When the Nolans moved into their new mansion in the Spring of 1926, it seemed they were moving to the to the edge of civilization. The land around Brickell Avenue was still mostly piney woods and Fifteenth Road was the end of the line for the city bus route.
While there were enough homes in the area for it to be an established neighborhood, it had a completely different feel than it does today. It was an upscale community that was very tranquil, which is very different than the urban environment of the area today.
Most of the homes in this quiet community are gone. They have been replaced with higher density condominium towers. However, there are several homes that still reside along the avenue in one form or another. The Nolan Mansion is one of those homes. It serves as a reminder of what Brickell Avenue used to be, and it provides an example of how a historic building can have a second life.
The Nolan Family
George Nolan experienced some of life’s most significant milestones later than many of his contemporaries. While people were getting married at a much younger age in the early 1900s, he got married at the age of thirty-five. George and Mae Belle Couch exchanged vows on April 28, 1905, in Coweta County, Georgia.
While other men in their forties were well established in their professional life, George changed his career at the age of forty. He was a school principal in Marietta, Georgia for most of his professional life when he decided to pursue a new line of work.
In 1910 George changed careers from educator to banker. At the time, he and Mae Belle did not have any children which allowed them to take a chance on a new opportunity in a new city. He accepted a job as a cashier with the Orlando Bank & Trust Company. Although he started in an entry-level role, George felt that there was plenty of upward mobility for someone who worked hard and was willing to learn the banking business from the ground up.
He quickly developed a reputation as a very innovative and resourceful employee. In November of 1916, George delivered a speech at the Witham Bankers Convention in Jacksonville in which he received national recognition. The recognition solidified his reputation as a knowledgeable and likable professional.
It wasn’t long after moving to Orlando that the couple started a family. Henriette was born on February 15, 1911 and George Jr. was born on January 16, 1915. The patriarch of the family was very proud of both of his children and enjoyed his role as father, husband and banker.
By the late 1910s, George was promoted to Vice President. He was considered not only a leader within his organization, but also a leader in the financial industry. His reputation was so well established that George was given an offer that he just couldn’t refuse in the summer of 1921.
Miami National Bank
The Fidelity National Bank was started by Locke T. Highleyman in 1915. At the time, Highleyman was three years into the development of the Point View subdivision in Miami’s Southside neighborhood. The neighborhood is referred to as “Brickell” today.
Highleyman figured that having a financial institution that could provide mortgages to prospective buyers was good for his land development business. However, as good as he was at developing and selling real estate, Highleyman was not a banker. By January of 1921, the bank was insolvent.
From the ashes of the Fidelity National Bank, the Miami National Bank was formed. Once the legalities were finalized, the newly formed bank needed to find the right leader. In July of 1921, the board of directors identified George Nolan as the man they wanted to be the bank’s first president.
The Miami National Bank’s board included Charles Brickell and many of his neighbors in Southside. A couple of board members were even residents of Highleyman’s posh Point View subdivision. When George chose to accept the job at Miami National Bank, he also made the decision to relocate his family to the same area. The Nolans rented a home along Miami’s prestigious Brickell Avenue.
Arrival in Miami
George Nolan formally accepted the position to become president of the Miami National Bank on July 1, 1921. His family celebrated the news by returning to Atlanta for a two-week summer vacation. However, George had to balance starting a new job with relocating his family to a new city. The bank was hopeful to open by the Fall of 1921, but there were a lot of tasks to complete before its opening.
Following a long drive from Atlanta to Orlando, and then Orlando to Miami, the Nolan family arrived in Miami as the city was celebrating its 25th birthday. The family spent the night at the Tamiami Hotel at 203 West Flagler Street. That evening they also enjoyed a movie at the Hippodrome Theater in downtown Miami.
The next day, the family moved into their three-bedroom rental home at 1038 Brickell Avenue. The bungalow in the heart of the Southside neighborhood served as the family home from July of 1921 through the Spring of 1926.
In the meantime, the Miami National Bank met their target of opening in the fall. The official opening took place on September 7, 1921. The original location of the bank was at 116 East Flagler Street in downtown Miami.
While the bank began operations on Flagler Street, it moved into its own building at 121 SE First Street on April 1, 1926. More than ninety years after its opening, the building is still standing and operates as the Langford Hotel today. As a reminder to its past, the building displays a “Miami National Bank” sign on the front of the building.
Home Built at 1548 Brickell Avenue
When the Nolans began searching for property to build their permanent home, Mae Belle reminded her husband that he promised to build her a beautiful southern colonial residence like the nice mansions found in the family’s home state of Georgia. On June 25, 1924, George purchased land from E.J. Witham for $5000 on Brickell Avenue. It was located on the west side of the avenue, approximately five blocks south of their rental home. The lot is positioned on a small ridge which is elevated five feet above the street level.
Nolan hired J.C. Gault as the architect and Jack Denman as the general contractor. Gault was well known for designing several apartment buildings on Miami Beach and the Gesu Church Parrish School in downtown Miami.
The design of the home was neo-classical and featured a portico supported by four Corinthian columns. The three-story southern colonial residence included twenty rooms and six baths. There were wings on both sides of the home with sun porches. The porches were also supported by Corinthian columns. The interior of the home featured oak wood floors and an elegant interior design.
Like so many other Brickell Avenue residents, the Nolans enjoyed entertaining guests and designed their home to accommodate large gatherings. The third floor of the home is configured as a large open room where the family could host parties and other big events. The family referred to the third floor as “the ballroom”.
Construction of the home began in 1925 but wasn’t completed until the Spring of 1926. In the Society section of the Miami Herald on March 6, 1926, it was reported that Mae Belle Nolan hosted a tea party at 1038 Brickell Avenue. The report confirms that the family was still living in their rental home until the Spring of 1926.
When the family moved into their new home, the area was so desolate that George Jr. recalled that he got his sharpshooter certificate firing his .22 rifle in the back yard. He also recalled that the city bus only went to fifteenth road at the time. The Nolan home backed up to piney woods along South Miami Avenue which was not developed when the Nolans moved into their mansion in 1926.
Nolan Home & 1926 Hurricane
The Nolan family made a tradition of visiting their friends and relatives in Atlanta every summer. They were in their new home only a few months when they departed for their vacation in June of 1926. Their plan was to return in September in time for Henriette and George Jr. to attend school.
However, as the family departed from Atlanta in mid-September, they weren’t sure what they would find in Miami when they returned. They knew that Miami was in the path of the great hurricane of 1926 but weren’t sure of the extent of the damage to the city and their home as they drove back from Atlanta.
When the Nolans pulled into a filling station in Stuart, Florida, there wasn’t a soul around to provide them gas. After ringing the service bell a couple of times, George noticed that the attendants and cashier were huddled around a radio listening to reports about the hurricane. When he walked up to listen, he heard one broadcaster state that “Miami has been wiped off the face of the earth”.
When the family left Stuart to return to the uncertainty of the condition of their home, they were preparing themselves for the worst. However, when they finally arrived, George and Mae Belle were pleasantly surprised by the status of their new home. Their residence only had minor damage.
Surviving the 1926 Hurricane with minimal damage gave the family a lot of confidence that their home was well built and could provide them protection against any future storms. Through the years, the home has survived many hurricanes, including Andrew in 1992.
A Place for Social Gatherings
Mae Belle Nolan enjoyed hosting big events. From the time that the family moved into their home in 1926, their residence was available to friends and neighbors for weddings, civic meetings and social gatherings.
There were many well-known Miamians who spent time visiting with the Nolans in their mansion. Coral Gables developer George Merrick and his wife Eunice were frequent visitors. Bascom Palmer, of whom the eye center is named, was also a frequent guest. Business associates of George and board members of the Miami National Bank were also known to socialize at the Nolan home.
Although it has been reported that William Jennings Bryan visited the home on occasion to talk politics, it can’t possibly be true. The Nolans didn’t move into the home until the Spring of 1926 and Bryan passed away in July of 1925. The home was still under construction when he died.
The Nolan mansion became a popular wedding venue in the mid-twentieth century. As described by Cesar Becerra in the Fall 1994 edition of South Florida History magazine in an article entitled “If Walls Could Talk, The Story of a Brickell Avenue Survivor”:
Three weddings were held at 1548 Brickell Avenue, each procession beginning down the main stairway and through the columned entrance into the living room. One of these was Edythe Carpender’s marriage to John Shuey, who played such a prominent role in the development of the Venetian Islands. Another wedding, with a guest list that reads like a who’s who of Miami’s social scene, was Henriette Nolan’s marriage to Clyde Arthur Harris, Florida district sales manager for Graybar Electric. Brickell Avenue was without question the place to be seen.
Henriette and Clyde Arthur were married on April 12, 1941. The Nolan home also held the reception of a military wedding between Jane McEachorn and Ensign C.W. Robbins in 1943. Miami was host to several branches of military for training prior to soldiers being deployed overseas to fight in World War II.
One of Henriette’s daughters got married there as well. It was more than a home to the Nolan family, it was a place to celebrate life’s big moments.
Banker to Travel Agent
If there were one word to describe George Nolan’s stewardship as the president of Miami National Bank it would be “change”. Within two years of the opening of the bank, Miami National merged with another bank and was renamed to Miami Bank and Trust Company in 1923. Shortly after moving into their new headquarters in 1926, the bank and trust company was acquired by City National Bank on June 10, 1926.
While a lot of banks in Miami folded after the stock market crash of 1929, City National limped along for a few more years before being acquired by Florida National Bank on August 14, 1931. Despite all the mergers and acquisitions, George Nolan remained in his role as president of each of the new entities. However, he decided that it was time to retire from banking and to make another career change in 1933.
Immediately following his departure from the bank, George was back on Flagler Street in downtown Miami where he and a partner started a travel firm. Practical Travelers Bureau opened at 213 East Flagler Street in 1933. Nolan partnered with George Monroe to run the agency.
Given the partner’s business connections in Miami, the agency was a success for a few years. They specialized in putting together travel packages to international destinations. One of their top destinations for bookings was Havana, Cuba.
However, after only five years in business, the two Georges decided to disband the firm in May of 1938. At the age of sixty-eight, George Nolan retired for good.
While he continued to serve on several boards and was active in several civic organizations, George also kept busy with family commitments. George Jr. got married in May of 1937 and Henriette held her elegant wedding at the family home in April of 1941.
George and Mae Belle were always accommodating hosts. However, George’s health began to decline in the mid-1940s. After a lengthy illness, he passed away in the family home on March 16, 1948. He was seventy-eight years old at the time of his death.
Brickell Avenue Survivor
The decades following World War II represented a lot of change along Brickell Avenue. The Nolan’s former rental home at 1038 Brickell Avenue was replaced with the Dominican Consulate in 1949. A lot of the other homes on the avenue, north of Fifteenth Road, were converted into multi-tenant rentals.
While Millionaire’s Row still consisted of single-family homes in the late 1940s and 50s, the neighborhood changed dramatically. A lot of the Nolan’s long-time neighbors and friends moved out of the area. The children who grew up in Brickell went off to start their families in other parts of town or other parts of the country.
The next generation of Brickell residents arrived from the Caribbean and South America. Specifically, there were a lot of wealthy families who relocated from Puerto Rico to Brickell. The change in demographics led some to relabel Millionaire Row to Little San Juan by the end of the 1950s. Brickell Avenue was the first to be given a “Little” moniker in Miami.
Beginning in the 1960s, and continuing through the 1980s, many of the beautiful neo-revival mansions were sold to developers. While most of their neighborhood was being converted from single-family homes to condominium towers, the Nolans were resolute to preserve the family home.
Through the 1970s, Henriette and her brother received a lot of offers for their property. Mae Belle was elderly, and the two siblings were managing the family affairs at that time. However, they were steadfast about retaining ownership of the mansion their father built in 1925.
In the late 1970s, a City of Miami building inspector came out and informed Henriette that they either had to remove all the exterior columns, three second story balconies and the third-floor veranda, or the home would be condemned and scheduled for demolition. The city representative said that the columns were structurally unsound because they were made of concrete mixed with beach sand. He single-handedly decreed that the exterior fixtures, supported by the columns, represented a public safety hazard and must come down immediately.
Henriette suspected that a frustrated developer sent the inspector to their home to scare them into selling the property. The Nolans complied with the city’s request and removed the fixtures to comply with the building code. Henriette and George Jr. were not going to be intimidated by a petty functionary acting on behalf of an ambitious developer.
However, the removal of the columns and sun porches changed the appearance and historic context of the home. The Nolans were not happy to have to make the change, but it allowed them to keep their family mansion. When Henriette and George Jr’s mother passed away on February 27, 1982, she died knowing that the home she loved would be in good hands with her children. Mae Belle Nolan was one hundred and three years old at the time of her passing.
Keeper of the Keys of Brickell Avenue
By the late 1980s, the Nolan home was considered a resilient survivor by history and preservation enthusiasts. Henriette was active in the community and had developed a reputation as a preservationist and avocational historian for Brickell. In article in December of 1994, the Miami Herald quoted an unnamed historian who dubbed her the “keeper of the keys” of Brickell Avenue.
Paul S. George had developed a friendship with Henriette and began his Brickell Avenue tours from the Nolan home. As a member of the Miami Pioneers and Dade Heritage Trust, Henriette embraced the historic context of the family home. She welcomed tour goers and organizations who appreciated Miami’s history and viewed the Nolan home as a connection to the past.
With help from her four daughters, Henriette celebrated her eightieth birthday in grand style on February 16, 1991. The celebration was reminiscent of social gatherings hosted by her family decades earlier. The event was a reminder of how important the home was to the history of the area.
On November 28, 1994, Henriette Harris died from a heart attack. She was eighty-three years old when she passed away. Despite the loss of his sister, George Jr. was resolute to find a way to protect the family residence from the wrecking ball. He found someone who felt as strongly as he did about preserving the home and had the means to make it happen.
Piero Salussolia & Historic Preservation
After the loss of his sister, George Jr. continued his search for a preservation-minded buyer for the family mansion. However, for the building to get historic designation, the next buyer had to restore the home to the way it was prior to the late 1970s when the columns and third floor veranda were removed.
To the rescue came Piero Salussolia of Salussolia & Associates in the Spring of 1997. He agreed to invest $100,000 to restore the columns, porches and veranda so that the home would qualify for historic designation status. He also agreed to purchase the home for $2 million and planned to use it as his law firm’s corporate office.
George Jr. watched from the sidewalk as the restoration work began on Thursday, May 29th. As he observed the restoration effort, the eighty-two-year-old Nolan said “the house has been sad because of poor maintenance and without the columns. Today, I am sure it is smiling again. If we tear down our whole past, we will have no living memories.”
On June 17, 1997, the City of Miami approved the Nolan house for historic designation. After the home received protection status, George Jr. made plans to vacate the house and let it begin its next chapter as a commercial building. He sent most of the family furniture and other belongings to auction on January 13, 1998.
George Jr. left the Nolan home knowing that it would serve as a remembrance to not only his family, but also to Brickell’s past. The sale to Salussolia & Associates was finalized on January 14, 1998. Upon moving into his new law office building, Piero said “high rises are a dime a dozen. Not so historic buildings.”
The Nolan house served as the law offices of Salussolia & Associates until January of 2005. At that time, a new franchise of Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates started in Miami and set up their offices at 1548 Brickell Avenue.
The firm focused on sales of luxury properties in Miami. They specialized in waterfront enclaves in Miami-Dade County such as Indian Creek, Gables Estates, Tahiti Beach and the like. The real estate firm operated out of the Nolan House for nearly eight years.
In December of 2012, the Biscayne Art House moved into the historic building. The art gallery was a showcase of artists throughout the Americas and Caribbean. It operated out of the Nolan House until 2016.
Hive Brickell reconfigured the interior of the building into an office layout in 2017. The location of the Nolan House provides the company with a unique offering in the Brickell Financial District. Hive Brickell rents individual offices for freelancers, startups and small companies. For those working out of their condominium in Brickell, Hive provides an opportunity to leave home and go to an office without the long commute.
In addition to operating out of a historic location, Hive Brickell also offers onsite parking. With the conversion of almost everything in Brickell to high-rise condominium towers, an available parking space is almost as rare as a historic building in Miami’s financial district.
The historic designation of the Nolan House was as much about the preservation of family memories as it was about preserving a building. The city should be grateful for Henriette, George Jr. and the entire Nolan family for the sacrifices they made to ensure that their family home remained standing on Brickell Avenue. While they did accept an offer of two million dollars, the Nolans could have gotten a lot more money from someone who would have razed the home and redeveloped the land. However, the family felt one couldn’t put a price on memories.
The Nolan House provides more than just a reminder of Miami’s past. It also serves an example of how adaptive reuse can work in Miami. Despite lacking the flexibility of newer buildings, different organizations have found a way to make the mansion economically viable. While much of old Miami has been replaced with new development, the Nolan House stands to remind us that historic buildings can have a second life and that second lives can contribute to progress.Click Here to Subscribe
- Preservation Today Magazine: “The Survivor” by Becky Roper Matkov in 1993.
- Historic Designation Report: “Nolan House”, Sarah E. Eaton & Arva Moore Parks, approved on June 17, 1997.
- South Florida History Magazine: “The Story of a Brickell Avenue Survivor”, by Cesar A. Bacerra in Fall of 1994.
- Orlando Sentinel: “George E. Nolan Gets National Recognition From His Address”, November 14, 1916.
- Miami News: “Orlando Banker To Accept Presidency of New Miami Bank”, July 1, 1921.
- Miami Herald: “Miamians Placed On Board of Directors of New Bank”, August 26, 1921.
- Miami Herald: “New Miami Bank Opens Tomorrow”, September 6, 1921.
- Miami Herald: “Mrs. George Nolan Is Hostess At Large Tea”, March 6, 1926.
- Miami News: “G.E. Nolan, 78, Dies in Miami”, March 17, 1948.
- Miami Herald: “If Walls Could Talk: Brickell House Feted Home Stands In Tribute To Time Gone By”, by Lydia Martin. February 17, 1991.
- Miami Herald: “South Florida’s History Is One For The Books”, by Tina De La Fe. July 14, 1994.
- Miami Herald: “Henriette Harris, Brickell Avenue Preservationist”, by David Hancock. December 1, 1994.
- Miami Herald: “Old Home’s Future Uncertain”, by David Hancock. April 17, 1995.
- Miami Herald: “Restored Columns Support A Dream For Mansion”, by Geoffrey Tomb. May 30, 1997.
- Miami Herald: “Historic House To Become Law Office”, by Geoffrey Tomb. January 13, 1998.
- News Press: “Sotheby’s Signs Deal for Fla. Franchise”, January 30, 2005.
- Cover: Hive Brickell at Nolan House in 2018.
- Figure 1: George Nolan in 1921. Courtesy of Miami News.
- Figure 2: Miami Bank & Trust office in 1921. Courtesy of Florida Memory.
- Figure 3: Mae Belle Nolan at 1038 Brickell Ave on March 6, 1926. Courtesy of Miami Herald.
- Figure 4: Interior of Nolan Home in 1926. Courtesy of HistoryMiami.
- Figure 5: Nolan mansion in 1926. Courtesy of HistoryMiami.
- Figure 6: Henriette Nolan wedding on April 12, 1941. Courtesy of HistoryMiami.
- Figure 7: Ad for Practical Travelers in Miami Herald in 1938. Courtesy of Miami Herald.
- Figure 8: Nolan House in 1979 after columns are removed. Courtesy of Preservation Today Magazine.
- Figure 9: Henriette Harris sitting in home in 1994. Courtesy of Preservation Today Magazine.
- Figure 10: Nolan House in 1997.