Category Archives: Unpacking Grand Avenue

Gaslighting Another Black Community For Fun & Profit

Scratch beneath any story in Coconut Grove and you’ll discover  the issue of race lurking. We’ll get to that eventually, but this true fable — with a twist on the race issue — starts with the approval of a Wawa gas station in the City of Coral Gables.

So what? Cities approve gas stations all the time. However, this approval didn’t have any public consultation with the community, nor public hearings, both of which would normally have taken place. And, that’s why this is a story in the first place.

It may be different where you live, but Wawa is on an extensive expansion campaign in my area of Florida. This time Wawa Public Relations may have bit off more than it can chew with this location in Coral Gables, said to be the very first planned community in the United States. The plan, right from the start, was to keep Black people out.

There was one small exception to the historic and unspoken sundown rule, the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District, which we’ll eventually get to. Suffice to say that to this day 91.3% of the residents of Coral Gables are white (July 1, 2019). [NB: Latinx is considered White.] Demographics like this are not accidental. [Read: Sundown Towns, by James Loewen.]

To get up to speed, and because I don’t want to re-chew the same cud, you might want to take a look at why I call Coral Gables the town that racism built:

Further reading:
•  No Skin In The Game; Part One 
•  No Skin In The Game; Part Two
No Skin In The Game; Part Three
No Skin In The Game ; Part Four

Get comfortable. I’m excavating 130 years of racial history around a small patch of Miami-Dade County, which sits on the dividing line between 2 communities, one Black and the other White:

Why a Wawa?

Way back near the turn of this century, Miami-Dade County decided to gift a parcel of land (for $10, which would be $14.47 in today’s dollars), at the intersection of Grand Avenue and US 1, to a 501c3 non-profit to build affordable housing and some light retail.  A worthy goal. 

This triangle wedge of land is at the extreme southwestern corner of the triangle that makes up the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District [outlined in red at right]. I’ve previously described the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District as where Coral Gables hides its racism in plain sight. We’ll get back to that.

The 501c3 non-profit is called the Lola B. Walker Homeowner’s Foundation (named after an early Black pioneer). The property is now estimated to be worth $8-$10 million. While it’s wholly in the city of Coral Gables, it abuts the City of Miami, More specifically, Coconut Grove. To get more specific: West Grove, and, to put a pin in it: Black Grove.

The dividing line between Coral Gables and Miami is Grand Avenue, on the southern edge of that triangle, and Brooker Street on the east. At one time it belonged to Miami, but was annexed by Coral Gables (to hide it in plain site. Long story.)

Grand Avenue has long been considered the vehicular gateway to Coconut Grove. At one time it could have truly been a grand avenue, because that’s how it was envisioned when it was surveyed near the turn of the last century. Speed through a few decades in which the western stretch of Grand Avenue suffered greatly from systemic racism. While both ends of Grand are in the 33133 Zip Code, and only about 4,200 feet separate them, only one side is considered to be in one of the most exclusive areas in the country. As soon as one crosses Margaret Street everything changes, as you cross into White Grove. The difference is obvious to the naked eye, not just property values on Zillow.

Skip ahead to 2002, eighteen years ago. After much public meeting, community consultation, and charettes, a … err … grand plan was produced that would have brought that Grand Avenue Gateway to fruition. It never happened. Yes, I’ve written about that, too.

Further reading: The Grand Avenue 2002 Vision Plan , part of my Unpacking Grand Avenue series.

Where were we? Right, that smaller triangle of land where, in 2002,  the non-profit 501c3, Lola B. Walker Homeowner’s Foundation teamed up with the for profit Redevco Corporation to build what came to be called Bahamian Village [left] with the aforementioned affordable housing.

Then, suddenly, nothing happened.

Nothing happened for a very long time.

Nothing happened for such a very long time that Miami-Dade County got pissed and sued the non-profit: ‘Do what you promised [affordable housing and light retail] or we’re gonna take the land back.’ By the time that suit got settled in favour of the non-profit, the land use was very different than it had been. Now it was going to be a restaurant and some light retail. The concept of affordable housing seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Then the land sat some more.

Nothing still happened some more.

Miami-Dade launched another lawsuit.

When this legal action was settled in favour of the non-profit, the decision was made to just toss in a Wawa and be done with it.

Just so nobody would become aware of this bait and switch until it was far too late to do anything about it, the City of Coral Gables did all of this permitting for the Wawa without notifying the neighbourhood or having any public comments as would normally be the case for ANY development. One of Coral Gables’ excuses was that 45 residents of the MacFarlane Historic District signed their approval for the project and those residents were also the Lola B. Walker Homeowners Foundation, the HOA that somehow became a non-profit, that teamed up with Redevco, which has a good reputation for redevelopment elsewhere.

This HOA was once quite powerful in Miami-Dade politics [see letter at right], but that power has diminished as the original residents have aged and/or died off. Some passed the houses down from generation to generation, as other families do jewels. There are now children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of the original residents and  not all were content to stay in the same neighbourhood and moved away.

However, the community is still tight, cohesive, and Black. It’s that last part that gives it out-sized influence. This may be their final kick at the can before they kick the bucket.

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE: I knew I was chasing Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald to the finish line on this story, but she got there first. And, it’s good. So good that I’m going to steal. From West Grove was promised affordable housing. So, why are they winding up with a Wawa instead?

[Coral Gables Commissioner Vince] Lago said the homeowners approached him when the county sued to take back the undeveloped land and the city responded by “doing everything in our power to bring an economic driver project and community center to fruition.”

“The residents are in favor of the Wawa. I think it’s heavy-handed and overreaching to step into a predominately Black neighborhood and tell them what to do,” he said. “Would I have liked to see some housing? Yes. Does the community center need to engage more and expand its programming? Yes.”

I think it’s overreaching for Coral Gables to play the race card on this play. It’s incredibly disingenuous since the MacFarlane Apartheid Triangle™ was, at one time, the ONLY place Black folk could live in Coral Gables. At one time if you were Black and found in Coral Gables (except in this triangle, of course) you would be asked to produce your papers. Those consisted of a note from your employer: “John Smith is my handyman or gardener or chauffeur” or “Mary Smith is our cook or maid or nanny.” A lack of papers would get you jailed for vagrancy.

This is within current living memory.

Furthermore, none of the current houses in this MacFarlane triangle could be placed in any other part of Coral Gables today because they would not be up to code in the rest of the city. But, the code’s okay for these Black folk just fine.

So, with another lawsuit looming — and everybody’s back to the wall — Coral Gables let this deal go through, and this is just my opinion, because they thought it would not be a good look to say “No” to a predominately Black neighbourhood association even though — and it’s worth stressing — this is a historic district on the National Register.

◄ Here’s a historic Wawa. It doesn’t seem to fit the whole Bahamian idea of West Grove and the MacFarlane District.

Robertson continues:

But no one is explaining precisely how the Bahamian Village was replaced by a gas station and Wawa — or who benefits most from the deal. Not Redevco, which seems likely to reap a tidy profit from leasing the property to Wawa, a 750-store chain based in Philadelphia.

Not the Black homeowners, whose only known gain is a community center, which in reality is a conference room at the back of the developer’s new office headquarters, built on the eastern end of what will be Wawa’s large parking lot.

Not government officials in Coral Gables who fast-tracked the project in a historic district of the city.

Two homeowners association officers did not return phone calls from the Miami Herald. A third declined to answer questions, recited the “Serenity Prayer” and hung up.

Let’s be clear: A non-profit 501c3 is allowed to team up with a for profit company to do pretty much anything. However, if this is such a good deal for the MacFarlane HOA and the City of Coral Gables, why do it in the dead of night after you’ve blown out all the candles, locked all the doors, and lowered the Cone of Silence?

You’ll find far more in Linda Robertson’s article. She mines veins of this story I’ve left alone because I’m off on historic tangents she didn’t explore. However, it’s worth your time.

So…after the citizens woke up to this fait accompli, Coral Gables finally held a [remote] public hearing. But by then, the Wawa was already out of the Trolley Barn.


This is not the first time that the City of Coral Gables has gifted West Grove with a building it didn’t want and probably didn’t conform to the various laws and codes covering the property before the city looked away. However, at least this time the building is in Coral Gables proper and not Miami, the city next door, that looked away the last time. A quick history lesson:

Some years back Coral Gables wanted to develop a piece of land, but its trolley barn (called “trolleys” because they are painted to look like cute little electric trolleys) stood in the way of any redevelopment payday. Consequently Coral Gables entered into an agreement with Astor Development in which Astor would get to redevelop the property, provided it built a new, improved trolley garage to replace the one that would be torn down. Win/win.

Astor Development looked around and found some cheap property. It needed to combine a few lots, but that was easy because it had money and the land was cheap. The land was cheap because it was in West Grove — Black Grove — where land prices were depressed for the same reason land is depressed in any — and every — Black neighbourhood in ‘Merka: Systemic racism, another topic for every day.

[Here’s my shortest tangent ever: I’ll never forget the name of the developer because Astor Furniture, in Detroit, was the name of Pops’ store. At left: The Black Day in July autographed by the guy who wrote Black Day in July. Read more here.]

The main point being that Astor Development didn’t find property in Coral Gables to build its polluting Coral Gables bus garage. It found property in the Black area in the next town to build its polluting bus garage. Over the decades, in any community you can name, those things that pollute were always dropped into Black districts.

Again, because I don’t want to trod over the same ground I covered 7.5 years ago, I point you to all my previous writing on Trolleygate, in which I demonstrated exactly where the illegal corruption lay, but nobody cared. However, if you don’t want to read it all, here are a few samplers from the assortment pack:

An Introduction to Trolleygate
BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces
Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated
Modern Day Colonialism and Trolleygate
An Update On Sarnoff’s Trolleygate aka Astor’s Trolley Folly


Let us now turn our attention to another ancient sore point: The incinerator that was nicknamed Old Smokey.

Old Smokey belched out smoke and particulates into West Grove — Black Grove, because that’s where you drop things like this — for decades. However, it wasn’t until the White folk of Coral Gables started complaining about the pollution, that old Smokey was finally shut down.

[BONUS: Old Smokey’s toxic ash was spread throughout Miami parks and neighbourhoods as fill for the swamp that once was. No one really knows what kind of toxic time bomb lurks beneath a lot of Miami properties. People don’t want to have their soil tested because a bad result could halve their property values. That was the story that Not Now Silly dubbed Soilgate, and when current Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell found his desire to run for office.]

I’ve written about all of that, too. Check out:

A Century of Coconut Grove Racism ► Soilgate Is Trolleygate Writ Large

This Toxic Timebomb Could Blow Up Soccer In Miami

Armbrister Field Contaminated After All! Was There An AstroTurf Cover Up?

When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face

√ Read the Miami Herald for more about a class action suit against the City of Miami by West Grove residents over health issues due to toxic soil


Most people are unaware that the City of Miami once mandated that a wall be built between the White and Black neighbourhoods of Coconut Grove. I don’t want to hoe the same ground over and over, but I’ve written all about this, too. In Chapter One of my series Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins*:

There are two distinct sides to The Wall, as Miami New Times writer Kirk Nielsen called it 15 years ago, when he asked and answered the musical question, “How can you tell where white Coconut Grove ends and black Coconut Grove begins? Just look for the barbed wire.”

In 1946 the Miami Housing Authority approved construction of a 25-acre tract of small single-family homes for low-income blacks on Charles Terrace, west of Douglas Road. By the time the houses were completed in 1949, workers had also erected a concrete block wall along the southern boundary of the new development. As reported by the Miami Herald (and cited by Marvin Dunn in his new book Black Miami in the Twentieth Century), the city planning board required the wall in order to provide “suitable protection” for the white neighborhood. A Florida Supreme Court ruling three years earlier had rendered illegal Dade County’s segregation of black residential districts. But that didn’t stop the city from putting the wall up.

Brown and weathered, the concrete block barrier still runs a quarter-mile, from Douglas Road west to the Carver Middle School parking lot. Six feet tall, higher in some places, it divides the leafy back yards of Kumquat Avenue on one side from the tree-starved lots of Charles Terrace on the other.

Lou-vern Fisher, who moved to Miami with her parents in 1936 from Georgia, bought one of the single-family homes next to the wall with her husband back in 1950. She still lives there, with a daughter, granddaughter, and grandson. “We enjoyin’ the wall,” says the jolly 73-year-old retired maid. “They put it here for a reason. And you know the reason. To keep us from going over there,” she wags a finger, letting off a loud gravelly ha-ha-ha.

Further reading: Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins ► Chapter Two Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins ► Chapter Three

Funny thing about that wall. The western end of it wasn’t breached because Black folks wanted it. Again, it was the White folk dropping their kids off at school who complained that they were forced to take the long way around. And the wall come tumblin’ down.

IRONY ALERT: Now we’ve come full circle: The people making the biggest fuss over the Wawa are the predominately White (Latinx) parents at George Washington Carver Elementary School, which is on the Miami side of Grand Avenue, immediately across the street from the planned gas station, at the bottom of the MacFarlane Triangle, which is  in Coral Gables.

If, and that’s a pretty big if, the White (ie: Latinx) parents are able to stop the project it would once again be like both Old Smokey and The Wall, only stopped when White folks kicked up a stink.

As mentioned above, Coral  Gables finally held [remote] public comments after the fact, and the PTA was represented by Miami lawyer David Winker (who I have also written about previously). “I got involved because parents at the school found out after the fact and they had a number of concerns. As I looked into this, I discovered there were a number of irregular occurances that are concerning from the perspective of transparency and accountability. […] Coral Gables treated the parents as pests and appeared almost insulted they would question a deal that resulted in $8 million of public land in a historic district, and given for free to build affordable housing, that ended up as a Wawa.”

But wasn’t that the whole point? Historic preservation and affordable housing? It’s stated as the goal in the original documents of the 501c3. 


This year the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation added the MacFarlane Historic District to its 11 to Save list for 2020. That’s such a big deal that Coral Gables Magazine thought it worthy of a feature article in its Streetwise section all the way back on September 18th of this year. Read Saving the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District. These clips [left and right] come from The Florida Villager‘s article The MacFarlane District Makes Preservation List.

I’m certain Coral Gables Magazine and The Florida Villager will take as much pride in its new Wawa Gas Station as it does in its historic district.

Wawa & Me:

I’m not anti-Wawa. I’m just against anti-Big Corporation despoiling a historic district on the down low. And, I call bullshit on the letter to the right, sent to a concerned parent.

Had I received that letter, I would have been highly offended. Not only is it a boiler-plate piece of crap about what good neighbours and corporate citizens the company aspires to be, but it’s signed by The Wawa Family. Bet there’s no Wawa Family listed in the phone book.

In my opinion this is not Best Business Practices. If I am in communication with someone at a multi-million dollar corporation, I’d like to know who that is. I’d like to know just who I should respond to after such a joke of a letter. Who is taking responsibility for this communication? But, that’s just me. The Wawa Family clearly has other ideas.

I first heard of Wawa when I was Uber/Lyfting and my pax worked there. I was curious about the name because there’s a Wawa, Ontario, Canada. As every Canadian Rock and Roll band can tell you, if you want to drive to western Canada from Toronto (and there was more than one reason not to want to drive through ‘Merka), your only alternative is to drive through Wawa. Which reminds me of a great Canadian Band who had a oft-requested song about a car breaking down in Wawa, Ontario.

Crank it up and D A N C E ! ! !

Anyhoo…I asked this young lady from Wawa if she knew why it was called Wawa, thinking that maybe there was a CanCon Connection. While she had no idea where the name came from, she went into a a kind-of monotone, droning something about how the Canadian Goose in the logo represents teamwork because, just like a flock of geese, when one tires another goose comes to the fore. She was less articulate, but I knew it was Corp Speak™ and concluded the Wawa cult was strong with this one and wondered about those corporate mind-control exercises.

I never thought about it again…until recently.

Since then I’ve popped into various Wawas to gas up Ruby Red because it usually has the cheapest gas around. However, about a year ago one opened near me. It happens to be across the street from my mechanic. If I’m ever having any work done on Ruby, I drop in on this location and people watch. I’m fascinated by the joint and have made excuses just to go there and sit. Little did I know I’d be writing about it. I should have taken notes.

My observations and opinions of this location. Positives first:

• Clean, meticulous, including restrooms;
• Wawa folk regularly come out, pick up trash, and swap out trash containers (as you’d expect);
• Usually the least expensive gas.

Negatives, but a lot of these you’d expect:

• A lot of vehicular traffic, natch, jockeying for pumps and parking;
• Not nearly enough parking at times;
• Not nearly enough pumps at times;
• Smell of gas and potential for fire/pollution;
• Not everybody in our society use trashcans and some of it blows beyond the reach of the Wawa people;
• More foot traffic than expected, for the retail or just to cut across the corner, which brings up an important point I want to get to.

Not all, but many of those who cut through the lot are students at Piper High School, just about a half mile away. [Not complaining, just explaining.] Pre-COVID, there would always be a lot of teens in and out of the retail, as well as using the outside tables. Because it’s a high school, some of the older students already have cars. This adds to the traffic, of course. [Just explaining.] I want to stress I have seen no misbehaviour on the part of these teens, but I have seen how older patrons respond to them. There’s unnecessary friction and some of it appears racial.

And, all that good corporate citizen bumph is just so much crap. It didn’t take much digging to find bad news about Wawa:

Neighbors oppose Walmart, Wawa rezoning on Dale Mabry

Neighbors fight Wawa near downtown Orlando

Neighbors fight proposed Hypoluxo Road Wawa

Neighbors try to stop a proposed Wawa in St. Augustine

Neighbors, school district against Bristol Road Wawa plans

Wawa announces massive data breach potentially impacting customers’ credit and debit card information

‘Wawa is pretty much dead to me’: Founding family accused of cheating former workers out of millions in company stock

But, let’s get back to Coconut Grove. Carver Elementary school is right across the street from this proposed Wawa, at a very complicated intersection where 3 main streets converge.

My conclusion is this is the exact wrong place for a Wawa, or any gas station, or pretty much any high-traffic business.

I’ve sat at this corner observing on 2 separate occasions. Both times it was during COVID. I bring that up because I assume attendance is down from normal. Both times traffic was a mess. On Grand Avenue, for a good distance on either side of the 15 MPH school zone, it’s bumper-to-bumper, making it difficult to turns off Jefferson or Brooker, east of the school zone. West of the school zone traffic bunches up at US-1 where cars jockey for position on a narrow 1 lane street in order to either make the right onto US-1, or the left onto US-1 from the single lane that opens up, or straight through the light to SW 42nd, aka S Le June Road.

Horns a’plenty, as impatient drivers try to get wherever it is they are in such a hurry to get to. Now add a Wawa gas station, the busy times of which is in the morning, during school load-in. [To be fair: I’ve not done the afternoon rush.]

One of the reasons in support of the Wawa (or at least not against) is that the Carver Kids won’t be customers. However, it’s possible the 11-13 year olds from Carver Middle School might walk over.

Regardless, I bet Carver parents will use the Wawa parking lot. How do I know? Because on the 2 times I did spotting at that corner, parents pulled over in any nook and cranny along Grand Avenue and the side streets to drop off kids. That’s part of what led to the traffic mess. Too many cars and not enough places to pull over in a place where parents need to pull over.

The biggest irony of all.

Rule #1 in journalism is FOLLOW THE MONEY and you might think GOOD ON THEM if this historic Black homeowners association gets a little taste of reparations. But remember: This is a 501c3 non-profit. It can’t take the money out. It cannot profit.

Redevco can make bank. That’s not illegal. So, how much is Redevco making from this partnership? What did Redevco promise the 501c3 to allow its neighbourhood to be altered forever, and possibly destroyed? Were the residents hoodwinked? Were they bamboozled about the benefits of this project?

Coral Gables has already dismissed the concerns of the school parents because the school is in another city. Let them attend to their own problems.

Going forward, how will Coral Gables deal with the fallout over the lack of normal process? The Miami-Dade School Board can’t be happy about the lack of transparency. How will Coral Gables deal with the fallout when the current gridlock becomes worse? Where will Coral Gables mandate the entrance and egress to the Wawa? Grand Avenue can’t really take the traffic. Florida wasn’t designed for this traffic.

These are just some of the threads I will be pulling in the future. Stay tuned for Part Two, Three, Four…we’ll see where this goes.

Fighting City Hall; The Miami Corruption Tapestry — Part 2.5

This is a continuation of the August 29 post “Winker? I Hardly Know ‘Er – Part Two of the David Winker Affair“, renamed The Miami Corruption Tapestry.

In that exciting episode I related:

What a difference a few days make. Another shoe has now dropped.

An ad hoc taxpayer group, an HOA, and the Coconut Grove Village Council spent cold hard cash to erect a billboard to SHAME the City of Miami into doing the right thing.

There are several ironies to observe here:

  • The last private citizen to successfully fight City Hall was current District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell, long before he ever thought to run for office;
  • Day Avenue is in Commissioner Russell’s district;
  • Unless he takes the long way around, Ken Russell needs to drive past this billboard to get to City Hall.

▌READ: Unpacking Grand Avenue

The Miami Corruption Tapestry so far:

The David Winker Affair
Winker? I Hardly Know ‘Er
An Email to the City of Miami & An Open Letter to Miami Taxpayers

Is the OMNI CRA Expanding?

The current boundaries of the OMNI CRA

A vote Thursday at Miami City Hall could be the lifeline West Grove needs to pull itself out from under decades of poverty and systemic racism.

District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell will introduce a motion at the Commission meeting to finance a $25,000 “Finding of Necessity” study to create a West Grove CRA or expand the boundaries of the OMNI CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency] into West Coconut Grove. [This would be a non-contiguous add on to the current Omni footprint.]

CRAs are designed to attack city blight and reduce slum conditions in neglected areas. To pull this off a trust is created, which is funded by increases in property tax revenues. This money can be used in a number of ways to improve residential, commercial, or infrastructure within the CRA district.

Creating a new CRA means that it could be many years before there’s enough money in the trust to start playing Monopoly and moving pieces around the board. In addition, a blighted area by itself would probably not have the tax base to generate much of a trust fund. You’d have to include parts of Center Grove in order to generate enough revenue to make it worthwhile.

Latching onto the OMNI CRA has its own pitfalls. To begin with the OMNI (or any) CRA Board consists of all 5 members of the Commission and two community members, who must live within the CRA district. Currently there are no West Grove members on the CRA Board for obvious reasons. However, even if West Grove became part of the OMNI, it would, at best, only get one seat on the board. However, there’s no guarantee of that. Furthermore, West Grove would be competing for monies that Overtown might be eyeing for its projects.

Looking east along Grand Avenue as rosy fingered dawn approaches

Further Reading at Now Now Silly:
Unpacking Coconut Grove

As I have done on previous occasions, this morning I arrived on Grand Avenue at 6AM and sat down on my customary bench at Hibiscus to watch the street come alive.

There was less to watch this day. One of the condemned buildings on the north side of Grand has finally been evacuated and boarded up. The building on the south side, which was also condemned, has far fewer residents than it used to, but people still live there among the rats, insects, mold, and mildew. I tried to speak to a gent in the courtyard smoking a cigar at dawn, but he just growled at me. I thought it might have been a language barrier until I saw him talking a bit later to one of the street people.

The moon about to set behind a condemned building that people are still living in

As dawn approached people started gathering at the gate for the Billy Rolle Domino Park, at Elizabeth. They arrive by foot and bicycle. This is where there are public washrooms, but the gate is locked until a city employee comes around and opens up the park for the day.

It never takes very long before I am approached by an itinerant salesperson. As I have explained previously, it’s odd being racially profiled. The truth is that most of the White folk who show up here are looking to score.

I took several walks around the neighbourhood and ended up at the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery, where I spoke to a gent who was painting his mother’s grave stark white with a roller. At one time this was the only cemetery where Black folk could be buried in Miami.

Coconut Grove was once unique in this country because it had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else. That cohesiveness that lasted decades is under attack from greed and gentrification, not to mention systemic pverty and racism. If West Grove is to survive in any meaningful way, with its demographics relatively intact, then a Community Redevelopment Agency just might be what it needs.

This is a story that Not Now Silly will be following anxiously.

Intense Intents in Tents ► Unpacking Grand Avenue

CLICK HERE for a full gallery of Housing for All protest pics

Two gatherings in Coconut Grove on Saturday morning were as different as Black and White. 

On Grand Avenue Thaddeus Scott and William Wallace were waking up in tents. This to protest a lack of affordable housing and the deplorable living conditions in West Grove. Less than 3 miles away, Grove 2030 was sponsoring a charrette on the practicality of Coconut Grove seceding from the City of Miami.

There was no breakfast waiting for Scott and Wallace in their empty lot on Grand Avenue, but Grove 2030 put out a great spread in the back of Vizcaya Garage: buckets of coffee, choice of juice, donuts, muffins, bagels and the obligatory cream cheese.

The evening prior this reporter arrived to sit on his customary bench on Grand Avenue and watch Housing for All Miami set up their meager Tent City, a show of Civil Disobedience that, theoretically, could lead to arrests. I had been hearing rumblings of this protest for a couple of weeks, but always on the downlow. I was never able to get someone on the record about it. I had less than a day’s notice when I was finally told the protest was a go. From HfA’s Facebook page:

Why Housing for All?

Some very basic facts about #coconutgrove:
There is a housing crisis. Developers buy up single family homes and apartments – some in disrepair, some not – level them, and sit on the land.

Landlords also sell their apartment buildings by the block. They refuse to sign leases with their tenants so when the buildings sell, they evict with 15 days notice. Another common practice is to let the buildings run down to unsafe and uninhabitable, at which point the city steps in and condemns them, forcing the tenants to move out with little-to-no warning. Fifteen days to find housing in one of the nations toughest housing markets.

We are talking about HUNDREDS of people. Kids, parents, grandparents whose families have lived in this neighborhood for generations. They built these houses. Many of them built this city.

This is not ok @cityofmiami @cityofmiamifl @cityofmiamigov

I turned my attention to the slow motion humanitarian crisis on Grand Avenue a little more than a month ago — soon after I gave up on the E.W.F. Stirrup House. As one of my last acts for that story I was able to score an interview with developer Peter Gardner, of Pointe Group, now called Sabal Hill. He had recently signed on — or invested in — the Stirrup House Bed & Breakfast.

By then I had already started researching Grand Avenue. During our interview on the Stirrup House, I pulled a Bait & Switch on Gardner. I whipped out a hand-drawn map of Grand Avenue on which I had the current owner of every property mapped out and colour-coded. The names of Gardner’s companies were featured predominately on many of those properties. I started quizzing him on the plans for Grand Avenue, which have been stuck in limbo for well more than a decade.

The famed model of Grand Avenue

SYNCHRONICITY ALERT: Two years ago — almost to the day — I was invited to the first Grove 2030 charrette. I went as a journalist, but I was cajoled into participating and forced to join one of the brainstorming teams. At one point (no pun intended) someone on our team brought up the upcoming development promised for Grand Avenue by Pointe Group. Having done some perfunctory research on Grand even back then, I blurted out, “That will never happen.”

Little did I know that I was talking to Margaret Nee of Pointe Group. We had a mini-argument in which she invited me to come see the architectural model any time, because it was definitely going to happen. I never went to look at the model because I wasn’t covering Grand Avenue. However, in the interest of FULL DISCLOSURE I told Peter Gardner this story at the beginning of our interview. Who knows whether Margaret had and she was the person who had facilitated this meeting.

In the last few weeks I have left more than a dozen phone messages with Margaret Nee to get Peter Gardner to confirm or deny a rumour I had been hearing about the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

However, this came at the same exact time that many of the properties along Grand Avenue were about to be flipped again, this time to Terra Group. As well, Commissioner Ken Russell had convinced the city to launch a million dollar lawsuit against several of the slumlords along Grand Avenue because of the deplorable conditions in their buildings. This lawsuit has delayed the sale of the properties until all the parties involved figure out who’s going to pay to settle this lawsuit, or whether it will be defended by lawyers for the developers, who are already suing each other.

TO BE FAIR: If I were Peter Gardner, I wouldn’t take my calls either. Not only did I change topics on him, but pretty much warned him that I was now watching Grand Avenue [and 2 lots he had acquired on Charles Avenue]. However, Margaret Nee has not even had the good manners to call me back and say, “We will have no comment.” That would be better than dodging my phone calls, but I expect no less from rapacious developers who say they want to build something wonderful for the neighbourhood, but have no empathy whatsoever for the people currently living in the slum they own.

Yesterday morning I listened to the Grove 2030 people complain about how their lily White neighbourhoods are changing in ways they cannot control. However, my mind was really on Wallace and Scott sleeping in tents on an empty lot on Grand Avenue to bring attention to gentrification in the heart of the historically Black neighbourhood in ways they cannot control. I grew so bored with the Grove 2030 meeting, I sketched out an opening paragraph (now discarded) lovingly describing all the various food and drink options at Grove 2030, wondering what Scott and Wallace had for breakfast.

IRONY ALERT: There was so much food at Grove 2030 that it was all packed up and sent to the Housing for All protest when the charrette was over. While there was something beautiful and magnanimous about the gesture, it also gave off the faint odour of more White colonialism and paternalism. To use an analogy from Canada: Bread and cheese day.

It would have been much better if the Grove 2030 people had shown up, picked up a sign, and joined the protest.

How long will the Housing for All protest continue? William Wallace says they are prepared to camp out indefinitely, or until the slumlord owner shows up and orders the police to clear the lot. Miami police would have no choice but to comply. In that eventuality, there are several contingency plans, which I won’t reveal.

However, what’s really needed is more people, more tents, more noise, and more publicity. As far as I know I have been the only media to show up and cover this story.

Where is the Miami Herald? Asleep again, me thinks. However, it did have the time to write about the Woman arrested in luxury condo protest: City and cops violated my rights. The only time the Miami Herald comes to West Grove is to cover crime.

Where are the local tee vee stations? They’ll put news choppers in the air over Douglas Road and Grand Avenue when police put the local schools and neighbourhood on lockdown. Why haven’t they covered this protest?

Where is the Coconut Grove Grapevine? Tom Falco only seems to concern himself with the West Grove to cover the opening of a new art installation at the Kroma Gallery, the opening of a new fresh fish store, or a new product at the mattress store. However, nothing about the people of West Grove.

Oh, that’s right. This is the poor Black neighbourhood. Never mind.

Waking Up in the Grove ► Unpacking Grand Avenue

Looking east along Grand Avenue with the sun rising over Biscayne Bay
This is Part Two of a series about Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove.

The car creeps west very slowly along Grand Avenue at well below the posted speed limit. It’s 5 in the morning. There are no cars to impede at this hour.

Very few people are even awake at this hour. In the Center Grove, those moving along Grand seem to be working folk. They’re either headed to work, or finishing an overnight shift. In several of the restaurants along this stretch, people are washing the floors, making them spick and span for the next seating at the next meal. At restaurants that serve breakfast the prep cooks are just starting to arrive.

Thirty, or so, bicyclists in tight spandex gather on McFarlane Road, just across from the narrow end of the triangle where it meets Grand and Main Highway at CocoWalk. Their flashing red tail lights make the scene other worldly at this time of the morning until, silently, they’re gone. At 5:30 the Starbucks in CocoWalk opens, which increases foot traffic as working people slowly trickle in for their ridiculously expensive lattes.

West of Margaret Street you’d be hard pressed to find a single place to buy a coffee — let alone a ridiculously expensive one — at any time of the day or night. That’s because after Margaret things change drastically. Grand Avenue goes from high end businesses and ritzy restaurants to a slum. The dividing line is the CVS Pharmacy.

CVS is the demarcation between East and West Grove

This is not a gradual transition, as it often is in other cities, where a boarded up building leads to a few more on the next block, then more on the next block, until you reach the epicenter of the blight.

Rather, the transition on Grand Avenue is instantaneous. Immediate. Sudden. The difference is so stark that it is noticeable and remarked upon by visitors who have never seen it before. Crossing Margaret is crossing Coconut Grove’s invisible Colour Line, from White Grove to Black Grove; from prosperous Grove to West Grove.

Beyond Margaret is what was once the prosperous main drag of the Black business district of Coconut Grove. Now it is one of the worst slums in all of Miami.

There is another noticeable difference, especially at 5:30 in the morning. The few people on the sidewalks along this stretch of Grand are, for the most part, down-and-out street folks like in all cities: some just homeless, some are addicts, and some are dealers.

Making an illegal U-turn at Douglas Road, the driver makes eye contact with as many of those solitary souls moving along Grand as possible. Sliding into the same parking space near Hibiscus Street week after week, the driver locks the car. Then he sits on a bench near a bus stop making notes, taking pictures, and talking to anyone who will talk back.

This has been my routine for the last many weeks running: observing how this part of Coconut Grove comes alive in the mornings. The advantage to sitting on the same bench week after week is that people get to know me. More of them are willing to talk to me, while others now call to me by name to join their conversations, to introduce me as a writer researching Coconut Grove.

People are starved to talk to anyone who will listen.

The life story I know best (because I’ve spent the most time with them) belongs to Rhonda and Nelson (all names in this story have been changed). Married, with 4 children and a dog, they are living in a building that was recently condemned. The evictions were put on hold while the city sues the owners, but many people have already left. Nelson says that there are only 7 families left in their building.

Rhonda and Nelson have been trying to leave for quite a while, but they have been unable to afford anything even close to the price they’re paying. What’s more is they have no reserve funds, living paycheque to paycheque like so many families in this country. Furthermore, just when it appears they have a small amout of money put aside, they’re hit with another unexpected bill. Just yesterday I heard how their car broke down and they had to put money they couldn’t spare into it.

Click to enlarge
I’ve written about that red line in Where the Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins

One recent morning I watched as a neighbour walked her little boy across Grand to their place. They take him to school, along with their own kids, while she heads off to work.

I ride with Nelson as he drops one child off at the designated school bus stop. As we talk, he tells me about the complex we are parked next to. It’s called The Kingway Apartments. Despite the fancy name it’s nothing more than a huge grouping of squat, one story cinder block duplexes. It was still dark, so it took me a while to realize we were parked at the west end of Charles Terrace. This is directly in front of The Colour Line witten about in Where the Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins.

The Kingsway is where Nelson and Rhonda are hoping to move. Every day they check with the landlord to see if a unit is coming open. For some reason there doesn’t appear to be a waiting list on which one can sign up. While The Kingsway is more than they’re paying now, it is almost just within their budget if they scrimp every single penny. However, it’s the only place around that’s remotely affordable.

When we return to his apartment, I let him attend to the rest of the family’s morning routine of getting the little ones dressed and off to school. I go back to sit on my bench and watch. Soon the sidewalks are coming alive with children carrying book bags and knapsacks. They come out of the concrete block buildings along Grand Avenue, and from houses along the residential streets running parallel, north and south of Grand. Some are accompanied by parents, Others travel in groups of two or more.

Morning peacocks on Franklin Avenue

I walk south on Hibiscus. There are a lot of kids walking to school now. When I get down to Franklin, just a few blocks south of Grand, I’m shocked.

Franklin at this time of day is a slow- moving, bumper-to-bumper, eastbound traffic jam from Plaza all the way to Main Highway. The small traffic circles — installed as a traffic calming device — are difficult to navigate with cars filling them.

These are also children going to school, but their rich White parents are taking them to Ransom Everglades School on Main Highway, not the public schools in the area. Each SUV seems to have a single parent and a single child inside. They are only using Franklin, which is still predominately Black owned, as a shunt to get from A to B. Otherwise they wouldn’t be caught dead in this part of West Grove, especially at night.

I walk back to Grand Avenue, the main street where — ironically — there is far less traffic, to get away from the car fumes. I’m back on my bench reviewing my notes about other people who also call this neighbourhood home.

There’s Bill. He was riding a bicycle as I slid into my usual parking spot at 5:30 AM. I nodded as he slowly rode past. When I got out of the car he said, “You okay?” This is street slang for “Would you like to buy some drugs?” Once again I have been racially profiled. The sad truth is that most of the White folk who show up on this end of Grand tend to be looking for drugs.

I told him I didn’t need anything, explained I was a writer, and asked if he’d sit and talk to me for a while. It was as simple as that. Bill and I sat there 25 minutes. I asked him intrusive questions about his business, his family, his home, life on Grand Avenue, and — most importantly — systemic racism in West Grove, where he has lived his entire life.

Bill was nervous every time a police car passed, as several did, and kept saying he should go. He admitted that he carried no drugs. Had we made a deal, it was something he had to retrieve. So I asked him why he was so nervous. A Black guy, known to the police, sitting with a White guy? That will attract undue attention. I kept telling him that we were just 2 men talking on a bench. I know my rights and would love a cop to show up and start asking questions.

Bill, who has been Black longer than I’ve been White (and older than the other bike salesmen in this part of town), was horrified at the thought that I might challenge a police officer. I explained to him how my White Privilege allows me to get away with stuff like that. That’s when Bill brought me up short. “But I’ll still be here tomorrow. Will you?”

Patrice is another of my early morning friends along Grand. She now introduces me to people as “Mr. Headly”, even though I have asked her not to call me Mister. The first time I met her she was with her friend Mary. At first I thought they were trying to hustle me and, maybe, they were. However, I made it clear pretty quickly that I was writing about Coconut Grove history. When they heard I was wrote about the E.W.F. Stirrup House, they were an open book. We went for a long walk along the residential streets where they showed me where there were hidden cameras in the trees in a vacant lot. There weren’t, but their drug paranoia was strong.

Mary is jonesing. She needs a pick me up. She needs to make money. She needs to pack because she’s being thrown out of her place today. She needs to go and take care of business. But she walked with us for another 15 minutes before she finally left, Patrice trying to convince her to stay the whole time.

Patrice and I walked further south to Marler Avenue, where I showed her another segment of the Miami-mandated and still visible Colour Line Wall, built to keep Black Grave and White Grove separate — and, incidentally, still doing a pretty good job of it. [Read Part Two of Where The Sidewak Ends, Racism Begins.]

As I explained to her why Marler is land-locked, I have rarely had a more attentive student on one of my walking history tours. However, while describing the chain link fence that went up across the footpath that connects Marler to Loquat Avenue, a friend of hers rode up on a bicycle. He said something to her that I didn’t hear. Patrice gave me a cute little shrug and went off with him.

The next time I see Patrice she’s sitting behind the wheel of a shiny brand new Mercedes. I don’t know it’s her at first. I was sitting on my customary bench a block away. Even at 5:30 in the morning it was hard not to miss that something was going on over there because the driver’s door was open and people kept walking over to the car to talk to the driver.

After an hour of note-taking, I got up and walked east. As I passed the car, I hear her calling, “Mr. Headly. Mr. Headly.”

She had 2 other people in the car with her. It started to drizzle when I left my bench, but suddenly the skies opened and it rained hard. I quickly ducked under the awning of a nearby store that hasn’t been open for years, but I’m soaked by the time I get there. It’s a brief shower, less than 5 minutes. I go back to the car to help Patrice because they needed to use my phone. Something had gone wrong with the Mercedes keyless ignition and it wouldn’t start. Her phone was out of juice and they needed to call the dealership.

At 6:30 in the morning no one is answering at the dealership and won’t until 9, according to the recording. Plan B is to use their AARP card. However, all AARP will do is arrange to have the car towed and no one wants that. It’s in a legal, free parking space. [Free because it’s west of Margaret, as are all parking spaces.]

The interior of the car looks like a closet exploded. Clothes and garbage bags filled with clothes are on the backseat. An elderly woman is nestled into all of this like it was a beanbag chair. Then I notice she’s smoking something out of a pipe. The car’s owner is in the passenger seat. She doesn’t look like she could afford a beater, let alone this luxury car that won’t start. She can barely communicate, which is why I am making these phone calls.

The woman in the back seat keeps nodding off during the time I’m on the phone. Suddenly she comes awake and decides it’s time to go. It becomes a scene from a situation comedy: an elderly woman trying to extricate herself from a beanbag chair. I offer my hand and help her out, but she loses her sandals in the process, one skittering under the car. As everybody starts looking for her sandals, I say goodbye to Patrice and head back to Center Grove to meet a source who explains to me the difference between affordable housing, sustainable housing, and workforce housing.

Because he’s using numbers — building costs per square foot, lot sizes, basic incomes, financing costs, percentages, and margins — it all goes over my head. [Numbers are my natural enemy.]

But what of the people who live along Grand Avenue? 

Bottom line? The people living along Grand in the cheap, but blighted, apartments are screwed. There will never be any affordable housing built for them. It’s best to think of all new West Grove construction as sustainable housing and/or workforce housing and/or luxury condos. West Grove will eventually look exactly like East Grove and will, no doubt, have the same racial demographic: White.

The basic problem is that these properties have been bought and sold by speculators and developers so many times over the last decade, that the price of the land alone has become astronomical. My real estate source says the land is now trading for far more than the real value should be. But, let’s face it, the actual value is whatever people will pay pay for it. As one developer after another ponied up, the price increased every time. By the time the developers are finished, Grand Avenue will be a concrete canyon 5 stories tall filled with condos, more restaurants, businesses, and not a single affordable unit among them. Anything less would not allow them to recoup their investment.

Along Frow Avenue (1 block north of Grand) and Thomas Avenue (1 block south), the neighbours will be forced to accept the back-ends of these buildings. What is currently two quiet residential streets of 1 story Conch and shotgun houses, will be replaced by 3 story buildings, as the Grand Avenue frontage is ‘stepped back’.  They’ll also have to deal with increased traffic, parking lots, and service entrances to these buildings.

This same inflation has come to the entire area north and south of Grand, the traditional Bahamian neighbourhood that’s older than Miami itself. Property values are such that homes that have been in the same family for generations are being sold by folks who find themselves land rich, but cash poor. As land values rise, it gets harder and harder for some people to keep up with the taxes. I hear anecdotal stories of speculators coming in with low ball offers for the deed and they’ll take over the tax arrears. More gossip is of people who reversed mortgaged their homes in order to stay.

Furthermore, the Coconut Grove Collaborative had a long-term plan for the infilling of inexpensive homes on the empty lots in this area. However, the price of the land has now made that a pipe dream.

Slowly the racial demographic of this historic and unique neighbourhood is being changed after remaining fairly cohesive and predominately Black-owned for close to 130 years.

Walking back to West Grove I watch the City of Miami Parks & Rec guy unlock Billie Rolle Domino Park, which is posted closed from sunset to sunrise. However, the sun rose quite a while ago. This is one of the parks that had to be closed due to toxic soil back in 2013. It was also one of the first parks remediated.

Because the park just opened, I’m the first person to use the washroom. It’s clean. I’ve used it much later in the day when it doesn’t look so nice. People have stashed stuff all around this pocket park under the benches. There’s a suitcase under one seat. A duffle bag under another. Under one bench there is a what appears to be an entire camping tent in it’s nylon carrying case. People stored these things here because the park is locked at night and they don’t have to lug this stuff.

Patrice and friends are still waiting for help to arrive. It’s surprising they’re being so conspicuous because the entire neighbourhood has been on edge because of heightened police activity recently.

Just 2 weeks ago I looked up from my computer to turn my attention to the local news on my tee vee. Police and media helicopters were flying over the intersection of Douglas Road and Grand Avenue. It was a weird bit of synchronicity that gave me goosebumps because I was working on Part One of this series, The Grand Avenue 2002 Vision Plan, at that exact moment.

All the local schools were on lockdown as dozens of police cars flooded the area. As I watched these events live at home, 35 miles away, I was texting my sources in The Grove to alert them what was happening in their neighbourhood in real time.

The official story is that police were looking for a robbery suspect who allegedly broke into 3 cars in the area. However, no one I’ve spoken to believes that. They believe police were looking for a suspect in a recent murder, who had been reported in the area because his ex-girlfriend claimed he had just stolen $10 from her and was still in the area.

Whatever brought this mighty show of force down upon West Grove, it served a greater purpose, keeping the folks in line. I have already spoken to several men who were detained that day. None were arrested. All were just harassed, insulted, and held for a while, for no reason at all. Each one (and I am only talking about 3, hardly a representative sample) told me they know the police and the police know them. Being detained was just part of the game being played that day.

From my bench at the western end of Grand Avenue I see the locals start to stir. Car traffic increases by the minute. Out of the side streets, from the residential part of West Grove, come drivers on their way to work. Most of them appear to be Black. They turn either east of west onto Grand and head off to work. However, I also notice that there are a lot of cars that are just using Grand as a shunt — just like Franklin — to get from one place to another. These are, for the most part, White folk.

They don’t/won’t stop in West Grove, long rumoured to be a dangerous neighbourhood. However, in the 7 years I’ve been researching Coconut Grove, wandering these streets at all hours of the day and night, I have never felt unsafe at all. In fact, as I am sitting on a bench getting another resident’s story, a guy walked by and said, “Welcome to the neighbourhood, buddy.” I guess now I’m considered a fixture.

This look at Grand Avenue is based on many visits and interviews over a period of time, although parts read like a single day.

If you’ve liked anything you’ve read at the Not Now Silly Newsroom,  please consider donating to my Go Fund Me campaign to Support Investigative Journalism. My Freedom of Information requests from the City of Miami are beginning to add up, not to mention all the other costs of researching systemic racism and corruption in Coconut Grove.

The Grand Avenue 2002 Vision Plan ► Unpacking Grand Avenue

This 1885 watercolour by Winslow Homer is called “A
Garden in Nassau”. Ironically it was used 14 years ago for
this Grand Avenue Vision Plan. Read more about it below.

This is the start of an extensive series on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove. 

There is a humanitarian crisis currently happening on Grand Avenue. 

Yesterday a number of residents in a blighted building along Grand received eviction notices. The biggest problem they have is that there is no place to go. One couple I’ve spoken to, with several children, has been looking for a new place for months in order to escape their moldy and bug infested apartment. There is absolutely nothing available in their budget and they feel as if they are being gentrified out of the neighbourhood.

The truth of the matter is they are.

At one time the western end of Grand Avenue was the bustling Black business district of West Grove. Today it is one of the worst slums in Miami. The reason West Grove remained a cohesive Black neighbourhood has to do with the efforts of one man who made a difference: E.W.F. Stirrup. And, just like the Stirrup House, which anchors the opposite end of the historic Black neighbourhood, it has undergone a campaign of Demolition by Neglect. [Read: Who Is To Blame For the Destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup House?]

Ironically, the west end of Grand, blighted as it is, has become some of the most valuable real estate in Miami, having been bought and flipped so many times over the last few decades by speculators looking to gentrify an entrenched Black neighbourhood. Now nothing less than a concrete canyon from Margaret Street west will allow the land to pay for itself. Furthermore, due to Demolition by Neglect, there’s almost nothing left along that stretch worth renovating and saving.

Click to enlarge
This map demonstrates how close Grand Avenue is to
the E.W.F. Stirrup House. Identified on this map are
many stories covered in the Not Now Silly Newsroom.


MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision Historical District
Armbrister Field
Coconut Grove Playhouse
The Colour Line
Coral Gables

A quick Grand Ave history lesson: The street always suffered from institutional racism, because that’s what always happened in this country. However, it started its slide into irrelevance after segregation was outlawed. Once the folk in West Grove could shop anywhere, the businesses along Grand Avenue no longer had a captive clientele.

Over the next several decades systemic racism kept this end of Coconut Grove in near poverty, even as the other end — the White end — of the 33133 zip code became one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the entire country.

Last month the rapacious developers, hoping to gentrify these people out of existence could hide their slum no longer. Local NBC 6 did an exposé, and interviewed District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell in the process. [Read Residents of Derelict Coconut Grove Building Facing Homelessness. I was unable to embed the video, but it’s not for the squeamish.] The issue of Grand Avenue was suddenly in the news, especially after Miami Sues Coconut Grove Landlords for Renting Moldy, Sewage-Filled Apartments, Jessica Lipscomb writes:

Parts of the roof have caved in, creating a breeding ground for mold. Raw sewage, including pieces of toilet paper and human waste, sometimes flow in front of the tenants’ front doors. Recently, the landlord cut the power to the outdoor lights, cloaking the building in dangerous darkness after sunset.

But rent is only $400 a month, an almost unheard-of bargain in Miami, where residents in nearly every stretch of the city are being squeezed by rising housing costs. It’s about all Coats, who is unemployed, can afford to pay each month. “The rent is just getting ridiculous,” she says.

Now the City of Miami is taking legal action against the owners, who — under five corporation names — have 12 properties in Coconut Grove, all of which, the city says, are in various states of disrepair and code violation. The city is fighting to force the owners to pay to relocate all of the tenants to clean and safe apartments they can afford — and many fear they could become homeless if no alternative is provided.

There was a stay of execution on last month’s evictions after Commissioner Russell filed his lawsuit. Until yesterday, that is. Many have already left, but the remaining residents have all been told they have to be out by November.

LET’S BE CLEAR: While these rich, White, deveopers have been buying and selling these properties — and now suing each other — the pawns that have been allowed to live in their fiefdom are suffering. Little money, if any, has been spent on these buildings. Or, on this entire stretch of Grand Avenue, for that matter. This is another clear case of Demolition by Neglect. Unlike the Stirrup House, which was empty, real people are being affected by these deplorable conditions.

Read more in A History of West Coconut Grove from 1925: Slum Clearance, Concrete Monsters, and the Dicotomy of East and West Coconut Grove, by Alex Plasencia, for their Clemson University thesis.

That’s why it’s more than a little ironic that the 2002 Grand Avenue Vision Plan used “A Garden in Nassau” for its cover. The implication of using Homer’s painting would have been crystal clear to those who chose it. The biography Winslow Homer, by Nicolai Cikovsky and Franklin Kelly, describes Homer’s first time in the Bahamas, where he completed some 30 paintings:

Rest by Winslow Homer

Homer’s purpose was clearly to gather as many pictures representative of the scenery of the island and the lives of its citizens as possible, for his watercolors embrace a wide variety of subjects. However, he seems to have been particularly interested in the day-to-day activities of the black inhabitants. There was a substantial African population on Nassau, because English planters had brought slaves to the island to work their plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1834, but the economic conditions of former slaves and their descendants remained extremely difficult. Several of Homer’s watercolors, such as “Rest” and “A Garden in Nassau”, hint at the lingering effects of slavery by showing black figures standing outside the coral limestone walls that typically surrounded white homes, suggesting that they were excluded from the world within.

Nothing depicts the dichotomy between East Grove and the historic Bahamian neighbourhood of West Grove more than the Nassau paintings by Winslow Homer. What the committee that chose his painting for the 2002 Vision Plan could not have known is how little would get done in the intervening 14 years. Presenting this optimistic plan to the City of Miami, there was no way they could have known that the metaphorical wall between the two ends of Coconut Grove would get ever higher.

I’ll be sharing more of the 2002 Grand Avenue Vision Plan — along with the very human stories of people living in this section of town — in the coming weeks. However, I just wanted to provide some historical context before I get too deep into this series.

Here’s some more context from 2009 by filmmaker Ellie Tinto-Poitier, narrated by Jeffrey Poitier:

If anyone knows where I can find a completed
version of this documentary, please contact me.

If you’ve liked anything you’ve read at the Not Now Silly Newsroom,  please consider donating to my Go Fund Me campaign to Support Investigative Journalism. My Freedom of Information requests from the City of Miami are beginning to add up, not to mention all the other costs of researching systemic racism and corruption in Coconut Grove.