We’re fast, even if not always so furious. We need speed, maybe not a New York minute, but enough to cause a splash as we traverse Biscayne Bay, enjoying gleaming fruits of our labor. Our “father” would be proud, wouldn’t he? Not our paternal giver of life, per se, but our collective father, as in Carl Fisher, who gifted the world “America’s Winter Playground,” today’s Miami Beach.
So welcome to Biscayne Bay, a bastion of beauty, intrigue and history. And it just happens to be home to Miami’s most discerning; access earned. But the bay wasn’t always a parade of eye-catching, ear-popping, high-performance boats helmed by today’s who’s who. Long before contemporary captains of industry discovered its allure, a speed-loving, adrenaline-addicted visionary knew the bay was more than just the way to get from Point A to Point B. Carl Fisher, long credited with the Miami Beach we know and enjoy, even saw beyond the bay as more than a haven for schooners.
The “father of Miami Beach,’ was not shy about exploiting the magic of the waterways, extolling its crown—an unrivaled winter weather. Yup, it was he who awakened Biscayne Bay to her full potential, releasing her from a life resigned to simply transporting the roadless, introducing her to a life of gaiety, a life lived out loud, bequeathing America’s newly-minted well-to-do, then and now, an outlet to flaunt.
Adept at the “desire of the newly wealthy industrial capitalists to be extravagant,” the self-made Fisher subscribed to the tenets of the “Theory of the Leisure Class,” promoting conspicuous leisure, conspicuous consumption, spurning stayed traditions. He loved speed. Adrenaline amped.
In fact, “Mr. Miami Beach” so loved speed he built the Indianapolis Speedway and launched the Indy 500. And before that, bicycles were the instrument of choice for the industrious dare-devil to express his greed for speed. But lucky for us, he traveled south, trading land for water when it came time to infuse velocity in the realization of the “American Riviera.”
Biscayne Bay, astir, became the ideal backdrop for America’s industrialists to show off their new wealth, a departure from the dictates of tradition. And ‘new money’ was on full display in January 1915 when Fisher first organized the Miami Regatta, a two-day contest of the most innovative and ferocious boats belonging to the day’s industrial capitalists. Picture, if you will, scores of boats from around the country, one roaring past the other, vying for that coveted trophy in claiming the “fastest.” Of course, Fisher competed; his Shadow II edged by John Deering’s 60-foot, six-cylinder Sayonara, which, incidentally, he had sold to Deering.
As with today’s high-performance boats, the regatta had the gaze fixed on Biscayne Bay. With a reported 50,000 pairs of eyes watching the spectacle, Fisher found a way to funnel attention on the resort-in-the-making, attracting the biggest names in speedboating, among them Gar Woods, champion racer and boat designer who was all about enjoying his new fortune made inventing hydraulic construction equipment. Gar (don’t just love the name?) was exactly the kind Fisher wanted for his Miami Beach: A self-made man rejecting expectations steeped in outmoded mores, one who shirks tradition for extravagance. We like Gar, don’t we?
Interestingly, Gar would die on Fisher Island, his home that he sold to Nixon, yea, that Nixon, et al, who had allowed him to live out his days on the island once owned by Fisher. Incidentally, Fisher, Gar once said, “did more for the refining and developing of motor boats than anyone in the business.”
And whatever the business, using regattas to promote his hotels or painting a naked woman on his apron so he could sell more newspapers (yea, he did that), Fisher’s unorthodox approaches to marketing paved the way for today’s Biscayne Bay as home of unabashed embrace of the good life.
With yesterday’s new wealth as today’s pedigree, we follow our father’s footsteps in living out loud. And, yes, we still express love in the most nautical of ways, sans the sails so endemic to let’s say, the Newport. Oh, Biscayne Bay, where the high-performance watercraft, symbol of success, is as ubiquitous as the sand (exaggeration added for emphasis). For that we have to thank father Fisher who literally made it happen by dredging, filling and proselytizing, leaving a legacy in which to revel.
We are our father’s children so rev those engines. Delight in affinity for alacrity; a reminder of Biscayne Bay as the envied playground. The regatta Fisher started even before Miami Beach got its moniker might be a mist of a memory, but the bay he helped frame is the ‘welcomed’ gift that keeps on giving. The pageantry of high-velocity boats helmed by today’s who’s who is testament that just as revelry in high
doses is earned, legacy lives on.
Text: Julie Soimaud
Images (except black & whites): Jerome Soimaud
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