History Happened Here

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Bal Harbour

Miami-Dade County

Year Founded: 1946


In the 1920s, the Detroit-based Miami Beach Heights Corporation (headed by industrialists Robert C. Graham, Walter O. Briggs and C.T. Fisher) owned 245 acres of undeveloped, partially swampy land that stretched from the bay to the Atlantic. Mr. Graham assumed the duties as the developer for Bal Harbour. In the 1930s, city planners Harland Bartholomew & Associates were called in to design the village. The company made several plans and they were submitted for review to Miami Beach Heights. In 1940, World War II began and the plans were put on hold. As a goodwill gesture to the government, Robert C. Graham rented the land to the United States Air Corps for $1 per year. The Air Corps used this land to train their soldiers and established a prisoner of war camp. The oceanfront area was used as a rifle range and the barracks were set up on the west side of Collins Avenue. The camp for prisoners was located where the Bal Harbour Shops are presently. In 1945, the war was over in both Germany and Japan. The Air Corps left the barracks buildings as a thank you to the owners of the property. Mr. Graham converted these barracks into apartment homes in 1946. In order to incorporate a city in 1946, there had to be at least 25 male registered voters residing in the area. Mr. Graham had 25 families move into the apartment homes that he had converted in order to qualify the village for incorporation. He then hired Willard Webb, a Miami Beach tax assessor, to draft a charter for the village. After the charter was completed, Mr. Graham and 25 male registered voters incorporated the Village of Bal Harbour on August 14, 1946. The village was operated under the council-manager form of government. The first Village Council was elected and included Mayor Judge Julian Southerland and Councilmen Charles R. Graham, Glenn E. Massnick, Ray Semmes, Jr., George Whittaker and Willard H. Webb. Administrative officers were selected and included Village Clerk Mary Wetterer and Village Marshal Herold Dickey. The Council established a volunteer fire department. The original name chosen for Bal Harbour was Bay Harbour. However, the planning committee didn’t think that was appropriate for a city that was on the beach. A name was invented to encompass a city that ran from the bay to the Atlantic Ocean . The “b” was taken from the word bay and the “a” and “l” were taken from the word Atlantic. Hence the word Bal was created.

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