Thursday, October 18, 2012
STRANGE PLACE – STILTSVILLE
Going back to 1922 wood stilt houses started going up on a sand banks called “the flats” one mile south of Cape Florida on the edge of Biscayne Bay in Miami Dade County. The structures stand on wood or concrete pilings about 10 feet above the shallow water which is a couple of feet deep at low tide.
In 1933 Crawfish Eddie Walker put up a shack near the end of prohibition to allow gambling which was then legal one mile or more offshore. He also sold bait and beer and crawfish chowder. Over time more shacks were built for boat clubs, fishing clubs and shipwreck seekers. The area became an on water shack colony. Crawfish Eddies shack was destroyed in 1950 by a hurricane.
The Calvert Club was built in the late 1930’s and hosted fishing clubs. In 1940 Edward Turner built a large house and named it the Quarterdeck Club. Membership was exclusive by invitation only and cost $150 ... a princely sum back then.The club was a $100,000 play palace with lounge dining room and dock slips for wealthy yacht owners. It became a tourist attraction know for partying and gambling. It burned to the pylons in 1961.
From the 1950’s to the 1960’s Stiltsville morphed from being run down to a collection of lodge type private residences and places to party. By 1960 there were 27 buildings. Some of them that have survived hurricanes and are preserved in a historic non profit Stiltsville Trust put in place in 2003.
Miami Springs Power Boat Club built a club on a barge and grounded it in Stiltsville. In 1962 Harry Churchhill grounded a 150’ yacht named Jeff and turned it into a club serving free drinks to women wearing bikinis. There was a nude sundeck and rooms were for rent for any purpose. It became know as the Bikini Club. It was raided in 1965 and closed down for selling liquor without a permit. In 1966 what remained was burned to the waterline. Hurricane Betsy came in 1965 and destroyed many Stiltsville buildings.
By 1965 the County stopped issuing building permits. Owners had to pay a $100 annual camping fee and secure their quarter acre of water. Any building that suffered more than 50% damage could not get a permit to rebuild. In 1967 WRIZ radio station built a transmission tower in Stiltsville. Commercial operations were stopped after 1969. By 1976 the leases were $300 year and all leases were to terminate by 1999 with buildings to be removed at the owners expense.
In 1980 the area came within Biscayne National Park boundaries and the Park service extended the lease terms. By mid 1990’s there was a public push to preserve the buildings. Only the seven buildings were standing by 1999. In 2000 they were successful with the Park negotiations and leases were extended again. By 2003 the Trust was put in place and existing lease holders became caretakers of the properties.The buildings are owned by the National Park Service who reinforced the foundations but the caretakers (former owners) can visit and help maintain the remaining buildings. Stiltsville has been the subject of books,TV shows, movies and advertising photo shoots. It is a very unique place with a interesting past.