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A Brief History of Wynwood

Wynwood is now a major attraction in Miami, but it was not always so.
Wynwood – originally spelled Wyndwood (1) – is an old inner city neighborhood of Miami surrounded by Edgewater and Midtown to the east, the Design District and Buena Vista to the north, Allapatah to the west, and Overtown and the Omni area to the south. Wynwood was built as a working class residential neighborhood, connected to the Garment District just south of it (2). It attracted manufacturers from New York and elsewhere and retained some jobs, fueled by immigrant labor, but struggled against competition from cheap labor overseas (2). According to a different source, in the fifties, it was a white neighborhood of professionals, but a remembrance on History Miami’s website indicates that Cuban immigrants were moving into the neighborhood in the early sixties (3). At that time, the neighborhood was safe enough to have children play unsupervised on the streets. Trouble started with the construction of I-95, which is also blamed for the tragic demise of Overtown. The middle class moved away and the poor remained. Yet in the 70s, Wynwood was still known for garment manufacturing and attracted shoppers from South America and elsewhere. Then came problems in South American economies as well as racial tensions that culminated in riots in Miami in the 80s, both of which affected the area (1). The neighborhood became known as unsafe. Around this time, the neighborhood saw an influx of Puerto Rican immigrants. In fact a 1990 article in the Miami Herald refers to it as Puerto Rican Miami. That year, after a federal jury cleared six officers in the 1988 murder of convicted drug dealer Leonardo Mercado, riots broke out in Wynwood on Dec. 3rd, causing damage to businesses.

Wynwood continued to be a neglected neighborhood where residents complained of having no staffed public park, swimming pool, or library (1). Promises were made for improvements. For instance, the City of Miami invested, with the help of a loan from the Department of Commerce, in making Wynwood part of a free-trade zone that should have brought many new jobs (1). As of 1995, this plan was still in the makings, but by 1999, it was bust, with a building devoted to the project in foreclosure, and the city on the hook for the $5 mil plus loan. In 1994, Kathy Cottle, park manager for Roberto Clemente Park, told the Herald that “by 1 p.m. there would be 25 guys outside

[the park] using drugs and dealing” (5). Still, the Rubell Family Collection (a museum devoted to patronage of the arts and to education through public access) was the first to open up here in 1993 (6). And change was coming.

Wynwood’s northern neighbor, the Design District, in the 80s also a rundown, crime-ridden neighborhood, was experiencing a boom that was beginning to force some businesses out. Wynwood was beginning to catch the eye of developers. Toni Goldman of Goldman Properties, who was also a major player in the transformation of Miami Beach from a sleepy retirement haven to a hot, world-class fashion and commercial center, was first to recognize the potential in Wynwood. Another developed, David Lombardi told the Herald: “It was so cheap compared to the Design District and there were large warehouses” (5). 5th Avenue was going through beautification and attracting businesses. By 2001, Kathy Cottle, the park manager was much more hopeful (5). The neighborhood was coming around, at least to a degree.

One of the first commercial galleries, Dorsch Gallery (see, opened in 2000. That same year, Bernice Steinbaum gallery opened. Its veteran art-dealer owner, who abandoned Soho in New York before coming to Florida, told the Miami Herald that the area was already home to many artist studios, which she saw as vital to development of the area. Steinbaum closed up in July of 2012 but for personal reasons: “I’m old, baby. I’m 70” (7). Others got started a few years later. Snitzer opened in 2004. Two other major galleries opened in 2005: Spinello and David Castillo.

Around this time, the commercial areas that now make up Midtown were being built as well. Entirely new commercial blocks along North Miami Avenue, a new Target, and residential buildings. Restaurants and cafes also opened, for instance Joey’s (2008), Wynwood Kitchen and Bar, and Lester’s (2010).

The 2nd Saturday monthly art-walks greatly contributed to putting Wynwood on the map for tourists and locals as a place to see and to be seen. Many companies now offer tours of the area, including bicycle tours of murals and graffiti by History Miami and walking tours by Wynwood Artwalk.

Today, there are over 70 galleries, collections, and museums in Wynwood, and the Second Saturday artwalks attract a crowd of thousands. However, not all the galleries are happy. In a 2013 Herald article, Pan American Art Projects Director Janda Wetherington gave voice to feelings experienced by many galleries in the area (8). She told the Herald that bad behavior on the part of patrons – from wine spilled on the floor to wine spilled on expensive artwork – has compelled her to close early on 2nd Saturdays. Fredric Snitzer seconded her sentiments and in fact no longer opens on 2nd Saturdays (8). Other galleries are still happy with the exposure and enthusiastic about the interaction of young people and art (8), even if some of the attendees are there strictly for the scene and not for the art. Brook Dorsch also believes in the area. In fact, he renovated his space in 2013 and renamed it Emerson Dorsch, reflecting his partnership with his wife. A show in their gallery was featured in the Huffington Post in 2014 (10).

What is next for Wynwood? And how are the local residents faring amid this boom (and partial bust)? One scholar from FIU, Marcos Feldman, believes they have been largely left out of the economic development of the area (9). Will the future of Wynwood be modeled on Soho? Will the poor of the neighborhood, street-art and all, be simply swept out? Will the party die down and kill the boom? If you have any ideas, let us know in the Comments section.

1. Ousley, Yvette. (1993, November 21) “Help for Forgotten Wynwood.” The Miami Herald, Neighbors section, p. 1. Retrieved from

2. Marcos. (2010, August 9) Wynwood: Cleansing the Urban Canvas in Preparation for Redevelopment. Retrieved from

3. Diaz, Alina. (n.d.). Alina Diaz, Miami, Fl. Retrieved from

4. Goldfarb, Carl. (1991, February 17). Miami Police Botched Warnings in Wynwood, Former Chiefs Say. Retrieved from

5. Whitefield, Mimi. (2001, July 8). Wynwood’s on a Roll. Retrieved from

6. Rubell Family Collection. (2009). About the Rubell Family Collection and Contemporary Arts Foundation. Retrieved from

7. Martin, Lydia. (2012, July 8). Miami gallery pioneeer Bernice Steinbaum moves on. Retrieved from

8. Rodriguez, Rene. (2013, January 7). In Miami’s Wynwood district, the party hasovertaken the art. Retrieved from

9. Feldman, Marcos. (2011). “The Role of Neighborhood Organizations in the Production of Gentrifiable Urban Space: The Case of Wynwood, Miami’s Puerto Rican Barrio” (FIU

Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 540. Retrieved from

10. Zevitas, Steven. (2014, April 2). Must-See Paintin Shows: April 2014. Huffpost Arts & Culture. Retrieved from

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