Now we come to Shenandoah as we close out this historic overview, in four installments, of Little Havana. “Shenandoah” is the name applied to the old Miami neighborhood stretching from S.W. 12th Avenue to S.W. 27th Avenue, from S.W. 8th Street (Calle Ocho) to S.W. 22nd Street (Coral Way).
Shenandoah’s Attraction Today
The name conjures the image of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, and is derived from two subdivisions bearing the name Shenandoah. The United States Census for 2010 counted nearly 20,000 residents within the above borders. While that population was overwhelmingly Hispanic, increasing numbers of “Anglos” have moved into the neighborhood since then.
What has drawn new, old, and even future residents to this neighborhood is its
- close-in location
- rich inventory of Mediterranean-styled homes harkening to the 1920s
- rich street life along Calle Ocho and Coral Way
Today, more than 3 million tourists annually visit the famed Calle Ocho!
Shenandoah Early History, from Farmland to Residential
Little more than a century ago a small, scattered number of farms comprised today’s Shenandoah.
Among those farmers was C.J. Rose, a Union Army veteran who homesteaded 160 acres of land, in the 1890s, around today’s Coral Way and S.W. 22nd Avenue. His crops included potatoes and tomatoes. A later farmer on the same land created a large grapefruit grove.
At the same time and near today’s Calle Ocho and S.W. 17th Avenue, the Belcher family worked a 140 acres homestead, raising a wide array of fruits and vegetables, including pineapples. Ever the entrepreneurs, the Belchers, who would amass great wealth thru black topping roads and as oil purveyors (think Belcher Oil, a leading Miami business of yesteryear), opened a small store on their property for people interested in purchasing fresh produce.
But the future Shenandoah of that era was more than a few scattered farms amid a piney woods wilderness. For example, the land-rich Brickell family purchased land in the area from the federal government before and after 1900 and sold it off for home lots. The Westmoreland Company began developing a namesake subdivision as early as 1912. Representing a portion of today’s east Shenandoah, the Westmoreland subdivision stretched from S.W. 12th to 14th Avenues, from S.W. 8th Street to 17th Avenue. The long beautiful median from that era is today’s La Rambla, resting in the center of Cuban Memorial Boulevard. Many of Westmoreland homes trace their origins to 1914 and are comprised of Dade County pine and oolitic limestone.
Following the creation of Westmoreland was the appearance of the subdivisions of South Shenandoah and Shenandoah Amended lying immediately to its west. Products of the fantastic mid-1920s real estate boom, the vintage homes here include that of the first mayor of Miami, John B. Reilly and Perrine Palmer, a late 1940s mayor of the same municipality. One of its most stunning thoroughfares is S.W. 12 Street, reaching from 14th to 16th Avenue. Large, beautiful homes, including a few that bear the Streamline Moderne or Art Deco style, sit on large lots and look out toward a street shaded by Black Olive and Oak trees. One of the dominant style of homes in the neighborhood is the aforementioned Mediterranean with its arches, columns, balconies, barrel tile roofs , and textured stucco. Many of these jewels have received loving restorations.
Real Estate Bust in the Early History of Residential Shenandoah
The boom collapsed in 1926, and hard times set in, though the Shenandoah neighborhood continued to grow, welcoming, among other groups, an increasing number of Jewish families, institutions, and businesses. Although additional homes and retail establishments appeared in the era following World War II, that period also saw the beginnings of a migration away from Shenandoah, as well as other center city neighborhoods (consistent with a national trend) to the new suburbs arising in the west and elsewhere. Already, by the early 1950s, a small group of Cubans, fleeing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, had moved into Shenandoah.
This Cuban migration would reach flood proportions in 1959 and after.
A New, Hispanic-Influenced Life Around Shenandoah
The flight to suburbia intensified in the century’s final decades, as did the influx of Cubans and other Hispanic groups to the neighborhood. In the eastern portions of Shenandoah, Coral Way Elementary School became the nation’s first public school with a bilingual and bicultural program for both English and Spanish speakers. New Hispanic churches, businesses and organizations appeared, while S.W. 8th Street/the Tamiami Trail, but known by the late 1960s as Calle Ocho, hosted an accelerating number of Cuban-owned businesses. By then, many observers and residents referred to the neighborhood as Little Havana, although the population of non-Cuban Hispanics was growing rapidly.
Even before the onset of the twenty-first century, new residents began moving into the neighborhood, restoring and renovating many of its stately homes and injecting a new energy into the quarter. This movement has accelerated significantly in recent years as Calle Ocho and its nearby environs have blossomed into one of the most coveted destinations in this tourist-oriented city, with visitors drawn to it by its vibrant street life, festivals, restaurants, and art and musical offerings. Investors continue buying and developers building while home prices and apartment rents soar.
Shenandoah is once again, a broadly popular Miami neighborhood.
About the Author
Paul S. George, Ph.D., provides 15 different history tours of Little Havana and 40 or more tours of others areas of Miami and Southeast Florida. He has also authored two books on Little Havana. Dr. George is Resident Historian, History Miami Museum.