. But when a later study found the stadium to be structurally sound, the city returned the money to FEMA.
Lately, the stadium – once known as a scenic area for marriage proposals – has been the home of graffiti artists, and the preservation of their artwork is also under consideration.
The site, Keeping it Modern, lists more than a dozen structures – such as the Sydney Opera House and Miami Marine Stadium – that it considers critically important.
The stadium has also been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as an architectural masterpiece and was named to the 11 “Most Endangered” list in 2009.
“We have a gem,” Lowinger said,
Preserving a structure like this goes beyond the concrete and galvanized roof.
Javier Ors Austin, program manager at the World Monuments Fund – which identifies 25 global projects and implements work over two years – said: ‘It’s not just for the value (of the structure), but for the economic impact it generates and its reopening to the public for tourism, which has an impact on the economy.
So what’s the next step?
Restoration plans are complete and ready to be sent to bid and find a developer. Talking with city officials, the County Commission, calling and sending letters all help the cause.
“Just to explain that we have an opportunity to restore something so precious that represents Cuban-American (heritage),” Lowinger said. “Art Basel wouldn’t be in Miami Beach if those buildings weren’t restored…and that economic shift (did that) as a central art area, and Miami Marine Stadium has the same factor.
“This building has already earned awards and has already brought in money (from other benefactors). We don’t have to start over. The train has already left the station.