By Paul S. George
Framed by Biscayne Bay in the east, Biscayne Boulevard in the west, and, in a north-south direction, the Little River and 71st Street, Belle Meade is a picturesque community that has experienced an ebb and flow in its fortunes before reaching its present status as a superb example of a beautifully-restored neighborhood.
Belle Meade consists of nearly 400 single family homes, including ninety waterfront homes on Belle Meade Island, which was separated by a canal from the mainland in 1925, but is connected to the rest of the neighborhood by a bridge over the winding Little River, which flows inland in a northwest direction from Biscayne Bay.
In earlier times, Tequesta Indians used the Little River to move to inland settlements. By the late 1700s, it is believed that English settlers lived in the general area. In the homesteading era of the late 1800s, the homestead of the Sears family, with their bountiful citrus groves, stretched into the northern sections of today’s Belle Glade.
By 1910, surveyor W.C. Valentine platted the Washington Place subdivision. Fifteen years later, in 1925, the peak year of the great real estate boom, the Aqua Marine and Belle Meade subdivisions, which comprise the Belle Meade neighborhood, were platted but few homes were built before the boom collapsed.
The build out of Belle Meade and Aqua Marine subdivisions was left to the 1930s. Between 1935 and 1942, as economic conditions improved, 241 of Belle Meade’s present 396 homes were built. Many contained Art Deco and Streamline Moderne flourishes, and they were oriented in a direction to capture the prevailing breezes out of the southeast.
A post-World War II construction boom led to the appearance of a plethora of new homes and even commercial buildings, including the iconic Vagabond Hotel, along Biscayne Boulevard. By 1960, Belle Meade was built out. In the 1970s, the fortunes of Biscayne Boulevard and parts of Belle Meade declined precipitously as portions of the center city fell into a malaise. By the late 1900s, however, a vibrant community of young homeowners began the great transformation of this quaint community with its attractive homes, and today it represents one of the finest of the city of Miami’s northeast neighborhoods.