History Is Complicated ► Save The E.W.F. Stirrup Playhouse!

The Coconut Grove Playhouse anchors one corner of
Charles Avenue, where it dead-ends at Main Highway

History is complicated, real estate history even more so. At one time all the land at the east end of Charles Avenue in Coconut Grove was owned by E.W.F. Stirrup, one of Florida’s first Black millionaires. In fact, Mr. Stirrup once owned most of Coconut Grove, the irony being 33133 is now considered one of ‘Merka’s most exclusive area codes. To honour history I propose the Coconut Grove Playhouse name be changed to the E.W.F. Stirrup Theater.

Follow along: Back in the day, when a man of Mr. Stirrup’s complexion could not get into most movie theaters in the country, E.W.F. Stirrup owned the land on which the Coconut Grove Playhouse now sits. In order to bring culture to Coconut Grove, Mr. Stirrup sold the land on which the Coconut Grove Theater was built in 1927. While the movie theater was practically on his doorstep, that didn’t guarantee that Mr. Stirrup could enter the theater during Jim Crow days. How close was it? Watch:


Less than 300 feet separate the front door of the E.W.F. Stirrup House
from the box office of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, just catercorner

 

Mr. Stirrup may have been the exception that proves the rule.

It’s quite possible that a man of Mr. Stirrup’s means could have crossed The Color Line easily. It’s within the realm of possibility that he could have walked the 250 feet, from his front door to the Coconut Grove Theater’s box office, and buy a ticket at a time when other Black folks couldn’t. That would have put Mr. Stirrup in the same category as Dana A. Dorsey, who was Miami’s first Black millionaire. Mr. Dorsey was allowed to cross The Color Line as the only Black man allowed to ride on the elevators at Burdines department store. This during the same period when other Black folk couldn’t even try on the clothes in the store to see if they fit. History is complicated.

Flagler Street in the ’40s, with Burdine’s in the background

Like Stirrup, Dana Dorsey made his fortune with real estate. At one time Dorsey was one of Colored Town’s [Overtown‘s original name] largest landholders. When the William Burdine ran into money troubles, he turned to Dana Dorsey for a loan, which allowed the store to survive an economic downturn. From that day on Dorsey was the only Black person who could ride the elevators at Burdines of Flagler Street, until the store was fully integrated after his death. The exception that proved the rule. History is complicated.

SLIGHT TANGENT: How Overtown Got Its Name:

 

Henry Flagler’s railroad created south Florida

Overtown was one of two Colored Towns in Miami. The older, and smaller Colored Town was a part of Coconut Grove, which predates Miami. Kebo, the name the Bahamians gave their West Grove neighbourhood, eventually became hemmed in by White neighbourhoods. Black folk looking for housing had to look elsewhere, and many settled in the newer Colored Town to the north. This area was designated by Henry Morrison Flagler. As he did through every town he rammed his railroad, Flagler designated the northwest sector to be a Black neighbourhood. This was not as progressive as it sounds. These Black enclaves had a never-ending supply of workers who did the actual backbreaking labour of building a railroad through a swamp. History is complicated.

This later Colored Town became the business and entertainment district for the growing Black community that the railroad brought. Later it provided the hotels where people like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington could find a hotel room after playing for the rich White folk, because they were not allowed to stay in the hotels in Miami and Miami Beach. History is complicated.

Between Coconut Grove in the south and Colored Town in the north is where the fledgling town of Miami grew up. When the folks in Coconut Grove talked about going to the Black entertainment district, they said, “Let’s go Over Town” and the name stuck. The city trying to designate the area Washington Heights,
despite it being on the same sea level as the rest of Miami. Eventually everyone gave in and it became known officially on maps as Overtown. History is complicated.

TANGENT OVER

One other thing links the E.W.F. Stirrup House with the Coconut Grove Playhouse and that’s the rapacious developer I have profiled here repeatedly, Gino Falsetto. Through a property swap, and later what appears to be a shady real estate deal, Falsetto’s Aries Development Group has got its corporate grubby mitts on a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House, although the house must remain in the family in perpetuity.

In an odd coincidence [and everything traced to Falsetto is
filled with odd coincidences] Aries Group also has his fingers in the Coconut Grove Playhouse pie, and has
scuttled more than one previous deal to renovate the Playhouse. Whatever backroom deal the town big wigs have already decided upon, Gino Falsetto is still an impediment to any Playhouse restoration plan unless he signs on.

Ever since Falsetto got his hands on the property he’s done virtually nothing with the E.W.F. Stirrup House, except to allow it to undergo Demolition by Neglect. Last week I posted a video I was able to take of allegedly illegal work the inside of the Stirrup House because the property was left open and the house was left unlocked. There was no building permit, either prominently posted outside as the law demands, or hidden inside the house.

I had been assured that a building permit had since been obtained, but a week later it was not posted on the property. I am starting to wonder if they truly have a building permit. I’m starting to wonder whether they truly have a brain. When I returned on the 27th, the front door on the right was left unlocked again, which you can see in this video:

It’s almost like Gino Falsetto is hoping some accident will befall the house, before he actually has to spend the money to restore it LIKE HE PROMISED 8 YEARS AGO!!! During that time Falsetto managed to find the money and energy to build the monstrosity behind the Stirrup House, the multimillion dollar, mixed use development, with fancy restaurants and valet parking, known officially as the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums. Yet, Falsetto has only recently spent the $10 bucks to buy some plywood to board up the upper windows, which had been open to the elements for the last 8 years. Oh, wait. Never mind. That looks like a piece of scrap. There’s no better proof that Gino Falsetto has been a bad steward of an historic community asset. What’s worse, as I keep pointing out, every infraction committed by Falsetto’s workmen is cited against the actual owners of the property, Stirrup Properties, LLC.

One again watch another video which shows how proximate the Coconut Grove Playhouse is to the E.W.F. Stirrup House and recall how both these structures are linked through both Mr. Stirrup and Gino Falsetto:

 

That’s why I now propose to rename the Playhouse the E.W.F. Stirrup Theater.
Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House and Theater!!!

 


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Headly Westerfield
Headly Westerfield
Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.