AOL Travel

Miami History

Wedged into a corridor between scenic Biscayne Bay and the Everglades that’s just 15 miles wide, Miami has the high density of a much larger urban center. Although it‘s become a major American city and a significant center for international finance, when you take a close look at Miami history you quickly find out that it is one of the youngest cities in the United States. It was incorporated in 1896 with a population of just over 300. A few pioneering families—the Flaglers, Brickells and Fishers among them—saw the area’s potential and worked to realize it. Real estate developer George Merrick created the planned city of Coral Gables in the 1920s, while Carl Fisher developed luxurious hotels, polo grounds and golf courses, transforming Miami into a playground for the wealthy. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 ended the Florida land boom and did immense physical damage; it pushed Florida into the Great Depression early and resulted in the nation’s first building code, later copied by more than 5,000 cities. But Miami rebuilt, and the 1930s saw the birth of the landmark hotels and apartment buildings in the Art Deco District. After falling on hard times in the 1970s and 1980s, the whole district was one step away from the wrecking ball. A group of visionaries stopped the demolitions and revitalized the area, restoring the hotels to their pre-war splendor. A focus of trade with the Caribbean since the early-20th century, Miami’s connection to the region was cemented when Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959. A wave of Cuban refugees swept into Miami, transforming the population and the landscape. Caribbean, Central American and South American immigrants followed, setting up homes and businesses and shaping neighborhoods. In the 1990s, this diversity and the image of Miami as a subtropical paradise helped attract Europeans, while political and economic instability in South America pushed Venezuelans and others to find a safe haven here. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew—the most costly hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland up to that time—devastated Miami again, convincing many longtime residents to move north. That tipped the balance of population even further. Today, half of all Miami residents were born outside of the United States; the highest proportion of any major U.S. metro area. These immigrants have added their food, their culture and their philosophy of life to Miami’s already heady demographic stew.