September 26, 2023
By Lea Nickless, curator
From the very beginning, connections were forged between Mitchell "Micky" Wolfson, Jr., and 1001 Washington Avenue. Built in the Mediterranean Revival style in 1927 by brothers James F. and E. Nash Mathews as a fortress against the elements, the former Washington Storage Company edifice, designed by architects Robertson & Patterson, is now home to The Wolfsonian–FIU, a museum of art, design, and ideas and a research powerhouse examining the period 1850–1950.
When Micky was four years old, his father was elected the first Jewish mayor of Miami Beach with an office in City Hall, just one block north on Washington Avenue. It was Mitchell Wolfson, Sr., who first became a Washington Storage client, contracting the warehouse to store the family's household goods and install hurricane shutters. And Micky's parents likely sparked their son's initial interest in artifacts—the Wolfsons traveled frequently with their children, exposing them to cultures around the globe, and locally, Mitchell Wolfson, Sr., became a patron of the arts himself. In his role as mayor, he sponsored an effort for the citizens of Dade County to gift an important Florida-related painting to the State Capitol; the painting was on view at the Washington Art Gallery, a first-floor retail enterprise associated with Washington Storage and located at 1001 Washington Avenue.
Resigning his mayoral post within a year to join the Allied war effort during the Second World War, Micky's father returned home in 1945 with the rank of colonel and a place setting of Adolf Hitler's flatware. Forty years later, in 1985, the son of E. Nash Mathews sold Washington Storage to Micky, who proceeded to shape it into today's Wolfsonian, a venue that stores and exhibits a vast collection—including, among many other examples of design as a vehicle of propaganda, a fork, knife, and spoon with the initials "A.H."
If you ask Micky, he might tell you that he is not a collector, but a preservationist. He is not interested in ownership but in saving what might otherwise be lost. This is true of much of the collection and certainly of many of the architectural elements embedded throughout the building (and even the building itself). Such objects as the Norristown Theatre Window Grille and the Ryan Motors Ceiling might easily have been discarded. We are fortunate to benefit from his philosophy, which remains a vital underpinning of our own approach to the stewardship of material culture.
Just as 1001 Washington Avenue serves as a link between the past and the future, Micky's visionary efforts to preserve artifacts of the past will allow their continued study and exhibition into the future. Recently we asked Micky, a consummate storyteller, to tell the story of the building. In the video below, he paints a vivid picture of the building's history and the design thinking behind architect Mark Hampton's transformative renovations that turned the structure into a museum nearly thirty years ago—design thinking that will again, no doubt, inform The Wolfsonian–FIU's next evolution, coming soon.