55 SW Miami Avenue Road

A tale of Seminoles in canoes, little plastic men with parachutes, Connie Chung, a twenty-foot-tall high-heel shoe -- and Big Fish

None of the daughters married, a fact that may have contributed to their increasingly eccentric behavior. Before her death in 1960, daughter Maude Brickell lived with about 60 dogs, most of them strays she'd taken in. A popular piece of folklore, related by Paul George, holds that the spinster also shared the now-demolished family mansion with "upward of 60 chickens" that freely ranged throughout the house. By most accounts, though, the Brickells maintained excellent relations with the Seminoles, who sometimes referred to William Brickell as "White Chief." The trading post was the most successful of the era, and the only one on the river to last into the Twentieth Century.

According to Don Gaby, an assortment of small businesses occupied the land just west of the present-day Miami Avenue Bridge during the early part of the century, including a machine shop, a boat-awning manufacturer, and at least two fish wholesalers. Next door, at the address now considered 55 SW Miami Avenue Road, a fruit-packing plant was in operation by 1910, then gave way in 1914 to a wholesale seafood firm called the Fish House, which remained open until 1921.

Records are scant for the next two decades, but by the late Forties a service station had opened on the site. The property continued to operate as a service and fueling station during the succeeding decades, changing hands at least twice. The most recent proprietor was Bud Dawson, the man who invited Sykes to relocate Big Fish. Several years ago Metro-Dade environmental regulators demanded that Dawson replace the gas pumps, citing concerns for the river. He decided there wasn't enough business to justify the cost. "Nobody could find the damn place," says Dawson, who was born and raised on the Miami River and is now retired and battling throat cancer. "We were at the end of the line. Who the hell can find SW Miami Avenue Road? If the damn thing caught on fire, the fire department couldn't find that spot."

He shut down the petroleum side of the business, effectively reducing the place to a convenience store. That closed for good in 1994.

"I wish I remembered what my husband told me, but I never cared about the past."

Marge Brickell is trying to recount what she knows about the history of the Brickell family and, specifically, the history of 55 SW Miami Avenue Road. "We were going to do shipping down there, I think," she ventures, then abruptly concludes, "Ask Butch," referring to her 39-year-old son. "He likes all that history stuff. I couldn't care less." ("My mother's probably better to ask on that sort of stuff," Butch will say later.)

On this particular morning Marge Brickell's concerns are more immediate than the dusty doings of family ancestors. Seated behind a large wooden desk in the office of Brickell Shipping, where NW Second Avenue meets the river, Brickell is in a tizzy. A motor home that presumably belongs to a movie-production crew using a Brickell Shipping warehouse for set construction is parked in the lot and she wants it moved. A small Haitian boat is unloading at the seawall. Workmen are repairing a roof. And the phone hasn't stopped ringing since she arrived at 9:00 a.m. sharp. Mostly they're calls from people looking for Marge's son Butch Brickell, who is home in bed, asleep.

And then there's the matter of the dogs. Four of them, to be exact. Two, strays Brickell hopes to find homes for, are sequestered in a storeroom off the office. One of them is in heat, a condition that isn't lost on Brickell's male German shepherd, who bounds apoplectically around the office trying to find a way in. His barking is incessant.

"Shut up!" cries the 76-year-old Brickell, though not unkindly. "Will ya shuddup? It's a three-ring circus here!"

This is her domain in the absence of Butch -- a frequent occurrence, because by Butch's own admission he'd prefer to be doing other things, like racing cars, boats, and all-terrain vehicles. Attesting to this passion are framed pictures of careening race cars, speedboats, and dune buggies, the most striking of which depicts a ball of fire bouncing off a retaining wall. The occasion was Butch Brickell's unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the Indy 200, an Indianapolis 500 preliminary held at Disney World in January; he and his car are in the middle of the flames. He fractured his neck in the accident. Marge points to another shot of a boat skimming the ocean. "He flipped over on that one going about 90 miles an hour," she says with barely concealed pride. This morning Butch is recovering from a late night spent either coordinating stunts for a Dennis Hopper film or carousing with a girlfriend -- his mother isn't sure which.

Marge isn't a Brickell by birth. A native of Long Island, as a girl she attended the now-defunct Miss Harris' Florida School on Brickell Avenue. Never a stellar student, she used to cut classes and sneak over to the racetracks to gamble. "I hated school," she says frankly. "Too slow!" She never went to college. "I'm not one for studying," she confesses. "My parents knew I wouldn't be good at it. Like I knew my son wouldn't be good at it." Butch never attended college either.

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