Stanwood's Neighborhood: A look at iconic Dade County courthouse

Former Miami-Dade County judge helps restore part of iconic courthouse

MIAMI - The one and only time I've been called for jury duty was a couple of years ago,  I was sent to the old Dade County courthouse at 73 West Flagler Street.

Bleary-eyed and in a queue with hundreds of others, the grandeur of the place was lost on me.

It has never been lost on Scott Silverman, who retired after 22 years as a Miami-Dade County judge.

"It's truly one of Miami's gems. It opened its doors to the public in September 1928 and it hasn't closed since," he said.

Now a successful arbitrator, Silverman's passion for Miami history, and the courthouse, is palpable. He is spearheading the effort to restore parts of the iconic building, including courtroom 6-1.

Courtroom 6-1, which once served as criminal court of record, was recently fully restored to its original 1928 appearance. Although it is a working courtroom, Silverman refers to it as a time capsule.

With original hand-carved furniture and candelabras on the walls, there's a magical feeling walking inside.

"You can only imagine the decisions that have come from this bench and this jury box," Silverman mused.

Decisions like finding Al "Scarface" Capone not guilty of perjury in 1930, or convicting Guiseppe Zangara for an attempted assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

It also turns out that some of the most dangerous criminals in South Florida called the courthouse home. Silverman showed us the mostly-empty upper floors of the courthouse, which served as the county jail until the 1960s.

Outdoor areas of the courthouse also reflect the dark side of American history.

"What few people recognize was that South Florida was the Deep South. And because it was the Deep South, it was segregated," Silverman said.

Two decorative planters on the east side of the building cover what used to be segregated staircases to bathrooms: a "colored comfort station" on one side, a "white comfort station" on the other.

The northwest corner of the building was where prisoners were executed.

"What few people know is that this courthouse was the location for the executions of 8 of the 9 men that were executed in Dade County," Silverman said.

It's still easy to walk by the old building, surrounded by chain-link fencing and in somewhat of a state of disrepair, and not feel compelled to take a peek inside. Silverman hopes the slow, steady improvements will change that.

"It's taken 10, 11 years to really get this preservation going. But right now it's on its way - and that's a good thing for the public," Silverman said.

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