Walk through the graffiti-filled walls of Miami Marine Stadium, and it would be easy to think its glory days are long over.
In 2010, the Miami Marine Stadium took its spot among the Old City of Jerusalem and Machu Picchu on the World Monuments Fund’s list of sites threatened by neglect or over development.
Designed in 1963 by architect Hilario Candela, a 28-year-old Cuban immigrant at the time, the Miami Marine Stadium became the city’s first structure by an exile architect and the first purpose-built venue for powerboat racing in the United States.
“The city conceived the idea to [bring in] community leaders to create a venue that would help the image of Miami and attract tourists to make the city grow – a special location [to enjoy] all of the opportunities presented by the post-war leisure time,” Candela, now 80-years-old, told Fox News Latino. “And I was committed to do [just that] with the Miami Marine Stadium.”
But after category-5 Hurricane Andrew battered the Florida coast in 1992, the Miami Marine Stadium was left in disarray. Just a skeleton of the historic entertainment center that once hosted Ray Charles and Richard Nixon remains: it is now awash with graffiti and its cantilevered roof is falling apart.
But now, there is a major effort to restore the stadium and make it once again the sparkling jewel of Virginia Key.
Candela and other prominent groups have come together to create the nonprofit organization Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, with the sole purpose of refurbishing the area. The group is not accepting tax dollars.
“We are not asking for one penny from the city... This is all going to be [mostly] privately funded” though some minimal public monies will be used, Rosa Lowinger, President and Chief Architecture Conservator of Rosa Lowinger and Associates, Conservation of Art and Architecture, told FNL.
In its heyday, the Miami Marine Stadium hosted events ranging from rock concerts to boxing matches. Truly a building of the people, the stadium easily drew crowds to public events like world-class powerboat races and Sunday services.
The venue is where Sammy Davis Jr. hugged Richard Nixon in 1972 and the site of a legendarily wild 1985 Jimmy Buffett concert. The Elvis Presley movie “Clambake” was also filmed there. The stadium proudly proclaimed its memorable performances pre-hurricane with the likes of Queen, The Beach Boys, and Ray Charles.
But once Hurricane Andrew barreled through South Florida, the stadium lost its luster and became forgotten – even as Downtown Miami a few miles away was going through a major construction boom that transformed the face of Miami.
Now it hopes to remind everyone of its significance.
Earlier this year, the Miami Marine Stadium applied for a grant from the Keeping It Modern initiative of the Getty Foundation and was recently named one of eight finalists in April.
In 2008, the Dade Heritage Trust, a nonprofit that helps preserve Miami-Dade County’s architectural heritage site that has been fighting for the stadium’s restoration, presented the venue for historic designation. After some deliberation from the City Commissioners, the Miami Marine Stadium was declared a historical icon, which prevents any possibility of future demolition.
“Miami-Dade County [also] approved, and [the Dade Heritage Trust] supported, $3 million [in funding] for the restoration of the Marine Stadium in the spring of 2013. That has now been secured and was just waiting for the whole project to be in place,” said Becky Roper Matkov, CEO of the Dade Heritage Trust.
Recently, Grammy-winning star and Miami luminary Gloria Estefan donated half a million dollars toward the preservation of the Miami Marine Stadium. In 2009, Jimmy Buffett also endorsed the stadium in a public service announcement, urging his countless fans to support the restoration effort.
Far more funding is going to be necessary, however, for the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium to reach their goal of $30 million.
“[The final thing] we now need is a major player in our Hispanic community to step up and become the major donor that will have their name on the stadium,” Lowinger, also a former board member of Friends of the Marine Stadium, told FNL.
Candela said he wanted to give the City of Miami the opportunity “to express itself through music, to express itself through art, to express itself in terms of interactions within one another and within the world at large.”
In a moment when Miami was changing due to the influx of a large Hispanic group, in this case the Cuban community, the Miami Marine Stadium stands as an artifact to the city’s dramatic cultural shift in the 1960s.
It was once one of the most significant cultural structures built by a Hispanic in Miami – the stadium’s unusual architecture heralded the arrival of a demographic swing that changed the face of the city.
And Candela hopes it once again becomes the important Hispanic institution it once was.
“It would be a legacy of the Hispanic community in the United States and especially the Hispanic community that made Miami their home,” Candela said. “the legacy of the Hispanic community to come – that would be the Miami Marine Stadium.”