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More Stories - The Way We Were

Wynwood - Allapattah's Neighbor

Someone wrote in to ask about the history of Wynwood.  I really know almost nothing about that area.  I know it was mostly older Anglos when we first moved into Allapattah in 1960 .  It was sort of "suburban sprawl from early Miami, and later urban growth.   Up until the late eighties a very elderly beekeeper still existed in the area.  It became more and more commercial and a home to jails, group homes and homeless shelters in the last half of last century.  The Bobby Maduro Baseball Stadium, previously known as the Miami Stadium was already deteriorating.  The influx of Cubans in the early '60s, with their love of baseball, salvaged it for a few more decades, but it's now history. 

Quoting from Oral History, an interview with Julio Robaina by Greg Bush:

"GB: Let me take you back in time with your own life. When you were growing up in South Miami did you feel you were growing up in the suburbs of Miami or in your own real city?

JR: I was born in Miami and actually moved to South Miami when I was eight years old. I felt I moved out of the city of Miami and into the suburbs when I came to South Miami . That is what attracted my mom and dad. They would tell you they were tired of the city life. We lived in the area around Bobby Maduro Stadium. So moving to South Miami was a drastic change for us.

GB: Do you have a lot of memories of the area you first lived in?

JR: I will tell you that the neighborhood was a very good one in terms of there being little crime. It was a middle class neighborhood. We lived across the street from Maduro stadium. I grew up going to private school so the kids were pretty good kids. There wasn’t much trouble with drugs back then. Kids all played together. We would go to the stadium and be batboy for the Miami Marlins way back then. It was a good neighborhood. Unfortunately it is not like that today because I have gone back and revisited it. But back then it was my parents need to move out of such a busy area, because it was very busy rather than due to any neighborhood problems. We had a railroad that was six blocks away and seeing all the people that would come to the stadium and seeing how the area was beginning to grow with Jackson Memorial hospital that is what sent them searching the suburbs to live in.

GB: What do you think about what has happened to the stadium and the fact that it could go away?

JR: It is a shame because I personally think it is history. I would have liked to have seen that stadium restored. If you lived like I did there you knew every nook and cranny. I even knew where the hole was to sneak onto the field when the stadium was closed. It was Miami back then. Everybody rallied around that stadium. It wasn’t just a sport events place but a place where people would have organized demonstrations and rallies. It was also a place for the kids to go out and fly their kites with their parents in the adjacent parking lot. So it was like a park in addition to a stadium. If you saw the engineering of it it was beautiful. The metal, the way that it was designed, the seating. That was what I felt was the charm of the area – that stadium. And it is a shame that it went down. If you’ve seen it now it’s dilapidated. Right now it probably wouldn’t be feasible to redeem the site.

GB: Do you remember any other experiences you had as a kid with any other downtown parks?

JR: My parents were immigrants from Cuba so when they came here, they called Bicentennial Park Freedom Park at that time.  That park was their home. I remember them taking me out there and sitting me by the water and showing me the Freedom Tower.  It was a really clean, beautiful place to go to.  I visit it now as an adult and I’ve seen some changes.  I see over-development that has really taken away the charm and beauty that I remember the old Miami to be.  I used to go down to Bayfront Park and fish with my dad.  I remember party boats that left Pier 5 and we used to enjoy things like that – no longer there.  It was really a nice area for families to bond. Now some people say that Bayside does that but I think that Bayside was designed to attract tourists not so much the local people.

GB: What were your early hobbies and interests when you were a kid?

JR:  Baseball and football were among my most interesting hobbies. My brother played ball at Miami Jackson Senior High. He played basketball, football, and baseball. He was an All-State, All-American athlete. He decided to choose baseball and went on to play for the Houston Astros minor league team which was up in Coco Beach and the Kansas City Royals.  Naturally I followed my brother into baseball but I quickly pursued football in Middle School in the Pop Warner league and then into high school.  Hobbies I had – I was an altar boy.  I was very involved with the church. Being at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, which I am saddened by the barbed wire fence it has surrounding it these days, one of the things I did was attend mass a lot.  I spent my Saturdays being an altar boy at weddings and that was a lot of the fun that I enjoyed.  Basically doing things around the church.  My father was very active in the church.  He was the one who did festivals for fund raising.  I grew up in more of a parochial environment.  So my hobbies were basically what was going on in the church at the time."

In 1964 we considered briefly buying a home in Wynwood.  The house was a steal, but it had only a pocket-handkerchief front yard and back yard, was on a corner, and almost within spitting distance of the Stadium and just around the corner from Youth Hall, the juvenile jail facility.  Much too "city" for this country gal.  So we backed out, thank goodness. 

embry.jpg (48050 bytes)Juvenile Hall then followed, transferring just over 1/2 mile from us, technically in Melrose on 27th Ave., the former site of the world's largest chicken coop and Emory-Riddle flying school.  I believe -not sure - that this is a picture of this old building during the Emory-RIddle period. 

The Miami Stadium or Bobby Maduro Stadium had an interesting history;  perhaps readers will like to contribute their recollections. From The Miami Marlins:

"After the war (WWII), the need for a larger stadium became apparent. Jose Manuel Aleman, a former Minister of Education in Cuba, undertook the project. Construction began in late 1948 and Miami Stadium was opened on August 31, 1949. At the time, the 9,000-seat stadium was hailed as one of the finest and most beautiful in baseball."

Many notables played, spoke, worshiped and fought at the then-famous stadium, and it was the heart and soul of the Wynwood area.   One such event was the following notable fight featuring Kid Gavilan

"One of his successful defenses came against Bobby Dykes at Miami Stadium in 1952 - the first title bout between black and white fighters in then-segregated Miami."

I learned a valuable lesson from Kid Gavilan.  I was at a neighborhood bar waiting my turn at the pool table, but everyone had abandoned billiards to watch the Muhammad Ali fight on TV, the famous one where he knocked out his opponent right at the beginning with one powerful punch. 

Broadcasters were working up to it.  I was sitting catty-corner from an elderly black Cuban gentleman that I hadn't seen before in an impeccable guayabera , and was engaged in banter - opinionated on my part - about Ali's chances (I was sure he'd get it over with fast).  This is a subject on which I know hardly anything, but that doesn't always prevent me from shooting off my mouth.  I was engaged in a slight argument on some point with the stranger, when someone took pity on me, leaned over and stage-whispered "Bess, that's Kid Gavilan...."  I looked at him; Gavilan gazed back mildly.  I shut up in a hurry.  The fact that I was right, in retrospect, did not decrease my embarrassment.

The stadium was the scene of the first yearly celebration of the rescue of the image of the Cuban "Our Lady of Charity" (La Virgen de la Caridad):

"As the Virgin was brought inside the (American Airlines) arena, the overhead screens depicted footage from the first time the feast was celebrated in Miami on Sept. 8, 1961 at Bobby Maduro stadium, after the statue had been brought from Cuba to Miami through Panama. More than 30,000 exiles attended that celebration.

virgen-caridad.jpg (36258 bytes)The faithful watched footage from the next 39 celebrations of the feast as they stood and waved small Cuban flags and handkerchiefs in white and yellow to welcome La Virgen de la Caridad.  The ceremony ended with a mass presided by Archbishop John C. Favalora."

maduro_stadium.jpg (51075 bytes)The Miami Stadium has been used in recent decades for unusual and much less noble purposes.  Protests and concerts were often held.  From Concert Memories:

"Miami Stadium, Miami, FL 1979
I don't remember the exact date, but my wife and I attended a concert in Miami Stadium in Miami, Fla. in 1979 that featured Poco, The Doobie Brothers, and Boston.  The heat was absolutely miserable and the concert began with a local group after a very long delay.  By the time this group started playing, the audience had been throwing objects back and forth to each other (such as Frisbees, etc.) for a long period of time.  My wife was actually feeling sick from the long wait in the sun and blistering heat and the rest of the crowd was heat crazed and probably high.  The throwing of objects was all in fun and continued as the music continued. 

By the time Poco came on, it had really gotten wild.  I can't remember if Poco did one, two or three songs and I don't remember Rusty getting hit.  I just thought he was fed up with the audience not paying attention.  Finally, he stopped playing in the middle of a song and said, "If that's the way you're going to be, then fuck you!"  And they proceeded to walk off the stage. Everyone thought they would come back out, but they never did.    Greg Hampton"

From "Cuba relives big-league baseball ties":

"Hailed as a patriarch of Cuban baseball, (Bobby) Maduro fled Castro-ruled Cuba and came to Miami, where he served as special assistant to then baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.  Maduro's stature was recognized in 1987 when the City Commission voted to change the name of Miami Stadium to Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium."

From  a Time Magazine report:

"To be sure, the newest Nicaraguan refugees hardly have it easy. Impoverished, frightened and confused, many of them were herded into a grimy makeshift shelter at Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium. There, cots were crammed end to end, and families crowded around long tables eating rice and beans, Big Macs and other offerings from local restaurants. Still, many agree with Manuel Ortega, 33, a carpenter from Managua who says he lost his job because of his anti-Sandinista politics, that "anything is better than home." At week's end most of the refugees had been moved to apartments and a church shelter."

A similar situation occurred during the Mariel influx in 1980, that coincided with the largest racial riot in Miami history which effectively destroyed the new and restored Allapattah "downtown" area (and also coincided with the death of my oldest daughter, Elizabeth Bush Metcalf, in a traffic incident.  A very difficult time for all of us).   Huge amounts of refugees were housed at the Stadium.

When we moved into Allapattah, in addition to quantities of Italians, Jews, Polish, Vietnamese, Estonians and others who had sought refuge in earlier decades, there were non-Cuban Hispanics, including many Puerto Ricans.  As the Cubans, especially the ones from rural areas, and specifically Matanzas Province, moved into this grove-like ex-farming community, the Puerto Ricans began to congregate along 7th Ave in the Wynwood area.   Now the Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics are being displaced by a huge Korean population that is developing the area.   From The Puerto Rico Herald:

"Though Miami's Wynwood neighborhood has long been considered a Little San Juan, many Puerto Ricans have moved to the suburbs as their economic conditions improved.  It's still the cradle of Puerto Rican leadership, however: the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Senior Center, the Dorothy Quintana Community Center, ASPIRA, the Borinquen Health Care Center and the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, to name a few.  Wynwood is also home to Roberto Clemente Park, Eneida Hartner Elementary and Jose de Diego Middle School."

But the residents and clients they serve are increasingly not Puerto Rican, activists and community leaders say.

''There's not that need to stick together. We are American citizens, and we blend together with all the other communities. There are no common causes like the Cubans and the Nicaraguans have,'' said Janitza Torres-Kaplan, executive director of the Rafael Hernįdez Housing and Economic Development Corporation.

Esther Couvertier, the director of the De Hostos Senior Center, said less than half the center's clients today are Puerto Rican. ''When we started it was a majority, but now there are more Cubans and other nationalities,'' she said.

The Borinquen clinic has seen the same phenomenon, said president Gamaliel Rivera. Today, nearly 40 percent of the clients are Haitian, he said. And Hispanics, who represent another 55 percent or more, are equally split between Cubans and Puerto Ricans, with an increasing number of Dominicans showing up for healthcare.

Census figures also back up the Puerto Rican exodus from Wynwood -- even as the overall Hispanic population there grew from just over 50 percent to nearly 60 percent. In 1990, 28 percent of the Hispanics in the working-class neighborhood were Puerto Rican. According to the 2000 census, that figure is now 17 percent.

It's a migration to the suburbs."

....and the beat goes on...

More about Miami Stadium:

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