My mother was born in Miami in 1929 and my father arrived at 3 months in 1927. I was born at Mercy Hospital on Biscayne Bay, Coconaut Grove, Miami. I never lived permanently in Miami after I left home in 1976, but my parents did.
My mother grew up hearing her father’s stories of the 1935 hurricane when so many Miamians took boats into the Keys to recover the bodies of those who lashed themselves to trees, like mariners to masts, hoping not to blow away.
They didn’t. Instead, they drowned.
The 1960s and 70s were fairly quiet decades for hurricanes, after Donna in 1960. The only category 3 or higher I remember was 1965’s Betsy. We boarded up the windows — which means just what it says, covering with boards.
Then the part my father hated: stripping the two avocado, mango, and grapefruit trees so that the fruit would not become projectiles.
The power went out; it was very dark and we just sat and listened. I don’t remember the heat, but in 1965 we didn’t have air conditioning (and always only had wall units). Then the radio and sounds outside agreed we could emerge. A lot of trees had been blown down, and the neighborhood men worked together to clear them out of the road.
My childhood home, just west of Coral Gables and 6 blocks south of Calle Ocho (SW 8th street) was built in 1947 and my mother claimed that the rectangular concrete blocks had been turned at 90°, making the walls effectively twice as thick. The house was built in 1947; my parents bought it in 1961 (by that point the carport had been turned into a living room. Not a fancy house, but strong.
Notice that it had a solar water heater in 1947! My parents went through Andrew and Katrina. The roof was (eventually) replaced after Andrew.
By the time it was sold it in 2014, the yard was so thick with foliage you could hardly see the house (the subdivision had once been a dairy).
But they never evacuated or sheltered. Neither did any of my friends’ families. Neither did my grandparents. It was never seriously discussed. Why? The history of the structures.
They were built on solid ground, not drained swamp. They were appropriately designed for the tropics, with thick concrete walls and low pitched roofs. They were inland by a few miles at least. My parents had a healthy respect for hurricanes; they simply trusted their own home more than they did the government shelters.
My mother’s parents’ house looked much the same when I last drove by it in 2013 as it does in these pictures. I thought it fantastic because if had two stories. It is a frame house, with very deep porches, in the Shenandoah area (now Little Havana), less than four miles to the bay. I believe that the point of such deep porches could have been to take the brunt of lashing rains coming from the east.
Later the palm tree was cut down, perhaps to prevent an uprooting and crash on the house.
I don’t have a good picture of the house my father grew up in; by the time I came along, it was my aunt’s. I know it was still standing well into the 2000s. It was likely made of limestone or concrete. Some of the houses in Coral Gables were built of coral.
What will Miami look like tomorrow after Irma? A mess. The question is what will the houses built before Andrew and after the 1960s boom look like? And those not built on solid ground, but on drained swamp? Or close to sea level?