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Miami Historian And Preservationist Arva Moore Parks Has Died At 81

Carl Juste
Miami Herald
Historian Arva Moore Parks

Miami historian and preservationist Arva Moore Parks, who helped save Coral Gables’ Biltmore Hotel and documented the Magic City’s story in a series of lively books and films, has died.

Parks passed away Sunday while working at home in Miami’s Shenandoah neighborhood. She was 81.


A noted historian and one of the leading voices in documenting the city’s early years, Parks went well beyond the library in a long career that extended to a persistent activism that helped shape modern-day Miami and Coral Gables.

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She was a “fierce preservation warrior,” said friend and collaborator, Dr. Dorothy Jenkins-Fields, founder of The Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. She researched ordinances, mobilized preservation communities— including Dade Heritage Trust and the Villagers — and stormed city halls countywide to save Miami’s buildings, trees and neighborhoods. 

“She never missed a good preservation fight,” Jenkins-Fields said. “She often called excitedly, saying, ‘Dottie I’ll meet you at City Hall, we can’t let them take our history again.’”

WLRN spoke with some of her colleagues and closest friends in the days after she passed to remember her life, legacy and what they will miss the most.

“I think the best way to remember Arva is as a storyteller,” said Chuck Eckman, dean of libraries at the University of Miami. “She was fascinated by the individuals who shaped what has become Miami: Julia Tuttle, George Merrick, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and so many others.”

He said she loved to share stories and events of these people’s lives in the course of the normal conversation, many of which found their way into her books. One example includes her Miami’s official history book, Miami: The Magic City. Parks also worked on films about Miami and Coconut Grove earning her an Emmy from the Florida Academy of Television Arts. 

“She was Miami’s historian and that’s how she’ll be remembered,” said long-time friend Kay Hancock Apfel.

Apfel recalled something her close friend’s former husband Robert McCabe would say: “If Miami was a man, Arva would have had a perfect marriage.” 

In addition to her early beginnings as a teacher and then researcher and preservationist, she held various posts throughout her life: president of HistoryMiami; chair of the Florida Humanities Council, Coral Gables Museum and the Florida Endowment for the Humanities. 

“As a historian she enthusiastically shared her time and resources with scholars, students and others,” said Dawn Hugh, the former archives manager at the HistoryMiami Archive and Research Center. “She was never too busy to give a high school student an interview, share her own extensive collection with an up-and-coming historian or help a new homeowner unearth the history of their home.”

While most knew her as an avid historian and civic leader, Adele Graham, who called herself Arva’s “best” friend and is the wife of former Florida Gov. Bob Graham, will fondly remember the adoration Parks had for her family. It was her priority, she said. “Her happiness was creating celebrations in her home with the family all together.”

Nonetheless, Miami history was always on Parks’ mind. She often said there was no other place like this city. 

Graham added: “She loved to share what she knew about the history of Miami. And she made Miami the Magic City, made Miami magic.”

Read more at our news partner, The Miami Herald.

Katie Lepri Cohen is WLRN's engagement editor. Her work involves distributing and amplifying WLRN's journalism on social media, managing WLRN's social accounts, writing and editing newsletters, and leading audience-listening efforts. Reach out via email at klcohen@wlrnnews.org.
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