South Beach (or "SOBE" as known to its locals) is a section of Miami Beach, Florida that encompasses the lower 23 blocks of the island from the point south of 1st Street to 23rd Street. This area was the first section of Miami Beach to be developed starting in the 1910s, thanks to development efforts of Carl G. Fisher, the Lummus Brothers, John Collins, and others. The area has gone through numerous changes over the years, some man-made and some due to the forces of nature, like the hurricane of 1926 that destroyed much of the area.
South Beach started as farm land. In 1870, Henry and Charles Lum purchased 165 acres (668,000 m²) for coconut farming. Charles Lum built the first house on the beach in 1886. In 1894 the Lum brothers left the island, leaving control of the plantation to John Collins, who came to South Beach two years later to survey his land. He used the land for farming purposes, discovering fresh water and extending his parcel from 14th Street to 67th in 1907.
In 1906, South Beach's first bar, Mac's Club Deuce (which still exists today), opened its door on 14th Street.
In 1912, Miami Businessmen the Lummus Brothers acquired 400 acres (1.6 km²) of Collins, in an effort build an ocean front city of modest single family residence.
Carl G. Fisher, a successful entrepreneur who made millions in 1909 after selling a business to Union Carbide, came to the beach in 1913. His vision was to establish South Beach as a successful city independent of Miami. This was the same year that the famous restaurant Joe's Stone Crab opened.
On March 26, 1915, Collins, Lummus, and Fisher consolidated their efforts and incorporated the Town of Miami Beach. South Beach is born. In 1918 the Mac Arthur Causeway was completed. The Lummus brothers sold their oceanfront property to the city from 6th Street to 14th, which was then and is now the area known as Lummus Park.
In 1920, the Miami Beach land boom began. South Beach's main streets, 5th Street, Alton Road, Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Ocean Drive were all suitable for automobile traffic. The population was growing in the 1920s, and several millionaires such as Harvey Firestone, J.C. Penney, Harvey Stutz, Albert Champion, Frank Seiberling, and Rockwell LaGorce built homes on Miami Beach. President Warren G. Harding stayed at the Flamingo Hotel during this time, driving up interest.
In the 1930s an architectural revolution came to South Beach bringing Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Nautical Moderne architecture to the Beach. To this day, South Beach remains the world's largest collection of Streamline Moderne Art Deco architecture. Napier, New Zealand another notable Art Deco city, makes an interesting comparison with Miami Beach as it was rebuilt in the Ziggurat Art Deco style after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1931.
By 1940, the beach had a population of 28,000. After the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Corps took command over Miami Beach.
In 1966, South Beach became even more famous when Jackie Gleason brought his weekly variety series to the area for taping, a rarity in the industry. Beginning in the late 1970s through the 80s, South Beach was used as a retirement community with most of its ocean-front hotels and apartment buildings filled with elderly people living on small, fixed incomes. This period also saw the introduction of the "cocaine cowboys," drug dealers who used the area as a base for their illicit drug activities. The TV show Miami Vice used South Beach as a backdrop for much of its filming due to the area's raw and unique visual beauty.
While many of the unique Art Deco buildings, such as the New Yorker Hotel, were lost to developers in the years before 1980, the area was saved as a cohesive unit by Barbara Capitman and a group of activists who spearheaded the movement to place South Beach on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the late 1980s, a renaissance began in South Beach with an influx of the fashion industry moving into the area. Most major modeling agencies had offices in South Beach, and fashion photographers used the area as a backdrop for their photo shoots.
Today the South Beach section of Miami Beach is a major entertainment destination with hundreds of nightclubs, restaurants and ocean-front hotels. The area is popular with international tourists, as well, with German being the third most spoken language after English and Spanish. The large number of European tourists contributes to South Beach's tolerance of topless sunbathing, despite being a public beach.
South Beach is traversed by numerical streets which run east-west, starting with First Street, and the largely pedestrianized Lincoln Road (between 16th and 17th). It also has 13 principal Roads and Avenues running north-south, which from the Biscayne Bay side are Bay Road, West Avenue, Alton Road, Lenox Avenue, Michigan Avenue, Jefferson Avenue, Meridian Avenue, Euclid Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Drexel Avenue, Washington Avenue, Collins Avenue (Route A1A), and Ocean Drive. There are three smaller avenues (that do not run the entire length of the beach) in the Collins Park area, namely Park, Liberty, and James. Most locals agree that South Beach's northern boundary runs along Dade Boulevard from Lincoln Road on the bay side of the island, and heads east-north-east until it connects with 23rd Street, which forms the northern boundary on the ocean side.
There are several residential neighborhoods in South Beach. South of Fifth (also known as SoFi) encompasses the area from the Atlantic ocean east to Biscayne Bay on the west, and from Fifth Street to the South Pointe. As of 2005, it has Miami Beach's highest property values. Although mostly residential, the area is also home to several large scale development projects and large buildings such as the Portofino and sister buildings such as Icon (spearheaded by designer Philippe Starck). This area has several notable nightlife destinations, including Opium Garden, Prive, Nikki Beach Club, and Pearl. It also has several smaller, upscale bars, and in addition several restaurants, including world famous Joe's Stone Crab, Smith & Wollensky's steak house, and China Grill.
Flamingo Park is the neighborhood directly north of Fifth, and expands from Alton Road on the west to Washington Avenue on the east, with its northern boundary being Lincoln Road; it does not include Lenox. This area consists mainly of low rise apartment buildings, with commercial development largely limited to Alton Road, Washington Avenue, and Lincoln Road. Presently, there is little notable nightlife, with the exception of Tantra on 15th Street. It is also home to Flamingo Park, one of South Beach's public parks, which includes recreational facilities such as tennis and basketball courts.
Flamingo West is a neighborhood of single family homes that spans from north of the Park to Lincoln Road on Lennox and Michigan Avenues.
Collins Park is South Beach's most "up and coming" neighborhood, according to the Miami New Times. The newspaper cites the new Sanctuary Spa Resort, plans for a new public library, and several open projects as evidence for its claim. Collins Park is contained by 17th Street to the south, 23rd Street to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Washington Avenue/Pinetree Drive to the west. It is directly across from the Miami Beach Convention Center. Collins Park consists mainly of low rise art deco buildings built in the 1930s and 1950s; it is also the location of the Bass Museum of Art. The area is currently undergoing gentrification, as many of the old apartments from the 1980s (many of which still have bars on their windows) are being purchased by major New York and South Florida real estate developers to be converted into condos.
Additionally, many high-rise buildings are located along Bay Road and West Avenue, and there are multifamily residences located north of Lincoln Road and east of Collins Park. The Flamingo, the world's largest apartment complex, is located on Bay Road.
Commercial and other areas
Lincoln Road is an open-air pedestrian mall, considered South Beach's premiere shopping area. It is home to many restaurants and several night clubs, such as Rumi and State, as well as many retail outlets. While Lincoln Road was one time rather downtrodden, its unique boutique shops and restaurants has given it "an esoteric chic that maintains its trendy appeal." (ref. Ocean Magazine) It is located in between 16th Street and 17th Street and spans the beach in an east-west direction.
Ocean Drive is the easternmost street in South Beach, and stems from south of First to 16th Street, running in a north-south direction. Ocean Drive is responsible for the South Beach aesthetic that most out of town visitors expect. It is a popular Spring Break and tourist area, including the famous yet predominately local Pearl and Nikki Beach night spots. It is also home to several prominent restaurants (including "News Cafe," "Mango's," and MTV-popularized "Clevelander") and is the site of Gianni Versace's former ocean front mansion.
Collins runs parallel to Ocean, one block west. It is where Florida State Road A1A begins. Collins is home to many historic Art Deco hotels, and several nightclubs to the north, such as Rokbar and Mynt.
Espanola Way, which runs from Collins Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue, was conceived by N.B.T. Roney (of the Roney Palace Hotel) in 1925 as "The Historic Spanish Village," modeled after the romantic Mediterranean villages found in France and Spain. Today it consists of art galleries, restaurants, and quirky shops.
Alton Road is a street located three blocks from Biscayne Bay and running north-south. It is host to many local businesses, such as dry cleaners, supermarkets, and fast food restaurants.
Perhaps the most well known street in South Beach is Washington Avenue. Running parallel with Ocean and Collins, Washington is notorious for having some of the world's largest and most popular nightclubs, such as Crobar and Mansion. During "season" (October 15th to May 15th) the street is jammed with traffic until early in the morning (as late as 6 am) every night of the week.
According to magazines such as The New Times and Ocean Drive, South Beach has replaced Los Angeles and New York City as the United States' most popular nightlife spot. It is host to over 150 clubs and other destinations, most of which close at 5 am. South Beach can be expensive, and access to nightclubs is often difficult for non-locals who do not have connections. Access to the more popular nightspots can cost anywhere from $20-60 for entry (depending on event and venue) and a wait of up to several hours, in addition to evaluation by door staff.
Nightlife in South Beach is dynamic. Clubs constantly change decor, name, and owner, so it is difficult to state at any given time which clubs are popular.
South Beach is one of the world's foremost locations for fashion shoots. Approximately 1,500 models live in the area, with many more arriving during the prime fashion shooting season from October through March. Ocean Drive is the most popular place for shoots, but back streets are also used.