Deep in the throes of creating Miami Beach, a real estate
investor and developer, Carl Graham Fisher, who also built the Indianapolis Speedway and developed Montauk, Long Island, turned his attention to a new island at the intersection of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean created by the 18 foot deep dredging of Government Cut in a project begun in 1905.
Carl Fisher bought the 216 acre island in 1919 from Dana A. Dorsey, a local black millionaire who purchased the new island from Herman B. Walker in 1918 after Dorsey’s plan to make the island a beach resort for black people failed. Fisher named it Harbor Terminal Island and promptly set up a new corporation, the Peninsula Terminal Company, and embarked on building deepwater docks for a seaport. But political pressure and law suits from the City of Miami, which wanted to have the seaport, thwarted Fisher’s persistent attempts. The battle raged into the 1960s.
“Part of my island for your boat,” Fisher proposed. Vanderbilt promptly accepted. So was the legendary trade.
Fifteen years before his death, Fisher’s path crossed that of William Kissam Vanderbilt II, eldest son of William K. Vanderbilt and great-grandson of famed “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt. Fisher coveted Vanderbilt’s 250-foot yacht, Eagle. But no less than Vanderbilt, an avid sportsman and frequent visitor to Miami and Key West between world cruises, desired Fisher’s property on the Atlantic Ocean. “Part of my island for your boat,” Fisher proposed. Vanderbilt promptly accepted. So was the legendary trade.
Initial deed for seven acres in hand in 1924, America’s richest sportsman set about fashioning a $1.5 million private retreat designed by Mauricio Fatio on the southeast corner of the island. He began with a Mediterranean-style mansion facing the Atlantic, lavished with imported English oak, Victorian mahogany paneling and marble fireplaces.
Vanderbilt encircled the home with lush landscaping, gracious guest cottages, a lap pool, a sea plane bay, and a slip for his yacht. To provide modern comfort, he installed an electric power plant and pumping station. Here, for about 20 years, Vanderbilt and his second wife, Rosamond Lancaster Burton Vanderbilt, hosted lavish and elegant parties. While Miami Beach was utterly destroyed in the awful 1926 hurricane, the Vanderbilt Estate, known as Alva Base at the time, survived in tact. Five years later, Carl Fisher, suffering from severe alcoholism and the loss of his wealth during the Great Depression, sold most of the remainder of the island to Vanderbilt, along with 10 acres to Sinclair Oil Company, and 10 acres to the United States Government for a planned Immigrant Quarantine Station.
A new era
Upon Vanderbilts death in 1943, title transferred to Edward Small Moore, an executive with the National Biscuit Company, for only $500,000. Three years later, Garfield “Gar” Wood took title and kept ownership until 1963 when the Bebe Rebozo, Richard Nixon, George Smathers and five others purchased the island. Gar Wood had been a close friend of Carl Fisher, a championship car racer at the Indianapolis Speedway, and a world renowned speed boat champion and enthusiast who had invented hydraulic construction equipment. Wood stayed on Fisher Island until 1970. Eventually, William Rebozo, Bebe’s nephew, joined with Mutual Benefit Life of New Jersey to develop the island into a residential community. Subsequently, Fisher Island Holdings, LLC, purchased the remaining Developer Interest. Today, the Developer, plans on completing the project with the final 200 condominium units being constructed in the future. The finished development will be limited to 878 residential units.