A look back at Tropical Park

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Vintage image of the race track at Tropical Park

Next time you’re high up on the Ferris wheel at Santa’s Enchanted Forest looking down imagine the horses that used to race at Tropical Park off the Palmetto Expressway and SW 40th Street. Can you see them? I bet not. They only exist in history books or the memory of your grandparents if they were the type to face the traffic and drive out to Bird Road to watch the horses run.

Oh, you thought the traffic was only bad now? You should have been there in the 1960s when the racetrack was open. The Palmetto was still new yet traffic was backed up for miles. I attended Emerson Elementary School and despite it being just 4 blocks North of Bird Road our parents would drive north to Coral Way and back track to get home if we lived East of the Palmetto. It would take up to 20 minutes to make a left turn onto Bird Road when the horses were running and the tourists were in town.

Most people think Tropical Park was built as a horse track in the Roaring 20s. Wrong, it was built as a dog track. It was known then as the South Miami Kennel Club in Coral Gables. Yes, that may seem like false advertising, however back then it was just empty land west of Coral Gables.Tropical Park was the end of the road and beyond that it was just farm land and swamps.

Apparently the intersection of Bird Road and the Palmetto was destined to be a place for entertainment. Whether people were watching horses race in the warm, Florida sunshine or going to a Winter theme park at 10 PM at night in December in tee shirts and flip flops. Yes, it can be cold sometimes in Miami, but under that hoodie there are probably short sleeve tee shirts and you’re outside under the stars in December. The rest of the country shivers, worrying on snow and winter weather affecting their travel plans. You, a Miamian are eating roasted corn, elephant ears or a turkey leg while listening to live music out with your friends in an enchanted tropical wonderland just a week before Christmas.

About Bobbi Schwartz
Bobbi Schwartz, a native Miamian, is a writer and lecturer who blogs regularly at www.hurricaneharbor.blogspot.com a blog. She specializes in the interrelatedness of weather, history and politics. Bobbi’s early years were spent in the Road Section, however her family eventually moved west out Coral Way where she later graduated from Miami Coral Park and Florida International University. As a fourth generation Floridian she has a unique perspective on Miami History.


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