Fleischer Studios for fabled cartoons may be labeled historic

Written by Genevieve Bowen on April 23, 2024

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Fleischer Studios for fabled cartoons may be labeled historic

Local preservationists are working to secure historic designations for two 20th century landmarks to showcase and preserve Miami’s history for future generations.

Today (4/25), the Miami City Commission is to review resolutions highlighting the historic significance of the Halissee Hall Gates and the Fleischer Studio. If approved, the measures would pave the way for a historic marker to be installed outside the film studio to spotlight Miami’s place in American culture and further direct the city manager to apply for historic designation of the gates to ensure the site’s preservation for potential use as a pocket park.

Halissee Hall, named for the Seminole tribe’s term for the new moon, was the estate home of Miami’s third mayor, John Sewell. The three-story abode, built in 1912, was constructed primarily of native rock quarried in Miami.

The estate’s gates were constructed using the same oolitic limestone material as the residence and marked the quarter-mile private driveway leading to Halissee Hall.

The hall was historically designated in 1983 and is part of the Jackson Memorial Hospital complex today. However, the gate entrance was bifurcated by the I-395 expressway from the hospital and requires a separate designation, for which the Dade Heritage Trust has applied to the city.

The gate posts are in relatively good condition and could use cleaning and minor repairs to restore them to meet the criteria of historic designation.

“With designation of the columns, Dade Heritage Trust is prepared to engage an architect and an architectural conservator to restore and preserve the columns and ensure the longevity of this unique historic resource,” reads the trust’s application.

The Dade Heritage Trust is also currently working with the city to create and curate a public open space including and surrounding the columns that will activate the now-unattended and overlooked parcel and convert it to a pocket park showcasing the historic gateposts.

“The gates still stand and are at the end of a dead-end City of Miami street adjacent to the 836 … it’s a vacant lot, used haphazardly for parking. It’s amazing that they’re still surviving, and we thought a historic designation would be a cool way to protect them and bring attention to them,” Christine Rupp, executive director of Dade Heritage Trust, told Miami Today. “The other thing we’re working on with the city is to have the dead end formally vacated and create a play street, like a mini park.”

Plans for the proposed mini park, called Plusurbia, incorporate planting, seating, lighting and signage to make the space more inviting and allow for neighborhood activity within walking distance of the single-family homes that surround the area.

Also before the commission is a resolution supporting the placement of a historic marker outside the Fleischer Studios at 1788 Delaware Parkway in Miami’s Grapeland Heights neighborhood.

In 1938, brothers Max and Dave Fleischer moved their pioneering animation studio from New York to Miami following a series of conflicts with unions.

At the time, Fleischer Studio films had already achieved international success for their unique blend of surrealism, expressionism and adult themes with characters such as Koko the Clown, Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. The state-of-the-art studio was built to accommodate an increased demand for their films and attract a film industry to Miami.

The Fleischers’ Miami studio would go on to employ 760 artists producing one-reel Popeye short films, as well as two feature-length films: Gulliver’s Travels (1939) and Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941). In 1941, it became the first studio to bring Superman to the screen.

A group of residents has requested to place a Florida Historical Marker designating the portion of the public right-of-way outside the studio as “The Fleischer Studios in Miami.” For the marker to be installed, the state requires a document signed by the owner, which in this case is the city.

If the resolution, which is sponsored by Commissioner Miguel Gabela who represents the studio’s area, is approved today, the residents can proceed with application to the state. The maker educating the public about the little-known yet influential studio will be the first in the state concerning Florida’s film history.

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