Ephemeral Flame

A downtown monument goes on hiatus

It was supposed to be a beacon to the world, a symbol of Miami's role as gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. Later it was rededicated as a tribute to a fallen president. Over the years, it became a gathering place for civic demonstrations and protests. The Torch of Friendship monument, a gas-fed flame eighteen feet above the hum and whir of downtown Biscayne Boulevard, was, at the very least, supposed to stay lit.

But somehow, amid the constantly pivoting construction cranes and steady beat of progress on this thoroughfare — a central focus of Miami's hopes for a reinvigorated downtown — the fire died, and no one seems to know exactly when or how, or when it might be relit. The juice just ran out, apparently. "I guess it's been broken a few months," said Carol Cutt, marketing director for the Bayfront Park Management Trust. Cutt seemed unsure of who was responsible for lighting it. The property is part of Bayfront Park, but Bayside Marketplace, the nearby open-air mall, "has a relationship" with the gas company whose propane usually keeps the fire burning, Cutt said.

Not so, said Pamela Weller, Bayside's general manager. "We sweep and occasionally we'll put a light bulb in if nobody has," Weller said of the monument plaza. "Sometimes we'll call the gas company if [the torch] is out." Weller said she didn't know if anyone had called Peoples Gas this time around. Lance Horton, a spokesman for Peoples, said the flame was put on hiatus because of nearby construction but that it's unclear who has ultimate responsibility for it or when it will be rekindled.

So, like the downtown street signs that misspell the late developer Natan Rok's name or the chainlink fence that has become a fixture on the civil courthouse's plaza, the flameless torch has slipped into a state of benign neglect.

The monument was built and dedicated in October 1960. In 1964 it was renamed the John F. Kennedy Torch of Friendship. Speaking at the rededication ceremony, Mayor Robert High compared the torch to the flame that had been lit at Kennedy's Arlington gravesite.

"Both shall never go out," High said at the time.

 
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