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More Stories - The Way We Were
Allapattah - A Mix to the Max
1 | 2 | 3 The first A & P Grocery in the area opened on the very block where we live: an "enormous" 2000+ sq. ft. supermarket. Later it moved to a larger location at the northwest corner of Allapattah. While other supermarkets had a better selection, I liked to go there occasionally, mostly for the rich smell of coffee beans which they ground and packaged on the spot. Eventually it fizzled out and closed during the riots and other civil disturbances of the late 60's.
We chose to live in this strange neighborhood partly because it looked so rural, and we both are from that background. It was also cheap. Unfortunately, due to prevailing wind direction, it wasn't until about 1 AM our first night here when the wind shifted, that I discovered Allapattah is also right under the flight path for Miami International Airport. I actually fell out of bed in the process of making this discovery, as a cargo plane figuratively went in one bedroom window and out the other. We couldn't afford to move and eventually got used to the noise, the frequent pauses in conversation waiting for a plane to pass, the frizz on the TV when a low one went over, and the excitement of an occasional plane crash or a spare part or motor falling off.
The first wave of Cubans escaping from Fidel's Cuban Revolution settled just west of downtown, now known as "Little Havana". My husband brought the first Cuban family to this section of Allapattah in 1961; his secretary's uncle and family had escaped from Cuba and needed a cheap place to live. This area had many empty apartments and had started a downhill slide, so there were plenty of inexpensive places to rent. This family soon brought more, and within a few years, the area became mostly Hispanic, primarily Cuban in this western part of Allapattah, mostly Puerto Rican on the east side, spilling over from the predominately Puerto Rican Wynwood area.
What really accelerated change was a tragic hurricane in 1964. This storm entered the downtown mouth of the Miami River, and moving slightly north of west, tore through the center of Allapattah. Our immediate neighborhood was the worst hit, including Exotic Garden's and other nurseries' greenhouses and water-pumping windmills. Many old homes still had solar water heaters, and glass shards from these and the greenhouses littered yards and streets like shiny confetti. Huge, old avocado and and mango trees, left over from early groves, crashed into elderly residents' homes. The Miccosukee Indian Village was wiped out. We had no electricity for 10 days on our street. This was the final straw for many old-timers, as well as most younger Americans starting families who wanted a "better neighborhood" for their kids. Stunned residents sold out to land developers by the thousands, as did the Miccosukees, who gave up the Musa Isle village and moved back to the Everglades. A widely scattered warehouse and garment district close to the railroad that divides Allapattah, surrounding scattered homes, grew even larger and denser, pushing out the residents. Apartment buildings sprang up like giant mushrooms or tall towers.
I didn't want to move. Living was cheaper here, I enjoy the different languages and cultures and was fascinated by the varied dialects and cuisines. Being centrally located, we were close to my husband's job. So we bought an abandoned house at a very low price and dug in.
By early seventies, the county and city had developed a huge number of housing projects in Allapattah, some for the elderly, others for poor American blacks who had up until that time been segregated. Many institutions, jails, nursing homes, halfway houses and the like were added. The former chicken coop/hotel Aviation Building and its Quonset huts were torn down and replaced with the county's huge juvenile detention center. All this led to more of what is sometimes referred to as "white flight". But many residents stayed. Unlike the usual "flight" patterns, people of varied nationalities moved in, and no single group completely dominated.
At this point the federal government took an interest, due partly, I understand, that we were considered possibly the most ethnically diverse community in the USA. The whole area was badly in need of refurbishing. Most of the older homes in the area were built from 1915 to 1926. Others were post-World War II. The majority were in desperate need of repair and modernizing. The roads and sewers were the original ones put in by the farmers, nurserymen and developers decades ago, patched and deteriorating, as were the sidewalks where they existed. Some roads, perhaps staked out in early years by surveyors who had been partying too late at some of Miami's many gambling dens, speakeasies or brothels the night before, were offset several feet from their correct location, or even curved oddly. Given time, the area would have deteriorated into a huge slum. But the federal government came through with funds and a huge development project started, with new drainage and sanitary sewers, new streets, curbs and sidewalks (correctly located), and ample money for home improvement loans. Many residents moved their fences and shrubs back off the right of way and jostled with their neighbors for the correct boundaries.