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Bernhardt E. Muller Collection

Overview

Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

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Bernhardt E. Muller Collection, 1925-1960 | University of Miami Special Collections

By Esperanza B. Varona

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Collection Overview

Title: Bernhardt E. Muller Collection, 1925-1960Add to your cart.

ID: ASM0655

Creator: Muller, Bernhardt E. (1878-1964)

Extent: 910.0 Items. More info below.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The Bernhardt E. Muller Collection is a compendium of newspapers, architectural drawings, renderings, and photographs related to the design and construction of Opa-locka, Florida, the nation’s largest concentration of Moorish Revival architecture. The city, incorporated in 1926, was the third Florida suburban real estate development of Glenn H. Curtiss, aviation pioneer and millionaire developer. Opa-Locka is the only known city in the United States that used Moorish Revival architecture as its original theme.

The contents of the Muller Collection fall into two distinct groups: architectural materials related directly to buildings designed by Muller and his staff; and supporting materials presumably collected by Muller that pertain to his work and the city of Opa-Locka. The vast majority of these materials are directly concerned with Muller’s work in the Opa-Locka and Miami area between 1925 and 1928. Supporting materials, including magazine extracts, brochures, and newspapers, date mostly from 1926 and 1927, with a few items from 1928, 1930, 1959, and 1960.

The Muller Collection’s importance concerns its detailed documentation of the progress of Opa-Locka from a developer’s dream to a constructed city. Opa-Locka was designed according to a specific theme: a combination of Arabic, Persian, and Moorish architectural styles. It is also the first known instance of a town developed from interpretations of a literary work, The One Thousand and One Tales of the Arabian Nights.

The collection contains construction documents, sketches, renderings, and photographs of Opa-Locka’s first buildings. Extensive material exists on the designs of the Opa-Locka Company’s administration building, now the City Hall, as well as plans for seventeen institutional and public projects, including the Archery Club, Bathing Casino, and Observation Tower, with unbuilt designs for a Golf Club, school, and Mid-Winter Southern States Exposition.

Eighteen commercial buildings are found in the Muller Collection, including many stores and apartments, as well as an unbuilt Chinese hotel. Sixty-three private residences of various sizes and designs are included in these drawings. It is probably that most of the work Bernhardt Muller ever did for Opa-Locka is contained in the collection. The majority of these drawings and materials date from 1926 to 1927, with only three drawings dated later than 1927.

The Muller Collection is significant for its documentation of the history and development of South Florida. The volume of work designed and media contents demonstrate and describe the magnitude of the Florida Land Boom, which peaked early in 1926, just as construction began on Opa-Locka.

The Muller Collection contains newspaper articles describing the hurricane that struck South Florida on September 17 and 18, 1926. The storm’s direct effect was a loss of 372 lives and $159 million in propery, but its long-term results included the onset of the land “bust” and an economic decline that preceded the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  There are numerous articles and photographs of the hurricane's destruction.

Biographical Note

Bernhardt Emil Muller was born in Fremont, Nebraska on December 27, 1878. He studied at L’Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris from 1903 to 1905, then traveled and studied for a year in Italy, France, Austria, and Germany. He began his career as a draftsman for the New York architectural firm of Trowbridge and Livingston in 1906. In 1909 he became a designer for the firm of Robert J. Reiley. Mulller moved on to the firm of D. Everett Waid in 1912 where he was also employed as an architectural designer until 1914, when he opened his own office in New York City.

Muller’s earliest known work in South Florida dates to 1923 when he designed a number of Mediterranean and Spanish-style houses in the Miami area.

In 1925 Bernhardt Muller met Glenn H. Curtiss, the owner and developer of Opa-Locka, at the recommendation of Mr. Curtiss’ mother, Mrs. Lua Andrews Curtiss. In a 1927 article appearing in the Opa-Locka Times, Muller relates the story of how he visualized the new development. He decided that an opportunity was at hand to make an architectural theme for a new community from a literary work. One night the architect read a copy of The One Thousand and One Tales of the Arabian Nights. Muller was fascinated by the descriptions of the Tales, and he said that he re-lived the fantasies in his dreams that night. The following morning he wired Curtiss with his ideas. Later, they met at the site that was to become Opa-Locka, where Muller described his concept for the city’s architectural design, derived from the individual stories of the Arabian Nights. Curtiss agreed that the Arabian Nights theme would make for a unique and exciting development.

During November of 1925, from his New York office, Muller designed several of the prominent buildings which would form the new town, including the Opa-Locka Company’s Administration Building, the swimming pool (Bathing Casino), and an Archery Club. The Richter Library’s collection has records of eighty-six of Muller commissions; although it is not known exactly how many buildings Muller designed, it is estimated to be about one hundred. As construction progressed and sales increased, Opa-Locka was incorporated as a town in May 1926.

Following the devastating hurricane that struck Miami on September 17, 1926, the Florida Land Boom went bust and progress at Opa-Locka slowed. Glenn Curtiss decided in the summer of 1927 to put all un-built plans for the young city on hold until the economy improved. As a result of further decline in land sales, the ensuing Great Depression of 1929, and Curtiss’ death in 1930, virtually no buildings were executed after 1928. Muller, who remained in New York, went on to do other work, particularly in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

In 1942 Muller retired from full-time practice, closed his office, and went to work for George M. Sharp, Inc., as the interior designer for luxury ocean liners. This association lasted until 1955.

A member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Maplewood, New Jersey, Bernhardt Muller designed a number of Christian Science churches, located mostly in the state of New York. The American Architect Directory of 1956 lists his most notable designs for these churches as those in Brooklyn (1918), Hempstead (1924), Forest Hills (1925), Bronxville (1929), and Flushing (1930), all in New York, as well a building for a new congregation in Opa-Locka (1930). Muller was noted for his design of small suburban houses in Short Hills, Maplewood, and Millburn, New Jersey, mostly of the Tudor English motif, which was characteristic of his own home in Millburn.

Muller was elected to membership in the American Institute of Architects (A.I.A.) in 1924; he was a member of the New York City chapter. Muller attained the status of Emeritus member of the A.I.A. in 1952. He was also a member of the Summit (New Jersey) Art Association.

Little of Bernhardt Muller’s personal life is known. He was married in 1919 and his wife died in 1958. The couple had no children. According to Frank S. Bush, a friend of Muller’s, he was known as a man of great foresight, unimpeachable reputation and integrity, in addition to being thoughtfully creative.

In 1959, at age 80, Mr. Muller returned for a “Pioneer Days” celebration in Opa-Locka, his first visit to the city since the late 1920s. In an interview with Opa-Locka’s newspaper, the North Dade Hub, Muller explained the original intent of his scheme for Opa-Locka:

In planning the city, our [Muller and Curtiss] idea was to avoid the only too-well known checkerboard idea of development with the visual square boxes planted on each lot, making a composite of architectural abortions with which we are surrounded on all sides in America.

What Bernhardt Muller found upon returning to Opa-Locka were not the charming, beautifully-designed Moorish Revival buildings he had created. In addition to many altered and demolished buildings of his design, he found a collection of plain, unappealing structures, much like any other American town could exhibit, which he sought to avoid in his work. In an address to the city’s Chamber of Commerce, Muller attempted to convince its citizens to continue pursuing Curtiss’ dream: to make a distinguished, livable city, unique character. His speech warned the city’s officials to prevent Opa-Locka from becoming a “meaningless jumble of unrelated buildings, painted in hideous colors.” While Muller’s intent was to inspire the city to action, local officials were offended by the architect’s criticism.

Muller left Opa-Locka, the city of his dreams ruined; he returned to Short Hills, New Jersey, where he continued his architectural practice until about 1962. At age of eighty-five, Bernhardt E. Muller died in September, 1964.

Administrative Information

Alternate Extent Statement: 19.8 cubic ft.

Access Restrictions: The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions: Bernhardt E. Muller Finding Aid© 1986 University of Miami. All rights reserved. Permission to publish materials must be obtained in writing from the Head of Special Collections.

Related Materials: See also Michael J. Maxwell Papers (ASM0229) For more information please see http://proust.library.miami.edu/findingaids/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=686.

Related Publications: Architecture drawings: Arabian fantasies for Opa Locka, 1992.

Processing Information: Processed by Scotty A. Ford (student assistant) under the supervision of Esperanza B. Varona.

Finding Aid Revision History: Revisions and Archon input by Ryan Kwiecinski (student assistant) under the supervision of Beatrice Skokan, 2010.


Box and Folder Listing


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Folder 1: DVD: Opa-Locka Will Be Beautiful, 2011Add to your cart.
A documentary DVD from French filmmaker, Armand Morin. It's 21 minutes in length and illustrates the initial conception of Opa-Locka as an "Arabian fantasy" and its transfromation over time into a poverty-stricken city, struggling with a poor economy and high crime rates.

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