The adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a perfect way to describe the controversy over whether the Miami Herald building deserves the status of a historic property, or whether it is an eyesore that blocks the bay from view, is an antiquated “box” of a building and that the possibilities for the site easily supersede the purported significance of The Herald.
The question of whether individual taste gives it high marks or not, there is one single concept that cannot be disputed: The Miami Herald building is a part of our collective history — its mere presence illustrates the phenomenal growth of our community; the new technologies in the printing industry and the tastes in architectural design at the time it was built in 1963.
On Oct. 22, the Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board will take up just that issue. Dade Heritage Trust, the county’s leading historic-preservation organization, has put great effort into reminding all of us that The Miami Herald transcends mere brick and mortar. It also represents the efforts of John S. and James L. Knight to bring journalism a new voice, an honest voice, and a democratic voice that, at times, has been an unpopular view.
In the 1970s, when crime was rampant in the city and the corruption of public officials was a matter of course, the Knight brothers’ reporters unflinchingly recorded what life was really like in this tropical paradise. The brothers’ skill, personal integrity and eye for talent brought the paper into an era of Pulitzer Prize winners; and its exposés about poverty, crime and homelessness, among so many others ills, led to real change and the institutions to deal with those problems.
Why write about The Miami Herald in the context of the Knights’ accomplishments and commitment to the city of Miami? One of the HEPB’s criteria for significance is the association of a building with a person or persons who made a lasting difference in our community.
The beauty of the Miami Herald building seems not perceived by most. It, too, introduces a different kind of expression, and seems an easy target because of its age. Opened in 1963, it has not achieved the “patina” of respectability. History proves that in art and architecture new ideas are often met with derision.
The Miami Herald building is considered a model of Miami Modern (MiMo), introduced after World War II, when all things seemed possible. MiMo as described in the book MiMo: Miami Modernism Revealed as a combination of the exuberance of resort architecture, the exoticism of subtropical modernism and the foreign flavor of Latin influences. The two best known examples of MiMo are the Bacardi buildings (2100 Biscayne Blvd.) and the Miami Marine Stadium on Rickenbacker Causeway, which have both been designated historic landmarks because of the quality and uniqueness of their architecture and their dramatic history.
The Miami Herald building, a monumental building in terms of its sheer size, exhibits most, if not all, of the features described in the vocabulary of Modernism, Miami-style. The authors of MiMo hold it in the highest regard, writing that it “epitomizes the Subtropical Modern office building.”
I don’t think that every old building should be protected — only those that remain in our memories, introduce us to something new at the time and are a vital part of change. Beauty is to many a part of ourselves, a story that continues to evolve and challenge us to understand that human ingenuity is an imperative, without which forward strides would never be taken, depriving us of any history at all.
After all is said, history and the protection of its monuments are what constitute the uniqueness of any city. Thus, they are the purest reflections of ourselves.
Ellen Uguccioni is the former director of the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Department, and also served as the preservation officer for the city of Miami. She is the architectural historian and chair for the Florida Historical Commission, which reviews nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.