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Letter To The Editor of Biscayne Times To Clarify Numerous Errors to an Article Titled “Biscayne, Bay of Sunken Dreams”


Submitted to the Editor by Seth H. Bramson

While the article in the October, 2019 Biscayne Times titled “Biscayne, Bay of Sunken Dreams,” might have been interesting, it was, sadly and unhappily, riddled with numerous errors.

The 1925 Shoreland Company map shows the Mid-Bay Causeway as “The Drive of the Campanil I., the separated “I” likely standing for “Islands.” While I have seen other references that do show names for the islands, this map, which is the Company-issued map, does not. On page 38 of the article, Ms. Griffis states that “…four more islands would rise out of the bay….” That is completely incorrect, as the plans of the Shoreland Company—as shown on the Company map—show six, not four, more islands which were planned, the furthest north island being named “Miami Shores Island,” noting that it was to be “600 acres after filling.”

That island was to be the terminus of the mid-bay causeway and was to be larger than all of the other man-made islands in Biscayne Bay (the County and Venetian Causeway islands) at the time, and was planned to be the recreation island for Miami Shores, including a golf course. (How the current Village of Miami Shores got its name is another story for another time) Because of the “bust” of the great 1920s “Boom,” the island, known today as Indian Creek Village, was only half built, hence the somewhat-odd shape of the island today.

In the first paragraph of page 42, Ms. Griffis states that “…the Venetian Causeway is the oldest causeway in the county,” and that is completely incorrect. Since the free to automobiles County (now the MacArthur) Causeway opened in 1920 and the toll causeway named the Venetian opened in 1925, I am wondering how a causeway five years younger than the actual oldest causeway can suddenly become “the oldest causeway in the county,” when it is absolutely not.

In the first column on page 42, Ms. Griffis goes on to relate that Locke T. Highleyman “…loaned money to John S. Collins” and then goes on to make it appear as if Highleyman was the main lending force behind the initial construction of what would become known as “the Collins Bridge.” That statement is highly doubtful. Highleyman is not mentioned in any context in Jane Fisher’s biography of her husband, Carl, “Fabulous Hoosier.” In Jerry Fisher’s biography of his distant cousin, Carl, “The Pacesetter,” or in J. N. Lummus’s “The Miracle of Miami Beach.” (Lummus was one of the triumvirate of the first four major developers of what would, in 1915, become the Town of Miami Beach, the other three being Fisher, John S. Collins and his son-in-law, Thomas J. Pancoast). Having written six and one-half histories of Miami Beach and its northern suburbs, and being America’s senior collector of Miami memorabilia and Floridiana (61 years this past May) I must state that I have never seen Highleyman’s name related to Miami Beach).

The very next statement on that page is also incorrect. Highleyman did not introduce Collins and Pancoast to Fisher. The initial introduction was through John H. Levi, who was a principal at Standard Ship Building in New York, and without going through the lengthy details, it would be Levi, who oversaw the building of Carl’s yacht after he and Jim Allison sold their Prest-o-Lite Corporation to Union Carbide for $5,633,000 each and who would eventually go on to work for Fisher as his right hand man (Pete Chase—Chase Avenue on Miami Beach—was his sales director) and become the only mayor of Miami Beach ever to be pictured on the cover of Time Magazine, who would introduce Fisher to Collins and Pancoast.

The next to last paragraph in that column contains a serious omission: the primary principals of The Shoreland Company (the company that built Miami Shores following the building of the Venetian Causeway by the Bay Biscayne Improvement Company) were Ellen Spears Harris and her cousin from Tennessee, Hugh Anderson. In the Ethan Blackman book, “Miami and Dade County, Florida,” Joseph F. Chaille is named, but there is nothing mentioned about any relationship to or with the Shoreland Company. (Chaille is famous in Miami as it was he who, in 1921, came up with “The Chaille Plan,” which converted Miami’s numbered streets and lettered avenues to the quadrant system). As for Roy C. Wright, yes, he was a partner in the Shoreland Company, but why leave out the equally important Ellen Spears Harris and J. B. Jeffries?

In the third column on the same page, Ann Armbruster is mentioned, along with her book, but it should be noted that, in the Acknowledgements I am named as her Special Consultant, having furnished her a great deal of the information therein.

In the fourth column (same page) Ms. Griffis notes “…residential islands 8 and 9…” yet earlier, on page 38, she referred to “…four islands rising out of the bay…” The fact is that six islands were planned in total to be built along the Mid-Bay Causeway, five to be residential, and the sixth, as stated above, to be the “Miami Shores Island” to be used strictly for recreation.

The article’s author then, in the next to last paragraph on page 42, refers to …”four wing islands…” and that is correct, but she only mentioned one of the hoped-for causeways, and, indeed, the 79th Street Causeway, propounded by the great Henri (Henry) Levy, was built. However, the other one, according to the map, would have left the mainland at Northeast 54th Street and entered Miami Beach at approximately 51st Street on the beach side.

Finally, a note regarding the above-mentioned Henry Levy, who is memorialized in the article on page 44. Mr. Levy was, while very important to the development of primarily North Beach, was not one of the “founding fathers” any more than Rose Weiss was “the mother of Miami Beach.” (She was not and Rosie the elephant was not named for her)

Mr. Levy was a great man, but he came to Miami Beach, as noted in both “Sunshine, Stone Crabs and Cheesecake: The Story of Miami Beach” and “33154: The Story of Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, Indian Creek Village and Surfside” in 1922 or 1923. His impact and imprint on Greater Miami, however, is so great and so important that, in the latter book, a chapter is titled “The Levy Family.”

Not only did Mr. Levy propound the 79th Street Causeway and build Normandy Isle, but, and in addition, he built the lower third of what today is the Town of Surfside, with the original name having been “Normandy Beach,” as well as “Normandy Beach South,” the strip of oceanfront on Miami Beach from approximately 67th to approximately 77th Streets. Besides the chapter in “33154” he is further memorialized by the fact that 71st Street on Miami Beach has been re-named “Henry Levy Boulevard.”

Lest the readers of this newspaper think that I am being “picky,” I assure them that they are correct, and, yes, I am, because when it comes to history, which I teach at both Barry University and Nova Southeastern University’s Lifelong Learning Institute, and as I explain to my students, nothing is more important than facts and truth, and too much of Greater Miami’s history has been subverted by and with misinformation, hooey, fairy tales, fol-de-rol, and, as we would say in French, “bubbemissehs.” That is neither right nor the way it should be, and as Miami’s senior historian, now having collected FEC Railway, Florida transportation memorabilia, Miami memorabilia and Floridiana for 61-plus years, nothing is more important, when it comes to history (and as stated above) than truth and facts. And that is, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”

Seth H. Bramson
Miami Shores

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