Lights going out for Stiltsville

Residents of an American anachronism are fighting for survival.

THEY ARE putting up the Christmas lights in Stiltsville today. At dusk, the outline of its every building will be etched against the sky. Still, it will be a fairly modest display; there be will no tree in the square or fancy garlands spanning Main Street. But then they don't have a square or a main street here. Just water.

Nor, for that matter, do they even have mains electricity. Stiltsville is just what it sounds like - a cluster of homes on stilts in the Bay of Biscayne, almost 10 miles out from Miami.

It is an eccentric anachronism without a church or post office, yet there have been homes here since the late 1930s, at one time as many as 25, all simple wood structures perched on concrete pilings. In the immediate post-war years, Stiltsville gained a reputation as a place of mild sin with the Bikini Club, a converted 150ft yacht, which played host to illicit gambling and naked sunbathing on deck.

Those days have gone. Federal agents shut the Bikini down in 1965. That same year Hurricane Betsy destroyed most of the homes. But against all odds, this speck on the maritime map of Florida survived. There are seven structures now - some weekend retreats, others homes for boating and fishing clubs.

But Stiltsville was never meant to exist, and soon it may not. In 1980, the Bay of Biscayne, a huge expanse of turtle grass under just a few feet of warm, Gulf Stream waters, was designated a national park by Washington. The homes were protected by 25-year leases granted to the owners by the state of Florida. Those leases, however, expired in July and the park authorities were always clear that they would not be renewed. Instead, the owners were under orders to dismantle the structures and to leave.

The community, however, is putting up a fight. With the help of a Republican congresswoman from Miami, Iliena Ros-Lehtinen, a reprieve has been negotiated until 1 December 2000. Unless a truce can be negotiated before then, however, the order to vacate will remain in place.

Gail Baldwin, a Miami architect, could hardly find words to express his disgust. "This is a unique part of Miami. It's as if they are handing us the bullet and inviting us to shoot ourselves," he lamented. From one side of Mr Baldwin's home the view extends to the horizon of the Atlantic. Look west and all of Miami, with its glass towers, seems to float on the ocean.

For the National Parks Service, however, this is meant to be pristine territory and allowing private dwellings to remain on it was never an option. Indeed, expunging private owners is Parks Service policy all over the US. "When the park was created, there was nothing in the legislation about preserving Stiltsville," Rob Shanks, a park ranger, explained.

Just how Stiltsville is damaging the park is less clear. Mr Shanks made a stab at explaining: the turtle grass can't grow under the houses; there could be chemical leaks from their sewage tanks. He does not address what kind of damage might be caused by demolishing the homes and lifting out the concrete pilings, however.

Mr Baldwin and his friends, who are co-ordinating a "Save Old Stiltsville" campaign, now have a year to change minds in the Parks Service. They have gathered 50,000 signatures for a petition. And Ms Ros-Lehtinen has promised to introduce a bill in Congress that would carve out the plots where the homes sit from the park itself. But the authorities are resisting.

Putting up the lights today is not really about Christmas. It is Stiltsville's message to the Parks Service: "We are still here." Will they be doing it again in a year from now? Probably not.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future