Sunday, September 9, 2012

Florida History: Orange Bowl kisses Miami's trolley goodbye

Trolley car in downtown Miami. 1926. 
 State Archives of Florida, 
Florida Memory.

For more Miami history,

By Jane Feehan

Trolley systems had their ups and downs in Miami beginning in 1906. The demise of the trolley in 1940 was linked to hurricanes and an electorate confident in the future of buses. The Orange Bowl committee could not have been more relieved to see voters end the streetcar era.

The first trolley ran along Miami’s streets in 1906 (the city incorporated 1896). It operated for a year and a half until officials determined there weren’t enough riders; the city had fewer than 2,000 residents. A more successful trolley system – battery powered – was launched in 1915 and ran until 1919. It serviced a route from near the latter day Orange Bowl stadium south to downtown and from Northeast Second Avenue north to Thirty-sixth Street.

Miami’s land and population boom – and consistent need for public transport - was just around the corner. By 1922 residents numbered about 45,000.* The first electric trolley with overhead wires began operating in January 1922. The Brill Car Company of Philadelphia constructed the streetcars and painted them a dull grey, “more suitable for [Miami’s] weather than a light color.”

Viability of Miami’s streetcar system continued to be tested. Car ownership was on the rise during the 1920s. Then came the Great Hurricane of 1926* driving many out of the area. The hurricane of 1935* ended service from Coral Gables to downtown Miami. General Motors began lobbying cities throughout the country, including Miami, to consider their combustible engine buses for public transportation. A referendum held in October 1940 spelled the end of the streetcar. Miami’s electorate was swayed to vote for the seemingly more modern buses. 

The Orange Bowl Committee was ecstatic about the referendum. The first bowl was held in 1935 and had grown into a huge event by 1940 with scores of moving “stages” bearing tall displays that would exceed the suspended 18-foot streetcar wires. About 5,000 cast members were slated to march in the King Orange jamboree parade along 27 blocks with more than 250,000 expected to line the streets.

“They [floats] are so large and so tall that we were afraid low-hanging trolley lines might interfere …,” said E.E. Seiler, business manager of the Orange Bowl committee. An end to trolley service brought the removal of the overhead wires just in time for that year’s parade.

It’s back to basics today. Miami promotes the use of its Metro Rail, a popular, energy-efficient rapid transit system of light rail throughout the city.
*By 1923 population reached 70,000; it jumped to 117,000 in 1925.
* For more on the 1926 hurricane, see: 
Miami Daily News, Oct. 11, 1940.
Bramson, Seth H. Miami: The Magic City. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing (2007).
Population stats from:

Tags: Miami trolley history, Miami history, Orange Bowl history, Orange Bowl, film industry researcher

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