Iconic Artifacts of the Miami Science Museum

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

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