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Miami Marine Stadium exhibit opens at Coral Gables Museum

Architect Hilario Candela during stadium construction in 1963. Original photo by Pancoast, Ferendino, Skeels, and Burnham, courtesy of Hilario Candela
Architect Hilario Candela during stadium construction in 1963. Original photo by Pancoast, Ferendino, Skeels, and Burnham, courtesy of Hilario Candela
© 2013 George Leposky

As efforts to restore and reopen the Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key gain momentum, the Coral Gables Museum has mounted an exhibit – Concrete Paradise: Miami Marine Stadium – that details the structure’s historic past and foretells its future.

Miami Marine Stadium – Philharmonic concert, 1970s.
Courtesy of Friends of the Miami Marine Stadium.

The exhibit opened October 17, 2013. It includes architectural plans, photographs, and artifacts showing the 6,566-seat stadium under construction, during its 29 years of operation, and thereafter as a windblown derelict that became a gallery of avante-garde aerosol art.

When the stadium opened in 1963, its 326-foot-long roofline was the longest span of cantilevered concrete in the world. Built primarily for speedboat racing, it also had a large floating stage on which stars including Gloria Estefan, Jimmy Buffet, Dave Brubeck, the Beach Boys, and Elvis Presley performed. Religious services and political rallies took place there, too.

After Hurricane Andrew

The stadium closed in 1992, after Hurricane Andrew blew through. Although it survived the hurricane practically unscathed, Miami city officials declared it unsafe and closed it. Standing alone and forlorn beside Biscayne Bay, it became a target for graffiti artists, who used the raw concrete on its walls and ramps as a large-scale canvas on which to paint contemporary street art. Acrobats, fashion designers, videographers, musicians, and photographers have come from around the world to make it a venue for their artistic expression.

In recent years, public support for efforts to restore and reopen the stadium has begun to build. It received a historic designation from the City of Miami in 2008, was placed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List in 2010, and was declared a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2011.

In March of 2012, a support group – Friends of Miami Marine Stadium
entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Miami to develop a plan to restore and operate the stadium. The Miami City Commission approved the site plan on July 11, 2013. Now the Friends group is working to raise private funds for its restoration.

Candela’s vision

The Cuban-born architect who designed the Miami Marine Stadium, Hilario Candela, was just 26 years old at the time. A half-century later, he is an active participant in the restoration effort and looks forward with great eagerness to the stadium’s rehabilitation and reopening.

“We intend to do it right,” Candela says. “This is one of the most public buildings in the history of Miami – one of the most frequented buildings, compared to a city hall or courthouse that most people never see inside. In the future it will be a destination place with a multitude of events for every segment of the community.”

Candela says the stadium, after restoration, can’t continue as a graffiti canvas. “We need to protect the finishes and the structure itself,” he says. “We will leave one wall intact with samples to honor the art,” but the art work elsewhere on the structure will be filmed and the films will be shown at several locations inside “to respect the artists’ intent.”

Concrete Paradise: Miami Marine Stadium will be on display at the Coral Gables Museum through January 5, 2014. Related events include lectures, stadium tours, and a party with a screening of the Elvis Presley movie Clambake, which was filmed at the stadium. For details, visit the Museum Web site or call 305-603-8067.

The Coral Gables Museum is at 285 Aragon Avenue in downtown Coral Gables. It is open Tuesday through Sunday.

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