Flagler Street: Once Miami’s Epicenter

Did you know Burdines, the Florida predecessor to Macy’s, opened on Flagler Street in the late 1800s? More than 120 years later, it’s hard to believe Flagler Street has been the epicenter of Miami since the earliest days of the Magic City.

The downtown thoroughfare flourished during the Roaring Twenties, but it reached its heyday in the 1940s, when World War II brought thousands of people to the area.

The population surge brought unprecedented prosperity. More people meant more money to the city’s main street. Restaurants boomed, theaters were packed, and the Bayfront Park library opened and brought droves of people.

In the 1950s, Elvis Presley rocked downtown with performances at the Olympia Theatre. The city was bustling, and Flagler Street was the place to be.

While Burdines opened in the late 1800s, it didn’t really boom until the 1950s and 1960s. The store prospered with late hours, a tearoom and a rooftop Ferris wheel. Nine theaters downtown attracted large crowds. Flagler became the location for dining, culture and shopping. It was also the most prominent address for businesses, and showed no signs of slowing.

In the 1970s, however, suburbia started drawing people away from the city center and the once-successful street started to decline. Now, revitalization is underway on Flagler, and perhaps history can repeat itself. For Miami, it’s time to return the street to its past grandeur.

Information for this feature is courtesy of the HistoryMiami Archives & Research Center, which is open to the public and contains more than 1.5 million images of southeast Florida, the entire state and the Caribbean from 1883 to the present. For more information or to visit HistoryMiami, visit historymiami.org.

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