By Paul S. George
Bracketed by the entrance to the Rickenbacker Causeway on the south, the Miami River on the north, I-95 on the west and Biscayne on the east, the Brickell Avenue neighborhood is one of America’s most dynamic quarters. Its transformation in 150 years from a tropical wilderness studded with tall oak trees and impassable underbrush to the electrifying neighborhood of today is the stuff of fiction, except that this is what has happened.
In 1871, the Brickell family, headed by William and Mary, journeyed from Ohio to a desolate Eden located on the Miami River and Biscayne Bay and instituted its slow transformation, first opening a trading post, whose clients included Seminoles, while methodically acquiring thousands of acres of land through purchases and a federal homestead law.
The family’s real estate holdings, amassed over a period of twenty-five years, remained undeveloped until Henry M. Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway steamed into Miami in 1896. Thereafter, the Brickells began to sell, lease, develop, and rent portions of their properties along today’s Brickell Avenue and in other parts of the neighborhood as a new city arose along both banks of the Miami River. What emerged was a tranquil residential neighborhood that became, in the boomtime ‘20s, along Brickell Avenue, an affluent address with a Millionaire Row of grand homes in its southern sector. West of its namesake avenue a small downtown and residential neighborhood along and west of S. Miami Avenue had emerged
The era following World War II brought additional changes as a small number of retail and institutional buildings appeared on Brickell Avenue. By the late 1970s, Millionaire Row began to give way to tall condominiums with avant-garde designs. Other parts of Brickell Avenue were on their way to becoming a financial center hosting offices of international banks.
By the beginning of the present century, nearly all of the neighborhood’s original housing stock had disappeared. Two recent building booms have transformed Brickell into the “Manhattan of South Florida.” With its forest of high-rises, high-end stores, enticing restaurants and bars, and rich pedestrian life, the Brickell Avenue neighborhood, stretching west to I-95, has become a residential and entertainment paradise second to none in the region.