What a wonderful way to begin the conference. We boarded a small motor boat directly behind the conference hotel and headed down the Miami River. The day was sunny and balmy as the boat glided past the river art walk with its mosaics and palm trees. We passed yachts and skyscrapers, traveling between a Tequesta Indian stone circle and an ongoing archeological excavation site to meet the Biscayne Bay. Historian Dr. Paul George entertained us with local lore all along the way. As we left the mouth of the river, the captain opened up the engines, the breeze and spray picked up and it felt like a vacation. We quickly arrived at Stiltsville, with its houses on pilings above the water of Biscayne Bay and the Miami city skyline in the background. The first Stiltsville building was an off shore gambling shack, Crawfish Eddie’s, established in 1933. By the 1940s and 1950s there were fishing, boating, and “social clubs” that were frequented by the well-heeled, and connected. In the 1960s the Bikini Club was offering free drinks to anyone wearing a bikini. These places were suspected of, and often investigated for “vices.” We were told that Teddy Kennedy had his Bachelor party in one of the houses. At its height Stiltsville had 27 buildings, today 7 remain, hurricanes having done what they could to wipe it away. The Stiltsville Trust was established in 2003. The structures are now part of the National Park Service.
The other main attraction of the tour was the Miami Marine Stadium, the subject of a paper in the opening session of the conference. It is a Modernist building designed in 1963 by Hilario Candela. It features a cantilevered concrete roof, and no walls to speak of with seating facing the water. It was originally constructed for watching powerboat racing, later becoming a concert venue. The structure has been coated with graffiti. It is in disrepair, both beautiful and sad.
We passed beneath several draw bridges, past tug boats, and beside restaurants leaking delicious smells to finally be brought back to our hotel happy, windblown and with more knowledge of the area.