Little Belle Isle in simpler times. This aerial view from the Florida State Archives shows just three mid or high-rise projects, rather than today's eight.
So You're thinking of Living On Miami's Venetian Isles
TextPhotos Florida State Archives
Called by developers the "Gems of America's Mediterranean," the Venetian Isles, as they were originally called, were conceived of in 1925 when Coral Gables and Palm Beach were booming and the finger islands off Fort Lauderdale's Las Olas were underway. But the island chain we have today, consisting of the islands of Biscayne, San Marco, San Marino, Di Lido, Rivo Alto and Belle Isle were not the whole story. In the early 1920s, Florida fairly swooned over anything that even remotely suggested Spain or Italy in the 14th or 15th centuries. At that point, all one would have to do is look to Vizcaya, resting on the shores of Biscayne Bay in all its pilfered-from-the-Grand-Tour glory for confirmation.
This craze was not lost on the developers of the Venetian Isles... not by a long shot. Original plans suggested a north-south axis as well, connecting more islands to the chain via the six-mile "Drive of the Campanili" according to ads by the Shoreland Company (the project's developers) that ran in the Palm Beach Post and Miami Herald. Waxing poetic, these early promotions spoke of "a magnificent, waterfront boulevard, extending the full length of upper Biscayne Bay," promising "a campanile of freestanding belfry towers like those in Venice." Ads in The Rotarian featured lavish artist's conceptions that looked like the Piazza San Marco with waving coconut palms and gondoli in the foreground.
Needless to say, things do not always go as planned. The hurricane of 1926 caught most by surprise, sending any the less determined pioneers scurying northward. Soon after, the Florida land bust sent remaining residents into a tailspin and finally, the Great Depression put any thoughts of development into a deep freeze for decades. The pilings driven for one of the additional isles, Isola di Lolando, are still a feature in Biscayne Bay, easily visible from the Julia Tuttle Causeway. The perfect rectangle of pilings makes its interior naturally protected from boat traffic and according to snorkelers, this protection equals acres of soft and hard corals, as well as a refuge for crab, stingrays and fish.
Today, the Venetian Isles offer some of the most sought after homes and condominiums in the city. San Marino, Di Lido and Rivo Alto being known for waterfront single family homes, while easternmost Belle Isle boasts high-rise living and the open green space of Belle Isle Park. Belle Isle is also home to the uber-hip Standard Hotel, recrafted from the MiMo style Lido Spa, designed in the early 60s by Morris Lapidus.
Currently on the market are several single family homes ranging from a 2,500 square foot single story home from the 1940s for $1,250,000 to new construction, point lot home of over 7,500 square feet, asking $14,900,000. At the other end of the market, co-op homes on Belle Isle can start uder $200,000 for a 1-bedroom, 1-bath residence at Terrace Towers and climb to a 2,345 square foot, 3-bedroom, 3-bath condominium home on the 24th floor of the Grand Venetian.
According to Bill Hahne, broker at Hahne Real Estate in South Beach and a longtime resident, "The Venetian Isles is close to everything, but hidden away at the same time. It's pretty peaceful here," he continued, "the island's location keeps the fabulosity of Miami Beach at arm's length."
Indeed, jog in one direction, over the causeway to the West, and you run into the Adrienne Arsht Center, take your scooter to the East, and enjoy the shops and dining along Lincoln Road. Recently, there were rumors of a Kardasian outpost on little Di Lido Isle, complete with cameras to film their every move for a ‘reality' TV show. Residents, allegedly, were not having any of it, so life on the islands is back to normal. What could be better than that?