Saturday, January 12, 2013

Through The Upside Down Looking Glass: Considering Sunny Isles Beach in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Photographs Courtesy of the City of Sunny Isles Beach Historic Archives

Posted by Demetra Pappas, SUNNY ISLES BEACH, FLORIDA -- Last fall the editors of Social Shutter invited me to write a piece on Sunny Isles Beach, a 2.5 mile strip which calls itself “Florida’s Riviera.”  My plan was simple – to compare 1950s motel-style architecture on Collins Avenue (the main drag), visually juxtaposed with magnificent structures, such as the Trump International and the 51-story Aqualina Resort and Spa on the Beach, both of which have gone up during the past 15 years of assertive architectural resort development.  While I found myself looking at the soothing beach view from my high floor hotel room, I was mesmerized by the small motels interspersed presenting literal authentic charm to the scenic walk along the uninterrupted beach.
A week or two after my Florida trip, I found myself in a very different terrain in Roanoke Valley’s Franklin County and Bedford County in Virginia, where all was ablaze with the fall foliage of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  A colleague on that trip, who hails from Toronto, asked when Hurricane Season would end, to which I correctly replied the next week.  Little did I know during that week in October Hurricane Sandy hit New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  Sandy had her own Twitter hash tag before she made landfall and swept away shores in New Jersey, then windswept her way into New York seafront communities, flooded the New York subway, blew out the power in Lower Manhattan as well as some 90% of Long Island’s, and then attacked Connecticut. Images of sand washed towns on the Jersey Shore and Long Island were ever present on television in a perpetual news cycle. Also cycling through were fire ravaged towns, where wind moved blazes from house to house, like a forest fire gone urban.  Buildings were lifted from their foundations and relocated to highways, while boats found dry dock acres and acres inland. Friends from Florida were sending notes of moral support, a flip-flop from the usual order of events.

The northeast is still reeling from Sandy but recovery is happening. Meanwhile Sunny Isles Beach enjoys calm seas and skies. That made looking at Ellen J. Uguccioni’s new book, The Architecture of Sunny Isles Beach (published by the City of Sunny Isles Beach) a source of escapism for me. In early October I was enjoying this Beach. Little did I know that barely a few weeks later, I would be in Brooklyn looking at Sunny Isle images to seek calm seas, tranquil skies and tidy sands, and asking for images of the 1950s motels for historical context, for comfort of a history that predated my birth.

Motel Row in 1950s Sunny Isles was populated with these small hotels but by the 1970s many fell victim to bad economic times.  During the 1980s and thereafter, some of the motels were turned into condomiumns. The City of Sunny Isles Beach then took the bold decision to engage in a geographically-based economic development effort targeting the recession distressed communities. Starting in the 1990s, high rise properties went up, perhaps to accompany high rise prosperity of the period, with views heavily focused upon the beach itself. The Trump International Beach Resort was completed in 2003; the Aqualina followed soon in 2006, with numerous other large structures accompanying them.  But some of the original Motel Row has survived and still delights tourists like me.

People use the phrase “upside down” to refer to everything from cake (positive construction) to home and student loans (negative construction). For me it refers to the geography of last year’s hurricane season.

Demetra M. Pappas is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College, where she was named the 2011-12 Student Government Association Faculty Member of the Year. Dr. Pappas holds a JD from Fordham University of Law, as well as an MSc. and Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. In September 2012 Greenwood Press published her first book entitled The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate.  

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