Photographs (Miami: Centennial Press, 2017, $45)
At last! (To quote from singer Etta James’s memorable song … )
And it was well worth the wait for the City of Miami Beach to go ahead with a beautiful update of journalist Howard Kleinberg’s well-regarded 1994 history book of Miami Beach. Local historian Carolyn Klepser (whose last tome of our area was "Lost Miami Beach, 2014," and who has done research into historic buildings for the city for many years) updated Kleinberg’s seminal book to a beautiful turn. The addition of historian and native Floridian Arva Moore Parks to this project was hailed as well. (Her books on the Miami area are lauded for their accuracy and readability; Klepser has worked with her successfully on some of them, including "Miami Then And Now, 2014.")
This is a massive book, both in physical size (almost 11 by 9 inches, three pounds in heft, and 236 glossy pages), befitting the many chapters of Miami Beach’s often turbulent, but always colorful, story. The photographs are many and gorgeous. A coffee-table book? Yes, but with a difference… a truly solid piece of work that is so much more than that, a mere decoration for Miami Beach’s typical, tropical glass tables.
Word was that a manuscript commissioned by the city did not, for some reason, pass muster. Whatever the story, many were glad to hear that although this manuscript was rejected on the eve of the 1915 centennial of Miami Beach, and disappointed those looking forward to it, that Howard Kleinberg’s historical tribute would be updated. A number of readers have thought this was the best history of Miami Beach yet to be written and had hoped for years for an updating. And here it is!
The writing is accessible to the general reader yet thorough and well-researched. Nothing about this is skimpy. It tells it like it is, only better. There are 28 chapters, from Chapter 1, “The Long Sandbar”, to Chapter 28, “Completing A Century.” There is an Epilogue and Appendix and an easy-to-use Index.
My favorite chapter?
As a preservationist, I would have to say Chapter 25, “Miami Beach’s Future Is Found In Its Past.” In this chapter you will find related the struggle of pioneer preservationist Barbara Capitman to save the buildings in the district south of 21st Street that would become the Art Deco historic district. (And a charming photo of Capitman and Matti Bower, who would go on to be the first female Mayor of Miami Beach.)
The profile of Capitman is fair and unvarnished. Yes, she was tough, for sure, a real fighter, who perhaps, some say, would have gotten places faster if she’d been more of a compromiser and willing to negotiate. Who knows? That she did what she did, getting local as well as National Trust designation for this area was monumental! Think of what this area would be like if she had not been the committed preservationist that she was. It would not exist, and it is the engine that has made Miami Beach into the world-famous tourist attraction it is today.
Ironically, the same struggles between developers and preservationists continue to beset the preservation movement today. Those after the quick buck with no real concern or vision for the future or for the appreciation of history, continue to oppose any more attempts at preservation. (Yes, history does repeat itself!) Chapter 26, “Building For The New Millennium” goes on with the rest of the story post-B.C.
But don’t read "Miami Beach: A Centennial History," all at once! Perish that thought. Do linger over the delightful history told so winningly in facts and anecdotes, savor the many insights and give a thought to those who came – the early developers from the Midwest, the visionaries, the architects, the entrepreneurs, a story enriched by evocative photographs, and learn… and enjoy what this little sandbar has grown into, an area known the world over to the delight of tourists and those of us lucky enough to live here. This is Miami Beach 101, worthy of a college course, or two. And thank all those who had a hand in its writing, editing, and publication.
Available locally at all branches of Books & Books and online.