We are sad to share the passing this week of Dr. Ernest L. Martin, who was a passionate and accomplished activist in the preservation movement as early as the 1970s. As Director of the Miami-Dade County’s Office of Community and Economic Development, Ernest Martin was a major force in the revitalization and urban renewal of Greater Miami’s poorer neighborhoods from the late 1960s. He was also one of the few public officials at the time to recognize the potential benefits of historic preservation.
In the late 1970s, he was credited for implementing a program for his office to provide grant money to Barbara Capitman, MDPL and (later) Miami Beach Development Corp. to fund pioneering revitalization projects within the Art Deco District. He also ensured funding to a critically important rehab program to paint facades along Miami Beach’s Washington Avenue, which was funded and operated successfully under MBDC.
In 1981, Ernest Martin spearheaded the funding for the acclaimed Anderson-Notter-Feingold plan for the revitalization of Washington Avenue. The plan mandated protection and preservation of all the unique components of the newly-recognized (1979) National Register Historic District of Miami Beach.
Nancy Liebman, former Miami Beach City Commissioner and Miami Design Preservation League Executive Director, shared with us her memories about Ernie Martin when she knew him back in the 80s, “Ernie Martin joined forces when the City of Miami Beach was failing to comply with preservation standards described under the City’s Preservation Ordinance. His determined efforts became the major push that led to the first successful implementation of historic preservation in Miami Beach”.
Dennis Wilhelm, one of the earliest pioneers and activists for MDPL, remembers Dr. Martin, ” [He] was a good friend for over 40 years. Michael Kinerk and I had dinner with Ernie and Richard Hoberman every three months from 1994-2018. We called it the quarterly dinners. In early 1984, Michael Kinerk convened a meeting at The Miami Herald where he persuaded Ernie to become chair of Miami Design Preservation League’s 8th Annual Art Deco Weekend Festival (for 1985). After a year of running the huge – over 100,000 attended – and complex street festival with its music, parade, antique and art booths, Ernie stepped into the critical role of Chairman of the MDPL Board. Several years later, Ernie led MDPL’s efforts to provide its co-founder Leonard Horowitz with funding and meals for his final year of care when he became incapacitated due to HIV/AIDS. Ernie worked secretly with landlord Tony Goldman, to donate a free ground level apartment for Horowitz. At a later time, Ernie himself was diagnosed with the disease and was a long-term AIDS survivor.”
When Ernest Martin served as the President/Chair of MDPL, his primary goal was to create an Art Deco Welcome Center. He achieved that goal when the first opened in the “30s Promenade” Shopping Arcade at 1201 Washington Avenue. A year later, he brought about the relocation of the Welcome Center to a larger, more visible and prestigious location at 661 Washington Avenue, next door to the popular eatery the Strand Restaurant. Another of his earlier accomplishments was overseeing publication of MDPL’s “Miami Beach Art Deco Guide”, with its six self-guided walking tours of the Art Deco District in South Beach. The book was written by Keith Root with editorial assistance from Dr. Ernest Martin and Michael D. Kinerk (Chair Emeritus of MDPL).
After leaving the board of MDPL, he went on to lead several other important endeavors such as the creation of the Spring Gardens Historic District in Miami. He also served on the Miami River Commission, where he spearheaded the effort to require a greenway along the river. Because of that, locals started calling him, “Old Man River”. This Sunday, March 6th, from 1:00 -2:30 p.m. there will be a planned celebration to honor the life of Dr. Ernie Martin at Greenfield Garden, 1100 NW North River Drive in the Spring Garden Historic District.