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More Stories - The Way We Were
Allapattah - A Mix to the Max
Since 1960 we've lived in an odd old community close to downtown Miami called Allapattah, the Seminole word for alligator. Miami (actually Miami-Dade County which includes the City of Miami and many other cities, all of which are referred to loosely as "Miami", often to the disgust of the other municipalities) has been tagged as the newest melting pot of America. Miami Times dubbed it the "Best Hidden Neighborhood". Locally-- and federally-- Allapattah has been dubbed the melting pot of Miami. That might be called mix to the max!
When we moved in, most residents were elderly with a scattering of younger refugees from Vietnam, Korea, Laos and other war-torn countries. There were a few Hispanics- mostly from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Honduras. The elderly were themselves primarily refugees. Jews who had fled from Hitler. One of them taught me to make Latkes (Crispy Potato Pancakes). Russians who had fled Stalin. Lots of Italians from the 1920's and 30's- the Sons of Italy Hall was just over the border of Allapattah. From one of my Italian neighbors I learned to make Easy Meatballs. Poles who had fled World War II, one of whom promised but never came through with a recipe for cabbage rolls (Karen Danielson fixed that lack with "Halupkies"). The Polish American Club is still just over the Miami River. There were Estonians, Lithuanians, Chinese and many others. While an alligator is considered Allapattah's "symbol", a miniature statue of liberty would be more appropriate.
In the 40's, huge quantities of military were housed in the area, as Miami was a primary training center for World War II. Trailer parks, cottages, lean-to efficiency apartments and barracks-type housing flourished. An enormous hotel on NW 27th Ave, abandoned before being finished during the crash of the 20's and subsequently rented out as a gigantic, multi-story chicken coop, was sanitized and refurbished to hold more troops and training facilities, and was renamed the Aviation Building. See picture at Don Boyd's Site; click to enlarge. And another, complete with troops-->
Quonset huts sprouted on the surrounding grounds, still there in the 70's.
Some children raised in the area had married and were starting their second generation families here in the early 60's. But most had "moved on up" to the suburbs by then.
A few old "Florida Crackers" still resided here, many of them ex-farmers, nurserymen and former grove owners. Allapattah, extremely fertile, was known as the breadbasket of Miami for generations. Dairies, groves and truck farms abounded until the early twenties when the land boom started crowding out agriculture. Most of the major nurseries were still based in Allapattah in the sixties, although many did much of their growing down south closer to Homestead, having profitably sold their land. There was at that time a lot of vacant land, overgrown with huge old live oak trees dripping with ghostly Spanish moss, the ground a tangle of palmetto scrub and weeds, fluttery with native butterflies. Snakes, big-eared wood rats, squirrels, gopher turtles, possums and frogs abounded, along with an amazing variety of birds. Parrots, parakeets, small monkeys, huge iguanas and other big lizards and pie-plate size poisonous Surinam toads, all escapees from the many exotic animal import companies in the area, were a source of amusement and amazement.
Manatees fed regularly off the docks on the Miami River. In the middle of the river was Musa Isle, owned by the Miccosokee Indians, with a village where they had lived for centuries, complete with chickees, plantains and bananas (genus musa, for which the island was named), chickens and just onto the mainland, on a major thoroughfare, a tourist attraction with alligator wrestling shows and crafts to buy. Across the river we could see the women, wearing their colorful long-skirted clothes in the shade of the chickees, piecing together tiny squares of cloth on hand-driven Singer sewing machines to make skirts and jackets for sale, or stringing bright beads for necklaces and bracelets. The smoke from their cook-fires sometimes drifted across the water.
A small scattering of horses still were stabled nearby; a western outfitting store and a feed and a seed store were both still doing good business. Up until 1965 there was a small working farm, complete with cows, pigs and poultry, just three blocks west of Allapattah, grandfathered in, here at the heart of a major city. Beekeepers, orchid growers and others flourished. Until a very few years ago, we bought honey from bees who undoubtedly had fed on our own flower garden. The lady, one of our Fuller Brush customers, kept bees for decades. When she went blind, her husband donned protective clothing and went along to help while she tended her beloved hives by touch alone.
Exotic Gardens, one of Miami's leading florists, housed in a quaint, arched, coral rock building in the heart of Allapattah, had its greenhouses and some of its growing fields a half mile from our house. The fresh produce market for all of Dade Country still exists nearby, centrally located and convenient access for grocery stores, restaurants and canteen services throughout the county, along with many grocery and restaurant supply companies. The very first Burger King in American opened at the northwest edge of Allapattah in 1954 and is still there!