History of Flagler Street
In the late 1800s, industrialist Henry Flagler opened Miami’s first hotel, catering to the wealthiest families in America. Twelfth Street, opposite the hotel, grew into the city’s first main street and was home to the original courthouse, dry goods and specialty stores, and the first Burdines department store.
In 1921, twelfth Street was renamed Flagler Street and became the north-south dividing line on the city’s first urban plan. The Roaring Twenties cemented Flagler Street’s role as the vibrant hub of Miami, while a land boom more than doubled the city’s population and gave rise to iconic nearby communities, such as Coral Gables, Miami Shores, and Hialeah.
By the 1930s, Miami and the rest of the U.S. fell into the Great Depression. Miami’s allure as a warm-weather paradise allowed it to fare better than many cities. Flagler Street continued to thrive and the city’s first modern skyscraper, the Historic Alfred I. DuPont Building, was erected in 1938. Tourism took off with the fledgling aviation industry. Pan American and Eastern Airlines headquartered here and opened routes that connected Miami to the world.
The end of World War II brought an unprecedented epoch of prosperity to Miami. From the 1950s through the late 1960s, Flagler Street was the most prestigious business address and the most stylish retail street in Miami. Burdines was famous for its pink and aqua décor, rooftop Ferris wheel, and elegant tearoom. Stores stayed open at night, and crowds thronged the dozens of theaters built on the ground floors of office buildings, including the 1500-seat Olympia Theater.
In the 1970s, downtown retail districts across America gave way to suburban malls. Downtown Miami entered a gloomy period and was largely sustained by an influx of Cuban refugees, who opened and patronized businesses on Flagler Street. The late Tony Alonso, son of the founder of the now trendy La Época department store and a Miami DDA board member, was the cornerstone of a movement to revitalize Flagler Street. At his urging, business owners, property owners, residents, and other stakeholders created the Flagler Street Task Force under the auspices of the Miami DDA.
In a show of solidarity, property owners agreed to self-taxation to provide seed money for an ambitious revitalization project. Three years in the making, the $13 million venture is fully funded by property owners, the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County and is ready to break ground.
The project will upgrade the half-mile stretch of Flagler Street from Biscayne Boulevard to the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, following a proven model of redevelopment already demonstrated by Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive, and Sunset Drive in Miami-Dade.
County, and other great main streets around the world. A pedestrian-friendly, landscaped streetscape will reclaim the street’s legacy as the vibrant retail and business core of Miami. The deteriorated sidewalks will be replaced with broad, accessible, landscaped pedestrian walks that encourage cafés and nightlife, and a unique system will enable sections of the street to be blocked off for events and festivals.
In revitalizing and improving Flagler Street, the project will fulfill the expectations of over 80,750 downtown residents, 220,000 workers, and visitors who desire the advantages of a dynamic urban center. As such, the Flagler Street Task Force project is more than a return to the street’s past glory. It will make history in its own right by giving rise to a dynamic downtown worthy of a great city.