Driving west on the McArthur Causeway, I can’t help but be shocked by the early stages of the demolition of the historic and monumental Miami Herald Building. It represents the end of an era in the continuing saga of the City of Miami, and it played a big part in my life as the place that launched my career in journalism.
Just a few blocks to the south on Biscayne Boulevard stands the venerable Miami News Tower — now known by our Cuban population as the Freedom Tower — which has narrowly escaped the wrecking ball more than once in its lifespan. Strangely enough, Jim Cox moved his beloved Miami News to a sparkling new facility on the Miami River and 10th Avenue in the early 1960s, only to later fold that wonderful afternoon daily into a “Joint Operating Agreement” with John Knight’s Herald Publishing and relocate the paper to the modern new Herald building on Biscayne Bay. Now, the Herald building is crumbling to the wrecker’s ball and the old Miami News Tower stands as a beacon on the Miami skyline, declared a national monument. Go figure.
I worked for both papers; started as a copyboy with the Herald in 1964 when I was a student at the University of Miami. Most people don’t even know what a copyboy is today. Suffice it to say that copyboys were the heartbeat of a newspaper in the days of ink and presses. Copyboys were essential for everything from disseminating copy from the multitude of wire services to the various editors, to getting coffee for a tired reporter on deadline and struggling with a story. And then I moved over to the Miami News and went to work for the legendary Larry Birger, the business editor of the paper. I learned most of what I know about newspaper journalism from Larry.
So, when I tell you that the demolition of the Miami Herald building on the shore of Biscayne Bay is epic, believe me, it is. Previously, the Herald published downtown in a building on Southwest 2nd Street, which is now the Goodwill Industries building.
When John Knight erected his new building on the bay to house the Miami Herald, it was the architectural event of the decade. He was so proud of his new 700,000-square foot structure; it was the largest building in Florida when it opened and a state-of-the-art newspaper plant, with one wing for offices and another for printing and distribution. Knight, the consummate newspaperman, built his journalistic castle on a technical scale that had never before been attempted. It was a classic example of Miami Modern architecture — or “MiMo” as it came to be known — with horizontal lines, sun grilles on the windows, yellow mosaic tiles on the spandrels, white marble-clad pillars, a soaring porte-cochere entry, wide terraces overlooking the bay and a flat rooftop where six helicopters could land simultaneously. They say that John Knight almost went ballistic when a Newsweek magazine writer described his architectural marvel as “a great big egg crate on the shore of Biscayne Bay.”
But, we who call Miami home know that the developers hold little regard for our history and the monuments or buildings that people erect to mark its passing. Thank God for the likes of Barbara Capitman Baer and others who have had the foresight to fight to save some of our heritage from demolition by the developers’ wrecking ball. And thanks to people like George Merrick, who created an entire city in the 1920s around a central theme, a city that continues to thrive and grow to this very day.