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County Architectural History

Much of Miami-Dade County’s earliest development was concentrated along existing trade routes and the anticipated extensions of the Florida East Coast Railway. These early 20th-century communities were characterized largely by wood-frame pioneer construction, often on expansive lots surrounded by agricultural fields. In the 1920s, more deliberate concentrated development, often by enterprising northerners, created a land boom with subdivisions platted across the county. 

This coincided with the rising popularity of the “City Beautiful” movement. Many of the emerging developments incorporated the principles of this movement, which emphasized form as well as function, utilizing Mediterranean Revival architecture as the character-defining style. Following a 1926 hurricane and an economic downturn that preceded the Great Depression, architecture started to reflect a sense of technological futurism and playful modernity. The highly decorated Art Deco style gave way to Streamline Moderne in the 1940s before transitioning to Miami Modern, or MiMo. 

While many of our communities were platted in the 1920s, many were not built out in earnest until after World War II. Many military personnel who had trained on the sands of Miami Beach returned after the war, looking to settle in a tropical paradise. However, suitable housing was in short supply. This led to numerous subdivisions built exclusively for WWII veterans. The focus of these developments was on providing high-quality housing that would not be expensive for the builder. As a result, these post-war single-family residential communities often display more restrained design, reflecting minimalistic interpretations of our broader architectural styles. 

Minimal traditional and ranch-style housing began to emerge that displayed regional design elements that often responded to South Florida’s unique climate. This included features like jalousie windows for cross breeze effect, wide overhanging eaves for additional shade, and concrete block screen walls to allow for shade and ventilation. Contemporary architecture has continued to evolve in South Florida, with new patterns and significant trends and styles being recognized and celebrated as we continue to analyze our built environment.

Historic Preservation History in Miami-Dade County

The importance of our built environment to our shared cultural heritage and sense of community began to be formally recognized in the County by the early 1970s. In 1972, Dade Heritage Trust was formed with the mission of promoting the preservation and reuse of the County’s historic buildings. While its mission has expanded and evolved over the last almost 50 years, Dade Heritage Trust remains one of the strongest preservation partners and advocates in the county. The following year, Coral Gables adopted the first preservation ordinance. The rest of the 1970s was a flurry of preservation activity, including efforts to list our most significant buildings on the National Register; to stabilize and preserve specific buildings like Anderson’s Corner in the Redland District and Miami Beach’s Art Deco District; and the founding of the Miami Design Preservation League, to name a few milestone efforts. 

In 1980, Miami-Dade County undertook the Dade County Survey, which identified approximately 6,000 resources with some level of significance. With a newfound understanding of our built resources, Miami-Dade County adopted a countywide Preservation Ordinance in 1981. The 1980 Dade County Historic Survey was followed by Ivan A. Rodriguez and Margot Ammidown’s From Wilderness to Metropolis: The History and Architecture of Dade County, Florida, 1825-1940, published in 1982 by the Metropolitan Dade County Office of Community and Economic Development, Historic Preservation Division. The County published this notable work in 1982, with a second edition in 1992, following Hurricane Andrew.  That book documented the history and architecture of the County from 1825-1940. 

Equally important to Miami-Dade’s unique sense of place is the post-World War II boom. Large swaths of the county remained unimproved through 1940. Developers began identifying new opportunities in the swampy lands and remnant hardwood stands and began platting new communities, with major growth starting in earnest following World War II. The close of the war had major effects on the character of the county. Many returning soldiers had trained on the beach and relocated after the war to enjoy life in paradise. Optimism and hope for the future pervaded our national zeitgeist. This optimism was translated into our planning principles and architecture. 

With Miami-Dade being a relatively ‘young’ metropolis, this post-1940 history is also crucial to understand and preserve. Recognizing this, the County successfully obtained a Florida Division of Historical Resources Small Matching Grant in 2021 to complete an update to From Wilderness to Metropolis, exploring the era from 1940 to the 1980s. Completed by Shulman and Associates, From Metropolis to Global City: Architecture and Planning in Miami-Dade County (1941-1989) (58.8MB) completes the architectural story of the contemporary era.