Architecture & Design

Miami Icons: The MacArthur Causeway Bridge Pairs Striking Skyline Views and Strange History

San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. St. Louis has the Arch. Las Vegas has its retro welcome sign. It seems like every city has an iconic structure to represent itself to the rest of the world. Every city but Miami, that is. The Magic City is full of architectural gems, and maybe that's why no one building has come to define it. But that's left this town without a symbol of its own. In our Miami Icons series, we're aiming to fix that. Today, arts editor Ciara LaVelle's ode to Miami's prettiest, freakiest bridge.

What better symbol for Miami than a bridge?

Sitting across Biscayne Bay from Miami Beach and Key Biscayne, Miami is a city of bridges: the Julia Tuttle, the Venetian, the Rickenbacker. But none so elegantly sums up the vibe of Miami the way the MacArthur Causeway Bridge does.

The causeway, built in response to the deteriorating conditions of the Venetian Causeway (then known as the Collins Bridge), was completed in 1920, coinciding -- and even helping to usher in -- a golden age in Miami. The Florida land boom of the 1920s eventually went bust, and a Category 4 hurricane rolled through the city in 1926, but in their wake the MacArthur bridge remained.

Within this city that serves as a gateway to so many international travelers, the MacArthur Causeway is one of the busiest and most famous roadways in Miami. You've seen it in films like The Birdcage; in TV shows like Burn Notice; and in the picturesque aerial shots that pad the home games of the Miami Heat. Pitbull famously shilled Dr. Pepper beneath its bridge's glowing purple lights.

At the peak of the bridge as you drive from the city's tourist capital, Miami Beach, toward its grittier sister, downtown Miami, you're greeted with one of the best skyline views in the city. From afar, the city glitters and glows with an energy you won't find anyplace else in the world.

Then the bridge deposits you into the heart of Miami, smack between the brand-new Perez Art Museum Miami and the gutted former headquarters of the Miami Herald, a reminder that this ever-evolving city is far more complex than its shiny skyline suggests.

The views from the bridge may be beautiful, but the MacArthur can also get ugly. Is there anyone who lives in this town who hasn't gotten stuck in hours of traffic on that road? During Miami's busiest times -- Art Basel, Winter Music Conference, Memorial Day Weekend -- taking the MacArthur to Miami Beach will land you in the prettiest parking lot in town.

For the past several years, the MacArthur bridge also landed you in the middle of a construction site, as the Port of Miami Tunnel project was underway. The ambitious scope of the tunnel, at massive expense and questionable benefit to taxpayers, makes the causeway the latest in a long tradition of public projects in Miami.

But the ugliest thing to ever happen on the MacArthur took place directly on the bridge itself, when, in 2012, a naked Rudy Eugene attacked Ronald Poppo over Memorial Day Weekend. Eugene bit off pieces of Poppo's face before he was shot and killed by police, earning the nickname of "The Miami Zombie."

Hey, you can't get to Miami Icon status without at least a touch of WTFlorida.

Previous Icons:

The Colony Hotel, Ocean Drive's Most Famous Art Deco Building

The Freedom Tower Welcomed Cubans to America

The Miami Tower, Colorful Chameleon of the Skyline

Vizcaya, Birthplace of Magic City Luxury

Stiltsville, Offshore Escape For Miami's Most Colorful Characters

American Airlines Arena, Home of the White Hot Heat

The Bacardi Complex (AKA YoungArts), Striking Beauty of Biscayne

The Biltmore, a Glitzy, Golden-Age Throwback

The Adrienne Arsht Center, Where Glossy Style Meets Cultural Substance

The Welcome To Miami Beach Sign, a Nostalgic Causeway Beacon

The Versace Mansion, a High-End Hotel Inspiring Macabre Fascination

Follow Ciara on Twitter @ciaralavelle.

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Ciara LaVelle is New Times' former arts and culture editor. She earned her BS in journalism at Boston University and moved to Florida in 2004. She joined New Times' staff in 2011.
Contact: Ciara LaVelle