Miami Beach’s history is quite unique and filled with exciting stories. But this week, let’s delve into a beautiful neighborhood that I love, Belle Isle, which happens to have it’s own interesting story of how it came to be.
Belle Isle is the easternmost island of the Venetian Islands, which are a chain of man made islands in Biscayne Bay. Originally called ‘Bull Isle’, and later renamed (thankfully), Belle Isle is a bit more unique than it’s artificial sister islands as it’s not completely manmade. Belle Isle was originally a rough mangrove hammock island. Before fruit farmer John S. Collins partnered with the wealthy investor Carl G. Fisher to build the Collins Bridge in 1913, the new luxury properties under development in Miami Beach and Collins’ large avocado orchards were inaccessible except by ferry boat. When Collins dug the Collins Canal, work crews deposited dredged sand around the rough island at the mouth of the canal, increasing its land mass and defining its shape. The island (now cleared of mangroves) and platted into small parcels of land for single-family homes, extended into Biscayne Bay and allowed Collins and Fisher to build a relatively short wooden bridge across the bay by running the road over Belle Isle.
Belle Isle then became home to many wealthy and fashionable millionaires. During the Florida Land Boom in the 1920’s, the isle was the site of Biscayne Bay Speedboat Regattas which brought in more wealth and sophistication to the area. With tons of news coverage, postcards, and mansions, it’s clear that Belle Isle was basically the Star Island of the early 1900’s.
The J.C. Penny estate was what started the wave. It was located on 8 Belle Isle (see below). Penney bought the home in 1921, and sold it in 1931 for $150,000 after luring Herbert Hoover to vacation there before assuming the presidency in 1929.
Pre-Condo images of Belle Isle between 1940-1950.
Above image is during the construction of the Venetian Causeway in 1923 showing Belle Isle and and freshly dredged Rivo Alto Isle, with no other islands along the causeway. You can see Lincoln Road and the old Miami Beach golf course.
Amazing history aside, Belle Isle is a wonderful location. If you’re looking for your next Belle Isle home, feel free to reach out to me here.