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New Mexico flavoring in South Florida’s aviation history

26 November 2010

New Mexico flavoring in South Florida’s aviation history

Miami Springs Historical Museum

25° 49′ 16″ N / 80° 17′ 01″ W

Don Boyd is a man with boundless energy and is insanely devoted to aviation as well as the history of the Miami Springs area. You can see for yourself at here the dozens and dozens of photos, all carefully cataloged in folders, of the area as well as its aviation history.

The area has always been significantly involved in aviation with Glenn Curtiss, Amelia Earhart and Eastern Airlines to name only a few. Opa-locka airport was once one of the nation’s busiest airports and Amelia Earhart may have begun her fateful around the world flight attempt from a field now erased from history, Amelia Earhart Field. Glenn Curtiss developed three suburban communities to Miami as well as founded one of the earliest flying schools here. Hialeah, Miami Springs and Opa-locka were developed by a Glenn Curtiss and James Bright.

The 1920s were years marked by carefree attitudes and adventurism so it is no surprise to learn that new developments had architectural flair. Glenn Curtiss brought Pueblo Mission Revival to Miami Springs. This is the architecture design influenced by areas such as Taos and Sante Fe where adobe facades and rounded entries are trademarks of the style. Miami Springs abounds with houses and a few of the surviving older buildings built in the Pueblo Mission Revival style — an island of New Mexico in exotic and international Miami.

Don Boyd’s website has one especially intriguing image for me. A nondescript tufted plush legless chair in a subdued orange color. Then I read the sign, a seat from a Curtiss Condor which was donated by Dave Benson to the Miami Springs Historical Museum.

I had seen a model of a Curtiss Condor in the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall. I don’t know much about the aircraft except that it had a hybrid type of a look from the 1930s. A modern-ish fuselage but a biplane design and a front which reminds me of a bus. Perhaps it was designed by a committee, I thought? I do not think the aircraft made an impact in aviation history although used by a few airlines as well as some national air forces. It was a luxury airliner in its day — one was used by Eastern Air Transport (the antecedent to Eastern Airlines) one night in 1932 to take Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart* for a tour around Washington DC in an evening sky. I did not think that any examples existed or were under restoration, though there are rumors (there are always rumors). So few were built that there is not much to be seen in the way of artifacts but I recall reading about a control wheel on display somewhere.

Curtiss Condor model at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall — photo by Joe May

Excitement — this seat could be a rare surviving artifact from a Curtiss Condor!

I dropped in on the Miami Springs Historical Museum and experienced déjà vu as I saw structures reminding me of my time studying geology in New Mexico where I also was exposed to red rock, real burritos as well as pueblo adobe architecture. This style of architecture is extremely suitable for a hot climate and was especially so in the days before the advent of air conditioning.

This museum is small and is familiar to anyone who has gotten a haircut at Floyd’s Barber Shop in Mayberry or its thousands of cousins with their wooden floors and angled front display window. I went there to see and photograph the seat but I saw and learned so much more. The museum’s purpose is to preserve the history of past and present airfields in the area as well as all three of the local Curtiss-Bright communities (Hialeah, Miami Springs and Opa-locka).

There is plenty of information regarding the aviation history of Glenn Curtiss on large standup boards. Familiar historical photographs are reproduced and the text is all done professionally — these are no poster boards. The town historian and another person with boundless energy was there, Mary Ann Goodlet-Taylor, and she knows the history of the town. She also has a connection with Glenn Curtiss — her father worked for him as a gardener and driver. While her father worked for the Curtiss family he met his future wife, the governess and voilá, Mary Ann!

Mrs. Goodlet-Taylor showed me the Eastern Airlines (which was based in Miami) items as well as a shelf holding items related to one of the locals who flew to the moon, Ken Mattingly who was the command pilot of Apollo 16 as well as spacecraft commander on two shuttle missions. She showed the many paintings she had commissioned for the museum which illustrate moments in the town’s history. There are also two models built by friends, one of a Curtiss Jenny and one of an Eastern Airlines Douglas DC-3.

Then there was the seat from the Curtiss Condor which was donated by Dave Benson. There, in living color, where it can be seen without viewing through a glass panel or restricted by a cordon.

 

Curtiss Condor passenger seat at the Miami Springs Historical Museum — photo by Joe May

A higher perspective view of the Curtiss Condor seat, note the tufted cushions — photo by Joe May

There is so much more and this museum is worth a morning or afternoon drop-by visit. There are no facilities but there is no need for them since the Corner Café is next door and Treat’s is only two blocks to the south. The museum’s address is 26 Westward Dr, Miami Springs, FL 33166, their phone number is 305-888-4849 and there is a modest admittance fee. There is plenty of free public parking, as well. The hours are 11am–4pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays — with Friday’s hours of 4pm–8:30pm.

The Glenn Curtiss Mansion* is nearby, less than a mile, but currently under renovation although the exterior can be viewed. It is located a few blocks north of Miami International Airport at 500 Dear Run in Miami Springs.

Glenn Curtiss Mansion in Miami Springs (Pueblo Mission Revival style) — photo by Joe May

 

Amelia Earhart: the turbulent life of an American icon, Kathleen C. Winters, 2010, ISBN 978-0-230-61669-1, 233 pp. + index (see page 141). A book review of this excellent title has been posted — please type “Earhart” into the search window and select ENTER to easily obtain the link to it.

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