On December 17, 2002, the citizens of the Village of Pinecrest, with extraordinary grant assistance from the Florida Communities Trust completed the purchase of Pinecrest Gardens, which is the historic Parrot Jungle property (theme park attraction dating to 1936); a magnificent 14-acre botanical garden located at southwest Red Road and Killian Drive. Pinecrest Gardens was dedicated as a municipal park by the Village Council on March 8, 2003. In 2009, it was designated a department of the Village government.
Pinecrest Gardens received historic designation on October 17, 2011, when the National Park Service placed the property on the National Register of Historic Places.
NPS.gov LISTING—Parrot Jungle Historic District: This scenic property just south of downtown Miami was at one time an oasis for tropical birds and a getaway for tourists. The district encompasses 15 acre and includes original attractions from the former Parrot Jungle habitat and park. Parrot Jungle was founded in 1936 and was home to animal attractions, walkways, and exotic landscape architecture. The park was renamed Pinecrest Gardens when Parrot Jungle and its animal attractions moved to another site. Pinecrest Gardens still features over 1,000 varieties of rare and exotic tropical plants and palm trees in a native tropical hardwood and cypress setting. Parrot Jungle/Pinecrest Gardens is listed in the National Register for its unique landscape architecture, building architecture, and place in Florida’s tourism and recreation/entertainment history.
In 2021, the Friends of Pinecrest Gardens nonprofit was formed to support the expansion of cultural and inclusive programming at the garden.
Parrot Jungle History & Timeline
Parrot Jungle was founded in 1936 by Franz and Louise Scherr and became a world-famous tourist attraction, one of the first and oldest surviving in Florida, whose visitors included Sir Winston Churchill and President Jimmy Carter. The idea for Parrot Jungle began after Scherr, an immigrant from Austria who was a former US Army private and contractor, and who owned and operated a fruit and chicken farm and feed and supply store in Homestead, Florida, became intrigued with the idea of building an attraction where birds would “fly free.”
According to Cory H. Gittner, author of the book, Miami’s Parrot Jungle and Gardens, The Colorful History of an Uncommon Attraction (2000), the “spark of the idea of a parrot jungle ignited all of Franz Scherr’s qualities at a time when the country was pulling out of the Great Depression”. To bring his vision to life, he rented 20 acres (81,000 sq. mi.) of hammock land for a monthly fee of $25. Parrot Jungle was built as a winding nature trail, now an international model for park attractions, dug through the coral rock and hammock land. All the natural plants were left undisturbed. The entrance was built on Red Road and remains standing today.
The attraction opened on December 20, 1936, to about 100 visitors, each paying 25 cents admission to see and hear Scherr talk about his birds, trees, and flowers. The first month’s rent was made in the first day open to the public. By the end of its first year of operations, the already internationally famous attraction had attracted over 10,000 visitors. Scherr bought the land in 1940 for $5,000 and was almost forced to close the park when audiences dropped to less than 6,000 at the start of WWII.
The park flourished through the years and through new ownership, attracting over one million visitors in its 66 years at its original location—present day Pinecrest Gardens. In 2002, the attraction moved to a new waterfront location on Watson Island between Downtown Miami and Miami Beach. It was relaunched as Jungle Island.
Interestingly, Franz Scherr, himself possessive of a legendary work ethic, was one of Florida’s earliest entrepreneurs, and might actually be the “father” of the theme park attraction as we know it. Scherr was a carpenter, a contractor (flipping houses and apartments in 1920s Chicago), a truck farmer, a chicken rancher, a feed store operator—all before turning his attentions to creating Florida’s first commercially successful theme park.
He had built railroad and highway bridges in Montana’s Glacier National Park between 1913 and 1914—over 22 years before FDR’s Work Progress Administration. He helped to build an amphitheater and pavilions in San Francisco that housed the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal. No doubt this experience, along with attendance at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, and having his performing birds participate at the Florida Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York led him to erect the now iconic Banyan Bowl (formerly Parrot Bowl), a geodesic dome housing a 530-seat theater.
Other historically significant points to note about the Pinecrest community, historic Parrot Jungle and Gardens, and the grounds of Pinecrest Gardens, include:
During the early 1900s, Miami pioneer and railroad tycoon Henry M. Flagler, founder of Standard Oil, used Pinecrest property at U.S. 1 and Southwest 102 Street as a staging area during the construction of the Florida East Coast Railway, Overseas Railroad extension to the Florida Keys. Miami was incorporated as a city because of Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway.
In August 1992, Pinecrest and the surrounding South Miami-Dade area were severely devastated by the effects of Hurricane Andrew. Many of the homes and businesses in the area were destroyed. In the subsequent years, the area was slowly and deliberately rebuilt.
Franz Scherr was a truck farmer, even driving with two of his sons from Homestead, Florida back to Chicago one winter to sell a truck full of Avocados.
Scherr did not attend college and had no formal education in business or horticulture/ornithology.
The adjacent Snapper Creek Canal, which runs along Red Road and feeds the area water table, was dredged by the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps in roughly 1920—even before the New Deal formalized the Corps in 1933.
Scherr raised 1,000s of chickens in Homestead, Florida to sell to Miami restaurants.
According to author Cory H. Gittner in his book Miami’s Parrot Jungle and Gardens, Scherr “lived to work and because of that philosophy, the family never went hungry.”
Scherr passed on his work ethic to his twin children who, as young astwo year's old, helped him work the land that would become Parrot Jungle every Sunday for over 18 months.
The curving, circular path route used at Parrot Jungle became a prototype for the rest of the jungle and ultimately was replicated by scores of other similar attractions, including Walt Disney World. The winding path that allowed one to feel like they traveled across a great distance and marveled at wonders around each corner became iconic.
Walt Disney and his Florida team visited Parrot Jungle before opening Walt Disney World to study management and maintenance practices which were internationally known for their superior quality and park cleanliness.
During Parrot Jungle’s first year, Scherr's 8-year-old twins would be dropped at a nearby attraction to pitch visitors and provide directions and maps. By 9 years old, twin Jerome became a tour guide.
The US involvement in WWII in 1941 brought the immediate loss of labor—only non-family employee and two enlisted sons. Attendance dropped more than 50%--nearly forcing the closure of the park.
The Florida tourism industry, agriculture industry and the Village of Pinecrest grew up around Parrot Jungle.