Few residents of Miami-Dade County can boast of living right on the beach. That is, unless they own or rent a condominium that enjoys a direct view of the Atlantic Ocean. While hundreds of condo buildings line the east coast and share that vista, few, if any, single-family homes do - except in the North Beach neighborhood known as Altos Del Mar.
Altos Del Mar, which is Spanish for Highlands of the Sea, is a six-part mainly residential subdivision created by the Tatum Brothers - Smiley, Bethel, and Johnson -developers and real estate brokers who worked in South Florida as far back as 1883 and are responsible for platting the northern reaches of Miami Beach. According to a history of North Beach prepared by historian Carolyn Klepser for the City of Miami Beach Planning Department, the first two parts of the subdivision, platted in 1919, originally stretched from 75th Street to 87th Terrace and encompassed both sides of Collins Avenue. The current neighborhood of Altos Del Mar is slightly smaller, running from 76th to 79th Street east of Collins and taking up the east and west sides of the private gravel road called Atlantic Way.
Originally, the Tatum brothers smartly planned expansive 250-foot by 125-foot-long lots. Lot configurations now are much reduced, but the homes on them date back to the mid-1920s and late 1940s, and range in style from Mediterranean Revival with stucco walls and barrel-tile roofs to Moderne with curvy lines and understated details.
In 1983 the State of Florida, as part of its Save our Coast Initiative, began purchasing lots in Altos Del Mar. A total of 22 lots (11 non-contiguous and 11 contiguous) were acquired. The State's project eventually stalled due to some homeowners' unwillingness to sell, and the lots were put up for sale in 2002. The 11 non-contiguous properties were sold for single-family use: One private buyer purchased one lot, and General Real Estate Corporation bought the other ten.
General Real Estate's redevelopment plan promised to upgrade utilities and pave Atlantic Way. Any concerns nervous neighbors expressed that new structures might be oversized or incompatible with the character of older homes were unfounded. Altos Del Mar had been designated historic locally back in 1987, meaning a modicum of control over the design of new homes would be exerted the City of Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board by city boards. Ultimately, a dozen homes will be constructed on two lot configurations (6,250 square feet and 16,000 square feet). And by the looks of those already underway, an interesting neighborhood is taking shape. Brand new contemporary-style homes share the area with Bermuda-style, and Mediterranean-style properties.
And if having the Atlantic Ocean at its doorstep isn't enough, Altos Del Mar, similar to nearly every neighborhood in North Beach, will have a park. Altos Del Mar Sculpture Park will soon debut, welcoming visitors as well as residents, will have its own park soon too. In 2003 the City of Miami Beach asked the State for title to the remaining 11 contiguous lots. The approximately four-acre plot of land runs from 76th to 77th Streets and spans from Collins Avenue to the beach. The City purchased the land for $10 with a deed stipulation that the property would be used as a park or returned to the State. Last year a local group of art lovers, Altos Del Mar Sculpture Park Inc. lead by Peter and Marlene Saile, put forth a proposal to install a public sculpture park on part of the land. When all is said and done, it seems that the eyes of Altos Del Mar residents and their North Beach neighbors will be dazzled by more than just the ocean.