DOWNTOWN WALK

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Miami's most historical buildings are located within a few blocks of one another and can be enjoyed in a short stroll in downtown Miami through today's bustling urban environment.

This historical downtown walking tour has been suggested by the Miami Downtown Development Agency. They maintain a visitor centre inside the Olympia Theatre lobby at 714 E. Flagler Street. Free literature about the theatre as well as downtown shops, restaurants, entertainment and historic sites is available.
Visitors Center Hours
Monday 12:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

I have added a scenic extension to Miami Riverwalk and Bayfront Park for those with a little extra energy. This extension covers Bayfront Park, Bayside Marketplace and the new River Walk to Fort Dallas Park.

Many of Miami's historic buildings were built during the first Florida land boom of the 1920s. As you walk along the tour route, imagine streetcars moving up and down cobbled streets literally filled with investors and speculators hoping to cash in on Miami's bright future.

For convenience, we will start our tour at Government Centre, where there is a transportation hub of Metro bus, rail and mover. Locate NW 1st. Street and walk in an easterly direction towards Biscayne Bay.

The first building you see on your right is the Dade County Courthouse, built between 1925 and 1928 at a cost of US$ 4 million. As well as the court rooms, there were jails on the upper floors, supposedly because these heights offered "maximum security" and were considered escape proof! In 1934 a prisoner housed on the twenty-first floor, picked the lock of his jail cell window and used a fire hose to lower himself to freedom. In the years following, more than 70 prisoners escaped from this so-called secure prison.

Be aware that photography is prohibited within the building.

When you cross North Miami Avenue, look to your right (south). Halfway down the block on the right is a two story building called the Waddell Building. This early construction, built in 1914, is one of the last arcaded storefronts in the city centre that retains its original façade.

Miami-Dade Courthouse
Waddell Building

Half-way down the next block (between North Miami Avenue and NE 1st. Avenue) to your right is the Seybold Building. The Seybold Building was built in the early 1920’s by John Seybold. In the 1970’s, Seybold was developed as a jewelry community. The Seybold Building today is Florida’s premiere jewelry center as well as the second largest jewelry building in the United States. Seybold’s ten floors and over 280 in-house jewelers cover all phases of the jewelry trade and is a world renowned leader in the industry.

The building to your right on the SW corner of NE 1st. Avenue is the Ralston Building. Completed in 1917, the Ralston Building was, at eight stories, one of downtown Miami’s first skyscrapers. It was constructed by a prominent local businessman by that name. Even before its completion, all 42 offices were filled.

Seybold Building entrance
Ralston Building

Opposite on the NW corner is the Old Post Office and Courthouse. Built in 1912, this beautiful Florentine-styled structure housed the first Miami U.S. Post Office and Courthouse until the early 1930s. In the late 1930s, the building became the home of First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Miami, the nation’s first savings and loan. The building is presently unoccupied. Note the historical marker relating the story of the infamous 1926 hurricane.

Turn left (north) onto NE. 1st. Avenue. Half way up the block on your right is the Capital Building, Originally the Security Building; it was the most imposing building in downtown Miami at the time of its construction in 1926. It is faced in granite and features a copper clad Mansard-style roof, representing the only French Second Empire style structure in Downtown Miami. The building is being restored and will be offered as a condominium with loft style apartments.

On the SW corner of NE 1st. Avenue and NE 2nd. Street is the 1921 two-story Hahn Building, a fine example of early Miami commercial architecture. Details include Corinthian pilasters at the second story windows below a wave-like frieze.

Wall Ornament Old Post Office
Detail Hahn Building

Opposite, on the NE corner is the distinctive Gesu Catholic Church. The Gesu parish was founded in a small wooden church several months before Miami was incorporated as a city in 1896. By 1922, the wooden church proved too small, and the bigger one we see today was constructed on the same site. It seats 800 parishioners. It is a beautiful temple with polychromed crystal leaded widows made in Germany, relating events in the life of Jesus and Mary and altars made of Italian marble.

Gesu Church and Capital Building
Marble altars Gesu Catholic Church

Turn right (east) onto NE 2nd. St. Note the church rectory on your right. At the next corner turn right (south) onto NE 2nd. Ave. Half way down the block on the left is the Congress Building. Built in 1925 as an office building, the Congress Building is now converted to apartments. It consists of a 16-story addition built over the original five-story building. The exterior features beige glazed terra-cotta siding with five two-story arched bays at the base.

Facing you on the corner of Flagler and NE 2nd. Ave. is the historic 1936 Walgreen building. The innovative building's Streamline Moderne design accommodated Miami's climate and the building's site through the use of horizontal bands of ribbon windows and a curved corner entrance. Promoted as the largest store in the Walgreen chain, the building featured an 88-foot soda fountain counter and a separate ice cream plant. The building has recently been beautifully rehabilitated by “La Epoca”, a famed Cuban department store. Be sure to enter the store and read the history of this distinguished family enterprise.

Formerly Walgreens Building, now La Epoca
Interior view La Epoca

A few feet down Flagler to the left (west) is the ornate ticket booth for the Olympia Theatre, called the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. The Olympia Theater opened in 1926 as a silent movie palace and amazed the public with its stunning Moorish architecture, perfect acoustics and simulated night sky, complete with wafting clouds and twinkling stars. It also achieved fame as the first air-conditioned building in the South. The theater owes its distinctive character to architect John Eberson, the master of “atmospheric” theater design, and it is one of the few Eberson theaters around the world still standing.

Famed Miami architect Morris Lapidus (Fontainebleau Hotel) supervised the first restoration in 1975. In 1999 further restoration was commenced. Today, the restoration work is completed and Miami’s most beloved cultural venue has retained its stature in a downtown that continues its own transformation. High-rise office buildings and glittering luxury condominiums have replaced many of the theater’s aging neighbors. Downtown Miami is once again becoming a place to live, work, shop and play, and the Gusman Center is at the heart of the action – just as it was in 1926.

To view the theater's front lobby, simply drop in during regular Visitor Center hours. To tour other areas of the theater, including the auditorium, call the theatre's administrative office at 305-374-2444 or e-mail them at info@gusmancenter.org a day in advance so that theatre staff may be present to escort you.

Ticket Booth at Olympia Theatre
Auditorium Olympia Theatre

Opposite the theatre at 169 East Flagler Street is Miami's most outstanding example of Depression Moderne architecture, the 1938 Alfred I. DuPont Building. The design uses a restrained Art Deco style. The second floor was a bank headquarters. With the bronze bas-relief elevator doors and hand painted Cypress wood ceilings, vast wall-to-wall marble halls, intimately detailed brass gates and grates, complete with original teller's windows and two bank vaults, it is one of Miami's most spectacular interiors. The second floor is used for private functions and regrettably it is not open to the public. Nevertheless by contacting the management in advance at 305-374-3677 or events@thedupontbuilding.com, a staff member will be happy to accompany you and show you around.

Second Floor Marble Hall
Bank safes at Dupont Building

It is at this point you should branch off the regular route if you are taking the scenic extension to Miami Riverwalk and Bayfront Park.

Continue south on SE 2nd. Ave. Half way down the block on the left is the Ingraham Building. The Ingraham Building was built in 1927 by the Model Land Company, the real estate division of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad which established tourism and agriculture as Florida's major industries. Designed in a Renaissance Revival style, it is clad in Indiana limestone and features a hipped roof sheathed in Spanish tiles. Don’t miss the restored hand-painted ceiling in the lobby.

On the SW corner of SE 2nd. Ave and SE 1st. St. is the Huntington Building. Built in 1925-1926, the Huntington Building reflects the frenzy of construction activity which characterized Miami during this period. The building is noted for its fine detailing, particularly in its knight-like figures along its parapet. The building is one of the most unusual commercial structures in downtown Miami.

Lobby ceiling Ingraham Building
Detail Huntington Building

Turn right (west) along SE 1st. St. On your right are two more historic buildings. The Royalton Hotel, one of the last of the 1920s Land Boom hotels in downtown Miami, has been treated to a faithful historic renovation: From period doors and light fixtures to the poured terrazzo lobby floor, the formerly gone-to-seed building is once again a solid citizen on Southeast First Street. It's the kind of painstaking makeover you might expect for a loft conversion, or a boutique hotel, or a yuppie condo, only it's none of the above. The Royalton reopened its arched entranceway to its fortunate tenants in September 2008 -- 100 people with very low incomes, 80 of them recently homeless, many of them with disabilities.

Beside this is the 1925 Langford Building. Note the emblems and seals above the arched portico and across the top of the building which are copied from early U.S. coins and currency. The lobby is interesting for its wood paneled walls of black faux-marble and gilded doors shielding manually operated elevators. The building has recently been sold, and the new owner is in the process of rehabilitating the structure.

Now turn right (north) on SE 1st. Ave and return to Flagler Street.

Those who selected the scenic extension to Miami Riverwalk and Bayfront Park will rejoin the route here.

Dynamic Miami Skyline
Well, what a relief!

Turn left (west) on Flagler. Note the other entrance of the block-long arcade of the Seybold Jewelry Centre Building in the middle of the block to the right.

On the SE corner of South Miami Avenue is Macy’s department store (formerly Burdines). The original Burdines store opened on S. Miami Avenue in 1898. By 1912, William Burdine had moved the business to a new 5-story building. The streamline façade, designed by Henry Lapointe, was completed in the late 1930s. The explosive growth of Downtown in the years immediately after World War II included the construction of a Burdines’ west wing connected by a tri-level bridge across S. Miami Avenue. Burdines was purchased by Federated Department Stores (Macy’s) in 1956, but the Burdines name was replaced only in 2005.

Continue a couple of short blocks past the south side of the Dade County Courthouse, noting the attractive little urban park on your left and the statue to Miami developer Henry Flagler on the right beside the courtyard steps. Cross over NW 1st. Avenue and you will arrive once more at Government Centre.

Formerly Burdines, now Macy's
Secluded urban park

Bus/Metrorail services from Miami Beach
C (103) From 41st. Street, Miami Beach via Collins and Washington Avenue to Downtown Miami Government Center. Every 20 mins.
S 119 From Sunny Isles Beach, North and South Beach via Collins Ave to Downtown Miami Government Center. Every 15 mins.

If you plan on travelling a lot by local public transportation you may find it easier and more economic to purchase a US$ 29.25 seven-day or US$ 5.65 single-day transit pass (called EASY Ticket).

Driving Directions
From the North
Exit from I-95 onto NW 2nd St (Exit 2B). Turn right onto NW 2nd St and then right onto NW 2nd Ave for one block.

From the South Exit from I-95 at NW 8th St (Exit 3B Port of Miami). Turn left onto NW 2nd St and then turn right onto NW 2nd Ave for one block.

Parking
Parking is available at the Miami-Dade Cultural Center Parking Garage, 50 NW 2nd Ave. Take the second level skywalk from the south elevator, directly to the Cultural Centre, then descend to the street. If you visit the Historical or Art Museums, have them validate your ticket for a discount.

Go to the top of Downtown Walk

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