Miami experienced several significant changes during the year of 1921. On January 1st, the city implemented a new street naming system to provide a more flexible method of structuring its address scheme to account for any future growth in the municipality’s boundaries. In addition to the change of the street names, the city also voted to recharter how its government was organized in the summer of that year, which transitioned the municipality to the current form of government structure we have in place today.
Once these changes were implemented by the summer of 1921, the newly elected city commission took up honoring a few of Miami’s most important early pioneers. While the street descriptors seemed settled by mid-1921, the commissioners passed a city ordinance to change the names three of the city’s most important thoroughfares. One of those changes was renaming Miami Avenue to Tuttle Avenue. This change did not sit well with the business community who just spent a lot of money to account for the Chaille Plan that changed Avenue D to Miami Avenue just eight months earlier.
Chaille Street Naming Plan in 1920
Established in 1896, Miami’s original street naming approach was simple and inflexible. The roads which traveled east to west were given street numbers, beginning with first street at the northern edge of the city’s boundary and ending with twenty-sixth street in today’s Brickell neighborhood. The roads which traveled north to south were given avenue letters beginning with Avenue A near Biscayne Boulevard and ending with Avenue M on the western edge of the city.
As the municipal contemplated expansion, the flaws of the street naming system became problematic. When you start your street names at First Street along the northern border of the city, how do you account for northern expansion? Prominent leaders began to consider a new system as early as 1914 when pioneer Salem Graham published an article in the Miami Metropolis suggesting that the streets be renamed to honor some of Miami’s most important pioneers such as Henry Flagler, Julia Tuttle, Joseph A McDonald, and the Brickell family.
When the municipal was ready to put a new system to public vote, the most popular plan was submitted by city councilman Josiah Chaille which proposed changing the street name scheme to a grid system that began at the intersection of today’s Miami Avenue and Flagler Street. The city held a special election where citizens overwhelmingly selected the Chaille Plan, which was adopted by the city council on October 7, 1920. The plan called for official implementation on January 1, 1921, to provide the new system in a new year.
A highlight of the Chaille plan was the change of the avenues from letters to direction and number combination based on the location of the section of the road in relation to the intersection of Flagler Street and Miami Avenue. For example, Southeast First Avenue was located south of Flagler Street and east of Miami Avenue. To provide consistency throughout the city, the new plan changed the name of Brickell Avenue to SE First Avenue. The exception to the rule was the change of Avenue D to Miami Avenue, which helped provide the center point to the grid system that was implemented.
City Ordinance Number 05
Another significant development in January of 1921 was the formation of a board to consider reorganizing the city’s government through the adoption of a new charter. The board ultimately recommended the recharter of the city to change the style of government to a city manager led approach featuring a five-person city commission and mayor. This recommendation was put to a vote in another special election held on July 12, 1921.
Miami voters approved the recharter of the city government and elected Miami’s first city commission which was labeled the “Banker’s Commission” because all five city commissioners selected were presidents of local banks. Miami’s first city commission consisted of C.D. Leffler, president of Miami Bank & Trust; James H. Gilman, president of Bank of Bay Biscayne; Ed C. Romfh, president of First National Bank; J.E. Lummus, president of Southern Bank & Trust; and J.I. Wilson, president of Dade County Securities Company. The first city manager was C.S. Coe, but he only stayed in the job for a couple months and was replaced by Frank Wharton by December of 1921.
One of the city commission’s first order of business was to remedy what they believed to be a flaw in the Chaille Plan. The commissioners felt that Julia Tuttle, Joseph A McDonald, the man who Flagler put in charge of representing the FEC during the construction of the city, and the Brickell family should have been honored by having streets named in their honor.
On August 16, 1921, the commissioners unanimously passed ordinance 05 which changed the name of SE First Avenue, south of the Miami River, back to Brickell Avenue, the name of the street prior to the implementation of the Chaille Plan. In addition, the ordinance changed the name Bay Shore Drive to McDonald Boulevard, a road known as Biscayne Boulevard today. Lastly, ordinance 05 changed the name of Miami Avenue to Tuttle Avenue, including the section of the road that crossed over the Miami River into the Brickell neighborhood.
While the intentions of the commission were to provide recognition to Miami’s most prominent founders, they did not anticipate how controversial this decree would become once it was announced. It didn’t take long for them to hear from the business community most impacted by this law.
On August 18, only two days after ordinance 05 was passed into law by the city commission, more than 200 business owners along Miami Avenue filed a petition to object to the change to Tuttle Avenue. None of these merchants had a problem honoring Julia Tuttle but did just spend a lot of money to update ads, stationary, signage and other ancillary items to account for the change from Avenue D to Miami Avenue with the implementation of the Chaille Plan on January 1st.
Some business owners expressed their frustration in their newspaper advertisements. Union Shoe Hospital tried to describe their location in an advertisement in Miami News on August 25th as: “906 Avenue D – However we are not responsible for the name of the street we are on, and you might know it by Miami Avenue, Tuttle Avenue, or any other thing that might spring up overnight.”
The spokesman for the merchants was Hamilton Michelson, who operated a fruit distribution business at 152 South Miami Avenue, when he appeared in front of the city commission on August 23rd to voice his objection to the change of Miami to Tuttle Avenue. He was joined by a large group of merchants who presented the petition and insisted that the commission reconsider the name change. After hearing testimony from the public, the commissioners did not change their mind and told the agitated audience that the ordinance stood.
The next day, the attorney representing the merchants, Bart A. Riley, filed an injunction to block the implementation of the ordinance. Both sides of this conflict presented their arguments to Judge H. Pierre Branning on September 5th who carefully considered the legality of the commission’s decision. The judge ruled in favor the merchants on September 23rd when he declared that the commissioners did not have the authority to change street names based on a plan that was confirmed by the city’s voters. The ruling allowed the city an opportunity to appeal the decision, but it provided a temporary injunction prohibiting them from implementing their ordinance until an answer was filed and the matter was resolved.
City Modifies Ordinance
The central point of the argument against ordinance 05 was that the Chaille Plan was voted on by the citizens of Miami and could not be modified by the city commission. Riley argued that any major changes to the street naming system required input by the citizens of Miami via a vote.
Rather than to continue to fight the issue with the merchants, the city chose to withdraw ordinance 05 and file a new ordinance on October 4th which only renamed SE First Street, south of the Miami River, back to Brickell Avenue. Therefore, Tuttle Avenue reverted to Miami Avenue, and McDonald Boulevard reverted to Bay Shore Drive. As the Tuttle and McDonald names disappeared from the street map, the Brickell name was reestablished.
While there were no formal complaints filed against renaming Bay Shore Drive to McDonald Boulevard, the commissioners decided to withdraw their intent to pay tribute to Joseph A McDonald and Julia Tuttle by naming streets in their honor. Tuttle Avenue and McDonald Boulevard were a part of Miami’s address lexicon from August 16, 1921 – October 5, 1921.
Despite the argument that the commission could not rename streets without public input, they were able to get the amended ordinance approved without any issues. In 1926, the city renamed Bay Shore Drive, north of the Miami River, to Biscayne Boulevard, and in 1997, South Bay Shore Drive in the southside neighborhood was renamed to Brickell Bay Drive. It doesn’t appear that either change required a city-wide vote.
Honoring Julia Tuttle
How the city honors Julia Tuttle for her contributions to the founding of the city has been scrutinized by history enthusiasts through the years. After Tuttle Avenue was reverted to Miami Avenue, the city did not have a street or highway honoring Julia until a new causeway along thirty-six street was constructed and named the ‘Julia Tuttle Causeway’ in 1959. In 2010, during the unveiling of a statue of Julia Tuttle in Bayfront Park, a stretch of Biscayne Boulevard Way in downtown Miami, between NE Second Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard and just north of the Brickell Bridge, was designated as ‘Julia Tuttle Way’.
While both moves have had an impact on the awareness of Julia Tuttle’s contribution to the city of Miami, one wonders how things could have been different if the change from Miami Avenue to Tuttle Avenue in 1921 would have been permanent?
Brickell Avenue has helped shape the family name as a brand that describes one of the most popular destinations for new residents and visitors attracted to the Magic City. The neighborhood was once described as southside, but the prominence of the neighborhood’s central thoroughfare helped rebrand the quarter as the ‘Brickell Neighborhood’ over time. The ‘Brickell’ family name has become an internationally known brand strongly associated with the city of Miami.
What if we always knew Miami Avenue as Tuttle Avenue?
In an interview with E.V. Blackman in late 1896, Julia Tuttle predicted that “Miami will grow to one of the largest, if not the largest city in all the southland.” She went on to tell Blackman that “it will not be many years hence when Miami will be the most important port on the Atlantic Coast in the South.” She was sharing her prophecy at a time when the area was hardly more than an outpost in the middle of a forest transitioning into a small resort town.
Despite not having a prominent avenue named for her in downtown Miami, Julia Tuttle may take solace in knowing that her predictions largely came true. Prior to sharing her vision, she asked Blackman not to laugh at what she was about to share with him. If she could see the city that Miami has become, she may gladly trade her name on an avenue to witness validation of her prophecy, and maybe then, Julia Tuttle could have the last laugh.
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