A Brief History of Real Estate on Key Biscayne, The Island Paradise

Since 1513 when Ponce de Leon officially discovered this island, through to the impressive real estate market of today, Key Biscayne has a vivid and intriguing history of its land.

Pedro Fornells was granted 175 cultivable acres on Key Biscayne by the Spanish government in 1805, and the land sat largely untouched until almost 20 years later when an heir of the Fornell family sold the tract of land to Mary Ann Davis, a London born American woman, for $100.  (No, we haven't forgotten any zeros on this number!)

Key Biscayne Cape Florida Lighthouse About this time, it was determined that a lighthouse was needed somewhere between Key West and St. Augustine in order to guard legitimate shipping against pirates.  Mary Ann Davis and her husband, William, offered three of the 175 acres on the southern tip of Key Biscayne to the United States government for $225.  With this transaction, the Davis' realized a 13,000% profit on their initial investment just a few years earlier.  The history of Key Biscayne real estate was truly begun.  It was upon this strategic three acres of land that the Cape Florida Lighthouse was built in 1825, and today remains the oldest structure in Miami-Dade County.
Using the lighthouse compound as a central plaza, Mary Ann and William Davis planned the first town of Key Biscayne in 1839, offering 264 lots at $500 each. A luxury resort and health spa were proposed but not built for more than 100 years.

Key Biscayne was opened up to development in the early 1950’s which was led by the Mackle brothers who built the majority of homes during this period. These “Mackle” homes were basic "beach" homes of approximately 1,200 square feet with three bedrooms, one bathroom and a small screened-in porch.

Original mackle home, Key Biscayne real
Original home built in 1950's by Mackle
                          Brothers, Key Biscayne real estate These original "Mackles" were primarily sold to retirees and young families headed by World War II veterans who purchased their homes with GI Bill financing.   At this time, Key Biscayne offered home buyers some of the least expensive homes in the Miami area - after all, who would want to really live permanently out on a mosquito infested island with a drawbridge to the mainland?  Not to mention the fact that Key Biscayne lies a mere three feet above sea level and there was no such thing as flood insurance until 1968 when Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program.
During the early 1960’s Key Biscayne saw moderate growth but still remained a quiet bedroom community just minutes from Miami. As the original families grew, so did the basic “Mackle” home with an additional bedroom, bathroom or carport. The 1960’s also saw larger homes being built in the Holiday Colony, Mashta Island, and Harbor Drive sections of Key Biscayne (typically where the larger singles lots are located). Key Biscayne homes, real estate
Towers of Key Biscayne, Condominiums on
                          Key Biscayne Key Biscayne changed forever with the election of Richard Nixon as President of the United States in November 1968. President Nixon made the island his “Winter White House” and drew international attention to Key Biscayne. As a result of this attention, development on the island began in earnest and resulted in waterfront condominiums and communities such as Key Colony, Casa del Mar, The Commodore Club and The Towers of Key Biscayne as well as smaller condominium and apartment buildings rising on Galen and Sunrise Drives. This phase of development carried on through the late 1970’s.
The 1980’s saw the replacement of the drawbridge with a new high bridge on the causeway from Miami and with that came a new appreciation of Key Biscayne in the local area. Larger homes were being built on the small “Mackle” home lots. The original “Mackle” home lots were approximately 7,500 square feet and building a larger home required adding a second or, in some cases, a third floor.  Today, we are witnessing the virtual extinction of the original “Mackle” home as they are razed to make way for larger homes of approximately double and triple size.  Rickenbacker bridge leading to Key
Ocean Club condominiums, Key Biscayne

Grand Bay residences and condominiums,
                            Key Biscayne

These larger homes were initially seen as being too big for the neighborhood and were a factor in the initiative to incorporate Key Biscayne so as to have its own government.

The 1990’s brought us the formation of the “Village of Key Biscayne” in 1991, the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the development of the last two remaining large parcels of land on the island. The condominium communities of The Ocean Club (on the old Key Biscayne Hotel land) and The Grand Bay (on the old Sheraton Royal Biscayne Hotel land) have brought a new level of luxury to the island. 

The development of these properties has brought an even greater appreciation of the island paradise of Key Biscayne as the island is enjoying tremendous growth in real estate sales. We have seen properties on Key Biscayne increase exponentially in value in recent years. 

The year 2001 brought us The Ritz-Carlton Resort & Spa on Key Biscayne - the first luxury resort built in South Florida in over thirty years. This magnificent facility draws clientele from all over the world and brings continued appreciation of the island paradise of Key Biscayne.  Ritz Carlton resort, Key Biscayne
As we enter our sixth decade of the development of Key Biscayne, we see a vibrant and growing, world renowned community on the gateway to Central and South America. The brief history of Key Biscayne real estate promises a bright future and continued strong growth in the real estate of this true island paradise.

Key Life Realty, Inc.
935 Crandon Blvd
Key Biscayne, FL 33149
Fax 305-361-1191

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