Stiltsville - a Miami Landmark

By
Real Estate Agent with Majestic Properties 3061802

stiltsville 7I've always been curious about the history of Stiltsville.  Not many people know aboutstiltsville 2 it unless they frequent Biscayne Channel by boat.  These "shack-like wooden structures" just sit there, like monuments in the landscape, a landscape of ocean blue.  Stiltsville is a string of structures on pilings that you can only reach by boat.  Thousands of boaters frequent this area South of Key Biscayne.

I decided to take a trip there and photograph each house, not only with the purpose of exhibiting them, but also to document their condition.  The history of Stiltsville is fascinating, at least I hope you find it as entertaining as I do.

The Stiltsville community began in the early 1930's; at one time there were 27 dwellings, used for weekend retreats anstiltsville 1d parties but seldom for full-time homes.  All these were privately owned and later acquired a colorful reputation as hangouts for "gamblers, boozers and flashy women". 

A frame stiltStiltsville's founder and first resident was "Crawfish" Walker, who had a bait-and-beer shack for passing fishermen.  Soon several more shacks sprung up, some built by prominent Miami businessmen.  In the 1940's the Quaterdeck opened, featuring electricity, a bar, dining room and gaming tables featured in Life Magazine in 1941.  Soon, other clubs with an "anything goes" atmosphere opened up - police raids began in the 50's to stop prostitution and illegal gambling.  In the 60's an eccentric grounded a 150' yacht on the flats and named it the "Bikini Club". 

There are 7 structures left with architecture that is everything but fancy, and were recently saved from demolition with the help of a group of conservationists.  Because the houses stand inside the boundaries of Biscayne National Park, the park service fought that private homes did not belong there.  The land lease would expire and home owstiltsville 4 ners would have to demolish the homes.stiltsville 5

One argument to keep these homes is that Stiltsville had become a useful landmark and warning signs for boaters navigating the complicated winding finger channels.  Removing the homes would be detrimental to the surrounding flats in addition to the increase in vessel groundings, and scarring damage to the sea grasses, marl banks and tidal cuts.

Another argument by known historian, Dr. Paul George, sums up the meaning of this place, "It really is an only-in-Miami kind of thing.  It had an aura, a rascally mischievous past. But it was also just a place people could go to enjoy getting away. It would be a terrible loss."


Finallystiltsville 6 an agreement was reached to preserve the structures under the Stiltsville Trust (made up of all 7 leaseholders now called caretakers and 8 community members).  Now owned by the National Park Service, the homes have been secured and access to the buildings is by permission only.  Possible uses include "community meeting spaces, a National Park Service Visitor Center, research facilities, an artist-in-residence program and satellite park offices that could provide the National Park Service with a presence closer to South Florida's population center in the northern part of the park".

I've always regarded cruise ships leaving the port as a "city detached", but Stiltsville, to me is the perfect representation of just that, and I was happy to hear that this piece of our Miami History was not demolished. (make sure you click on each photo to get more information on each house).

 

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Comments (62)

Mary McGraw
GLREA - Rockford, MI
2015: Solar Energy Is Still A Simple Machine!

I haven't read the comments but absolutely love your post! You don't know how many times I have emailed a "stiltsville" picture to my boss and asked, "can we finance this?"

I love the history you have posted -- makes for a great read!

Thanks! 

May 22, 2007 02:23 PM
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL
Mary....you totally lost me....how do you get "stiltsville" pictures in Michigan or Arizona?  Although it makes me feel great that our stiltsville is so well known - thanks for the compliment!
May 23, 2007 01:16 AM
Mary McGraw
GLREA - Rockford, MI
2015: Solar Energy Is Still A Simple Machine!

trailer on stilts

Michigan Stiltsville Home!!!

Ha! Off the internet! Where else!  Actually  at that time we were licensed in Florida (I was with another firm)  -- and the firm I am currently with will be able to do business in 42 states beginning the first of the month. Pictures were sent more for a chuckle rather than as a real question

Actually, there was a bar in the 70's in Michigan and half the building was on stilts over the Tittabawasee River. I was too young to go there but was told that when the bands were really rocking the toilets would actually shake! I don't know what ever happened there --- the bar went out, maybe because the structure was deemed "dangerous"? (speculation and rumours, not confirmed). I believe an insurance company is now in the building! Go figure!!!

May 23, 2007 02:23 PM
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL
Mary - that's pretty funny - I remember getting an e-mail with a vivid description of that picture you posted. 
May 23, 2007 03:48 PM
Mary McGraw
GLREA - Rockford, MI
2015: Solar Energy Is Still A Simple Machine!

I always laugh when I see it and know someday, I'll probably get a call on it!

Thanks again for your interesting bit of history!

To your success!

May 23, 2007 03:51 PM
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL
Thanks Mary - You better believe I will think of you next time I see anything on stilts.
May 23, 2007 03:54 PM
Sharon Simms
Coastal Properties Group International - Christie's International - Saint Petersburg, FL
St. Petersburg FL - CRS CIPS CLHMS RSPS
Thanks for adding this to the buildings group - they ARE very interesting buildings.
May 24, 2007 03:14 PM
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL

one of a kind Sharon - will never be reproduced (conceptually)

May 24, 2007 03:22 PM
ARDELL DellaLoggia
Better Properties Seattle - Kirkland, WA

Are they all privately owned?

May 24, 2007 07:03 PM
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL
Ardell - they used to be privately owned, now a trust was created (since the park owns them) and the original owner are the "caretakers" - it's what I understand from the whole mess that happened.
May 25, 2007 12:26 AM
Janie Coffey
First Coast Sotheby’s International Realty - Ponte Vedra, FL
Uniting Extraordinary Homes w/ Extraordinary Lives
thank you Ines for sharing, this is so wonderful that you shared with the rest of the world!  Stiltsville is one of my FAVORITE Miami places and so many do not know it exists.  Thank you again!
May 30, 2007 10:39 PM
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL
Hey Janie - you are right, it's one of our little secrets and the only way to know about it is by having gone by on a boat.  Thanks for stopping by.
May 31, 2007 12:54 AM
Arlyn Mendoza
HomeServices Lending LLC - South Miami, FL

What a great post! I love Stiltsville!

I always take friends from out of town there on our boat to see it. It is truly an "only in Miami" type of place. iThe remaining houses are the survivors of Hurricane Andrew and all the other ones since then!

Stiltsville is great piece of local color for us, thanks for the great post!

Jul 20, 2007 05:08 AM
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL

Arlyn - I am so glad someone from Miami has actually seen and enjoyed Stiltsville - it's definitely a "miamism" and I will make sure to include one of the parties in my Miamism Fridays series. 

I spoke to the person in charge of The Stiltsville Trust a couple of weeks ago and they have great plans for it - including trips with kids from different schools and all kinds of educational events.

Maybe we will bump into each other there one of these days!

Jul 20, 2007 06:20 AM
Rob Wesler
Harborview Financial Partners, LLC - Land O Lakes, FL
As always, way cool. Althought he Florida Keys still hold my heart, Stiltsville is a close second. I actually was able to stay in one of the houses a few years back- invited by a fried who was hosting a party. A few weeks ago I saw one of the homes on a re-run of CSI: Miami and all of those great memories came rushing back!
Aug 02, 2007 03:21 AM
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL
Rob - that is too cool that you got to stay in one of the stilt houses.  I spoke to the chairman of the trust a couple of weeks ago and they do have some great community events planned for the area.  We'll see what they come up with.
Aug 02, 2007 04:18 AM
Miami Beach Condos and Homes
www.miamibeachcondosandhomes.com - Miami Beach, FL

I love Stiltsville, it's truly amazing how secluded these properties are. After driving east on your boat for ten minutes they finally become visible. 

Feb 12, 2009 12:51 AM
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL

on a clear day, you don't even need a boat :)

Feb 12, 2009 01:53 AM
Anonymous
Jo (Greco) Shewbridge

As a stewardess in 1965 & 66, I was based in Miami and briefly dated Tony Becher (Belcher Oils).

We boated over to his father's place in Stiltzville and it was lovely. I vividly rememer a hammock swinging in the breeze in the open doorway exposed to the bay, sky and constant breeze. It was wonderful.

I can still see it in my mind's eye and thought it to be the most intriguing place I had ever been to.

Jan 05, 2011 03:59 AM
#61
Rick & Ines - Miami Beach Real Estate
Majestic Properties - Miami Beach, FL

What a great memory Jo!! thanks so much for sharing that!  the original article can be found at www.miamism.com/stiltsville-a-miami-landmark

Jan 05, 2011 07:49 AM