CBS 4 (Miami) – Miami Marine Stadium used to be the focal point for iconic cultural and political events. After Hurricane Andrew’s winds shut down the stadium due to roof damage, it remained empty; to this day, the stadium continues to deteriorate, covered in graffiti of all shapes, colors and sizes.
Sitting empty on Key Biscayne, the stadium is now being ranked with famous landmarks as Machu Picchu and the Old City of Jerusalem â€“ placed on the World Monuments Fund’s watch list for 2010 of monuments threatened by neglect or overdevelopment for 2010.
In 2002, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz promised to refurbish the stadium, but the building remains empty behind downtown Miami’s glittering high-rises. Now, The World Monument Fund in New York is making a move to turn Diaz’s promise into reality.
Architectural experts both in Miami and around the world say the 6,566-seat Miami Marine Stadium is a significant modernist structure — and the move to preserve it is not a joke.
The stadium has been the host for scores of powerboat races, was the spot where Sammy Davis Jr. and President Richard Nixon hugged in 1972, and was the site of a legendary and raucous 1985 Jimmy Buffett concert. The 1967 Elvis Presley movie “Clambake” – about an oil tycoon’s heir swapping places with a poor water-skier – was filmed there.
The marine stadium is unique because of its cantilevered, fold-plate roof and its construction of lightweight, poured-in-place concrete, which was popular in mid-century European and Latin American sports stadiums. The modernist design appears to float over the glimmering water of Biscyane Bay; when bands used to perform there, they would play atop a floating stage. Boats clustered in the water and fans packed the stands.
It’s also the first structure in Miami built by a Cuban exile architect.
“I have had feelings of anger both as a designer and as a Miamian,” said Hilario Candela, who designed the stadium when he was 28. He is now 75 and is “saddened” to see how his creation has deteriorated.
Nonetheless, the building does not lay forgotten. The city has awarded a historic designation for the stadium, and earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation also put it on “most endangered” list. On Oct. 1, it received its biggest endorsement yet: singer Jimmy Buffett cut a public service announcement on behalf of the stadium, urging his multitude of fans to support the restoration effort.
“It’s a symbol of everything that’s great about Florida — boats, music, water and great Florida fun,” Buffett says in the video, against a backdrop of images of him singing “Margaritaville” at the stadium, during the 1985 concert. Tens of thousands of people packed the stadium and the water, and it was also the first concert video the singer ever released.
The World Monument Fund is a non-profit group that works to save places with historic or architectural significance. “This is a special and important and iconic place that is at risk. We can’t let this fall down. And it’s rare that you can mention the World Monuments Fund and Jimmy Buffett in same sentence,” said Amy Freitag, the director for U.S. programs at the Fund.
Restoring the building won’t be easy. Engineering reports after Hurricane Andrew said the structure was sound. But it will take millions to refurbish, because no engineering studies have been undertaken recently, it’s unclear exactly how much restoration will cost, and Miami is especially cash-strapped.
There are eight other sites in the U.S. that landed on the list, some of them just as puzzling: Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library, the bridges on the treelined and 1940s-era Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the Phillis Weatley Elementary School in New Orleans, and even the broadly defined “cultural landscape” of Hadley, Mass., a town along the Connecticut River in the western part of the state.