Key Biscayne - History - Cape Florida Becomes A State Park

Cape Florida Becomes A State Park

In 1948 José Manuel Áleman, who had fled Cuba in the wake of scandals surrounding his service as education minister in the administration of Ramón Grau San Martín, bought the Cape Florida property from the Deering estate. His offer to donate the lighthouse and ten acres (four hectares) of land around it to the National Park Service was not accepted.

In 1950 the Dade County Planning Board announced a plan to build a highway connecting Key Biscayne with the Overseas Highway on Key Largo. The project envisioned a series of bridges connecting artificial islands, to be built on the Safety Valve and existing small keys to Elliott Key and on to Key Largo. Áleman was expected to donate the right-of-way for a road running down the middle of the island to the first bridge at Cape Florida. With the prospect of a major highway passing through his property, Áleman rushed to prepare his new property for development by having it completely cleared, leveled and filled in. A seawall was constructed along all of the western (Biscayne Bay) side of the Cape Florida property.

Áleman died in 1951, and the County soon backed down from the plan. Áleman's widow, Elena Santeiro Garcia, added to her Cape Florida property by buying an ocean-to-bay strip that had been part of the Matheson property. This strip included a canal that had been dug by William Matheson in the 1920s, and which extended from the bay across most of the island. The land north of this canal was developed as part of what is now the Village of Key Biscayne. Garcia sold the Cape Florida property in 1957 for US$9.5 million, but the buyer defaulted and died the next year. Garcia sold the property again, this time for US$13 million. Development started on a model community of luxury homes and resort properties. By 1962 the new developers were in financial trouble, and the property reverted again to Garcia in 1963. Dade County began considering the purchase of 50 acres (200,000 m2) around the Cape Florida lighthouse for a park in 1964. Bill Baggs, editor of The Miami News, started campaigning for all of the Cape Florida property to be preserved in a park. U.S. Interior Secretary Stewart Udall inspected the property and recommended that it be preserved, although not with Federal funds. In 1966 Bill Baggs brokered a deal between Elena Santeiro Garcia and the state of Florida, in which Florida bought the property for US$8.5 million, of which US$2.3 million came from the U.S. government. This land became Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, which opened January 1, 1967.

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