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Secret Miami History Unearthed by Islandia Journal
Image: Time Out/Shutterstock

9 fascinating pieces of secret Miami history unearthed by Islandia Journal

Including a Pinecrest nudist colony, a Coconut Grove segregation wall and the City of Miami's one-time official cocktail

Falyn Wood
Written by
Falyn Wood

If you're looking for Islandia Journal publisher and quirky Miami history buff Jason Katz, check the Florida Room of the main branch of the public library.

“This is where you can find me if you ever want to assassinate me,” jokes the Miami native, whose non-profit quarterly of essays, fiction, poetry and visual mediums explores offbeat, hidden South Florida and Caribbean-centered history, mythology, ecology and more.

To produce his “Neotropical periodical” and its accompanying social media content—fascinating bits of Miami history and forgotten oddities presented in highly shareable visual formats—Katz digs into property records and newspaper archives and spends hours combing through digital collections and public library stacks, meticulously scanning his findings onto a thumb drive for further examination and dissemination.

In most cases, like a story he researched about a 70-foot concrete monolith dubbed the Tamiami Trail Arch located on land owned by the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, he approaches interviews “not from a place of being a reporter but more out of curiosity,” says Katz, a creative writing MFA with a “long-running obsession with history and archival research.”

The result is Islandia Journal, a growing collection of print and digital media that records and celebrates all the beauty and weirdness of South Florida, its history and its fantastical lore. Launched during the pandemic, the journal aims to foster connections with the Greater Miami writing, editing and historical communities by commissioning local works and hosting print-focused events around town.

We asked Katz to highlight a few of his favorite pieces of hidden Miami history and the city's little-known secrets to share with Time Out. From a Pinecrest nudist colony to alternate Miami Heat logos, peruse his picks below.

1. The Lost City of Islandia

This one has to do with our journal's namesake. In 1962, a bunch of property owners on Elliott Key got together and incorporated the 27th city into Miami-Dade County: The City of Islandia. After 60 years—citing the fact that Islandia had practically zero full-time residents and held no elections—the county moved to abolish the city. Now, instead, we have Biscayne National Park in its place. Not a bad trade?

2. The Miami Heat almost had a different logo.

But did we make the right choice?

The Miami Whammy
Photograph: Courtesy Islandia JournalThe Miami Whammy, as prepared by Gabriel Urrutia

3. The City of Miami once had an official cocktail called The Miami Whammy.

It’s made with Bacardi light rum, Nassau Royale liquor, grenadine, lime and O.J. 

4. There's a segregation wall still standing in Coconut Grove today.

The Coconut Grove wall, like so many others, was built in the postwar decade to appease white residents, in this case a group protesting construction of affordable all-Black duplexes in what was then known as the St. Albans tract.

5. The former location of the Parrot Jungle—now Jungle Gardens in Pinecrest—was a nudist colony.

Opened in 1936 by Franz Scherr, Parrot Jungle was an open-air parrot utopia where visitors took photos with all types of macaws and cockatoos. But what if I told you that, before the parrots, another group of free animals occupied that very same tropical hammock? It was known as the Sol-O-Roy Healthorium: a nudist colony.

6. Ernest Hemingway's younger brother lived in Miami—first in the Grove and then in a home on San Marino Island.

Leicester “Les” Hemingway was also a writer of interest.

7. In 1953, we came very close to having another Overseas Highway.

It was called the Key Biscayne-Key Largo highway, and you can read about it in the library today.

8. The poet Robert Frost lived in Miami for many years.

And we even, at one point, named a part of SR-112 after him.

9. Coppertone lore

Many are familiar with the 30-foot-tall Coppertone girl sign which lives in Miami’s MiMo district, but not many know that Coppertone was started in Miami in 1944. The inventor tested the product on his own bald head. Coppertone's original logo was a stereotypical depiction of an American Indian with the catchphrase “Don’t be a Paleface!” After pushback, they got rid of this logo but kept the catchphrase and introduced the tush.

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