Carl Fisher owned land from the ocean to the bay and had aspirations of building a great city of more than 75 blocks. He had a mansion built on the beach called the Shadows, and a hotel on the bay named the Flamingo, which opened on New Year’s Eve, 1920. He wanted to connect his property from the ocean to the bay so he had a wide path cleared between 15th and 16th streets. His dream was to create a boulevard that would compare to the great shopping streets in the world, such as 5th Avenue in New York City, or Rodeo Drive in Hollywood, or the “Rue de la Paix” in Paris.
No challenge was too great for Fisher. He had seen to the development of the Lincoln Highway from San Francisco to New York and the Dixie Highway from Chicago to Miami. What was so difficult about traversing a few miles of jungle? He started to clear the mangroves with the help of hundreds of laborers and Rosie the Elephant, who he utilized as an advertising gimmick to publicize his Florida developments.
Within eight years, the dream of creating this great avenue became a reality. He named it Lincoln Road in honor of the President he greatly admired. Fulfilling the desire of Jane Fisher, the first building erected on Lincoln Road was the Miami Beach Community Church, in 1921. From the time it opened until the 1950s, Lincoln Road was considered by many people to be the finest shopping street in the South. In the late 1950s, the city hired architect Morris Lapidus to redesign the street to close it to traffic and create one of the first pedestrian, open shopping malls in America. Lapidus commissioned sculptures, placed benches throughout, and had sumptuous landscaping planted. It became a popular place for outdoor cafés, meeting friends, people watching, going to the theater, and shopping.
By the 1960s and ‘70s, outside forces began to influence the destiny of the mall. There was a general recession in the country and Miami Beach suffered. Crime escalated. The type of people who Fisher wanted to attract had abandoned Miami Beach for other, more exotic destinations.
It has been said that by 1986, Lincoln Road was dead. However, it is to just such an area that artists are attracted. In 1985, when the street was at its low point, artists discovered Lincoln Road, and unwittingly began a renaissance of the street. They moved into low rent spaces and set up their studios, each one acting as a catalyst for others to follow. Painters, sculptors, and performance artists occupied the run-down, empty spaces and began to create a new, lively, intellectual, exciting atmosphere.
The Colony Theater reopened in 1986, and that same year the Miami City Ballet, with just nineteen dancers, moved into the former Bonwit Teller store and started to rehearse where pedestrians could watch their activity through the large plate glass window fronting the road. In 1987, Michael Tilson Thomas, founded the New World Symphony “to prepare highly gifted graduates of distinguished music programs for leadership roles in orchestras and ensembles around the world.” He located this school on Lincoln Road.
In the early 1990s, the city of Miami decided to transform Lincoln Road back to its former glory. A testament to that success can be seen every day as people enjoy the newly renovated street and frequent the many cafés, shops and galleries that line the Avenue to create one of the busiest, happiest streets in America.