Bal Harbour Village remains a pristine community, a carefully designed haven for the very best in residential living and upscale tourism. With elegant homes and condominiums, elite shops and exquisitely manicured roadways, the Village is widely recognized as the jewel in the crown of South Florida’s communities – a model for the good life.
The “dream village” that founder Robert C. Graham envisioned so many years ago continues to prosper and thrive today. The vision for this subtropical paradise began in 1929 when Miami Beach Heights, a Detroit-based real estate development corporation purchased the raw land. Headed by industrialist Graham with associates Carl Fisher and Walter O. Briggs, Miami Beach Heights began the task of crafting a new community. Perhaps most significantly, they hired one of the leading urban planning firms of the twentieth century – Harland Bartholomew & Associates – to design the Village. Bal Harbour and Coral Gables are the only Miami-Dade municipalities that were built with a fully conceived master plan in place.
From the beginning, the Village was envisioned as a modern community that would maintain exceptionally high standards, provide superior services and foster civic pride.
The advent of World War II brought plans to an abrupt halt and Graham, in patriotic gesture, leased to the land to the United States Air Corps for $1 a year. The area became a center of year-round training complete with barracks and a rifle range located on the site of the Sheraton Bal Harbour Beach Resort. A prisoner-of-war camp, located on the current site of Bal Harbour Shops, housed German prisoners. Soldiers stationed up and down Miami Beach marched north to the area, known as “tent city,” for maneuvers.
After the war ended and the troops departed, development plans resumed in earnest. Graham quickly converted some of the barracks into apartments to boost the resident population – the State of Florida then required twenty-five males to qualify for incorporation..
In 1945, Stanley Whitman (who was later to build Bal Harbour Shops) moved into the barracks with his young family in order to support the Village’s incorporation efforts and was one of the original founders of Bal Harbour.
On August 14, 1946 the Village was incorporated and the first Council elected. The roster for the first Council: Mayor Judge Julian Southerland and Councilmen Charles R. Graham, Glenn E. Massnick, Ray Semmes, Jr., Willard H. Webb and George Whittaker. Willard Webb was the first Village Manager and Mary Wetterer, the first Village Clerk, remained at her post for more than forty years.
The Village was first called “Bay Harbour,” a name that was soon discarded as not properly defining a community with oceanfront property. A new word was created, taking letters from ‘bay” and “Atlantic” to create “Bal.” Thus Bal Harbour, a new town encompassing bay and ocean, was named. The fledgling government was housed in converted military barracks until the current Village Hall was built in 1956.
Bolstered by Miami’s post war prosperity, Bal Harbour’s growth escalated with the rapid sale of residential lots, the development of community resources and the construction of hotels. In December 1946, the first hotel opened for business – Kenilworth-by-the-Sea.
Described as “ultra-modern,” the 160-room ten-story Kenilworth promoted the concept of “luxurious leisure.” Over the next decade, a total of nine resorts would line the Village’s beachfront as the Sea View, the Bal Harbour, the Balmoral, the Ivanhoe, the Colony, the Singapore, the Beau Rivage and the Americana all held court. At the height of South Florida’s hotel boom, these world-class resorts attracted a steady stream of upscale clientele and helped put Bal Harbour on the map.
In the 1950′s, Bal Harbour and Miami Beach were considered America’s Riviera, a magnet for the era’s top musicians and entertainers. Count Basie and Guy Lombardo could be seen having drinks at the Ivanhoe’s Pump Room Lounge. Frank Sinatra and his “Rat Pack” frequented the Americana’s Carnival Supper Club.