Iconic Artifacts of the Miami Science Museum

May 4th, 2017

On Monday, May 8, the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science will celebrate its grand opening at its new location at Downtown Miami’s Museum Park. On this edition of Learning from Miami,  we bid the old Miami Science museum a fond farewell.  Take a leisurely stroll back in time in the history of Museum Park and look back at some of the original museum’s most cherished artifacts.

Museum Park

Bicentennial Park was originally slated to open right before the 4th of July holiday on July 1, 1976, but it missed that Independence Day opening. With only a third of the $4.2-million project completed, the landscape contractor vanished, work stopped, and the opening was delayed until 1977. The park was designed by acclaimed landscape architect Edward D. Stone on land that used to be part of the Port of Miami along Biscayne Boulevard. Stone had envisioned the park as a “unique retreat from urban pressures.” Large man-made hills hid Biscayne Boulevard from view, and the grounds were made to look like a seaside haven. Rather that attract the city’s residents, the park would ultimately scare Miamians away.

From its opening in January 1977, Bicentennial Park had been walled off from the city. Though the objective was to make this 34-acre park a peaceful retreat in a busy city, the effect was the opposite. The large beams facing Biscayne Boulevard created an foreboding entrance. Shortly after the park’s opening, several violent crimes took place there, and ultimately scared visitors away.

Despite its dark past, Bicentennial Park remained a venue for many popular events. The park briefly hosted the Miami Grand Prix raceway in the 1980s and was scouted by the Florida Marlins for a stadium, but was mostly left to deteriorate. In recent years it has been the location of several popular music festivals like Lollapalooza, the Bob Marley Festival, and Ultra. In 2014 the park was renovated and renamed Museum Park, and is now home to the Perez Art Museum and the new Frost Museum of Science. 

1976 Bicentennial Park construction from the Wolfson Archives.

 The Pan Am Globe

Commissioned in the 1930s, the large rotating Pan Am Globe served as the centerpiece of the former Miami Science Museum for 55 years. Originally,  the globe’s former home was the lobby of the Pan American Dinner Key seaplane terminal. Pan Am ceased their flying boat operations shortly after the close of World War II.

Fortunately, the Miami Science Museum was able to acquire the globe and have it moved to their Vizcaya location. Given the change of venue, it was re-purposed with a topographical representation of the earth, replacing its original political map. 

In 2012, the Science Museum received a $30,000 grant from American Express, and conservators painstakingly restored the globe back to its historic 1930s look. It is uncertain what the future holds for the 6,500-pound painted steel globe.  As of now, no decision has been reached as to if and where the Pan Am Globe will be relocated.

 Manolo Reyes in front of the Pan Am globe. reporting on a new Spanish language planetarium show. Footage courtesy of the Wolfson Archives.

The Giant Sloth and the Sabre-Toothed Tiger 

In 1962, artist Frank Romanelli donated a life sized saber-tooth tiger sculpture to the Science Museum. Soon after, the saber-tooth Tiger became the official symbol of the Miami Science Museum, guarding the entrance of the museum for 16 years. In 1978, the saber-tooth tiger was destroyed by vandals. Fortunately,  another whimsical sculpture would become its successor as well as an unofficial mascot for the Science Museum.

During the 1960’s Artist, Jules Canisalle was commissioned to create an extraordinary statue. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the 15-foot-tall Megatherium sculpture, aka “The Giant Sloth,” would go on to become an iconic roadside attraction.

With the help of museum employees, Jules Canisalle worked on the concrete-and-wire-mesh sculpture for weeks, sometimes even using a scaffold to add details to the sloth’s face. In an effort to attract guests to the cloistered, unassuming museum, the adorable sloth was moved beside U.S. 1 in 1989. Ever since then, the sloth has become a kitschy cultural landmark.  Sadly, the giant sloth will not be moving to the new Frost Museum of Science, but you can soon visit him at his new home at Omni Park.

Saber-tooth tiger and giant Sloth sculptures at the Miami Museum of Science. Footage courtesy of the Wolfson Archives.

 

-Ursa Gil

Proposed Chinatown Coming to North Miami

April 3rd, 2017

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWKs2DDKSYo&feature=youtu.be News reports featuring the first and second annual Chinese New Year parade in South Florida. Videos courtesy of the Wolfson Archives.    A Chinatown in Miami, why not? It’s no secret that cultural neighborhoods in major cities can be popular tourist destinations Read More...

Presidential Homes of South Florida

February 17th, 2017

In honor of President's Day, Learning from Miami showcases the luxurious South Florida homes of some of America's presidents. Harry Truman’s Key West Retreat President Harry Truman’s Little White House was built in 1890. The edifice functioned as the Key West naval station’s command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II Read More...

Unusual Homes of Florida

January 24th, 2017

Florida homes are extremely diverse, and have been shaped by an eclectic array of different architectural styles. In this edition of Learning from Miami, we visit some very unconventional residences and the people who call these places home.  South Miami Dome Home In this clip, architect Bob Koger, invites WTVJ to tour his energy efficient Geodesic Dome home Read More...

A South Florida Christmas: Deck the Halls with Christmas Decor

December 15th, 2016

Exterior Christmas home decor sure has come a long way from simple lights hung around homes to the elaborate where Christmas light displays flicker to the rhythm of music. The first home Christmas lights are thought to have been put up in 1882 by Edward Johnson, who was an executive at Thomas Edison's company Read More...

Casa Casuarina: The Palace on Ocean Drive.

October 24th, 2016

Casa Casuarina is arguably one of the most famous buildings on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. This home was once the opulent residence and private oasis of celebrity fashion designer Gianni Versace, and continues its legacy as a resort for the well-to-do. Journey through time with Learning from Miami, as we delve into Casa Casuarinas’ rich history Read More...

Andrew’s Destruction of Homestead Air Force Base

August 17th, 2016

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16CkGSfW_Ts&feature=youtu.be On Aug. 24, 1992, Homestead Air Force Base was obliterated. Like much of the surrounding communities, Homestead AFB was ravaged by the full fury of Hurricane Andrew, leaving the military base in complete ruin. By the time base personnel and aircraft had been evacuated, Hurricane Andrew had grown to a category five storm Read More...

Cruising back in Time: The History of South Florida’s ports

July 27th, 2016

Norway ship at the Port of Miami. Photo courtesy of Floridamemory.com. During the height of the cruise season millions of passengers will board luxury liners. How did South Florida’s cruise industry begin? Embark on a high-seas adventure featuring the history of two of the world’s largest and busiest sea ports, PortMiami and Port Everglades, and get a sneak peak at the largest cruise ship coming to Port Everglades Read More...

Exploring Cape Canaveral

June 29th, 2016

On July 11th 2011, the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down in Cape Canaveral from its last mission, ending the era of the 30-year Space Shuttle program. The retirement of the shuttle in 2011 left the United States without the ability to send astronauts into orbit for the first time since the early 1980s, leading some to wonder whether America was abandoning its leadership in space travel Read More...

Welcome Aboard the Houseboat

June 1st, 2016

Houseboat communities have a long history in Florida. These laid-back waterfront neighborhoods attracted free spirits looking for a seafaring lifestyle that wouldn’t break the bank. Floating homes gained mainstream success due to 1960s crime genre films like Lady in Cement starring Frank Sinatra and the popular detective TV series Surfside 6 Read More...