|Written by Paul S. George, Special to the BT|
A view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami
This photograph, taken in the late 1930s, shows Pan American Airway’s “Brazilian Clipper,” the S-42 seaplane designed exclusively for the airline by famed aviation figure Igor Sikorsky, as it floats in the placid waters of Biscayne Bay. On the mainland stands the airline’s famed sea terminal, which opened in 1934. It would serve PanAm until the mid-1940s.
Founded in Key West in 1927, PanAm, under the dynamic leadership of Juan Trippe, moved to Miami the following year. There it established, on former Everglades swampland at NW 36th Street and 52nd Avenue, Pan American Field.
The fledgling business centered on mail delivery, as well as passenger flights to the Caribbean and Latin America. Increasingly, seaplanes offered a more appropriate and economical way to conduct business, prompting the carrier, in 1929, to purchase Ralph O’Neill’s New York, Rio and Buenos Aires Line (NYRBA), which was the first commercial airline to fly from Dinner Key, which just ten years earlier, in World War I, had served as the venue for one of America’s first naval air stations.
Initially, PanAm used the NYRBA houseboat terminal but soon built its terminal, considered the largest, most modern seaplane facility in the world. Spectacular inside and outside, the Art Deco terminal, designed by the firm Aldrich and Delano, became a popular tourist attraction.
The carrier’s VIP passengers included Gerardo Machado, former president of Cuba, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who flew incognito under the name “Mr. Jones” en route to the World War II Allied war conference in Casablanca.
Charles Lindbergh, one of the world’s most famous personalities following his transatlantic flight to Paris in 1927, was another frequent visitor to the facility while in the employ of PanAm.
With America’s entrance into World War II, the U.S. Navy re-established the naval air station and employed many of PanAm’s airplanes. Following the conflict, Pan American sold the facility to the City of Miami, which, after leasing the building as the venue for two unsuccessful restaurants, converted it in 1954 to its city hall.
Volume 15, Issue 2, April 2017
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