Aqua Nova

Will a starry-eyed proposal for renovating Monument Island burn out before its time?

If The Gates is any gauge, then Behar and Marquardt, ages 49 and 51, could have a long wait. But they believe now is the time for the place the world knows as "Miami" to invent a unifying symbol with a "regional presence." And the perfect symbol, they maintain, is not the Freedom Tower, the Art Deco District, or Opium Garden nightclub, but an eight-point star. Why? Because it denotes the cardinal star used on maps, which contains the eight main compass points (north, northeast, east, southeast, etc.). In typical fashion, Behar and Marquardt have a couple of ways of perceiving a star. Just as an "M" is also an upside-down "W," a star not only points outward but also marks the place "where the North and the South actually meet, as part of the invention of Miami as that place where North and South actually meet," Behar asserts. "It's kind of offering a center for a city without one, in a way.

"We want the star to have a kind of double life, in the sense that from the water it's going to be a park," he continues. "And from the air it's going to be a kind of watermark, or monument, if you wish, that stands for the future." That is, the Miami area's fate as a city of 21st-century immigrants, where the vast majority of residents are, in the long view, new arrivals.

The island was about 300 feet in diameter and circular when construction crews working for urban developer Carl Fisher created it out of dredged material in 1920 for the purpose of honoring Flagler. It was deeded to the City of Miami Beach in 1939. Over the decades, erosion and perennial neglect almost doomed the 96-foot obelisk and the four 25-foot-tall tiara-clad human figures (two male and two female) at its base personifying Education, Industry, Prosperity, and the Pioneer. Disintegration of the island's shore would have caused the monument to tumble into the bay, had the city not managed to perform an "emergency stabilization" in recent years. As a result, the land mass is now almost a half-acre larger than it originally was, and its shape has become "amoebic," says William Cary, Miami Beach manager of design and preservation.

Mask in Brussels (top); the contemplated 
Pirate's House on the El Moro fort in Havana; 
and House of Cards at the Miami Art Museum 
last year
Mask in Brussels (top); the contemplated Pirate's House on the El Moro fort in Havana; and House of Cards at the Miami Art Museum last year
Two of Christo's ephemeral yet seminal 
Surrounded Islands, which created waves in 
Biscayne Bay in the early Eighties
Two of Christo's ephemeral yet seminal Surrounded Islands, which created waves in Biscayne Bay in the early Eighties

Several months ago, the city installed two binocular viewers on a public walkway at the western edge of South Beach, allowing the public to gaze more closely at Monument Island, currently designated as a recreational park. It is very scruffy these days, covered with an extensive cluster of palms and other trees as well as grassy plants known as sea oats, and is usually dappled with beer cans and assorted litter. The Flagler memorial is also ragged. "There's a tremendous amount of graffiti on it, and there's been a lot of damage," Cary reports. "The lighting systems have been totally destroyed on a couple of occasions because it's almost impossible to maintain security. People leave a lot of garbage and debris out there."

If Behar and Marquardt had their way, people looking through the binoculars would spy a lovely earth-tone wall along the angular perimeter of the eight-pointed island. Someone with a good imagination might even see it as the shell of a small and ancient fort, they think. Or at least compare it to the coral-colored wall along South Bayshore Drive between the sidewalk and the woods on the western perimeter of the Vizcaya estate. Tall palms would be evenly spaced along a seawall walkway. The island's interior would be creatively landscaped, with palms and other native trees and plants, and furnished with larger-than-life sofas, say four feet tall and twenty feet long.

"A primeval Miami landscape," Behar says. "It's better if [the monument] stays and you discover it as you would a ruin within the jungle. It's going to be much more exciting, as a story that you discover about the city. We would like to have another small monument that appears in this jungle, to [pioneer] Julia Tuttle. So that Julia and Henry can be part of the foundation and can share the glory of the founding of the city."

The sofas are both practical and symbolic. Something to sit on, and also symbols of "home." "We are always trying to communicate this idea of bridging the community and home, home and community," says Marquardt. "That this is our place." In her active imagination, Biscayne Bay is Miami's central square. "We see the bay as a big piazza," she adds.

And this is where the couple's vision of The Star of Miami project becomes very pointed. "It's also a way of saying, 'Hey, we all deserve a portion of the waterfront. The waterfront is also ours,'" says Behar.

"Because the bayfront is all private," Marquardt adds. "You don't have parks or anything. At least in this area."

"So it's a way of critiquing, if you wish, the privatization of the waterfront," Behar continues. "The problem is not what's being done -- the problem is what's not being done. One needs to focus on what is being done. True. But what we would like to focus on is what is missing. And what is missing is that all of us who are participating in that boom in one way or another perhaps need to realize that unless we participate in the construction of the public space, all of our endeavors are not to have the kind of meaning that they ought to. Unless we're able to express that ambition of the city in the form of a public, meaningful event."

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