Last Sunday, while visiting Miami with her Mommy and Papi, Amalia took a cruise by catamaran to visit Stiltsville, a group of seven houses built on stilts on sand banks on the edge of Biscayne Bay.
She was wearing her new shocking pink bathing suit with butterflies on the chest for the first time.
But to ride in the rented catarmaran, she had to put on a life vest, and Mommy added sun screen and a hat. Safety first!
With Papi, who was going to be the captain of the ship, she examined their catamaran—number seven.
Crew member Amalia didn’t know what she was supposed to do with all the ropes, but Papi would explain.
We’re off!. Those dots on the horizon are some of the houses of Stiltsville.
The first stilt shack was built in the early 1930’s—some say to use for selling liquor during Prohibition, others say for gambling clubs, which was legal at one mile off shore.
Crawfish Eddie Walker built a shack on stilts in 1933 where visitors could get beer, gambling games and a chowder made with crawfish he caught under his shack.
More shacks were built by his buddies. Eddie’s shack was destroyed by a hurricane in 1950. Social clubs like the Calvert Club opened with membership dues. Politicians and wealthy Miamians flocked to them, but many of the structures were destroyed by Hurricane Donna in 1960. Some of the structures were created out of a sunken barge and a 150-foot yacht. The yacht housed the “Bikini Club”, where women wearing bikinis got free drinks.
Hurricane Betsy in 1965 ended the “wild west” era of Stiltsville. Florida began requiring annual payments for owners to lease their “campsites”. No permits for new construction were allowed. The state said all the shacks would be removed on July 1, 1999, but Congress expanded the boundaries of the Biscayne National Park taking in Stiltsville.
Life Magazine featured the place in an article in 1998, and more than 75,000 people signed a petition to save the structures. In 2003 a non-profit organization called the Stiltsville Trust was established to protect the seven remaining structures and now the National Parks Service owns the buildings, while their “caretakers” (leaseholders) perform maintenance.
Meanwhile, on every nice day, the partying continues—and people passing by on boats are often invited to join in.
Stiltsville has been the setting for movies, many novels, several episodes of Miami Vice and other TV programs. The Sessions and Shaw House was featured in a national ad campaign for Pittsburgh Paints.
Papi did a masterful job of sailing the catamaran, but Amalia was so exhausted being first mate that she took a power nap as they returned to shore, with Miami in the distance.
But the promise of seafood and key lime pie at the nearby Light House Café in Bill Baggs State Park brought her wide awake
And she ate a whole loaf of Cuban bread dipped in olive oil.
Then it was on to the beach where the Cape Florida light house overlooked the scene—the oldest standing structure in Greater Miami.
Mommy did a head stand.
Meanwhile Papi created a masterful sand castle
Which Amalia demolished with glee.
Sailing to Stlltsville was fun, Amalia decided
But the most fun of all was stomping on sandcastles.