Early in 1949, Los Angeles received its first recorded snowfall, boxing legend Joe Louis retired and WTVJ — a pioneer in television history— debuted in Florida. GSA recently joined WTVJ alumni in Miami to pay tribute to the station at its original site, now home to the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse.
When WTVJ premiered, it became Florida’s first television station and the country’s 16th. The station was founded by Col. Mitchell Wolfson, Sr., who ushered in more firsts over the years: WTVJ pioneered hurricane coverage before hurricanes were even named. In 1952, the station constructed the South’s largest television studio, measuring 7,000 square feet. The station fabricated the first mobile TV truck and aired the first underwater broadcast. WTVJ produced the country’s first daily television editorial and gave the nation its first woman sportscaster, Jane Chastain.
From humble beginnings in Wolfson’s Capitol Theater at 316 N. Miami Avenue, WTVJ’s building underwent numerous renovations as the station’s services and influence grew. Historians researching the building after the station moved to Miramar, Florida in 2000 found a property that had been modified too extensively to be included in the National Register of Historic Buildings. At that time, the vacant building contained six interlocking, yet distinct structures, forming a solid block of windowless stucco buildings.
Louis Wolfson, III, grandson of WTVJ’s founder, presented a historical marker to GSA this month where the station’s initial home once stood. The site and its storied past remain important aspects of Miami’s cultural heritage. And, its historical significance has expanded in scope as the location is now also home to a judicial center named for a groundbreaking, African-American judge appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
With the Wilkie D. Ferguson U.S. Courthouse, GSA honors the legacies of, both, Judge Wilkie Ferguson and WTVJ: two trailblazers in American history.