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By Jane Feehan
For years flamingos* have been associated with Florida but according to the Audubon Society, Florida is not a breeding ground for them today. Europeans probably saw them when they visited the peninsula 500 years ago. A few are spotted in Everglades National Park but they are most likely from a flock indigenous to the Yucatan. Some may really be the state’s Roseate Spoonbill. So why is the flamingo an unofficial but iconic symbol of the Sunshine State?
It could be …
On Dec. 31, 1920, developer Carl Fisher (also of Indiana Speedway fame see: http://tinyurl.com/ll6bptv) opened the doors to the first grand hotel on Miami Beach, the Flamingo. The $2 million, 200-room, 11-story hotel was named the Flamingo by Fisher before plans were off the drawing board. During a fishing trip to Andros Island, he had become captivated by flamingos after seeing a large “pink cloud” lifting into the sky that turned out to be thousands of the long-legged wading birds.
In addition to naming the hotel for the bird and an unsuccessful attempt to import live flamingos from Andros to the hotel grounds, Fisher commissioned artists Louis Fuertes and N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew Wyeth) to paint murals in the hotel’s lobby featuring flamingos. Soon-to-be hotel manager Charles Krom objected to the flamingo theme, deeming it inappropriate. Fisher prevailed.
With the opening of the glamorous Flamingo Hotel (famous for its dome of colored lights shining at night) Miami Beach’s stature as a luxurious resort area was firmly rooted. Fisher, as good a promoter as he was a developer, had no trouble snagging President-elect Warren G. Harding as a guest in January, 1921. Harding stayed in one of the hotel’s cottages (and he returned in 1923). Photos of the visit reached across the nation.
Fisher’s fortunes went the way of the real estate bust after the great hurricane of 1926 and the stock market crash of 1929 but the Miami area continued to be a popular vacation destination. Hialeah Track was built in 1936 and for decades pink flamingos lived there. They were an integral part of the race track’s marketing. Later, television ads for Hialeah Park featuring the graceful birds reinforced the pairing of Florida and flamingos.
Today, the flamingo is the national bird of The Bahamas but the pink bird remains emblematic of Florida living: bright tropical colors and warm water living. Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
* The plastic pink flamingo was designed in 1957 by Don Featherstone while working for Union Products. It became a pop culture symbol; many Floridians appropriated them as lawn ornaments. In 2010, Cado Products (cadocompany.com) purchased the copyrights and plastic molds for the Pink Flamingos and continues to manufacture them.
Kleinberg, Howard. Woggles and Cheese Holes. Miami Beach: The Greater Miami & Beaches Hotel Association (2005).
Kleinberg, Howard. Miami Beach, a History. Miami: Centennial Press (1996).
Armbruster, Ann. The Life and Ties of Miami Beach. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1995).
Miami Beach hotel history
Tags: Florida and flamingos, Miami Beach history, Miami history, Flamingo Hotel, Florida film researcher, Florida historical researcher