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On the preservation of Key Biscayne history

If you’ve been reading the Islander News lately, you may have seen the debate about preserving the Reed House as a museum. It’s the oldest Mackle on the island; the original spec house for prospective home buyers when Key Biscayne was first opened for residential use in the ’50s.

Recently someone bought the house and wanted to tear it down to build a new house. In fairness, the buyer gave the village time to figure out how to move the house somewhere else, or to make an offer. The village then tried to get the house historical status to acquire funds to move it. Here lies the catch: if a landmark receives historical status it gets funding but you can’t move it. The village has now given up, saying there isn’t enough money at present time to invest in the move.

While in the short term it seems like a prudent move given the economy and loss of tax revenue, I do wonder when it will become a priority. I understand that we can’t live in the past, that we progress and build new, but I still think it’s important to preserve some of that which made Key Biscayne what it is.

I’m reminded of Dubai, a place that for all it’s built and spent on the new can’t forge more of an identity than the Disney World of the Middle East. Is that all we are, a faceless South Florida suburb; Doral on the water? I hope not.

Key Biscayne is the place where Seminole Indians attacked the lighthouse, where William Matheson had coconut plantations, where WWII veterans came to start a new life, where Richard Nixon owned the “Florida White House” (destroyed in 2004 to avoid historical status), where Bebe Rebozo laundered $100,000 from Howard Hughes through the Key Biscayne Bank to fund Nixon’s election, where the Calusa Playhouse served up local theater for almost 30 years in a hundred year old building, and much more. Yet you’d hardly know about any of this unless you dug deep into a history book.

With all the furor at the national (and even local) level about immigration and assimilation, to me it’s a no-brainer. What are people meant to identify with here, a McMansion town that’s a nice place to shop? There’s so much more to it! Nevermind that it makes some financial sense in a place that derives so much from tourism. Again, I understand Key Biscayne is a little strapped for cash, but it would have been nice to see at least one person on the council come out and say, “damnit, this is important! Let’s find the money, let’s make it happen!”

August 16th, 2010 | share

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