Collins Avenue between 44th and 53rd streets

For its first 43 blocks, narrow little Collins Avenue is at best an inconvenient way to get around Miami Beach. At 44th Street, however, it widens to six lanes, becoming one of South Florida's premier boulevards, a show street lined with fancy and famous hotels, luxury condos, palm trees, and private yachts. This also marks the exact location where South Florida's true character is revealed, for this is where automobile-industry magnate Harvey Firestone built his magnificent Georgian Colonial mansion. Lured by the warm winter weather and the phantasmagoric hype of Miami Beach hucksters Carl Fisher and John Collins, Firestone and other American tycoons scooped up oceanfront property (Firestone's estate encompassed fourteen acres) and erected ostentatious monuments to capitalist wealth. By the Roaring Twenties this stretch of Collins Avenue boasted some of the most audacious private homes south of New York. But Miami Beach was really nothing more than a shifting sandbar, and the alluring vision of South Florida as a land of boundless opportunity under the bright subtropical sun was as illusory as the mythical landscapes that decorated crates of oranges heading to the frozen north. So it was fitting that Harvey Firestone's dream home should be demolished to make way, in 1954, for another dreamscape, the Fontainebleau hotel. Thus began another chapter in the life of this section of Collins Avenue. As the mansions went down, the fantastical hotels went up, followed by the towering condominiums that isolated bay from ocean and man from nature. From inhospitable, mosquito-infested mangroves to concrete canyons in the bat of an eye. It's magic. It's what Miami is all about. And it's all there in this nine-block-long postcard.


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