Born Again Boulevard

Can MiMo Save Miami’s First Main Street?

Blink three times and you might miss it. A 27-block stretch of cityscape that’s as vivid as it is historic. But if you pull around a corner, get outta the car, blink three times and make a wish, you might just see it for what it is — and for what it can be: the next great piece of Miami’s magic puzzle.

Yes, we mean the MiMo District along Biscayne Boulevard, otherwise known as Miami’s first main street, where dreams have come to be born again, and some of our town’s most fervent visionaries are hard at working to recreate a legend.

MiMo, of couse, stands for Miami Modern, which is short for Miami Modernist Architecture. According to the every-helpful Wiki (how did we ever live without it?), MiMo “was a popular response to the various modernist and post -World War II architectural movements that were taking place in other parts of the world, adding glamour, fun, and material excess to otherwise stark, minimalist, and efficient styles.” The Bacardi Building on Biscayne is MiMo; so is The Miami Herald building, the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Pavilion (off the Palmetto), and Morris Lapidus’s beloved Lincoln Road. In fact, basically all of Lapidus’s hotels are considered MiMo, including the Fontainebleau, the Eden Roc, the Deauville, and the Di Lido (now The Standard).

Here though we’re concentrating on the largest concentration of MiMo not on the Beach, and that’s the stretch of Biscayne Boulevard that runs from 50th to 77th, (though the Biscayne Plaza Shopping Center at 79th is considered MiMo too), and “is bounded by the Little River to the north, Bay Point Estates to the south, the Florida East Coast Railway to the west, and Biscayne Bay to the east.”

That is to say MiMo on BiBo, which for the past four years has been known as the bona fide Biscayne Boulevard Historic District.

According to City-Data.com, as of 2008 the district skews a little younger (29.8 years of age, to the city’s average of 37.7), a little less married (29.4% vs 36.6%), a little more native (27.7% vs 26.6%), and a little more flush (with an average median household income of $39,543 as opposed to Miami’s $28,333). In other words, it contains all the right ingredients to make for a great changeover.

Perhaps the single most fervent proponent of Miami’s next great leap forward through the past is Fran Rollason, president (and co-founder) of the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Association. Rollason, who’s been battling everyone from F-DOT to Congress in order to get folks to slow down and see the super scenery, was part of the cadre behind the 2008 and 2009 Cinco de MiMo festivals, as well as 2010?s MiMo Madness, which was held in a much more temperate March.

She and the MiMo BBA also happen to be behind the vivid repositioning of the iconic Coppertone sign which now hangs on the side of 7300 Biscayne.

“Talk about a story,” says Rollason. “We tracked down the sign to the Concord Building on Flagler, where it had been languishing since Hurricane Andrew. Coppertone had paid to have it restored; then Wilma came along and left it derelict again. When a building was slated to rise next to the Concord, Jerry Bengis, whose father’s company built the original, went to work, and lobbied long and hard to save it. Then in 2007 the Dade Heritage Trust deeded it to us, and we couldn’t have been happier.”

The deeding of the sign though wasn’t the last hurdle Rollason and Bengis had to leap. “Coppertone initially only wanted to fund another restoration if the sign went back to the Beach,” recalls Rollason. “But we convinced them otherwise. And 90 thousand dollars later, with the expert efforts of Tropical Signs, she’s as beautiful as ever.”

In fact, with a complete new set of L.E.D.s, that Coppertone Girl is also more environmentally friendly. And, as many have said, including the Herald just this week, she now serves as a sort of “angel” to watch over the district.

Another couple who are seeing the strip for what it can be is Shirley and Walter Figeuroa, owners and operators of The New Yorker Boutique Hotel, a choice piece of MiMo designed by Norman Giller back in 1953.

In 1980, Shirley’s father bought the property, which had been renamed the Davis Hotel, and for almost the next three decades it pretty much opened its doors to anyone with a few bucks. A year or so ago, though, the Figueroa’s took the project by the proverbial horns, and now 20 of the hotel’s 50 rooms have been completely refurbished to their original splendor, and the rest are due to be done by Christmas.

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