The sudden demolition of the 122-year-old DuPuis Medical Office and Drugstore building in Little Haiti is heartbreaking. It’s also a substantial loss for Miami’s cultural heritage and historic preservation efforts.
As one of the oldest commercial buildings that had remained in Miami-Dade County, the DuPuis building, dating to 1902, represented an essential link to our local history and the diverse communities that have called Miami home, from Bahamians to Haitians to Cubans.
Considered the most significant historic landmark in Little Haiti, the building was constructed by Dr. John DuPuis, one of Miami-Dade’s most prominent early physicians. He used it as his medical office, pharmacy and home in what was then the farming community of Lemon City.
If you’ve ever seen it, you’d probably remember it: It had a distinctive arcade with gracious arches that covered the sidewalk along Northeast Second Avenue, the main north-south road running through Little Haiti. It stood out from the buildings around it, a gracious relic from the past.
Safety concerns due to a partially collapsed roof prompted the Jan. 8 demolition, even thought it had been a protected historic site since 1985.
The destruction shocked preservationists who had been waiting for it to be restored as part of a redevelopment plan for the area, the Magic City Innovation District. Magic City developers say they plan to build a replica of the building, though it will have to be set farther back from the street based on a recent decision by Miami-Dade.
We have to wonder why more couldn’t have been done over the years to stabilize and restore this important landmark before it reached this point. We don’t blame conservationists for being infuriated and saddened.
“Here you have a significant historically designated building in an area where very few historic buildings still exist, and a developer apparently willing to do the right thing, and yet this happens,” a frustrated Christine Rupp, executive director of the preservation group Dade Heritage Trust, told the Herald. “It’s going to take me a little while to wrap my head around whether a rebuilding even makes sense here.”
Historic preservation efforts in Miami-Dade are increasingly being stymied, from Coconut Grove to the Beach any beyond. Have we already forgotten the lessons of the 1970s and 1980s, when the late Barbara Capitman battled developers tooth and nail to preserve Miami Beach’s Art Deco hotels?
That worked out pretty well for Miami; Miami Beach’s Art Deco buildings continue to be a huge draw for tourists.
This time, though, there other forces at work. One new wrinkle: We have super-wealthy new residents who want to improve their Florida properties and don’t seem to give a hoot if mobster Al Capone slept in a Miami Beach mansion or that Tequesta Indians built settlements along a stretch of the Miami River.
Miami is the city of the future, we’re told. Does that mean we have to wipe out our history?
This issue isn’t helped by Florida lawmakers who have passed and continue to push legislation to circumvent any protections built in by local governments to address runaway development.
Now all that remains of the DuPuis building is an empty lot. Gone is an another tangible visual reminder of Little Haiti’s past. Now, all can do is shake our heads as we drive past it.
This needless loss highlights the failures of Miami’s preservation policies. More efforts should have been made to save this valuable piece of our shared history.
Miami needs to do a better job of prioritizing restoration over demolition, and protecting the buildings and architecture that give our diverse neighborhoods their unique cultural identities. Otherwise, we could well end up as one more bland Florida city, indistinguishable from others with a lot less colorful pasts.
We need to preserve our architectural history. Maybe what we really need is another Barbara Capitman.
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