MIAMI — What does the Miami Marine Stadium have in common with such famous landmarks as Machu Picchu and the Old City of Jerusalem?
All three have made it on the World Monuments Fund's watch list for 2010 of monuments threatened by neglect or overdevelopment for 2010. But while the latter two — and dozens of others on the 93-monument list — are thousands of years old and have deep cultural significance for mankind, the quirky Miami Marine Stadium was built in 1964 and once hosted the soft rock group Air Supply.
The stadium has been a focal point for some iconic cultural and political events: scores of powerboat races, the spot where Sammy Davis Jr. and President Richard Nixon hugged in 1972, the site of a legendary and raucous 1985 Jimmy Buffett concert. The 1967 Elvis Presley movie Clambake — about an oil tycoon's heir swapping places with a poor water skier — was filmed there.
The stadium was shut down in 1992, after Hurricane Andrew's winds damaged its cantilevered and origami-swanlike roof. Today, it sits empty on Key Biscayne, an island east of downtown Miami and all of its glittering new high-rises. The forlorn structure, once a hub of entertainment in Miami, is awash in graffiti.
"I have had feelings of anger both as a designer and as a Miamian," said Hilario Candela, who designed the stadium when he was 28. He is now 75 and is saddened to see how his creation has deteriorated.
Architectural experts both in Miami and around the world say the 6,566-seat Miami Marine Stadium is a significant modernist structure — and the move to preserve it is not a joke.
"Yeah, we are serious," said Amy Freitag, the director for U.S. programs at the World Monument Fund in New York, a nonprofit group that works to save places with historic or architectural significance. "This is a special and important and iconic place that is at risk. We can't let this fall down. And it's rare that you can mention the World Monuments Fund and Jimmy Buffett in same sentence."
In 2002, Mayor Manny Diaz expressed interest in restoring the stadium; his term ends this November without any significant progress for the stadium.
"Anything can be preserved, with enough money and inspiration," said Ellen Uguccioni, the city of Miami's historic preservation officer. She added that no one in city government wants the stadium to be torn down — but coming up with the money needed to restore it will be difficult. It has been included in a master plan for the area, which is actually an island just east of Miami's downtown; Uguccioni says the city would like to see it eventually return as a venue for concerts and events.
Restoring the building isn't easy. Engineering reports after Hurricane Andrew said the structure was sound. But it will take millions to restore the structure — because no engineering studies have been undertaken recently, it's unclear exactly how much restoration will cost.
The city has awarded a historic designation for the stadium, and earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation also put it on "most endangered" list.
On Oct. 1, it received its biggest endorsement yet: singer Jimmy Buffett cut a public service announcement on behalf of the stadium, urging his multitude of fans to support the restoration effort.