Vintage Newsreels from the ’80s Tell the Story of a Booming Miami.




The 1980 roared in Miami. Not only was the city’s image and identity transformed in ways both good and bad, mixing global glamour with global intrigue, but the city itself changed physically. In that decade Greater Miami saw a building boom, blending luxury condo towers with avant-garde architecture, new public amenities and institutions, and a flood of stylish, luxury hotels catering to different kinds of travelers than the old beachside hostelries of earlier.

A selection of original newsreels preserved by the Miami-Dade College’s Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives gives a good look at how Miami transformed in that halcyon era. At that time, Downtown Miami was seeing an early wave of revitalization, becoming more active and attractive to Miamians, with new shopping, restaurants, hotels, retail, government buildings, public institutions, and of course, offices. In 1982, the Downtown Development Authority counted 58 new projects in various stages of planning or completion in the urban core. It was enough to make Miami one of the premier cities in the country for urban development, according to a news reporter. At Downtown’s heart, a new cultural center with a massive public library and two museums was located next to a towering new Metro-Dade government center.

From Government Center, the city’s brand new elevated public transit systems sprouted. Both Metrorail, with one long line snaking across the county, and the Metromover, to get people around downtown, were built in the ’80s.

In 1985, sculptor Isamu Noguchi redesigned Bayfront Park. His plans were largely built, creating many of the elements of Bayfront Park you see today. A spectacular laser and fireworks show celebrated the opening.

A wave of new infrastructure to accommodate a booming city didn’t stop there. The rapidly expanding Miami International Airport, with its new terminals and people mover, was becoming a repository of an ever-growing public art collection. However, despite not being in an actual museum, it still required a ticket to see. A plane ticket, that is.

A new federal courthouse was built with an innovative design. And when Metro Zoo, now Zoo Miami, first opened, it was “perhaps the finest zoo in the country.” It may also have been the only completely cageless zoo in the US as well.

The ’80s were a huge decade for Miami’s hospitality industry too. Many old landmark hotels were demolished while new ones were built. The Key Biscayne Hotel and Villas, a hotel that was practically taken over by his entourage whenever President Ronald Reagan was in town, came down for the sake of something new.

The iconic Castaways Motel in Sunny Isles Beach was torn down as the city changed from a kitschy motel row to a vertiginous city of condo towers. But the just-as-historic Biltmore Hotel, the architectural grand dame of Coral Gables, got a meticulous restoration bringing it back to its old glamour.

There was a new last word in luxury lodging. In 1984 the chic Grand Bay Hotel opened in Coconut Grove, with old-world glamour and modern architecture. The hotel threw a decadent opening-night bash to rival them all. The Pavillon Hotel, now the Miami Intercontinental, brought French luxury to Downtown Miami. It was part of a complex of towers called the Miami Center, just a few blocks away from another megaproject also combining a hotel with offices and other uses, the James L. Knight Center.

As for that unmistakable 1980s Miami aesthetic, it was more a revolution than any evolution. And more than anybody else, the prolific architecture firm of Arquitectonica defined that fabulous sunny, cheeky, subtropical look. Just think of the introduction sequence of Miami Vice, celebrating the square hole in the middle of the Atlantis, a condo tower. It’s one of theirs.

Featured image: A cruise ship is set against the skyline of Downtown Miami in 1984. Photo courtesy Steve Martin/Flickr.

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  1. What a fabulous collection of vintage footage. Total flashback to the ’80s, and it’s pretty mind-blowing! Thanks for the trip down memory lane!


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