Good News for Miami's Modern Marine Stadium

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Designed by Cuban immigrant Hilario Candela, the poured-concrete Miami Marine Stadium has been closed since 1992's Hurricane Andrew.

Credit: Friends of Miami Marine Stadium

Some architecture fans call Miami's 1964 Marine Stadium, whose white concrete "sails" rise above Biscayne Bay in view of the downtown skyline, the city's Sydney Opera House. Others remember it as a good place to watch a boat race or hear Jimmy Buffett perform. But when Hurricane Andrew damaged the poured-concrete structure in 1992, city officials shut it down.

Now cloaked in colorful graffiti, the modernist stadium may be demolished if the city approves a new master plan for development of the surrounding 240-acre site.

On July 1, Miami's historic preservation and environmental board voted 7-1 to nominate Marine Stadium for landmark status. Although the board won't make its final decision until a building study is completed this fall, midcentury modern fans are celebrating the preliminary vote.

"That was only the first step, but I was delighted," says Becky Roper Matkov, President and CEO of Dade Heritage Trust, based in Miami. "This is such a wonderful chance for the city to do something for historic preservation. Everyone we talk to just has great memories of the stadium. I can't believe that the city could turn its back on this exciting opportunity."

Cuban architect Hilario Candela designed the 6,566-seat structure in 1962. Engineers who examined the building in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew deemed it safe but estimated the cost of repairs at $1 million, and the city declined to reopen the stadium.

Candela points out that although the city maintains its roads and bridges, "The building has been totally neglected for years. Even prior to 1992, the city of Miami had not taken care of it."

Last year, Miami officials hired EDSA, a planning and landscape architecture firm based in Fort Lauderdale, to develop a master plan for Virginia Key, where Miami Marine is located. Founded by the son of modernist architect Edward Durell Stone, EDSA presented two plans to the city: one would raze the stadium entirely, and the other would retain it.

National Trust President Richard Moe prefers the latter. In a June 25, 2008, letter to Miami's historic preservation and environmental board, Moe writes, "I hope that the city of Miami does right by this important architectural, cultural, and socially significant mid-century stadium and designates it as a historic site and structure."

The Dade Heritage Trust, which wants to the structure as a performance venue, has launched Friends of Miami Marine Stadium. Even if Marine Stadium wins historic designation this fall, the group will continue to work to form a feasible plan for its future.

"Anybody who saw an event there vividly remembers it and wants to do it again. I've had people on the phone crying about their memories," says Don Worth, co-founder of Friends of Miami Marine Stadium. "Some things resonate and some things don't. More than anything I've ever seen, this resonates."

Seeing Miamians defend the beloved building has been "a very rewarding process," says Candela, who designed Marine Stadium when he was 26 and revisited it this spring.

"There are some individuals that look at it with a speculative view and ignore its values," Candela says. So far, Marine Stadium has evaded many administrations who have wanted to redevelop the site. "It seems there have been some good angels watching over the city."


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