Miami Beach Wants to Demolish North Beach's Historic Log Cabin

Photo by Kirk Paskal
Since 1934, less than 20 years after the city of Miami Beach was founded, a rustic wood cabin has stood a few hundred feet from the oceanfront in North Beach. It has survived countless tropical storms and decades of rampant development on the barrier island. But it might not escape the wrecking ball.

The city's finance committee voted last Friday to demolish the log cabin on the west side of Collins Avenue at 81st Street as part of a plan to bring a version of the Wynwood Yard to the area. City officials say the cabin is simply too dilapidated to fix.

But residents and preservationists say the city should find a way to save the longstanding building.

"It’s just something the neighborhood loves, and it took something like losing it to bring everyone together," says Paula King, a North Beach resident since 1995.

Architect Emil Ehmann built the cabin as a private residence, making it the only one of its kind in Miami Beach. According to the city directory, throughout the 1940s a series of Crawford family members occupied the home, as well as Percy Watson, who lived there from 1944 to 1949. It's not clear exactly when the city assumed ownership of the property.

In 1975, the building became home to the Log Cabin Nursery, where people with developmental disabilities were employed and trained under the not-for-profit Sunrise Community. But owing to statewide budget cuts in 2011, the nursery was shuttered. Before its closure, the cabin was a place for community in North Beach, King recalls. Serving fresh mango smoothies and playing reggae music, it was a hot spot for residents on their way home from the beach.

In the years since, the city has used the cabin as a storage facility, and its condition has deteriorated. But residents have made it clear they'd like the city to find a way to save the cabin. In a master plan for North Beach that voters approved last October, one of the points for "enhancing neighborhoods through the creation of local historic and local conservation districts" was to preserve the log cabin.

Kirk Paskal, a North Beach resident since 2000, says hundreds of residents were involved in the development of the master plan, and many expressed their desire for the preservation of the cabin. When the Wynwood Yard's founder, Della Heiman, announced plans for her concept's expansion to the area, she said she hoped to transform the historic structure into a space to display local artists' work at the North Beach Yard.

But the City of Miami Beach says an evaluation directed by Frank Garcia, the city's construction manager, found extensive damage to the structure. The exterior wood is rotting, while the whole structure has possible termite damage and is "in a state of disrepair and in overall poor condition."
click to enlarge CITY OF MIAMI BEACH
City of Miami Beach
The city also shot down Heiman's idea for the cabin, noting that "low ceilings, small spaces, poor natural light, [and] poor ambient control does not lend itself for use as a public gallery or exhibit space." So last Friday, the committee voted to allocate funds to demolish the cabin so that more funds could go toward the design of the new Wynwood Yard location.

But many residents commenting on a viral Facebook post about the vote see the building's problems as proof that the city neglected to care for the cabin. Many said they were surprised a vote for demolition would be made so swiftly without a community discussion.

Some noted that the Village of Biscayne Park recently renovated a similar 1930s cabin with the help of a grant from the state. The building now has hurricane-proof windows and working restrooms and serves as a community gathering place. Paskal still hopes similar restoration can be done to the cabin in North Beach.

Following the outpouring of disapproval from residents, Commissioner Ricky Arriola says he's looking for alternatives to demolishing the building. He has mentioned the possibility of receiving state financing and declaring the site historic.

But Paskal isn't convinced the city will follow through. "Look how quickly the conversation went sideways on Friday," he says. "If some of them are willing to so quickly choose demolition as an option on something that is so important to the community, I'm not comfortable until I see it in writing that the commission is going to do what it takes to protect that cabin and restore it properly."

Residents such as King and Paskal support the idea of the North Beach Yard coming to their neighborhood. But in a city with constant, rapid development, North Beach is "the last place of its kind," Paskal says. It's the one part of Miami Beach where you can still find an economically and culturally diverse community.

For him, the proposed demolition of a piece of North Beach's history is largely symbolic.

"We don't want the things we treasure in this community to be relinquished in favor of development," Paskal says. "We're all in favor of progress, but we want to progress with the things we love about our community in tact."