Built on a boom and bust cycle of schemes and dreams, Miami has been fertile ground for preservation battles, most notably the worldwide acclaim for saving its Art Deco District from demolition. Being such a young city, it’s crucial to hold on to history and provenance. Enter Olga Vieira, Board of Trustees President for the Dade Heritage Trust, Miami’s largest, nonprofit, historic preservation organization. It helps that she’s an attorney as the board gears up for one of its greatest challenges to date: the astounding discovery of the remnants of a Tequesta Indian village in a portion of downtown that’s slated for development.
How did you become involved in DHT? I’ve always loved old homes having grown up in the Shenandoah historic neighborhood and then in an Art Deco home on South Miami Avenue. My husband and I share a passion for architecture with character, so we renovated a Mission Revival house from the 1920s. Since I always talked about this enormous undertaking—for example, stripping 40 years of paint to reveal gorgeous Dade County pine—at work, some colleagues suggested I join their cause.
What’s your main role? Meetings! I try to participate in all our committees, the most important being advocacy and to work with municipal preservation boards. I want Miamians to be excited about their local treasures.
How are you exposing people to the advantages of preservation? We organize seminars for various neighborhoods, from Miami Shores to Little Havana, to teach about incentives like tax breaks and that if the whole area gets behind a unified, historic aesthetic, all homeowners benefit. Just look at what Coral Gables’ and South Beach’s efforts have done for making them so charming and desirable.
How are you reaching out to the next generation of preservationists? Many people associate our work with an older crowd, but I notice a lot of Facebook posts regarding big local issues like what to do about the Tequesta Indian site. So we’re launching Inherit Miami, a networking group for young professionals.
Tell us about some of the preservation battles you’ve won? A developer first wanted to raze the Freedom Tower and then build a high-rise around it, but we thought it should be visible from every direction as an icon. The Miami Marine Stadium is another great success story, and they’re in the process of refurbishing it. The Coconut Grove Playhouse also is in the works to stage performances again.
Have you lost any? The Miami Herald building and the Hochstein residence on Star Island. It’s harder to save buildings that the public hasn’t used and enjoyed. Developers with deep pockets are difficult to go up against. Beyond developers, one of our biggest problems is time; when a property falls into a state of disrepair, that’s nearly impossible to salvage.
Other than the Tequesta project, what else are you working on? We have so many, but an interesting gem is the Flagler Worker’s Cottage on the Miami River, the last remaining structure of the Flagler era.
Want to help?
Become a member. If you have even more time to donate, the organization is always looking for board members, who serve two-year terms, as well as volunteers for day-to-day needs.
It isn’t too late to participate in the annual, two-month Dade Heritage Days, which continues through the end of April. Two standout events: Taste of Historic Downtown Miami, a roving, cultural cocktail party throughout several venues from the La Epoca store to the Ingraham Building on Friday, April 11, from 6-9 p.m. And the Annual Preservation Awards at the Coral Gables Museum on April 29, at 6 p.m.
For information on membership and events, go to dadeheritagetrust.org.