|Code enforcement beat me to it.
That $4,000 fine will restore the 100-year old trees, right?
It was supposed to be a quiet morning editing Farce Au Pain, until I received a text from one of my secret sources in Coconut Grove. The gist of the message being: “You won’t believe what’s going on at the E.W.F. Stirrup House.”
My source had heard that the 8-foot wall that separated the E.W.F. Stirrup property from the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums [hereafter known as The Monstrosity] had been torn down. This was apparently done so that the restaurants and bars in The Monstrosity could start seating customers on the E.W.F. Stirrup Property.
I jumped in the car and drove down to Coconut Grove as quick as the speed limit on I-95 would allow. While my source was correct, it was even worse than they had suspected. Yes, the wall — which had been the target of graffiti artists on more than one occasion — was removed as a first step to expanding the restaurant seating, but what was done at the front of the property is what reduced me to tears.
The E.W.F. Stirrup Property has been raped of all its old growth trees!!!
|On the east side of the driveway now sits this beautiful stump.|
Four trees on Stirrup property (not to mention 3 trees on the vacant lot across the street) have been hacked down to the ground. Two of these trees flanked the Stirrup driveway entrance and they were nearly as old as the 120+-year old house. These trees were so old they had old growth vines climbing up them as far as the eye could see. This is the kind of lush foliage prized in Coconut Grove, with philodendron leaves LARGER than two dinner plates side by side. People pay extra in Coconut Grove for property with this kind of canopy. Now, it’s all gone. Compost.
Chopping down trees is one of those things that Miami takes very seriously. In fact, there are strict laws against it. When it was learned a year back that Coconut Grove would lose some of its canopy along Commodore Plaza — ironically just a block away from the Stirrup House — people went nuts and had the tree removal program scaled back considerably. Later, when people in Brickell learned that the green canopy there was slated for destruction, not only did public opposition stop that plan in its tracks, but recently the City of Miami decided to take responsibility of Brickell from Miami-Dade County to better manage its resources.
IRONY ALERT: I’ve been yelling about the Demolition by Neglect of the E.W.F. Stirrup House for years without getting any traction. However, after having made few phones yesterday afternoon about these old growth trees being chopped down, I had two reporters call me to see what I knew about it. I expect more media phone calls to come.
|Two stumps, one on either side of the driveway.|
Code enforcement beat me to the Stirrup House by minutes and cited the property owners for:
Violation Date: Feb 21, 2014 Violation Time: 10:00AM
Code Section(s) Violated: VIOL REF#2125 Tree removal/relocating/trimming/root pruning without a finalized permit. (Any required mitigation must be City Code Chapt 17
Correction: 4 trees removed on property and no permit on file, please contact planning Department for for an after the fact permit.
Fine amount: 1,000 * 4 = 4,000.
|That 8-foot wall on the left used to run right across the back of the property.
Just beyond the yellow CAUTION tape is the restaurant seating. See video below.
As what always happens when Aries Development screws up at the Stirrup House, it’s the Stirrup Family that gets cited for the violation, a pattern documented in these pages on several occasions. That’s because Aries is merely the lessee of the Stirrup property.
When Mr. Stirrup died in 1957, his will stated that his beautiful house — which he built with his own hands and of which he was justifiably proud — must remain in the family in perpetuity. Consequently, the owner of record is a company called Stirrup Properties, Inc. The officers of that company are David Porter, Jr., Dazelle D. Simpson, and E.W.F. Stirrup, III., descendants of Ebeneezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup. At one time Mr. Stirrup was the largest landholder in Coconut Grove and his lovely house looked out over his vast real estate holdings, leading to him becoming one of Florida’s first Black millionaires.
|Developer and scumbag (but I repeat
myself) Gino Falsetto. Pic swiped from
Bring Truth To Light, whose proprietor
has been fighting Falsetto for some 20+
years, documenting some shady real
estate deals, in the public record.
If he could see to whom his grandchildren entrusted the second oldest house in Miami, he’d be spinning in his grave.
I’ve written many stories about Aries Development — and when I say Aries Development, I really mean my Canadian compatriot Gino Falsetto. Here’s a quick recap:
Falsetto skedaddled to Miami from Canada after bankrupting 4 restaurants that he (and his brothers) owned in the Ottawa, Ontario, area (some across the Ottawa River in Hull, Quebec). Ottawa is the nation’s capitol and at least one of these restaurants is where Canadian power-brokers and politicos wined and dined, while reaching in each others pockets. When the Canadian government finally lowered the boom on the Falsetto Boys, all it managed to do is seize the assets of those restaurants: cash in the till, liquor stock and plates and cutlery. It’s estimated that the Canadian taxpayers were left on the hook for $1,000,000 in unpaid taxes on the restaurants that had been making money hand-over-fist before Falsetto over-extended himself. Also among the losers were the vendors and all the employees, who never received their final paycheques. However, private investors are said to have lost a pile of dough as well. One of my sources who once worked for Falsetto — and claims to like him — estimates these investors lost upwards of $10,000,000. Imagine what he might have told me if he hated Falsetto. My source wanted to clear things up because I had touted the million dollar figure. I don’t know whether he was bragging on Falsetto’s behalf, or not.
Falsetto seems to have left Canada just before the tarring and feathering. His golden parachute allowed him to land on his feet on the over-heated Miami real estate market. Where did he get the money if his restaurants just went into the dumper? Bars and restaurants are notorious for being cash operations. Just saying. And now Gino Falsetto is operating more bars and restaurants, this time building and owning The Monstrosity in Coconut Grove through his Aries Development; a multi-use complex for rich white folk (with certain exceptions, which I’ll get to in a minute) that has 4 restaurants and/or bars on the ground floor. Just saying.
provides the brand new view from one of Falsetto’s restaurants in The
Monstrosity, La Bottega Enoteca Sociale, after the
8-foot wall was removed. Why Gino Falsetto would want the patrons of
his restaurants to look out onto the pile of crap he allowed the E.W.F.
Stirrup House to devolve into is one of those mysteries of the cosmos.
Missing from this view are the 4 old growth trees recently chopped down
to the ground.
Among the other pies Falsetto stuck his fingers into once he landed on his feet in Miami is The Monstrosity on Main Highway, immediately behind the E.W.F. Stirrup House. From Day One Falsetto had his eyes set on bigger game. First he wrapped up control of the Stirrup House and ownership of two lots on the north side of Charles Avenue in the same deal, the broad contours of which appear to conceal a crime. We report; you decide. Follow the bouncing ball:
The Stirrup Family owned the 2 lots on the north side of Charles Avenue and Aries Development (Gino Falsetto) made them an offer. “We’ll trade you two units in The Monstrosity for a 50-year lease on the Stirrup House, ownership of the two double lots across the street from the Stirrup House, and $10 to make it all legal.” All of that was quite legal.However, here’s where it gets tricky.
Gino Falsetto seems to have learned how to make bankruptcy work for him. That’s what may have been illegal on this deal, in which the Stirrups appear to have been mere pawns — and Falsetto made out like a bandit. First he valued the 2 condos that he traded away in The Monstrosity at $500,000 each. Then he went to the bank and, based on his own valuation, got a loan of a figure adjacent to $750,000, using the property as collateral. Then he promptly defaulted on the loan.
|Two giant old growth trees once flanked this driveway. Had they still
been there it would have completely blocked the view of The Monstrosity.
When the bank put the property up for a foreclosure auction, it was purchased for some $250,000 by a company in which Pierre Heafey figures prominently. Heafey is also a Canadian compatriot, who is partners with Gino Falsetto in other companies. Then the properties appear to have been shuffled through several numbered companies, until they now seem to be owned by a numbered company in which Falsetto is an officer. To recap: These two properties that Falsetto defaulted on have wound up being owned by companies in which Gino Falsetto figures prominently. Of course the banks were insured for the loss by the FDIC, which means that this was YOUR tax dollars at work.
Regardless of this skullduggery, which was still in the future, the Stirrup family accepted the trade. There were no microphones present to see whether they sang the theme song to The Jeffersons, but the fact of the matter is that the Stirrups were literally moving on up to the East Side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky. And then, for the next 8 years, the Stirrups have been witness to (if their balconies have a northern view) the garbage dump and disrepair that Gino Falsetto has allowed on their grandfather’s property, a precious cultural resource. The ongoing program of Demolition by Neglect is heartbreaking for anyone who cares about Black history.
|The most recent Google Maps Street View with the foliage flanking the driveway. While the
8-foot wall (since removed) can be seen in the background, The Monstrosity is barely visible.
It gets worse, of course, because when one starts to peel back the onion that is Coconut Grove corruption, you will find layers upon layers.
|The view from the restaurant towards the pile of crap
the rear of the E.W.F. Stirrup House has become.
While Falsetto’s tentacles had been thrust into the other fiasco on Charles Avenue, the Coconut Grove Playhouse, his claims on that building ended recently when he was gifted the Bicycle Shop, a small building with extremely valuable Main Highway frontage. While the Playhouse is an entirely separate issue that also happened to involve Falsetto, the only reason to mention it here is to note how the aftermath of that Playhouse deal has made it worse for The Charles Avenue Historic Roadway.
Until that deal had been worked out Falsetto-connected companies (Double Park LLC and Paradise Parking Systems LLC) were able to pocket the parking fees on the lot between the Playhouse and the Bicycle Shop. However, once the Playhouse deal is certified (which is supposed to happen any day now) that parking revenue will revert to the Miami Parking Authority and Falsetto will be frozen out.
One blogger is calling for an investigation
into how those companies got the Playhouse parking concessions in
the first place. However, just like restaurants, parking lots are another business that deals in cash, in which skimming is notoriously rampant. Just saying.
So . . . remember those vacant lots on the north side of Charles Avenue that Falsetto may have acquired illegally? At least one of them is slated to be “flat parking,” presumably for the valet parking for the restaurants in The Monstrosity. This will replace some of the revenue lost to the Miami Parking Authority, which brings us to the latest Falsetto Bait & Switch. A while back he got the City of Miami to agree to a zoning variance on these vacant lots to allow him to shunt the valet car parking in and out of the lot behind the Playhouse. Now that variance will be used to create a surface parking lot on on what was always meant to be a residential street, before Gino Falsetto got his grimy hands on those properties.
In fact, before Gino Falsetto got his grimy hands on those properties there had been houses on those two double-wide lots on the north side of Charles Avenue. However, they were knocked down when The Monstrosity was being built so that Aries Development could use these lots as a marshaling yard for the construction of The Monstrosity. Rather than go out to Main Highway the construction materials were shunted in and out of the Stirrup property to the construction site.
I have been writing about the E.W.F. Stirrup House for 5 years. My stories on the house led to my stories on Trolleygate, which I have been writing about for the past year. However, it’s only been recently that I realized that what I was REALLY writing about was The Colour Line in Coconut Grove. My continued research has shown that The Colour Line has been shifting and moving in Coconut Grove for the last century. It’s only recently that the center has been shrinking at a rapid rate.
By that yardstick the E.W.F. Stirrup House crossed The Colour Line when Falsetto acquired control of it. The two houses, on the double-wide lots on the north side of Charles Avenue, crossed The Colour Line when ownership was slipped to Falsetto thru the back door, as it were, and they were destroyed to make way, eventually, for a parking lot. The property on which the Coconut Grove Playhouse sits crossed The Colour Line in 1926 when E.W.F. Stirrup sold it so that it could become a movie theater, bring culture to Coconut Grove. Prior to that the eastern edge of The Colour Line was Main Highway, the opposite side of which contains homes in the several millions of dollars today. That’s always been the White side of The Colour Line.
It’s the rich cultural legacy of E.W.F. Stirrup that is being destroyed, along with his property. I won’t go into why Mr. Stirrup is important to the history of Coconut Grove here, as this post is long enough already. However, if you want to know how a Black man became a millionaire in the Jim Crow South and created a unique community in this country along the way, please read:
If you care about this issue, please join the facebook group Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House.
Oh, and in case I forgot, I’d like to wish you all a very happy and joyous Black History Month.
Here are two more video views documenting the most recent destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup property at the hands of a rapacious developer, aided and abetted by the descendants of one of the most important men in Coconut Grove history.