The featured photo is an aerial view of Dupont Plaza in downtown Miami on August 10, 1982. The photo illustrates how much has changed in the downtown skyline over the past forty years. Many of the buildings and surface parking have been replaced with modern skyrise condominiums and commercial office space over the past two decades.
While change in Miami’s cityscape is constant, this photo highlights how downtown Miami once looked in the early years of the 1980s. The decade was a tumultuous time period for Miami, so it is hard to fathom the transformation of this view since the 1980s. Below is a description of the topology of what was once referred to as the Dupont Plaza in downtown Miami, circa 1982.
The Howard Johnsons hotel open in 1975 and now operates as a Marriott Courtyard. The restaurant in the front of the hotel opened in December of 1948 and was the tenth Howard Johnson’s restaurant in the Miami area. The first location opened at 1100 Biscayne Boulevard in 1938 in the heart of a stretch of the boulevard referred to as ‘gasoline alley’.
There have been rumors of the Marriott Courtyard being replaced with a new and much taller building, but nothing has been confirmed at the time of this article. The 1975 era building sits along a busy stretch of SE Second Avenue and next to an onramp to I-95.
Former Site of Royal Palm Hotel
The surface parking lot across the street, and to the east, of the Howard Johnson hotel was the footprint of the western half of Henry Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel. Demolition of the Royal Palm began with the extension of SE Second Avenue from the Miami River to Flagler Street in 1928. Removal of the hotel was slow and methodical, but was mostly completed by 1930 when the wood from the structure was dismantled and either burned, if it were found to have been infested by termites, or sold at auction along with the contents of the former hostelry.
The parcel remained a surface parking lot until the Met 3 building was constructed in 2014 – 2015. Prior to the start of the Met 3 edifice, an archaeological survey unearthed what was buried under the Royal Palm Hotel and parking lot providing insight on the settlements of earlier inhabitants. A lot was learned about the Tequesta tribe and how they lived. More recent surveys have indicated that the Miami River was the site of human habitation dating back more than 7,000 years.
James L Knight Center
To the south of the Howard Johnsons is the James L Knight Center convention hall and Hyatt Hotel. The complex opened nearly two months after the date of the featured photograph when it was dedicated on October 1, 1982. It was a joint effort of the City of Miami, University of Miami, and developer Earl Worsham to fund and construct the hotel-convention center complex. The main hall features a 5,000-seat auditorium that has been used as a sports and concert venue through the years. Worsham was the general contractor and the Hyatt corporation the lessee and manager of the hotel. The development was designed by the architectural firm of Ferendino, Grafton, Sillis, and Candela.
The project was seeded with $5 million from the city, and a $2.5 million grant from the university via the James L. Knight Charitable Trust, and ultimately cost $110 million to construct and four and a half years to complete. The complex welcomed the first conference in mid-October of 1982 when the American Society of Travel Agents brought 7,000 attendees to Miami to officially open the center for convention business.
The James L Knight Center still stands today, but there are plans to redevelop the property into a three-tower complex of hotel rooms, apartments, and meeting space. The plan was put on the ballot in November of 2022 and was approved by city voters. City law requires voter approval of long-term leases involving public waterfront land. The next step is for the Hyatt and city officials to negotiate an extended lease agreement prior to beginning demolition and construction of the proposed project. There has not been a timeline set for when redevelopment will begin, but it is expected to move forward soon.
Dupont Plaza Center
After consideration to extend Bayfront Park to include the area referred to as Dupont Plaza in the summer of 1953, it was announced in March of 1954 that the parcel of the plaza along the Miami River would be developed into a project called the Dupont Plaza Center. Work on the multi-million-dollar development for hotel and office space began on May 2, 1954, but was not completed for nearly four years after the groundbreaking.
The complex celebrated its formal opening during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Sunday, March 16, 1958. At the ceremony were Miami Mayor Robert King High and Dupont officials Albert Jacobs, Walter Jacobs, and Clinton Wetzel. The center was a three-wing structure that included the Dupont Tarleton Hotel, Architects International Bureau of Building Products, and an office building. The edifice was twelve stories tall and ultimately cost $11 million to construct. The Architects Bureau contained 250,000 square feet of display area located in the west wing of the building, which included three floors that provided exhibition space for manufacturers to showcase their products.
In 1966, the Dupont Plaza Apartment building opened to the west of the Dupont Plaza Center, nestled between the original complex and SE Second Avenue. Both the Plaza Center and apartment building can be seen in the cover photograph. The two buildings were razed in December of 2004 to make room for an edifice branded the Epic which is comprised of the Kimpton Epic Hotel and the Miami Epic Residences. The new structure was completed and opened in 2008.Click Here to Subscribe
- Miami News: “Howard Johnsons Opens Tenth Local Unit”, December 19, 1948.
- Miami Herald: “City of Miami Urged to Buy duPont Plaza”, June 28, 1953.
- Miami Herald: “Center Planned for duPont Plaza”, March 21, 1954.
- Miami News: “Dupont Plaza Center is Formally Opened”, March 17, 1958.
- Featured: DuPont Plaza in Downtown Miami on August 10, 1982. Courtesy of Miami Herald, photographer: John Walther.
- Figure 1: Site of Former Royal Palm Hotel in 1937. Courtesy of Florida State Archives.
- Figure 2: Rendering of Proposed New Hyatt Complex. Courtesy of Arquitectonica.
- Figure 3: Article in Miami Herald on June 28, 1953. Courtesy of Miami Herald.