Magnolia Gardens and Bunche Park

1948 Aerial Photo of Opa-Locka

Until the late 1940s, Opa-Locka was largely a rural area as evident in this aerial photograph from 1948. At the top-center and top-right are parellel transverse glades which signify low-lying ground. Courtesy of the University of Florida Map and Image Library. 

1951 Opa-Locka

Opa-Locka was the site of the most significant postwar housing boom for black residents. From 1946-1951, over 1,800 new units were built. Magnolia Gardens at bottom-center of photo, Bunche Park top-center, with the parellel transverse glades just North of Bunche Park. Notice that residents built their earliest houses on higher ground. Courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation. 

From 1940-1950, Miami’s population black population grew from 47,500 to 80,000.  Opa-Locka, which had barely seen any black residents prior to 1930, was the sight of the most significant postwar housing boom for black residents.  From 1946-1951, 1,807 new units were constructed.

White real estate developers cashed in on the opportunity to construct all-black suburbs which gave blacks the suburban homes they desired.  By 1950, entire new suburban communities were constructed in Opa-Locka, two of the largest being Magnolia Gardens and Bunche Park.  The two or three bedroom bungalows, equipped with electricity and running water, were quite comfortable compared to the concrete apartments in Colored Town.  At the time, it seemed like poor living conditions for black residents were beginning to be eliminated.  In 1940, 4.21 persons shared one dwelling.  By 1950, this reduced to 3.60 persons per dwelling.  From 1946-1951, only 2,700 rental units were built in contrast to 4,100 one and two family bedrooms.  Less than two percent of the apartments built in the five years after the war were in suburban and rural areas.  Most of these, 60%, were built in Overtown.  

Magnolia Gardens and Bunche Park each included 50-60 new homes.  Typical homes were 2-3 bedroom bungalows, 700-900 square feet, and contained kitchens, living rooms, and baths, significant upgrades from the “concrete monsters” or shotgun shacks of Colored Town.  Postwar veterans’ legislation made it possible for black veterans to acquire homes with little to no down payments.  Typically, veterans could sign for new 2-3 bedroom home worth around $5,200 with a $25.00 down payment or even no down payments at all.

Despite the comfortable living conditions, there were some significant downsides to living in Opa-Locka.  Most black suburbanites lived a ways away from food markets and/or schools.  Many residents lived a considerable distance from their jobs nearer downtown Miami, but public transportation was poor and expensive.  Because of this, residents felt the need to purchase their own vehicles.  Most had to purchase their own appliances on a line of credit, which meant a monthly mortgage, car payment, and any interest accrued from purchasing appliances.  City, state, and federal governments were more concerned with eliminating the slums and providing low-cost housing than “safeguarding against recurrence of blight and community deterioration.” These new subdivisions also lacked garbage disposal, roads, sanitation services, and programs to teach new homeowners how to maintain their property.

 

1951BlightReport.pdf

Together the Planning Board of the City of Miami, The Slum Clearance Committee, and the Dade County Health Department compiled this report, highlighting the poor living conditions in Overtown and Coconut Grove, two African American communities. Courtesy of South Florida Collection, Special Collections, Florida International University. 

Almost as quickly as they were bought up, new suburban houses were abandoned by their first owners.  By 1951, 10% of the new houses were unoccupied, although they had originally been sold.  In one particular subdivision, 15% or mortgagers were delinquent for at least three months payments.  Residents unable to afford their new homes could not afford to maintain it either.  The 1951 Report by Bureau of Business and Economic Research concluded that the new subdivisions contained  “unsightly, poorly constructed dwellings,” and some houses were in “an atmosphere of neglect, uncleanliness, and unsightliness that we find in the previous slums.” Unkempt houses pushed upper-class blacks away from these neighborhoods, and created a vicious cycle of poorer and poorer homeowners and more unkempt houses.

 

Magnolia Gardens and Bunche Park