Miami's skyline, with its array of construction cranes and colorful high-rises, is testament to a city that is focused on the future. It is a place where the new often takes precedence over the historic. But now there is a call to restore a piece of Miami's history that has long been neglected.
In 1963, a young Cuban-American architect named Hilario Candela was tasked with designing a stadium overlooking Biscayne Bay for powerboat races and other aquatic events. He says the site that was selected, on Virginia Key, is special to people in Miami.
"Our bay is our living room. It's our main room of the house," Candela says. "And this is at the crossover road for the bay — between the north bay and south bay — so this is the epicenter."
Candela's creation later became known as the Miami Marine Stadium, a 6,500-seat concrete structure that extends out over the bay, where dolphins and manta rays play in the waves.
The area is still popular among boaters and Jet-Skiers, but the stadium has sat abandoned since 1992, when it was devastated by Hurricane Andrew and declared unsafe by the City of Miami.
Today it is covered by graffiti, with piles of trash and corroded railings. But a decade and a half of neglect hasn't marred the building's impact, with its elegant overhanging roof made of thin layers of concrete that seem to gracefully billow over the grandstand like sails. An engineering feat, the roof is supported only at the back by a series of pillars. It is the longest concrete span of its kind in the world, Candela says.
The stadium is a world-renowned example of Modernist architecture in Miami, and six years ago, the city's mayor promised to restore it. But so far, no repairs have been made.
In Miami, the push to build often trumps the impulse to preserve. Becky Roper Madcoff of the Dade Heritage Trust, a historic preservationist group, says the Marine Stadium presents a rare opportunity.
"Miami is very much in need of preserving these landmarks because they're so few and far between, which relate to our past, which capture our sense of community," Roper Madcoff says.
Now, a coalition that includes preservationists and architects, known as Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, has taken up the cause. The group, with the support of the Dade Heritage Trust, is lobbying the City of Miami and working to get the stadium designated a historic site in the hope of building public momentum for its restoration.
The city is conducting an engineering study to gauge the stadium's structural soundness and determine whether the facility can be renovated and at what cost.
Don Worth, who helped start the preservation group, says the Marine Stadium also has a rich cultural history. An Elvis Presley movie was filmed there. President Richard Nixon hugged Sammy Davis Jr. at a 1972 voters rally. And everyone from Mitch Miller to Jimmy Buffet and Bonnie Raitt held concerts from the stadium's floating stage.
Although the outdoor arena was built for powerboat and hydroplane racing, today's boats are too fast for races to be staged there. But Worth envisions a revitalized stadium that could once again draw huge crowds with concerts and other events such as rowing and dragon boat races.
Looking across the bay, with the Miami skyline rising in the distance, Worth says, "It's ... the kind of place that gives a city 'soul.'"