Today, our goal was to make it to Key Largo, and I was excited. For the first time, we’d be leaving the mind-numbing Interstates in favor of smaller roads, with actual things to see along the way. But before leaving Miami, there was one stop we had to make: the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere.
Of course, it was closed.
Just to be sure, we went in the gift shop and found out that it was actually open. Hooray!
This was originally the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, built in Sacramenia, Spain, between 1133-1144. It said to be the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere. So how did it get to North Miami Beach?
In boxes. Lots and lots of boxes (11,000, to be accurate):
For nearly 700 years, Cistercian monks occupied the monastery. Later, the property was seized during social revolution in the 1830’s and converted to a granary and stable. Finally, in 1925, William Randolph Hearst purchased the cloisters, boxed them up in carefully numbered crates, and had them shipped to the United States.
Unfortunately, hoof and mouth disease had broken out in Spain at the time, and upon arriving in the US, the boxes were broken open to burn the packing hay inside.
Worse, the stones were then randomly returned to the boxes, completely out of order. Hearst was unable to reclaim them due to financial problems, and the crates ended up in a Brooklyn warehouse for 26 years.
Finally, in 1952, W. Edgemon and R. Moss purchased the cloisters and had the crates shipped to North Miami Beach, where it was to be re-erected as a tourist attraction at a cost of nearly $1.5 million.
Walking around, it seems like everything is in the right place, though there were apparently quite a few leftover stones after the builders were finished.
I have to say, it was worth the trouble. The vaulted corridors are beautiful, and the fact that monks passed through here deep in thought over 860 years ago gives it an almost surreal aura – especially considering we were about ten minutes from the craziness of South Beach.
Also, the cloister garden is quite beautiful…
…with a well set in its patio dating to the 2nd century:
Also transported with the cloisters was the monastery’s refectory, or dining hall, which today is used by the Episcopal church that occupies the property…
…as well as the chapter house, which was used for choice practice due to its good acoustics (among other purposes). As no one else was around (probably due to the “CLOSED” sign out front), I gave it a shot and can confirm that, no matter what you sing or how bad your voice, this room makes you sound like a monk.
The monastery has two of the last three telescopic stained glass windows remaining in the world.
Much of the original monastery, including the church, still stands in Sacramenia, where it is privately owned:
Definitely recommended if you’re ever in the area, and if you go, be sure to check out the ornate 16th century Spanish hearse in the gift shop. Note the wooden rollers on the carriage top for easy coffin loading!
As we headed south out of Miami, we passed a very important landmark…
…the end of I-95! Holy crap – it actually has an end!!
Having grown up in Massachusetts, I’ve probably spent a cumulative year of my life driving on 95, whether to New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, DC…Needless to say, it’s very refreshing to get to a point on the east coast where 95 ceases to exist.
Taking one of the most popular recommendations we got from Scouting NY readers, we made a quick detour to Miami City Hall…
…which once was the headquarters and terminal building for Pan Am during the 1930s and 1940s (similar in design to New York’s Marine Air Terminal). Note the flying boat landing on the right…
How insanely cool would it be if the interior still looked like this?? I love the enormous globe in the center of the room.
Luckily, Miami City Hall has occupied the building since 1954, and the facade is in fantastic condition.
I love the winged globe/rising sun motif flanking the doors…
…which also runs along the top of the building, with eagles in each corner. The waves represent how the flying boats would land on water.
Nearby, three out of four of Pan Am’s original hangars are still in use for boat storage.
With plans to hit Vizcaya on our return drive (we have to leave something for the trip back to Orlando!), we continued south, stopping in Homestead for lunch. I found a well-reviewed place called Broadway Subs for lunch, and just as we came up to the address, a van exploded across the street. Neat!
We got lunch, and I had my first can of Ironbeer soda. We don’t have Ironbeer in New York (at least, not to my knowledge), and though a lot of people describe it as a fruitier Doctor Pepper, it reminded me of a combination of root and birch beer (with a fruity kick).
According to the back of the can: “On a summer’s afternoon in 1917, a mule-drawn, wooden wagon arrived at a popular cafeteria in Havana, Cuba. It delivered the first four cases of a new soft drink that would soon be called ‘The National Beverage’.” After Castro took power, its founders fled to Miami, where the formula was sold to its current owners in 1960.
Sidenote: it might not look like much from the outside, but Broadway Subs makes a really mean sandwich.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our trip to Key Largo, with one of my favorite stops so far. And I’m not the only one who liked it…
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