The Calusa Park ‘shack’

The Calusa Park ‘shack’

Did you know… KB History:.The Calusa Park ‘shack’

At the Islander News, we are hard at work with our Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce partner preparing the 2020 Island Life Magazine, which is due to publish in January. While developing content for the 26th version of the magazine, we are planning to look back at the island’s rich history.

We will be sharing short stories and historical tidbits about Key Biscayne.

And speaking of Key Biscayne, did you know …

Key Biscayne’s first name was Santa Marta. It was christened by Juan Ponce De León on one of his first voyages to the New World. He wrote in his journal that the Island of Santa Marta had fresh water, making it a good spot to stop before continuing up the coast.

Only years after that voyage a shipwrecked sailor from the Bay of Biscay was spotted on the island. Subsequently, the bay and the island were known as the Biscayne Bay and Key Biscayne.

On to modern Key Biscayne, if you’ve passed by Calusa Park you might have seen a dilapidated shack behind the palm trees and fences. You would never imagine, but it is one of the oldest historical landmarks of Miami Dade County.

Built in 1917 by the Matheson Coconut Plantation, its original purpose was a barrack for the workers. It was not originally located in Calusa Park. In its early days, the shack was situated in present-day Grand Bay. The shack served multiple functions throughout its lifespan, ranging from sleeping quarters to a church, a school, and a hurricane shelter. In 1956, it was incorporated by the Key Biscayne Music and Drama Club to begin its career as a live theater stage.

Under the management of Music and Drama Club, the shack was uprooted and moved to the spot it holds today and was renamed the “Calusa Playhouse.” For 40 years, it has hosted musicals and plays. The Calusa Playhouse has greeted over 40,000 guests over the years, and has staged hundreds of acts.

Then tragedy struck.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1995, the county decided to update building codes. The aging shack did not meet the new requirements and was closed, labelled as “unsafe.” Before having time to restore the building, it was engulfed in flames.

Over the years, movements have tried to restore the shack to its former glory. These efforts have come and gone, with no fruitful success. Now the shack is 102 years old and in desperate need of repair. What was once a pillar of the community is now in ruins, decaying.

Over the next few weeks we will spotlight more content from the upcoming edition of Island Life magazine -- also known as “the official Guide and Directory of the Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce.”

For more information, call or email Mariella Oliva at 305-361-3333 or moliva@islandernews.com. You may also call the Key Biscayne Chamber at 305-361-5207.

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