The Miami Marine Stadium, designed by Hilario Candela, stands as one of Miami's most crowning architectural achievements. The stadium undeniably captures the essence of the Miami Modern, or MiMo, architectural style—a term coined by Randall Robinson and Teri D'Amico that describes the adaptation of the International Style of modernism to South Florida's environment and culture from the end of WWII until the late 1960s. Recently an effort to save the stadium from demolition and restore it has received much attention and support, all in the interest of the enormous architectural and social impact the stadium has had on Miami through its history.
In 1962 the City of Miami hired the Chicago firm of Ralph H. Burke to master plan a new park on Virginia Key, along the Rickenbacker Causeway. The proposal called for a monumental racecourse for speedboats, similar to Rome's Circus Maximus but with water. It would include a grandstand on the south side and be open to Biscayne Bay on the northwest end. The project's total estimated cost: $10 million.
The inclusion of a grandstand and other amenities for a large audience came at a time when boat racing and water skiing were exploding in popularity throughout the country. Amateurs and professionals alike embraced a sport that had once only been accessible to the wealthy who owned yachts or belonged to private clubs. Yet no city in America had an adequate boat racing course. In Miami, the annual Orange Bowl Regatta in December attracted hundreds of spectators and boat entries to the event. However, due to the lack of unprotected and limited space the event also gained public criticism.
The new stadium was to be the world's first specifically designed for powerboat racing. Though other marine stadiums existed, such as the Long Beach Marine Stadium in California or the Jones Beach Marine Theatre in New York, each was built for either rowing/boat races or musical concerts, respectively. Miami's new stadium would capitalize on tourism and local revenue with a diverse list of events to be hosted on site including major regattas, shows, and concerts.
To carry out the project the City of Miami hired the Miami-based architectural firm of Pancoast, Feredino, Skeels and Burnham, as well as Dignum Engineers. Dignum's lead engineer Jack Meyer and Hilario Candela, a young Cuban-born architect from Pancoast, Feredino set out to construct an ambitious concrete wonder.
The then 27-year old Hilario Candela had a resume of experiences prior to this project that he usefully drew on for the stadium. Candela trained at the Georgia Institute of Technology and his mentors, a group of men that were leading the pathway with concrete structure experimentation, included Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi, Spanish structural engineer Eduardo Torroja, and Spanish-Mexican architect Félix Candela. After graduation Candela returned to Havana, Cuba where he interned under Max Borges, Jr., designer of the famed Arcos de Cristal at the Tropicana Night Club, and Sáenz, Cancio, Martín, Álvarez and Gutiérrez-the largest firm in Havana at the time. It was here that Candela was introduced to thin-shell concrete construction and expressive rooflines. Coming to Miami to join Pancoast, Feredino, Skeels and Burnham, Candela's first project was to construct a series of buildings for the first campus of Miami Dade College—something he continued for 30 years.
Candela's architectural inspiration came from the accomplishments of great modern architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Jose Lluís Sert. As for the stadium, Candela was influenced by the interaction between man, land and water. Thus he wanted to create an exposed concrete structure that unified water, land, and space. The stadium would have a symbolic and daring design, and be a location for community engagement. For Miami, the stadium would welcome crowds by the thousands for boat races and cultural events. All these spectators would sit on an elevated grandstand above the sea whilst the waters beneath them thrushed against solid concrete pilasters—a somewhat sublime experience. At the lowest level, one could even walk under the stadium but above the water and just off shore, physically experiencing the connection of the three forces.
The cantilevered rooftop is undoubtedly the most striking aspect of the Marine Stadium. Instead of a traditional flat aluminum roofline similar to those at baseball stadiums, Candela and Meyer wanted to create a roof that folded into geometric waves. The moldability of concrete allowed for a series of energetic "hyperbolic paraboloids" that alludes to the effect made by powerful winds against water. At the time, the 326-foot-long roof was the longest of its kind, and its 65-foot overhang is simply held up by eight columns at the rear. Functionally, these supporting posts provided unobstructed viewing for spectators. Aesthetically, the roof appears to be floating in the air. At a distance the sharp edged cantilevered roof cuts through the horizon of Miami's skyline. The roof's weightless appearance is enhanced by its exquisite thinness. At some points it is only three inches thick with reinforced galvanized steel. But the combination of concrete and steel would also contribute to the stadium's extremely strong structure. The Marine Stadium has, to this day, withstood multiple powerful hurricanes and remained structurally sound. It is impenetrable.
The Commodore Ralph Middleton Munroe Marine Stadium, as it was officially named, finally opened to positive public response on December 27, 1963 after six months of construction. Named in honor of early pioneer Ralph Munroe, builder of the Barnacle House the Miami Yacht Club's first commodore, and a yacht designer, the almost $2 million stadium seated about 7,000 people in theatre-style chairs with backs and fold-up seats. The stadium also had concessions and offices for television towers. An announcer's box hung from the roof. The site would host the Orange Bowl Regatta each year and boat races featuring the fastest hydroplanes competing next to one another. Miami rightfully earned the title of "boat racing capital of the United States." Other major events included Jimmy Buffet's two-day performance Live by the Bay in August 1985, performances by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, and a popular annual Easter Sunday religious service. The stadium's openness to Miami's environment meant that spectators could enjoy an outdoor event on the sunniest of summer days under the stunning roof or breath in the winter's brisk sea air at dusk.
[All videos courtesy of Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives]
After faring financial instabilities in the 1970s and the 1980s and facing the brunt impact of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the stadium seized operation. Although the structure wasn't compromised by Andrew, the cost of the damage to the Marine Stadium was too substantial and the political will too unsubstantial to repair it. Today graffiti artists, skateboarders, and parkour performers take advantage of the abandoned space, an incredible form much like an ancient ruin of monumental scale, a structure reminiscent of an ancient rock cut sculpture, for a variety of creative uses. Efforts are being made to raise the millions of dollars needed to restore the stadium, led by the Friends of the Miami Marine Stadium, the National Register for Historic Places, Gloria Estefan, and Hiliario Candela himself, while the Coral Gables Museum hosts an exhibit on the stadium and its history. Standing majestically in its natural environment the Miami Marine Stadium is an architectural landmark that embraces Miami's distinct yet influential history.
Concrete Paradise: Miami Marine Stadium, the exhibit, will be on view at the Coral Gables Museum through January 5, 2014
· Miami Marine Stadium coverage [Curbed Miami]