Historical Facts About Palm & Hibiscus Islands

November 2, 2021

Palm Island and Hibiscus Island are two of the most exclusive, luxurious neighborhoods in Miami Beach. Both of these man-made islands sit in beautiful Biscayne Bay, and they are conveniently accessible via the MacArthur Causeway. Many wonder how these islands came to attract the likes of high-profile residents, like Al Capone and Barbara Walters, as well as Miami Beach’s founding pioneers Carl Fisher and John Collins. Luckily, we’ve compiled some historical facts about Palm and Hibiscus Islands to give you a hint. 

Before the Islands...

In 1915, before Palm and Hibiscus Islands were built, the only mansions on Miami Beach were those of the area’s foremost investors, Carl Fisher and John Collins. It wasn’t until 1917 that Miami developed three hotels, an aquarium, and a golf course. The addition of Palm and Hibiscus Islands shortly after opened up Miami to even more elite residents.



These Islands are Man-Made.

In the mid-1900s, fewer and fewer people started visiting Florida because hotels and resorts reached maximum capacity. The state’s answer? To build more dry land. At the time, there weren’t regulations in place to prevent the destruction of mangroves and the shoreline, so builders were allowed to continue.

The Bay Needed to be Dredged.

In 1918, Palm and Hibiscus Islands were set to be built. The goal was to have one 55-acre island and one 65-acre island. The Army Corps of Engineers were tasked with dredging Biscayne Bay to build Palm, Hibiscus, and Star Island; Carl Fisher headed the project, with the goal of creating new real estate prospects in the area. Fisher intended to develop more islands than he was able, as environmental and land restrictions limited his building abilities. 

The First Homes Belonged to Builders.

In keeping with Miami’s origins, two of the first mansions on Palm Island belonged to builders Clarence Busch and Locke T. Highleyman. They’d served on the board of the Biscayne Bay Island Company and so naturally wanted in on these fabulous new destinations. Busch used two lots near Palm Island’s entrance as the foundation for his estate, while Highleyman took to the island’s eastern section.

Palm Island is Home to the Budweiser Estate.

Clarence Busch’s home is now known as the “Budweiser Estate” (as in the brand, Anheuser-Busch). It’s a stunning home, boasting seven bedrooms, six bathrooms, and much more.

When Busch set out to build his home, the press had a field day. The Miami Herald estimated the home to cost $25K, while the Miami News estimated $15K. When all was said and done, both papers named the cost to build it as more than $43K. It most recently sold for over $14M and remains one of the island’s most impressive residences.



The Islands Suffered During The Great Depression.

Florida saw a major land boom in the 1920s, only to suffer in the post-WWII world. However, celebrities continued to flock to the islands because of their private locations and stunning views of the Miami skyline. Al Capone purchased a winter home on Hibiscus Island in 1928 because the island “reminded him of the sunny shores of Italy.” He sought refuge here from his life as a Chicago gangster, and he lived out the rest of his days in his mansion. Over the years, the mansion has been renovated significantly and has been available as a vacation rental. Most recently, the land was purchased by a developer - Todd Glaser -  who, I heard through the grapevine, plans to knock it down and build a new spec home. 

There was a Major Nightclub.

In 1922, at the height of Prohibition, the Palm Island Club opened on Palm Island. It served plenty of alcohol and was a major hit. In 1939, Barbara Walters’ father, Lou Walters, reopened the venue and called it The Latin Quarter. It was the spot to be  — glitz, glam, and some of the biggest names in entertainment. Sammy Davis Jr., Sophie Tucker, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett all made appearances, among many others. The Latin Quarter remained in full swing until 1959, when it burned to the ground, never to reopen.

The MacArthur Causeway was a Late Addition.

Before the MacArthur Causeway was built, there was only one way to access the barrier islands: the Collins Bridge, which was a deteriorating wooden bridge leftover from the 1910s. Construction on a new roadway began in 1917, and after several structural upgrades and changes, a new bridge was completed in 1942. The State Road Board and Dade County Commission voted to name it after General MacArthur, who was an American military leader. He was both General of the US Army, as well as (in the 1930s) Chief of Staff of the US Army. The MacArthur Causeway we know today was completed in 1997 and pays tribute to his long and impressive legacy.


Interested in exploring real estate on Hibiscus and Palm Islands? Contact Jeff Miller Group today. Jeff and his team would be happy to help you find the estate of your dreams. 

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