Miami’s first park was on land owned by the railroad and located in front of Flagler’s magnificent Royal Palm Hotel. Called Royal Palm Park, this green space served as the tiny community’s first gathering place, the venue for a wide array of athletic contests, political gatherings, cultural happenings, and religious meetings, including “Sunday Schools” hosted by the former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryant.

Ornate Elser Pier, the city’s preeminent amusement venue, offered a dance hall, shooting gallery, and peep shows at the foot of East Flagler Street.

A retaining wall was built and the pumping of bay bottom, whose depth ranged from two to fifteen feet in the location of the proposed park, began. Pumping went on day and night for seven months until today’s park had been created.

The new park was dotted with Coconut, Royal, and Washingtonian Palm trees, along with Hibiscus hedges and Mango, Royal Poinciana and Tropical Almond trees. A wide pedestrian promenade ran from the foot of East Flagler Street and the newly constructed Biscayne Boulevard to Biscayne Bay.

In September 1926, a fearsome hurricane, with winds in excess of 130 miles per hour, smashed into the Miami area. The storm damaged many of the park’s newly planted trees and shrubs and lifted vessels out of the bay and into the park and Biscayne Boulevard west of it.

Construction of a beautiful Rock Garden was completed in 1927. The garden would become one of the park’s most popular elements. Located near the water’s edge, the garden featured a grotto overlooking a large pond stocked with goldfish and water lilies, which often hid bullfrogs.

An interesting addition to the park was the Prinz Valdemar, a Danish brigantine which had sunk in the turning basin in front of Miami’s harbor in 1926, helping to end the building and real estate boom. The ship was re-floated and towed to the northern edge of the park, where it served as a floating aquarium and restaurant until the beginning of the 1950s.

An early brush with notoriety for the park came with the assassination attempt on President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 15, 1933. Six people were hit by bullets, including Chicago Mayor Anton Cermack, who sustained a mortal gunshot wound and died nearly three weeks later. Roosevelt was spared, probably because one of the members of the audience pushed the assassin’s arm as he began to fire.

With the onset of World War II, the United States Navy commandeered the waterfront, including all of the piers and the park. Navy PT (Patrol Torpedo) boats were based at the piers as part of the US campaign against German submarines operating off the southeast Florida coast.

The park served as a recreation center for the troops training in Miami. It also served as the eastern terminus for weekly parades that proceeded each Saturday from the Dade County Courthouse.

In 1947, the city condemned and closed the aging band shell, but a vociferous public outcry forced its reopening -- until it was closed for good at the end of the 1940s to make way for the construction of a long-awaited replacement.

During the war, work began on a social hall for the entertainment of military officers. The complex, consisting of several joined buildings, was built incrementally from about 1942 until 1950 and became known as the Bayfront Park Auditorium.

Band shells had been an integral part of Bayfront Park since the late 1920s, when Caesar LaMonaca, a talented composer and band leader who had performed earlier in the Hollywood, Florida band shell, was hired by the City of Miami to provide musical performances in its new downtown park. LaMonaca ended his lengthy tenure as the city’s musical maestro in 1977, after falling from the podium during a performance and breaking his hip.

The new band shell opened on July 28, 1950, the city’s fifty-fourth birthday, as well as the fiftieth birthday of the Miami Women’s Club. An estimated 12,500 people, more than three times the capacity, were in attendance.

The park did become the site of a new $1.2 million main library facility in 1951. Two stories tall, with mezzanine levels, the marble clad building was airy and bright. Its location in the park, however, was unfortunate since it blocked the view of the bay from East Flagler Street.

Today’s Bayfront Park

Photo Credit: Faroy Aerial Projects, Inc

Photos courtesy of the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.
All photos are copyrighted and any attempt to use photos from this page makes user
subject to a violation of the copyright law.