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THE NEED TO SAVE STILTSVILLE

Hon. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Member of Congress

U.S. House of Representatives
Special Order
April 13, 1999


A writer in one of our hometown newspapers once said that: “Miami is two parallel universes of life on water and life on land.”

She was describing Stiltsville, a community of structures, located approximately one mile south of Key Biscayne, Florida, part of the Congressional district I am proud to represent. It is difficult to describe in words the picturesque and peaceful view that homes supported by stilts looming above the water make against the Florida skyline.

Stiltsville began in the 1940’s with the Quarterdeck Club, a beautiful locale featured in Life magazine for its unique architecture and location on the northernmost extreme of pristine Biscayne National Park.

By 1960, at least 25 structures existed which represented distinctive architectural facades with brightly colored wood frame buildings resting on steel foundations.

Stiltsville served for many years as the backdrop for many television shows, movies, books and advertisements including the long running TV show, “Miami Vice.” It has been a favorite of movie-makers, boaters, and tourists alike because of its unique frame against the Miami skyline.

Unfortunately, due to the hurricanes that often plague our South Florida shores, only seven of the original 25 structures remain in tact today. Stiltsville homes are privately owned and represent no cost to the taxpayer.

These seven remaining structures have now been equipped with especially engineered features which have been adapted to meet the rigors of a hurricane prone area.

The remaining seven homes provide not only aesthetic beauty for the landscape but a haven for fish and other sea life that inhabit the area. For boaters and fisherman, Stiltsville is often used for navigational guidance and as a shelter for many during storms.

For many Floridians, Stiltsville symbolizes the Miami of yesterday, and the Miami of today. In fact, Florida Governor’s since Governor Leroy Collins have spent time at Stiltsville.

Many of our local civic and charity groups have used these homes including the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club just to name a few.

For many of our cities across this nation, there are local historical sites that give our cities character and that make them unique. For South Florida, Stiltsville is one of those place that gives our community flavor and that keeps us linked to the history of our great state.

It is unfortunate that in spite of the historical and cultural symbolism that Stiltsville holds for Floridians, it is looking at the possibility of being demolished by the National Park Service.

Its current lease with Biscayne National Park expires on July 1 of this year and a recent petition for National Historic designation was denied even though Stiltsville is regularly a part of the South Florida Historical Association tours.

The Dade Heritage Trust, Miami-Dade County’s largest historic preservation society, has worked for almost 30 years to preserve landmarks that enrich the texture of the city’s present and future.

The benchmark used by the Dade Heritage Trust for judging structures “historic” is 50 years, yet an exception has been made for Stiltsville because the members know that the colorful origins of the community itself dating back to the 30’s—make it a wonderful component of Miami history.

Even the State Historic Preservation Officer of Florida has supported a a National Register nomination for Stiltsville.

According to noted historian Arva Moore Parks, Stiltsville is a “very fragile piece of history worthy of salvage.” And certainly many of us in South Florida share this sentiment.

In our district, with the collaboration of dozens of local organizations like: Save Old Stiltsville, The Florida Department of State, The University of Miami, and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, we have begun an effort to ensure that Stiltsville remains a part of Miami’s history and that future generations are able to enjoy the beauty that Stiltsville adds to Biscayne Bay.

Together, we hope to make this a reality.