The COVID lockdown of the past two years has actually proved quite productive for me. Unable to go carousing out on the town, I was forced to stay home and write. In addition to researching and writing A Dance to Lost Time, comparing the authors Marcel Proust and Anthony Powell, I have also written Building Paradise, a history of Miami, my hometown.
Less than one hundred and thirty years ago, Miami did not exist. Apart from a small, abandoned army post and some derelict slave quarters, the only sign of life was an orange grove planted by a middle-aged widow. In less than a decade after Julia Tuttle cleared a space in the wilderness to plant her first orange tree, Miami sprang magically to life and today, that same humble orange grove has a glittering glass and steel skyline to rival Shanghai or Manhattan.
In the Florida Land Boom of the early twentieth century Miami became ‘Paradise Found’, the most exotic and sought-after city in North America. It was a tropical paradise filled with Hollywood celebrities, movie stars, European aristocracy, Washington big shots, Wall Street tycoons and all the leading mobsters between Las Vegas and New York. Miami was a developers’ paradise, new buildings and sub-divisions sprang up almost daily, to accommodate the endless stream of new arrivals lured by the Magic City’s reputation of sun, sand, sin, and sex. Miami had become a paradise for starting over, for creating a new life. Refugees from political oppression or economic despair and people escaping from past indiscretions or serious legal problems could all find a new beginning in this sunny paradise of optimism and endless opportunities.
But it all came crashing down in the late seventies, when Miami became synonymous with deadly race riots, civic corruption, violent drug warfare and political scandals. In November 1981, Time Magazine featured a cover headline describing South Florida as ‘Paradise Lost’. By the end of the century Miami was bankrupt and Wall Street rated its bonds as worthless junk.
But whether from hurricanes, police scandals, race riots or bankruptcy, the Magic City displays an endless ability to bounce back and reinvent itself. As we enter the twenty-first century, Paradise has, once again, been restored. The city has a AAA bond rating from Wall Street, Miami neighborhoods from South Beach to Wynwood have become synonymous with all that is hip, cool, and fashionable, while property values are, once again, the highest in the nation. Whether it’s for the Ultra Music Festival, the Miami Book Fair or Art Basel Miami Beach – the Magic City continues to entice and attract visitors from all over the world.
In just one-hundred years, Miami has already had more history, more glamour, more stories, and more excitement than most other cities see in a thousand, and this new book ‘Building Paradise’ aims to tell those stories.