|The Sands of Time|
|Written by Jim W. Harper -- BT Contributor|
At Samson Oceanfront Park, modern Sunny Isles Beach gives way to old delights
Old-school Miami Beach still exists north of hippidy-hoppin’, tweet-friendly South Beach. Get on the bus, Gus, and travel back in time to some retro islands in the sun, where your grandmother’s beach awaits you. Welcome to the self-proclaimed Florida’s Riviera, Sunny Isles Beach.
Beaches here are hard to see as you approach from the land, what with all the Trump Towers towering and La Perlas shining, but at one point there’s a break in the ramparts. You shuffle through a little park and toward the beach, where a cast of retro characters awaits you. The sweet old ladies in wheelchairs. The tourists with ghostly white skin. The babushkas in the sun.
Here the bubbes are reading their Russian newspapers, their chairs quite literally planted in the sand. About 30 elderly men and women have assembled themselves into two lines of folding chairs, facing each other, and are having lively discussions in a Slavic tongue. Their drinks are wrapped in beverage koozies, and they do not seem to be in a hurry. They own this beach.
Perhaps this scene is less old-school than at first glance, as this newer generation of retirees brings its own flavor to the art of relaxation, and its own culture of origin. You get the sense they have a regular pattern of arriving at the beach, drawing a line in the sand, and settling in for the long haul.
The beach serves them well at Samson Oceanside Park, and the park of 2.1 acres is noteworthy as the main public green space located directly on the beach in Sunny Isles Beach. The size of a one-block development, Samson Park, named after one of the city’s leading families, delivers a delightful preamble to your day alongside the glistening Atlantic Ocean.
But there’s one little problem, which will eventually be a huge one. The empty lot immediately north of the park is in the early stages of development. This is Sunny Isles Beach, so you know that means big -- and very, very tall -- real estate. With dozens of enormous towers casting huge afternoon shadows across more than a mile of beach, you have to wonder: Could this stretch of sand be America’s most valuable beach? Certainly this little park has to be one of Florida’s most valuable parcels of public land.
From the beach, the noise from construction is mostly drowned out by the wind and waves, but inside Samson Park, it can get ugly. You probably will not want to linger too long under the covered playground, as the constant drilling might make you batty. Do not look up, either, because only 20 feet away is a five-story drill and an 18-story red crane. The mature palm trees next to them look like geraniums.
The new development will be called Chateau Beach Residences, and it had a groundbreaking ceremony in December 2012. Prices start somewhere around one million. With construction projected for two years, it should be ready by 2015. So poor little Samson Park is going to be dusty, as well as sandy, for a couple of more years.
The park has a few interesting elements that are worth a moment before you hit the beach. Near the street entrance stands a bronze statue of a family unit -- a father, mother, and their two children -- on a black pedestal. Behind them shines a flat disk with birds flying across the sun’s rays. (Alternately, you could envision pigeons being impaled.) The stately statue makes the statement that families are welcome here, and indeed, you do find them on the beach, with or without grandparents.
Just a skip down the curving paved pathway, you encounter something completely different: a giant flamingo painted like an American flag. Alrighty, then.
The park’s rest area is the most visually interesting and utilitarian feature, complete with restrooms and a bevy of shady, hexagonal picnic tables. The pale yellow complex in an Art Deco style appears to have been inspired by the Jetsons. It is all curves and no corners. The curvy ceiling is shaped like a giant, flattened kidney bean, with a large cutout circle near the bean’s center framing the sky. Holding up the building are tilted turquoise poles that pierce the bean like toothpicks.
The bathrooms are adequate, as is the water fountain. Two functioning showers are at the entrance to the beach, and a third along the path is under construction.
The park’s landscaping attractively features some native species, such as saw palmettos, and the dunes along the beach are covered with mature grasses. The most obvious feature, though, is a bright green lawn that covers most of the park. My environmental bells are ringing, because a lawn this close to the ocean is completely unnatural and dependent on fertilizer that can easily leach into the sea.
On a positive note, this park hosts free morning yoga for adults on the beach. All you need to do is register with the city at Pelican Community Park. Call 305-792-1706. The next session begins on March 6. (See you there?)
Getting to Samson Park by car could be problematic, as parking in the city is nonexistent on the beach side. But look just across the street, behind the drug store, and you will find public parking. Make a note of it.
The city staff members that maintain Samson Park impressed me during one of my visits, as they were cleaning everything from the trashcans to the park’s signage. Really, how often do you see someone cleaning letters? Kudos to them.
Samson Park is under a bit of stress right now, what with the construction next door, but it remains open for business. It was a wise investment for the city, and it will certainly help the future home values of the rising Chateau.
Real estate is back, families are back, and your grandmother is back, only this time with a Russian accent. This beach means business.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
Sales, special events, and more from the people who make Biscayne Times possible