No Skin In The Game ► Part Three

History is complicated.

Little did I realize how accurate I was in intimating Coral Gables has a long history of Racism, going back to its founding. As reported in Part Two of No Skin In The Game, to this day Coral Gables has a population that is 98% White. This demographic never happens by accident. 

However, there is one Coral Gables neighbourhood that turns out to be the exception . . . the exception that proves the rule.

In my research I recently, accidentally, stumbled across something called the MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision Historic District. It was an odd little reference in the Sun Sentinel that caught my attention. In the article Reference Guide Lists Historic Black Sites, were mentioned Black sites across Florida, including one in 98% White Coral Gables, of all places:

CORAL GABLES

MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision Historic District:

Bounded by Oak Avenue, Grand Avenue and Jefferson Street. The residences were built primarily in the late 1920s and 1930s in a vernacular type of architecture not seen elsewhere in Coral Gables. The styles in the district include bungalows and one-story frame “shotgun“ houses. St. Mary`s Baptist Church at 136 Frow Ave. was built in 1927.

Detail of map showing the MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision Historic District,
the oddly shaped triangle in blue. Everything to the south and east is Coconut
Grove. Everything north of the tracks and U.S.1 is Coral Gables.

That address puts it in the odd triangle section of Coral Gables immediately adjacent to West Coconut Grove. It’s just a little more than a block away from the Coral Gables diesel bus garage that the residents of West Grove have been saddled with.

Reading between the lines:

  • “…built primarily in the late 1920s and 1930s…” can be translated to say “this neighbourhood was created contemporaneously with the founding of Coral Gables;”
  • “…in a vernacular type of architecture not seen elsewhere in Coral Gables. The styles in the district include bungalows and one-story frame “shotgun“ houses…” translates to “built in the inexpensive and expedient Bahamian style, styles of house that would never be allowed elsewhere in hoity-toity Coral Gables, but seen in abundance in neighbouring Black Coconut Grove.”

In other words: this neighbourhood was created so the Black folk who were doing the back-breaking labour of building Coral Gables — and, later, serving Coral Gables — would have a place to live. My understanding of the racial implications was instinctive and immediate. Proving that point would be more difficult.

1913 Poster

One thing that made Coconut Grove unique in this country — aside from having the highest percentage of Black home ownership in the nation — is that the Black community in Coconut Grove was NOT on the “other side of the tracks.” Think about that expression for a moment. The “other side of the tracks” was the poor part of town, where Black enclaves originally started near the railroad tracks. That was generally an area where no decent, self-respecting White person would find themselves living, or even traveling. Black folk had far fewer choices for neighbourhoods. And, as has always been true in this country, once there were a few Blacks in an area, it became all Black over time.

While Coconut Grove didn’t have an “other side of the tracks,” it’s clear that Coral Gables did. The blue triangle on the map above (or on this interactive map) is the only area in Coral Gables that Blacks could live. South of U.S. Highway #1, which runs parallel to the railroad tracks, is the other side of the tracks if you live in Coral Gables. It may be technically a part of Coral Gables, but it’s not OF Coral Gables, if you get my meaning.

It turns out the proof I was looking for was tucked away in a book called “African American Sites in Florida” by Kevin M. McCarthy. Within I found the following:

Coral Gables

When I took pictures of George Merrick and Coral Gables City
Hall in August of 2009, who knew they would come in handy?

Coral Gables may have been the second planned community in the United States, after Washington, D.C. George E. Merrick spent much time and money designing the city, including what became the University of Miami, which opened in 1926. To promote the planned community, he used the oratorical skills of William Jennings Bryan in the mid-1920s; Bryan, who had been President Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State and a three-time Democratic Party nominee for President, gave impassioned speeches around Merrick’s fabulous Venetian Pool, encouraging visitors to buy and settle in the planned community.

The city never had a large number of blacks, and in 2000 only 3% (1,348) of the total population of 40,091 were black.

MACFARLANE HOMESTEAD SUBDIVISION HISTORIC DISTRICT is a black enclave within the city of Coral Gables. It is bordered by Oak Avenue, S. Dixie Highway (U.S.1), Brooker Street, and Grand Avenue east-northeast of the University of Miami. The district takes its name from Flora MacFarlane, who homesteaded 160 acres of land there and in Coconut Grove in 1892. Some of the houses in the district predate the expansion of the Gables in 1925 and 1926, while others were built in the 1930s at a time when blacks were not allowed to build in the wealthier parts of Coral Gables. One of the earliest structures, St. Mary’s Baptist Church, was built in 1927. Most of the homes in what is called the black Gables are small, single-story homes built from Dade County pine. Many of the blacks worked in the homes of the wealthy white residents or in the construction of such buildings as the City Hall and the Biltmore Hotel. The area is changing rapidly today, with many large homes being built.

The historic 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House,
still undergoing Demolition by Neglect

Here’s the supreme irony: Coral Gables is so proud of its little Apartheid Triangle that in 1994 it had it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That’s like hiding its racism in plain sight. Now, if anyone exposes Coral Gables’ long and complicated history of racism, it can point to the MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision Historic District and claim, au contraire mon frere, it has honoured the original Black builders of Coral Gables.

Which is more than neighbouring Coconut Grove has done. Coconut Grove has continued to ignore its history. Rapacious carpetbagging developers have now taken control of some of the historic elements of Black Coconut Grove and no one seems to care.

People tell me that the E.W.F. Stirrup House is on a registry of historic city homes. I’m calling bullshit on that claim. I can find no historical designation for the E.W.F. Stirrup House by Coconut Grove, the City of Miami, Miami-Dade County, the State of Florida, or the country. Yet E.W.F. Stirrup created a unique place in this country, which is slowly disappearing.

SAVE THE E.W.F. STIRRUP HOUSE!!!

No Skin in the Game – Part One
No Skin in the Game – Part Two


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