Spray-painted onto the concrete floor, at the uppermost row of the audience seats, is immortalized a testament to two lovers’ romance:
“Sara is Beautiful and Loves Cory Forever”
Whether Sara’s and Cory’s love endures we know not, but their message in spray paint – presumably left for immortality – is doomed for erasure.
No longer doomed, however, is the long-deserted and left-to-decay Miami Marine Stadium where lies their graffiti, as well as that of countless other trespassers over the decades.
That is because at a press conference last Friday, with the stadium as backdrop, Miami city officials and area preservationists declared their intention to save the nearly half-century-old landmark from demolition and finally restore it to present-day use.
“It will be our symbol, our Sydney Opera House, our aquatic Central Park,” affirmed Don Worth, co-chair of a group of preservationists and private citizens who have made it their mission for the last four years to do just that – save and restore it.
RACES. CONCERTS. AND ELVIS.
The abandoned Virginia Key landmark, which has been a favorite locale for film and TV productions – including, most recently, episodes of CSI: Miami – was designed by Spillis Candela architectural firm president Hilario Candela, then a 28-year-old recent Cuban immigrant, and built in 1963. He was in attendance for Friday’s announcement.
For the next 29 years, the venue hosted powerboat races as well as concerts on a floating stage, sunrise Easter services – even political rallies.
Elvis Presley made his 1967 movie Clambake here.
Jimmy Buffet, The Beach Boys, Queen, Dave Brubeck, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and Ray Charles played here.
And, during the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Sammy Davis, Jr., famously hugged President Nixon at a rally here.
SAMMY AND THE PREZ
Of the memorable moment, Nixon would later recount:
“I flew to Miami on Tuesday afternoon, August 22. That night I made an unscheduled appearance at the open-air youth rally, and the reception I received overwhelmed me….Hands above their heads, four fingers outstretched, the thousands of young people took up a chant that I was hearing for the first time: ‘Four more years! Four more years!’ It was deafening. It was music. This was a new kind of Republican youth: they weren’t square, but they weren’t ashamed of being positive and proud.
“The picture that is probably most remembered from the 1972 convention is of Sammy Davis, Jr., impulsively hugging me on the stage at the youth rally. When the crowd finally quieted down, I described my first meeting with him at the White House a few weeks earlier. We had both talked about our backgrounds and about how we both came from rather poor families.
“’I know Sammy is a member of the other party,’ I said. ‘I didn’t know when I talked to him what he would be doing in this election campaign. But I do know this. I want to make this pledge to Sammy, I want to make it to everybody here, whether you happen to be black or white, or young or old, and all of those who are listening. I believe in the American dream. Sammy Davis believed in it. We believe in it because we have seen it come true in our own lives.’
“For me – and, I think for many others – the youth rally was the highlight of the convention.”
WHAT ANDREW COULDN’T DO, CODE ENFORCEMENT DID
The 6,500-seat stadium, with its cantilevered, fold-plate roof, was originally dedicated as the Ralph Munroe Marine Stadium two days before Christmas in 1963. Its construction cost $1 million.
Though it weathered Hurricane Andrew in 1992, it was declared afterwards an unsafe building by county building code regulators and shut down. It has sat vacant in the twenty years since, a haven for vandals and graffiti artists.
Ultimately, an early master plan prepared by the City of Miami in 2007 called for its demolition.
A “NEW ERA” FOR THE STADIUM
That is when local preservationists and private citizens were spurred to form the all-volunteer Friends of Miami Marine Stadium to advocate for its restoration and sway local civic leaders to their mission.
One of those leaders, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, pledged shortly after his election to revisit the city’s master plan and restore the stadium “to its glory days, a place everyone can enjoy and be proud of.” George Neary, director of cultural tourism for the Greater Miami Convention Bureau, and a group of University of Miami architecture students went to work to draft what Regalado praised as an “extraordinary” plan to save the structure.
On Friday, the mayor lauded them and Friends members.
“You have saved a great part of a little history of the city of Miami,” said Regalado. “We’re here today to celebrate this new era for the Marine Stadium. Hopefully, we will see in a few months more movement to save [it].”
The effort has been joined by bigger allies. The World Monuments Fund, a global organization, named the stadium to its 2010 watch list of significantly endangered sites. Its president was present at the announcement as were officials of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a visiting delegation from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, a Miami sister city, in town for the Boat Show and to promote trade.
THE COUNTY OPENS ITS PURSE
Also in 2010, county commissioners allocated $3 million for the stadium’s preservation and renovation, while Miami commissioners okayed a new Virginia Key Master Plan, guaranteeing the stadium’s survival.
And last month, the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority approved a resolution that is the first step in the creation of a partnership between the Friends, the Authority, and the City of Miami to restore the stadium.
Worth, the Friends’ co-chair, boasted of his group’s success so far in making do without any financial assistance from local government.
“We are not here asking for a handout. We want to lend a helping hand. It’s the way we have conducted ourselves over the last four years. We estimate that we have spent $600,000 in volunteer labor to get the stadium up to the situation it is now. Moving forward, we have never requested one penny from the city, we have never received one penny from the city.”
EVEN THE GRAFFITI WINS ADMIRATION
“I think the big prize really is right behind us. What we have here with the Marine Stadium is what we believe to be the most magical, amazing place, as far as entertainment and sporting events, you could ever imagine. But it’s more than that, it’s a community gathering space.
“It will be our symbol, our Sydney Opera House, our aquatic Central Park. [It] will be the people’s stadium because the people pulled it from the brink of demolition at the last minute.
“Come and visit this stadium with us,” he invited last week’s audience, “and when you walk into the stadium and pass the graffiti – which is something that everybody is beginning to admire – you will get that feeling of the water, the amazing skyline, and that drama queen of a roof which, when it was built, was the longest span of cantilevered concrete, and you will realize, of course, this is going to be a great success.”
SMILEY FACES AND EXPOSED BREASTS
Following the press conference, held at a nearby water sport center, officials, preservationists, and news media crews – all numbering about four dozen – proceeded to the day’s centerpiece and embarked on an unfettered tour of the structure, spreading out to explore its rows of wooden and plastic seats, to its inner bowels underneath, rooms where equipment was once stored and concessionaires once sold food and drinks.
Virtually every inch of wall, stairway, and door is now covered in graffiti. Some are spray-painted sayings with Zen-like optimism, such as this, the lyric from a 1999 hit by pop singer Vitamin C: “Put A Smile On Your Face It Can Make The World A Better Place” – a smiley face added as a coda.
Other mind-droppings, like this acerbic one, induce only perplexity:
“The dead walk the earth to re-dig graves and make them big enough to fit TV’s and microwaves.”
The stadium’s grounds are strewn with perhaps the largest collection of empty spray paint cannisters and caps one is likely to find.
Dark restrooms in the structure’s underbelly hold even more graffiti-ed walls plus shattered porcelain toilet fixtures. In a few spots, concrete flooring has chipped away, exposing steel rebars.
The large face of a girl – and her equally-large exposed breasts – stares out from among the graffiti on a wall behind a concession counter that once, in its heyday, served up Coke and hot dogs to kids and families.
And between two seats, glimpsed on this postcard-perfect, warm and sunny day on the edge of the bay, was a single strand of spider web.
Make way, all you spiders and graffiti taggers: If its supporters have their way, this stadium will eventually be back to life and back in business.