Marine Council Editorial, TradeWinds, August/September 1998

Stiltsville Preservation: The Right Decision

The Marine Council applauds the approval of the State of Florida Historic Preservation board for Stiltsville as a place that is both unique and of significant historic value.  The State Board's approval will be submitted as a recommendation to the National Board that Stiltsville be officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would save it for future generations to enjoy.

By way of background, Stiltsville has existed in various forms since the 1930s, with as many as 25 dwellings at its zenith.  There are currently seven structures that make up Stiltsville, and represent all that remained after Hurricane Andrew.

Up until around 1970, Stiltsville had a somewhat shady reputation largely due to locations like the notorious Pierre's Bikini Club, a grounded luxury yacht where gentlemen could buy drink, entertainment and staterooms for the night. Since then, however, police and zoning enforcement efforts forced Stiltsville to conform to landside rules and regulations.

As a result, no new Stiltsville homes have been allowed since the 1970s, and at existing sites, owners were required to lease their bay-bottoms from the State for a 25-year period at a cost of approximately $1,000 per year.  In addition, sewage facilities had to be provided that shipped waste to shore for treatment  Plus-the "Bikini Clubs" of Stiltsville had to go.

These 25-year leases are scheduled to expire in July of 1999.  The National Park Service, which has controlled the site of Stiltsville since it was annexed into Biscayne National Park in 1980, has long held the position that the buildings "detract from the character of a pristine and public property" and as such would be demolished.  Since the site was now under the control of the Federal Government, the State bay-bottom leases were no longer applicable and, therefore, non-renewable.  The only hope to maintain Stiltsville into the 21st Century was through official historic status.

The main problem with getting historic status was that the rule of thumb, rarely bypassed, is that in order to qualify, buildings must be 50 years old or more.  Very few of the remaining structures are even 40 years old, and some are just over 30 years old.  According to Barbara Mattick, historic preservationist for the State Board, exceptions to the "50-year Rule" can be (and have been) made when a site is deemed to have "exceptional importance."

The Miami Herald ran an editorial on August 28 opposing Stiltsville's historic designation. According to The Herald's view, "a historic designation shouldn't be granted, for due recognition has attached obligations, especially if the site is on public property."  In short, The Herald views Stiltsville as "a special place for those who could afford it, but not a site historic treasure."

Thankfully, the State Historic Board did not agree with The Miami Herald, and in fact received only one letter opposing historic designation.  Many letters of support were received. including one from the Marine Council.  What we said in that letter isrepeated here, more strongly than ever:

"Our constituency includes... anyone who treasures our surrounding waters and its resources.  Over the history of the Marine Council, one of the most unique habitats anywhere for both man and nature has been Stiltsville."

Stiltsville represents the very best of local marine resources that have been carefully and conscientiously preserved and protected by the lessees.  The Marine Council has always supported its existence, and strongly endorses its future preservation as a unique national historic treasure."