John S. Collins, Founding Developer of Miami Beach

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When you drive along famed Miami Beach’s Collins Avenue, do you think of its history or who it was named after?

John Stiles Collins (1837-1928) is the name behind the street and an American Quaker from New Jersey who originally moved to South Florida for agricultural purposes. He was born on December 29, 1837 in Moorestown, New Jersey and was the sixth generation of Collins’ to farm the family’s western New Jersey homestead since 1678. His passion for farming extended beyond his own land and led him to invest in a potential area within Florida where he bought acreage in 1891. Although he did not move to the state until 1896 he envisioned an enterprise in growing vegetables and coconuts along the swampy stretch of land between Miami and the Atlantic Ocean, now known as the barrier island of Miami Beach. Adventurous in his investments, he was captivated by the land and bought additional acreage with fellow New Jersey partners. Collins wanted to grow exotic crops which hadn’t yet been introduced to the market such as mangoes, avocados and ‘alligator pears.’  The partnership did not last and Collins eventually bought out his partners making him the sole owner of five miles of land, or roughly 50 blocks in modern-day Miami Beach.

By 1907 his groves were successful and in addition, tourism was also beginning to flourish. Collins now focused on improving transportation. But it was with his crops in mind.  Transportation was too slow and he wanted a canal. Collins’ canal would cost more than he could afford so he turned to his children for financial assistance. They had been responsible for the success of the New Jersey family business while their father was planting in Miami.

Collins’ children saw potential in Miami Beach however their vision extended beyond horticulture and towards tourism. They agreed to finance the canal if their father would agree to build a bridge across it opening traffic to the beach area and thus enhancing real estate value similar to that of Atlantic City. Together the Collins family founded the Miami Beach Improvement Company and construction on the bridge in 1912 began and triggered a flurry of real estate potential activity.

But money ran short, and so too did the completion of the 2.5 mile intended bridge. With half a mile remaining to be built, Carl Fisher, an Indiana auto parts mogul, agreed to give the now 74-year-old John Collins $50,000 in exchange for 200 acres of land on the beach.  In 1913, the bridge completed and also became the longest wooden wagon bridge in the world, ultimately giving rise to the great boom of the 1920’s.  Collins, his family and Fisher all became very wealthy alongside the development of Miami Beach, which ultimately resulted in a 400 percent increase between 1920 and 1925. But John S. Collins never lost sight of his trees. By 1922 Miami Beach boasted the largest avocado and mango groves in the world.  However its historical roots in agriculture would not last much longer, sacrificed for the tourist trade and a future in residential and hotel mega success.

When John S. Collins died at the age of 90 on February 11, 1928, Miami Beach bore little resemblance to the wild swampland of years before. However both the Collins Canal, the catalyst for the 1915 incorporation of Miami Beach as a city, and Collins Avenue were named in his honor!

5 culturally stimulating events to experience authentic Miami

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Anyone unfamiliar with Miami’s finer cultural offerings may envision “quintessential” Miami entertainment as nights spent hitting the dance floor at LIV, but the Magic City has much more to offer its classy and curious citizens than its famed nightlife.

From the burgeoning art scene in Wynwood to musical performances at the Adrienne Arsht Center to a slew of quirky events that occur throughout South Beach, below are a few ways you can expand your worldview and add some cultural spice to your South Floridian lifestyle.

1. The South Beach Seafood Festival
When: Oct. 21-24, 2015
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If you’ve spent one too many nights at Joe’s gorging on stone crab, perhaps it’s time to expand your palate’s horizons. Though the world-famous institution will be making an appearance at The South Beach Seafood Festival, it’s not the only mouthwatering cuisine you’ll find at the event. Experience the freshest seasonal seafood dishes Miami’s finest culinary minds have to offer. Enjoy tantalizing, creative hors d’oeuvres and an open bar, and rub shoulders with Miami’s most discerning foodies.

2. The New World Symphony WALLCAST
When: Beginning October 10
Location: New World Center

You’ve never seen the symphony quite like this before. Become immersed in a sensory experience that’s fun for the whole family or for a romantic evening: Visual and audio technology bring music to life on a 7,000-square-foot projection wall at Miami Beach SoundScape at New World Center. The best part? The shows are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. Check out upcoming events here.

3. Authentic salsa dancing classes
When: Varies
Location: Multiple

Is it a surprise to anyone that Miami is a city with a vibrant salsa scene? Some of the city’s top-rated classes include Latin Dance Movement, Salsa Fever Miami and VK Dance Studio, located on Miami Beach. At VK Dance Studio, founded by legendary instructor and choreographer Viktor Kanevsky, choose from a variety of classic and Latin dance styles, and learn moves you never thought you’d master.

4. Get jazzy
When: Wed. and Thurs. nights from 8-11PM (mostly jazz); Nov 20-22. (SIB jazz fest)
Location: The Betsy Hotel & Sunny Isles Beach

Miami may be well known for its Latin-inspired music events and flavor, but traditional jazz also has a place to call home in the Magic City. The (mostly jazz) Live Music Series, which takes place at The Betsy South Beach hotel, is a jazz-enthusiast’s dream: Live performances range from improv to renditions of classic numbers, and occur every Wednesday and Thursday nights from 8-11 p.m. For jazz lovers seeking an all-in-one experience, the Sunny Isles Beach Jazz Festival will take place this year on the weekend of November 20th and will feature names like Shenita Hunt, Carole Ann Taylor, Lisanne Lyons and Maryel Epps. Tickets to select events are currently available.

5. Design Miami/
When: Dec. 2-6, 2015
Location: Meridian Avenue and 19th St., South Beach

If you’ve experienced Art Basel Miami Beach in the past, you know the annual event offers exposure to some of the greatest minds and creators in the art world, who come together from around the globe. Design Miami/ takes this concept to another level with exhibitions showcasing cutting-edge work from some of the world’s most distinguished designers, as well as emerging big names. Collectors, enthusiasts, and gallerists alike are sure to find delight in this can’t-miss event that’s part art fair and part exhibition.

How do you expand your cultural horizons in the Magic City? Tell us in the comments.

The Iconic Shelborne Makes a Comeback

Photography by Troy Campbell

Photography by Troy Campbell

The Landmark Shelborne Hotel, in the trendy art deco district at 18 and Collins Avenue, made its debut in 1940 and recently reopened after undergoing a historic $90 million renovation. The renovation closed the property for over a year but was well worth it due to the day to night transformation.
The goal of the renovation was to offer a much more upscale room product that truly competes with the luxury offered in the famed tourist area. In addition, the vision for this historic oceanfront address to include a resort of world-class service and amenities was necessary to once again restore a great lifestyle product to a famous location worth paying top money for.

The renovation touched upon every part of the 200-room property now known as the Shelborne Wyndham Grand. The new look boasts a rich and warm atmosphere with gold accents and dramatic lighting. Additional upgrades include Morimoto, a new high-profile restaurant featuring cuisine by Iron Chef’s celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto, an apothecary-themed bar and drawing room, a transformed entrance, and a fitness center and day spa. 15,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space aims at attracting greater corporate incentive travel while redone guest rooms pay homage to vintage cars seen in the glossy lacquer on the doors and leather headboards.

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The fully remodeled pool features breathtaking Atlantic Ocean views, poolside air-conditioned cabanas and drink cart services. The private beach club allows guests to partake in volleyball and water sport activities such as jet skiing and parasailing. Conference and wedding facilities feature every modern convenience and can accommodate as many as 1,100 people on the Observation Deck, with interior ballroom space for up to 350.

For the family that has owned the property for decades, the changes were nostalgic but welcomed. More than 3,000 new-to-come rooms had been planned for the area’s mega-luxury hotel Mecca.

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Efforts to re-invent the Shelborne were previously attempted back in 2011 when the property began losing its appeal and became overly known as a “party destination” for locals and tourists. However the minimal $15 million previous renovation which included changes to the lobby, outside entrance, a new restaurant/retail space and some rooms fell short of its desired outcome, never reaching full potential.  Realizing the historic legacy of the location and property, developers moved forward full steam.  Its long term standing as a South Beach hotel and residency, meant the property consisted of individually owned condos, including several two-story townhome units that were covering old columns that previously made the original lobby a focal destination. Part of the new plan was to buy out these units from their owners restoring these columns and high-ceilings and making them once again a focal point. They can now be seen in the lobby shared with the Albert Trummer Drawing Room, Bar and Apothecary, where bar chefs craft cocktails made of fresh, local ingredients, herbs and botanicals. Sit at the bar and enjoy the transformation while watching Trummer at play. Or, select your elixir of the day from a stainless-steel cocktail cart wheeled through the grand room.