In the vibrant Miami of the 1960s, no sports venue witnessed as many high-speed chases and boat crashes, or hosted as many noisy parties as Miami Marine Stadium. Motorboats buzzed through the cerulean waters at breakneck speed, colliding with one another and throwing splintered wood across the sky. The runners catapulted into the air and crashed into the waves. The acrid stench of gasoline lingered in the humid air and the vibrating anthem of the engines reverberated off the concrete supports and the cantilevered roof. If you were looking to have a good time in Miami, a boat race ticked all the boxes. And if you wanted a boat race, Miami Marine Stadium was your place.
Located on mostly undeveloped Virginia Key, a short distance from an ever-changing metropolitan skyline, Miami Marine Stadium saw boat race spectators from across the region flood its gates in search of high-speed thrills and the relaxation of a fresh concrete canopy. However, over the years, it became more than just a racing venue. Jimmy Buffett, Mr. Florida himself, played from a floating stage, serenading fans in search of a lost salt shaker. Elvis Presley, through the magic of cinema, filmed close-ups in California for the action that took place at the Miami Marine Stadium, for his sailing film, Clambake. In 1972, at a revolutionary campaign rally, Sammy Davis Jr. introduced Richard Nixon as “the president and future president of the United States of America!” and then hugged POTUS. (It was a great moment for a leader not known for embracing the black community).
But the speedboat events were the biggest highlight of the stadium, and the venue hosted more than 17 different boat classes, including unlimited seaplanes. (Unlimited were the largest, so named because you could do anything with their WWII airplane engines.) Boats plowed through the stadium’s crystal clear waters at speeds of over 100 mph, dazzling fans in the hot Miami sun.
Over time, however, the popularity of motor boat racing waned after its peak in the 1970s, due in part to the dangers inherent in the sport and the rise in Miami of other forms of sports entertainment. And in the decades that followed, Miami Marine Stadium booked fewer and fewer races, rock concerts, and rallies. A beating from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 seemed like the last nail in the concrete coffin. The city of Miami eventually deemed the venue structurally defective, and for years the stadium was empty. If anyone cared about the place, it was only out of fear that it would turn into another high-rise apartment building.
Today, stacks of chipped wooden chairs are stacked on top of each other. Wild cats prowl the lower tiers, wary of loose floorboards that open out to sea. Empty spray paint cans and debris litter the wet indoor concession area. The labels, left over the years by unauthorized street artists, declare the rare visitor: HAPPY 30 ° ARIEL! … LIZ <3 CP ... BLACK LIVES MATTER.
And therein lies the beauty. Miami Marine Stadium may be lonely and abandoned, but it remains as vibrant as ever, covered in layer after layer of graffiti, sprayed with passion, love and anger on every inch of its surface.
A huge deadbolt lock prevents unwanted visitors from entering without permission from the City of Miami. On a sunny February day, one of the few people with that permission walked in and slowly made his way to the top of the last row of the stadium. He gazed out at the crystal clear waters of Biscayne Bay, the rows of white skyscrapers of hotels and luxury developments, the palm trees, and the speedboats cutting through the water. Hilario Candela knows everything there is to know about the place. In 1963, when he was a 27-year-old architect, he designed the stadium himself.
Directly overhead, the world’s largest cantilevered concrete slab shields the Cuban immigrant, now 86, from a powerful winter sun. The massive roof, the piece of resistance to the stadium’s distinctive design, appears to float above the stands as Candela marks its details: 100 meters long … built with wooden molds, like those found in shipbuilding. Throughout 60 years, Candela has seen this space in different degrees of life. First, an empty parcel of land he passed on his morning drive from Biscayne Bay to Miami. Then a huge wood and concrete construction project. An iconic entertainment venue. And finally, in its current state: empty, spray painted, as beautiful as ever.
Candela is still excited about the stadium’s design and the fact that it was able to deliver such a unique wonder on the city’s $ 1 million budget. It remains proud of that roof and the fact that through hurricanes and neglect, the stadium remains, according to an independent engineering firm, structurally sound. Walking around the place, he says, is like “having a wonderful conversation that never ends. My conversation started in 1963, when we finished, and it is not over yet ”.
Candela has ambitious visions for the future of the stadium. Though abandoned for decades, a group of Miami residents have fought to restore the site and reinvent it as a multi-purpose outdoor venue. In 2009, that group hired an engineering firm, whose team found the building to be in better condition than two other study sites: the Rose Bowl and Notre Dame Stadium. In another major victory, the National Register of Historic Places recognized the stadium and its watershed as a site of historical significance. Over the next several months, after years of work by local activists, including Candela, the city of Miami will now decide on a contractor and operator for the reimagined stadium.
Among the potential saviors of the stadium: Don Worth, a South Beach resident who for nearly 20 years has passionately advocated for survival, piling up folder after folder of documents and photos, all to help him stay organized for the 100-plus performances. it has done it for city officials, national trust boards, and journalists. With a seafood lunch at the Rusty Pelican, At the mouth of the Miami Marine Stadium basin on Virginia Key, Worth gushing a bit. “Twelve years of tremendous ups and downs and devastating lows,” calls for the effort to revive space.
Worth has spent much of his retirement becoming an expert on Marine Stadium, and while he never visited it in its heyday, he, like many Miamians, feels a special connection to the space and its potential for the community. “You know, this area is considered sacred ground,” he says, pointing toward the basin. “Five boatmen died here. Someone died here on opening night. “
Worth sees the stadium as an important access point for Miamians to the surrounding ocean, but one that is not always accessible. “It’s great if you are rich and live in a nice house [near the water], or in a five-star hotel or a condominium, or belong to a yacht club, “he says.” But Miami’s best asset is water, and we need people to have the opportunity to experience water, don’t build every square inch [of beachfront]. “
Candela agrees: “Miami, you think about water. However, we are not open enough to the water. We see the water when we cross the road … maybe in some restaurants. … In a place like the stadium, you could really get your feet wet. “
It appears that a demolition of the stadium has been avoided, but it seems certain that there will be a lesser degree of devastation. The graffiti that has drawn the attention of a new generation to Miami Marine Stadium, in message boards and among daring photographers and urban explorers, will disappear once the renovations finally begin. Layers of paint present a structural hazard to concrete, according to engineers who have studied the stadium. Therefore, the salvation of Miami Marine Stadium inevitably change That too. Gone will be the story, spray painted on multiple walls, which begins, “Hurricane Andrew closed it …” On another wall, next to an image of flexed arms: “… then the artists kept it alive.”
Whatever the cost, Candela hopes that in a couple of years she will be able to witness the grand reopening of a reinvented structure that belongs to all Miamians. Just a decade ago, the stadium was included in a list, published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, of 11 places in danger of extinction. And now? Candela says: “Miami Marine Stadium is part of the framework of social changes in our community, our society.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.