I am in the middle of the worst case of Writer’s Block in my lifetime.
I’ve been through this before and it usually dissipates naturally without my having to work it it. This one hasn’t and only seems to have gotten stronger the more I kick at it. In an effort to kick it to the curb, let’s talk about some of the reasons why this might be happening.
1). To begin with, I actually write every day . . . In my head while UberLyfting. I am on the road for hours and hours on end. During that time I write paragraph after paragraph in my head. This article, for example, has already been written dozens of times. I have, in my head on any number of occasions, reordered these paragraphs and come up with certain wording and bullet points. Writing so much in my head, by the time I get home to my keyboard it already feels finished, so I don’t bother to put it down digitally.
2). Speaking of when I get home: I sit down at the PC —with the tee vee on in the background— and start reading the news of the day on the various websites I haunt. Then I start farting around on the facebookery. By the time I next look at the clock it’s 3 or 4 in the afternoon and I no longer feel like writing.
3). Speaking of the afternoon: This is somewhat difficult for me to admit, being as how I’ve been a professional writer my entire adult life, but I stopped being able to write in the afternoons. It used to be that I could write day or night. I would wake up at any hour and start pounding on a keyboard, creating legible sentences and paragraphs. Writing was something that I had to do, not necessarily something I wanted to do, altho’ I did. Words were always pouring out of me in one form or another.
However, I noticed a number of years ago (about 5, if I had to estimate) that, while I could write up a storm in the mornings, any word craft later in the day was junk. All my articles for NewsHounds and PoliticusUSA were written early in the morning. Most (if not all) of my posts at Not Now Silly were written in the morning. If I tried to write in the afternoons, it came slowly, if it came at all. And, what I produced was of such poor quality that I’d often scrap it entirely or spend so much time editing it into shape that I may as well have scrapped it and started over. That may have been easier and faster.
4). I used to set aside time every day to write because I had assignments due, or a post I was compelled to write. Lately, I don’t seem to have anything I really want to write about, so I make posts on the facebooky, as if that’s really writing at all.
5). One of the heavier things weighing on my mind (but not the most) is this: If you’ve been following along at home, you’ll know how I’ve been writing about Coconut Grove for the last decade; first trying to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House (a battle lost, as the house has now been replicated, not renovated) and then moving on to fight the runaway gentrification on Charles Avenue. My last article on that topic was Rapacious Developers Are Destroying A Historic Black Neighbourhood.
Not to put too fine a point on it, no one shared this article. I’ve checked every corner of the internet I could shine a light into. I could not find a single instance of it being shared. None of the stakeholders in Coconut Grove seemed to care enough to share it. No one who professes love for Charles Avenue shared it. I couldn’t get the Miami Herald to look into it and no other pundit or publication showed a scintilla of interest.
It was a severe blow to my ego.
“Why the fuck should I knock myself out?”, I started to ask myself in the way one asks questions in your head during moments of self-doubt. I don’t live in Miami. I don’t even live in that county. The E.W.F. Stirrup House is 37.2, 40.1, or 41.2 miles away from me (depending on which highway I take). On a good day I can be there in an hour. On a bad day it’s take 3 hours. Three fucking hours on I-95 that could be better spent, even if it’s just cleaning lint out of my navel or farting around on the facebookery.
Why should I spend all that time, all that gas, all that energy, all that money on FOIA requests, when the efforts of my research are not appreciated by those I thought I was helping?
And, that particular thought bothers me as well. Was I doing this because it was the right thing to do? Or was it because I was trying to impress people in Coconut Grove? I thought it was the former, but this question preying on me makes me think that maybe it was the latter.
6). Here’s a larger data point looming within my Writers’ Block: While trying to get over this hump, I started writing an intensely personal confession about something from my past. It’s actually something I had been working on for decades, but —again— only in my head. Without going into detail (because that’s what that post would have done and will still do once [if?] I get back to it), I have recovered a childhood memory that has me questioning WTF?
Then I began the slow and emotionally difficult process of writing an article about it. I was making incremental progress on it, despite having to kick against the writers’ block. And then: Disaster!
As odd as it seems, the news of the day made me question whether I should finish and publish the article. It’s not that I couldn’t make this confession. It was more that I couldn’t make it at that time. It would have appeared as if I was jumping onto a bandwagon, trying to make something that was not about me all about me.
Consequently, I shelved the article to the point of deleting the draft I has been working on. It’s gone and, if I ever want to finish it, I will have to start it all over again.
It’s something I need to write eventually (if only for my sanity), but don’t know how much time will be needed before it no longer appears that I’m just trying to shine by reflection of other people’s difficulties.
7). Last, but certainly not least, because it’s really the #1 reason I am going through this: I feel like I’m losing my ability to rite gud. Whether it’s because the lack of use has atrophied my writing muscle or because my brain is not firing the way it used to. When I do try to write I occasionally get lost in the paragraph. I hit a dead end and no longer remember where I was going. Then I have to sit and reread what’s there before I can find the roadmap that gets me out of there. Occasionally, I’ll even lose my place in the middle of a word.
There’s no GPS system for getting lost like that. I have to find my way out of the maze on my own and there are times it’s a struggle.
For all these reasons I have been having trouble getting words down lately. The only saving grace is that this article came relatively easy and quickly. That may be because I’ve written it in my head many times already. Or, maybe, hopefully, fingers crossed, I am getting over this hump.
I have been writing about the subject of Demolition by Neglect on Charles Avenue for the last 9 years. I have also tried to interest the Herald in some of the shenanigans I have uncovered to no avail.
It puzzles me that Rasken and De La Paz were able to get a story which went into their specific complaints and yet accuse others of planting the story, with no evidence whatsoever.
Meanwhile, this morning I published a story on my little old blog — which keeps fighting gentrification in West Grove — that is a much bigger story about Charles Avenue and its continued destruction. I hope you will find it newsworthy enough to actually do an article on it.
I would be happy to talk to anyone who would like to follow up on this story, or any of the others I have written about what’s been happening on Charles Avenue over the last decade. Feel free to call anytime: 954-XXX-XXXX
While this story is best told in situ, so one can see all the players and how all of these properties and machinations connect, I am leaving for a 3 week road trip early Friday morning. However, I will be glad to meet with someone any time today or tomorrow if they would like a small tour. I live in Sunrise up in Broward, so I would need an hour’s notice.
The Not Now Silly Newsroom has documented time and again how developers around Charles Avenue have done nothing but obliterate that history.
The latest outrage is the most massive attempt at gentrification in West Grove since the last outrage, which was the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums (which this reporter calls The Monstrosity). First a quick course in a century plus of West Grove history.
In the late 1800s, as cities in the north were already metropolises, Coconut Grove was still a mix of swamp and dry land, just getting started. Its settlement pre-dates the City of Miami, which grew faster and taller.
Commodore Ralph Monroe, one of the earliest residents, advertised in the north to his rich industrialist friends. He offered a totally immersive rustic experience at Camp Biscayne, where people could fish, hunt, and sail. This was before any roads could bring tourists to South Florida. Boats were the only way in. South Florida’s tourist boom — now its biggest industry — begins there and then.
The earliest gathering of what could be considered a community in Coconut Grove were the Bahamians that drifted up through Key West looking for work. Mariah Brown (known as Mary the Washerwoman at the Peacock Inn) was able to buy a small plot of land on what would become Evangelist Street and, later, Charles Avenue. [Her house on Charles Avenue is now a replica.] Eventually a gentleman by the name of Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup became the largest landholder in Coconut Grove, and one of Florida’s first Black millionaires.
E.W.F. Stirrup had a crazy idea that would have got him lynched anywhere else in the south. He thought that growing Black families needed Black home ownership. As more people moved to the area for work, Stirrup built more than 100 houses with his own hands on land he owned in Coconut Grove. These simple shotgun and Conch-style homes were sold, rented, and bartered to the hardworking men and women who really built Coconut Grove — and greater Miami — out of the swamp.
That simple fact made Coconut Grove a unique place in this country. Before it was swallowed by Miami (in an illegal annexation that could never happen today), it had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country.
Skip ahead a bunch of decades. The neighbourhood remained, for the most part, cohesively Black, as Black districts often do, because White folk won’t live there. And, as Black districts often are, this one was poor; the average wage was less and, therefore, the ability to get home loans was decreased, if the people weren’t redlined altogether. The neighbourhood slid into a slow, inevitable decline. However, the area that surrounded this enclave became one of the most exclusive in in this entire country. The Black pioneers, and their descendants who continued to own the houses, became land rich and cash poor. That’s why West Grove (as distinguished from White Grove, to be blunt) was ripe for gentrification.
Read about the wall Miami mandated built to separate the Black and White communities in Coconut Grove: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
If one drives around the neighbourhood, you’d see how, on lands that once belonged to Stirrup (and his descendants), properties have been bought, combined, developed, and walled off. These very small gated communities along Franklin — of 4-12 units — were the first beachheads into what has become over the years runaway gentrification. Grand Avenue, once the thriving Black business district, is undergoing its own challenges through gentrification, but that’s another story for another day.
I digress. Here’s some more recent history.
Approximately 15 years ago someone amassed several contiguous properties on Main Highway at the corner of Franklin Avenue. A developer bought the package and built The Monstrosity.
I entered the picture afterwards, in February of 2009. I remember returning from that first visit to Coconut Grove and telling several friends that I wasn’t sure what I had discovered, but I thought there was a story to be written. I was wrong. There have now been many stories written.
On the day this writer discovered the Charles Avenue Historic Marker — and the E.W.F. Stirrup House — it was my very first time in the neighbourhood. And, coincidentally, it was these 2 properties immediately behind the historic marker — 3227 and 3247 Charles Avenue — that provided the first mystery to be solved. That day I rushed home to look Charles Avenue up on Google Earth. Despite these lots being empty earlier in the day, Google Maps had a small house on each lot; one a shotgun, the other a Conch style, if I recall correctly.
Where did these houses go and why?
In a coconut shell, here’s a short history of these 2 properties:
They had been in the Stirrup Family for a few generations. When the rapacious developer showed up to build the Monstrosity, he entered into a complicated property swap with the Stirrup descendants. In exchange for 2 brand new condos in The Monstrosity — and $10 to make it all legal — they would give the developer these 2 properties on the north side of Charles Avenue and a 50-year lease on the historic E.W.F. Stirrup House.
Almost as an aside, this writer spent almost a decade trying to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House from Demolition by Neglect, despite it being designated historic in 2004. That fight was lost and is told elsewhere in these pages. Long story short: That house is now replica after the same developer used Demolition by Neglect (nearly a decade of open windows on a wood frame house) to argue in front of Miami’s Historic Preservation Board the house was too far gone to be saved. In other words: They used the conditions they created to successfully argue they no longer had an obligation to restore the house, instead building a recreation.
Would this have been the fate of the E.W.F. Stirrup House if it had been owned by the White pioneers of Coconut Grove? One needs only look to the Barnacle State Park, where Commodore Monroe’s house was saved, for your answer. E.W.F. Stirrup was his friend and contemporary.
But, back to these 2 houses. Where did they go?
The developer knocked them down to use the lots as a marshalling yard to build The Monstrosity. That neatly solved a construction problem. Crews were able to use the Stirrup property as a pass-through, as opposed to having to use the busier Main Highway. However, the neighbourhood lost 2 affordable houses of “vernacular style”. Ironically, the city of Miami successfully passed a law to save these “vernacular” houses recently, saving these last few shotgun and Conch-style homes. Had this law been in place, I would have had a greater shot at saving the Stirrup House and the developer never would have been able to knock down the 2 houses across the street.
What happened to these 2 properties after that? Financial jigger-pokery, if you believe blogger Heinz Deiter (and I do). Deiter alleged that the developer valued the 2 condos in the not-yet built Monstrosity at $500,000 each, which was a huge stretch. Then he went to the bank and claimed he now owned $1,000,000 worth of property on the north side of Charles Avenue. Despite prevailing property values to the contrary, the bank took his word for it.
He was able to obtain a bank loan using those properties as collateral. Once these properties were no longer needed for this grand scheme of building the Monstrosity, the developers had a new scheme. They simply stopped paying off the bank loan and allowed the properties to go into foreclosure. The bank repossessed, put the properties up for auction, and they were bought by a company whose owner was a partner in other companies with the developer who had just defaulted. Then, through some more LLC jiggery-pokery, these properties were conveyed back to the same developer.
Bank distress auctions are supposed to be arm’s length. This one was not. By my estimate the bank took a $750,000 bath on these properties. When I tried to interest the bank in what I considered to be a fraud upon it, they were very incurious and didn’t seem to care at all. After all, it’s only money.
Not Now Silly has written other stories about these 2 properties, like the night valets from Commodore Plaza were illegally using them for overflow parking at $6 a car, ripping off the city of Miami and creating chaos on a residential street.
Which gets us to the real topic of this post after all that preamble. These 2 properties, combined with several others, both on Charles and William Avenue, will be turned into what appears to be a 30 room, 2 story hotel.
Back in 2016 I worked on a secret project, which was an attempt to connect all the various rapacious developers in Coconut Grove with all the properties they owned, or controlled, along Grand Avenue. I created a map, which I colour-coded by property ownership. It was during the making of this gentrification map that I accidentally discovered that Peter Gardiner (of the Pointe Group) had not only bought into the redevelopment project at the E.W.F. Stirrup House B&B, but had purchased these 2 properties under discussion at $1,000,000 a piece.
I booked an appointment to interview Gardiner, knowing I was going to pull a massive Bait & Switch.
We started our discussion with the Stirrup House and he assured me that as a lifelong Coconut Grove resident, he wants nothing but the best for Coconut Grove. Whenever he said that, and he said it several times, I heard, “Nothing but the best for White Grove.” He talked about what a wonderful steward his companies will be in Coconut Grove.
When I thought we had exhausted that topic, I pulled out my colour-coded map of Grand Avenue. I told him that these properties along Grand — including ones he owned through Pointe Group — have now been flipped so many times that the properties can no longer pay for themselves. Property is a machine that has to pay for itself. These properties along Grand will never pay for themselves unless Miami upzones the properties allowing for heights and densities greater than the 5 storeys allowed in the Miami 21 plan.
Read more about Grand Avenue here and of a 16-year old
Grand Avenue improvement plan that never happened here.
Then I also let him know that I knew he had recently bought these 2 properties on the north side of Charles Avenue. I laid out the history of these properties, including the suspected fraud upon the bank, and his only reaction was that maybe he hadn’t done his due diligence on these properties. Ya think?
Keep in mind that these 2 properties were overvalued at $500,000 each when they were traded for condos in the Monstrosity. They sold in 2015 for $1 million each, a markup of 100% on properties that were valued by the owner himself. However, Heagrand Inc, bought them for a mere $215,000 at the bank’s distress auction just 4 years earlier.
These properties (and all of the others that will need to be combined to build this hotel) are zoned Single Family. However, based upon the price paid, they will NEVER be able to make back their money by building a single family home on any of these lots, and a few of them still have houses on them.
I made it clear to Peter Gardiner in 2016 that I would fight him tooth and nail on any upzoning effort and that was 2 years before I saw this hotel rendering.
These developers have property flipped themselves into a corner. They now have land that can never pay for itself. The only way they can make any money whatsoever is by building big and building up. By building a hotel on these properties, as a matter of fact.
Something I’ve learned: Developers have better lawyers than the city. They tend to get whatever they want. Something else I’ve discovered through this process of investigating properties is that developers plan for the long game, sometimes decades in advance. This plan has been in the works since the beginning. I heard talk of it 9 years ago, but dismissed it as a fantasy. But the fantasy now has an architect’s rendering.
CROSSING THE LINE FROM JOURNALIST TO ACTIVIST
Recently I did something I’ve never done before as an advocacy journalist. Normally I research a story, write it up, publish it, and then promote the finished article. This time, while still researching this article, I went to the neighbourhood Homeowners’ Association [HOATA] and passed around the architectural rendering you see here. I challenged them to fight this project with everything they have otherwise the gentrifiers win and the neighbourhood loses.
The developers will use conditions it created — just like they did on the Stirrup House — as the reason to argue for redeveloping these fallow lots;
The developers will use the height of the Monstrosity to argue this hotel is not too big for the community;
The developers will argue they need not plan for on-site parking because the Miami Parking Authority is planning a huge, honking parking garage right next door as part of the Coconut Grove Playhouse redevelopment project;
People [that I won’t name yet] who claim to protect the neighbourhood will come out in support of this massive development (if they haven’t already in secret talks) because they have dealings with these developers in other parts of Coconut Grove;
Miami-Dade County, which is redeveloping the Playhouse property, will come out in favour of this massive development (if it hasn’t already in secret talks);
Gable Stage, expected to occupy a redeveloped Playhouse, will come out in favour of this project (if it hasn’t already in secret talks);
Community activists will fail to mount a successful fight to block this project;
Miami’s Planning and Zoning Board will approve this upzoning because, again, developers always seems to get what they want;
Miami Commissioners will fail to stop the project (if they haven’t already given tacit approval in secret talks);
Miami Commissioners will attempt to squeeze community concessions out of the developers — which will be small potatoes, unenforceable, and forgotten soon after — once they realize this is a runaway train.
To sum up: This battle is already lost unless the community fights the upzoning at the Planning and Zoning Board, to put the kibosh on building a hotel for rich White Folk, so that other rich White folk make a small fortune in a historic Black neighbourhood.
Because, make no mistake, at the core of every story about Coconut Grove is a story about Racism.
Andrew Rasken is a real estate agent/developer who already owns several properties in Coconut Grove. Recently he purchased — through a shell corporation — two of the historic shotgun houses on Charles Avenue, directly across the street from the replicated Mariah Brown house. Now he’s petitioning Miami to knock them down to build what he claims will be his family home. There are several reasons to suspect that he just wants to flip these properties after he builds some kind Big White Box mega-home on the lot.
There is also reason to suspect that he’s taken Demolition by Neglect to an entirely new level.
According to an anonymous source Rasken [allegedly] had some workmen remove a support pillar behind the house. Then he got the city’s Unsafe Structures Section to declare it an unsafe structure.
In addition, recent pictures of the house by this writer shows brand new damage where the siding has been ripped away in some spots on the sides and back of the house. This will only allow further wood rot and weather damage. Maybe we should call this Demolition by Demolition.
Now Rasken finds himself in a Catch 22: He wants a demolition permit to tear down the houses, but Miami refuses to issue one until the city decides the fate of all the historic homes in the West Grove, of which these are two. Meanwhile, Miami’s code compliance department is ordering him (or his corporation) to bring the houses up to city code.
One reason to suspect Rasken’s motives can be found in the pages of the Miami Herald under this headline:
The article describes a pitched battle between residents of Coconut Grove and the very same Andrew Rasken, developer.
In lushly verdant Coconut Grove, where a wave of ungainly residential redevelopment has mowed down trees and homes by the score, at least one house — late local legend Charlie Cinnamon’s century-old cottage — is still standing, at least for now. To nearly everyone’s surprise, the tiny wooden house has survived the first attempt at demolition by a developer.
In a rare and unexpected move, Miami’s zoning board blocked demolition of Cinnamon’s 1919 cottage, which sits at the edge of an expansive tree-covered property where a developer hopes to build a large house.
It’s unclear whether the board’s decision will survive an almost-certain appeal by the developer, Andrew Raskin [sic]. But Thursday night’s 5-3 vote has heartened Grove residents fighting back against what they contend is the city’s failure to enforce zoning rules amid an onslaught by developers that’s stripping the village’s residential neighborhoods, Miami’s oldest, of their historic look and feel.
According to the Herald article the Cinnamon house only occupies 1,000 square feet of a 14,000 square foot lot, leaving loads of room for Rasken to build his house. However, another wrinkle in his plans are that the neighbours will also resist the building of anything that doesn’t reflect the historic composition and architecture of the Grove. In other words: A Big White Box.
West Grove, the historic Black enclave nestled within Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida, is currently threatened on all sides by White gentrification.
The latest challenge is the massive Coconut Grove Playhouse condo/restaurant/parking lot/theater redevelopment project threatening West Grove.
The Playhouse is at the extreme east end of Charles Avenue. It was designated a Historic Roadway because it is one of Miami’s oldest streets. It was laid out slightly out of true east/west alignment by E.W.F. Stirrup, who almost single-handed, created this neighbourhood and watched over its survival until he died in 1957. Stirrup was one of Florida’s first Black millionaires and at one time owned more properties in Coconut Grove than anyone else.
This reporter has been researching Charles Avenue and Main Highway since February 2009. Here are just a few of the stories from the archive.
[/tabembed]The more things change, the more they stay the same.
When the Miami Historic Environment Preservation [HEP] Board voted earlier this month to demolish the theater, it took another step in destroying history in order to pay lip service to preserving it. This is the same thing the HEP did with the E.W.F. Stirrup House, catercorner to the back of the Playhouse, on south side of Charles. This magnificent century-old house has now been replaced — NOT RESTORED! — because the HEP will roll over for developers, history be damned.
The Coconut Grove Playhouse — just like the Stirrup House — underwent nearly a decade of Demolition by Neglect. The Coconut Grove Playhouse’s developers — just like the Stirrup House’s developers — were then able to argue that extreme deterioration of the structure required it to be torn down.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
TO BE FAIR: The Playhouse developers were also able to argue the theater was renovated so many times since originally built, that it no longer was the old theater anymore. That was an argument only the HEP seemed to buy.
Ironically, the same could have been argued for the E.W.F. Stirrup House, which (according to anecdotal evidence) grew from a small 1-story Conch House to the impressive 2-story structure as Mr. Stirrup’s family and fortune grew.
However, that’s all water under the bridge.
Once the HEP approved the massive Playhouse redevelopment (in concept only) it became immediately clear how this Black neighbourhood will bear the brunt of that decision.
When it came time to build a polluting incinerator in Miami, it was given to West Grove. Almost 100 years later, when it came time to build a polluting diesel bus maintenance facility, it was given to West Grove. And now, when a massive development project is proposed for Main Highway, the negative effects will be born by West Grove.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
A quick word about these Coconut Grove Condo-Retail-Restaurant-Parking Garage-Playhouse Megaplex drawings:
Before the HEP Board approved demolishing the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse on April 4th, the developers put on the typical Dog and Pony Show. During the hours-long meetings the community and HEB Board were presented with a confusing array of facts and figures, along with blue prints and artist’s renderings. These cane be found HERE. show that there will be entrances to the loading docks on Charles Avenue and William Avenue, one block to the north.
Just before the HEP voted it was revealed that all of the drawings just shown were already out of date, supplanted by another set of drawings, with different facts and figures, that no one had seen yet.
And the HEP Board still passed it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The latest drawings show that Charles Avenue [A, to the right] will be the entrance for all trucks with something to pick up, or take away from the Coconut Grove Condo-Retail-Restaurant-Parking Garage-Playhouse Megaplex.
Trucks will turn in from Main Highway [B] to [F}, where an entire complex of loading docks and garbage pickup will be competing for space. The drawing does show a small bit of landscaping to try and make it disappear, but it will always be a loading dock and garbage pickup on Charles Avenue.
It’s instructive to note that putting this driveway on Charles leaves the maximum amount of space on the north side of the building for the mixed use Condo/Retail/Restaurant/Parking Lot/Theater Megacomplex. All at the expense of Charles Avenue, which has been designated a Historic Roadway, just to remind you.
Lately beer trucks serving the restaurants in The Monstrosity, aka Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums, have been pulling onto Charles Avenue and parking opposite the driveway to the E.W.F. Stirrup House [G]. From there the deliveries are loaded onto a hand cart and taken it through the parking lot of the Regions Bank on the corner, across from [F]. If the Stirrup House ever gets an occupancy permit, they’ll be able to walk it through the Stirrup property instead, saving time and energy.
Oddly enough, loading docks were not required for The Monstrosity, even though the plan was always to have restaurants on the ground floor that would require deliveries. In addition, beer trucks will never be allowed to pull up in front of The Monstrosity, because that would hinder the valet parking concession.
Once the Playhouse is redeveloped — with its 31 apartment units [D], restaurant [between D & E], gargantuan 449 slot parking garage [C], and small 300 theater [E] — it will generate a massive amount of garbage. There will have to be daily pickup, if not pickup twice a day.
Let me draw your attention to the two empty lots marked [H] on the pic above. Immediately behind the Charles Avenue Historic Marker are 3227 and 3247 Charles Avenue, which are zoned single family residential. There had once been houses on those lots; a Conch on one and a Shotgun on the other. These were demolished in order to use the double lot as a marshaling yard to build The Monstrosity a decade ago.
TO BE FAIR: This made more sense than having the construction traffic on Main Highway, but the neighbouthood still lost 2 affordable houses that have never been replaced.
These 2 lots are not part of the footprint of Playhouse redevelopment. Yet, everyone recognizes how they would square off the Playhouse property. However, there are too many hoops to jump through for that to ever happen. Regardless, that did not stop developer Peter Gardner, of the Pointe Group/Colliers International, from dropping a half million dollars a piece to speculate that these two lots will skyrocket in value.
FULL DISCLOSURE: When I met with Peter Gardner last year I sandbagged him. Having learned he had recently signed on as a developer of the Stirrup House, I booked a sit down interview with him. After some preliminaries on the Stirrup House, I shifted to these two Charles lots and then all the property he either owns or controls on Grand Avenue.
Garner was surprised that I was able to relate the history of these two empty lots and how the people he bought them from may have broken the law to get them. He suggested that it’s possible he hadn’t performed his due diligence on the properties. I assured him that no one, least of all the banks that appear to have been snookered, cared at all.
Then he appeared shocked when I pulled out my handmade map of Grand Avenue, with all the properties identified and colour-coded by owner.
And, I know he was stunned when I told him that I would fight him tooth and nail to prevent these Charles Avenue lots from being zoned for anything other than single family. TO BE FAIR: I warned him at the top of the interview that I was an advocacy journalist. This is just one of the things I advocate about.
But, I digress. One of the latest ideas for these two lots is to turn it into some kind of car turn-a-round for all the swells going to the Playhouse. Imagine the traffic this would generate. However, this idea seems as absurd an the other rumour around: That Michael Eidson’s 2-theater plan would need these two lots to expand into for something or sundry. Both ideas seem like non-starters.
Regardless, no developer drops a million dollars on 2 lots unless he thinks there’s a payoff at the end of the day. Small single family houses on these long and narrow lots will never be able to pay for themselves. That’s why eventually Miami Planning and Zoning will be called upon to either rezone the lots to Multi-Family or Commercial use. The owner of these 2 contiguous lots would need no variance to build a monster home straddling the properties, but it would be hard to make any money doing that.
And, if Not Now Silly has learned anything in the 8 years covering Miami, it’s that developers always seem to get what they ask for. Even if it contravenes the Miami21 plan and offends the NCD2 oe NCD3 neighbourhood overlays. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Planning and Zoning.
Bottom line: There’s nothing in this massive redevelopment project for the people who live in West Grove. When all is said and done, this historic neighbourhood will be forced to deal with all the negative fallout of the project, without any of the benefits. The developers are now paying lip service to putting affordable housing in the project. There were also mutterings about hiring from within the community. However, these are promises that every developer in Miami gives to get permission to build, but never seem to deliver upon.
There will be an educational component to the theater program because that was mandated by the State of Florida. But nothing said they’ll educate children in the immediate community. The theater company, GableStage — which I have heard nothing but good things about — comes from outside the community, Coral Gables. [Please see my series No Skin In The Game; Part I; Part II; Part III] Because of the relative poverty of West Grove (due to decades of systemic racism) it’s unlikely the folks there will be able to afford the $45 tickets to any of the plays GableStage currently offers. I know I would have to budget hard for something like that.
District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell needs to be more vocal and proactive about these neighbourhood concerns and how this project will negatively effect West Grove. In a recent encounter this reporter asked Russell whether he has a public stance on the Playhouse redevelopment project. He declined to give me a quote because it’s an issue he may one day find himself ruling on. However, there are some aspects of this massive redevelopment that he can comment on. Chief among them, is the increased truck and car traffic on the quiet residential streets of West Grove.
I already know what Miami-Dade and the Miami Parking Authority will say, because it’s been done before. They will claim, “We didn’t hear any complaints.” It’s unlikely they will hear complaints from the West Grove. These are people who have been ignored and marginalized for decades. After nearly a century of systemic racism, they’ve stopped complaining.
That’s why they need a champion, a Commissioner who will not ignore their travails.
This is a Miami-Dade project, not a City of Miami project. This means that Commissioner Russell has very little power to protect the historic West Grove neighbourhood from the fallout from this massive project on its doorstep. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try.
Since my last visit the house has been cited for a by law infraction.
When I attended the meeting at Plymouth Congregational Church for South Grove residents to complain that developers have been allowed to get away with lot splitting and building Big White Boxes in their exclusive neighbourhood, there was one repeated piece of advice from the Miami officials to the homeowners:
Meanwhile, South Grove residents were told on Wednesday night if they
see anything hinky happening in their neighbourhood — from illegal
tree-cutting to demolitions without a permit — to call By-Law
Enforcement. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they respond a lot
quicker than they have to this disaster on Charles Avenue in West Grove.
That disaster on Charles Avenue was finally cleaned up. However, it took over 6 weeks to get a gigantic pile of demolished house removed.
Maybe “See something; Say something” is advise that only applies to the residents of South Grove. Because last week, in Unpacking Coconut Grove & The Writer, I introduced you to 3678 William Avenue, a house on the next block over from Charles. Very little has changed since I visited.
This won’t deter any kids, the homeless, or crackheads.
As I was taking pictures last week I listened to someone on their cell phone reporting the address to City of Miami officials. It had already been reported to the NET office previously, according to my source.
The only thing that’s changed since last week is that Miami inspectors cited the house for a By Law infraction. Additionally, a lock has been placed on the front gate, presumably by the owner because that’s not the kind of thing the city does. However, that fence is 3 feet tall, tops. Any child older than 2 can easily climb over it, which is what the reports are meant to prevent.
Unlocked houses are attractive to kids. When I was taking my pictures last week there were a couple of kids playing in the street right outside the house. I know if I lived in the neighbourhood I’d have been all over this place as a kid.
The house remains unlocked and open to anyone who wants to get inside.
It really does no good to just slap a By Law infraction notice on the house and a bicycle lock on a gate that anyone can climb over. This house needs to be sealed. Children can get seriously hurt in it. There are signs that people have been sleeping in it and it is a potential safe haven for crackheads.
According to the City of Miami property search website this house is owned by LEMANO INVESTMENTS LLC. , a company that owns 19 other properties in Miami, the only place that I’ve bothered to search. The registered agent’s name & address is: MOYAL ACCOUNTING SERVICES INC, 10796 PINES BLVD, SUITE 204, PEMBROKE PINES, FL 33026. The manager of that company is listed as HENRY, FREDERIC, 2550 SOUTH BAYSHORE DRIVE, COCONUT GROVE, FL 33133, a pretty ritzy address, if you ask me. I can’t imagine why they cannot afford to buy a few pieces of wood to seal this house. Maybe somebody from the city should give them a call and ask.
BTW: Along with the notice slapped on the house, the city sends a registered letter to the owner. However, it needs to be asked: How many previous citations have been slapped on this house since I first started taking pics of it 7 years ago?
If the owner won’t do the right thing, the City of Miami needs to show up with some plywood and seal the front and back doors and charge it back to the owner. From my understanding this house has been reported to the City of Miami enough times that the city might find itself legally liable if something terrible were to happen now.
As South Grove meets with their elected representatives, West Grove is
as ignored as ever. As South Grove begins the task of forming a
Homeowners Association, West Grove is quietly gentrified without anyone
noticing. When will West Grove get the same kind of attention from the
City of Miami as South Grove?
Would this disaster have gone this long in South Grove without the city taking action? Or is “See something; Say something” just an empty slogan — like FAIR & BALANCED — no matter what part of District 2 you live in?
In 2009 I was relatively new to Florida. Embedded in my online Performance Art character of Aunty Em Ericann, this happened at almost the same time I started writing for NewsHounds. Coincidentally, I was also 2 years into a research project on Sistrunk Boulevard — once the vibrant Black business district of the once vibrant Black neighbourhood in Fort Lauderdale.
I was researching Sistrunk because one of the characters in Farce Au Pain will eventually need to leave Detroit in a hurry. I decided to place him near Sistrunk. [See if you can guess who.] Researching Sistrunk meant I was already learning about Race Relations in South Florida. On the day I am about to describe I was also in the middle of reading Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen. It’s a book that explains why every city in this country looks the way it does. The history of Sistrunk is no different than any other Black enclave in the U.S. — except NYC and, as I was to eventually learn, Coconut Grove, which followed a different path than most cities. [NYC is usually the exception to any rule.]
Meanwhile, when I wasn’t at the library reading the stacks about Sistrunk, and when Aunty Em wasn’t trolling Right Wing Nut Jobs, I was freelancing for a financial institution (that I won’t name). My job involved visiting properties in foreclosure, taking photographs of them, and uploading them to a restricted web site to prove they were still there. My territory was huge: Hollywood to Homestead, including Miami Beach.
It sounds crazy, but I was sent to the same properties every 3-4 weeks and nothing ever changed. About 1/3 of the time I also had to leave a letter. I got triple the fee for those. I always took a pic of me leaving the letter, so there was never a dispute. I even got paid for arriving at a gated community, being denied entry, and taking a pic of the guard who sent me away.
It all seemed like money wasted to me, but the financial institution was shoveling it in my direction. Who was I to say no to Bank Money? It was during the height of the foreclosure crisis and there was no end to the work. Each week I’d get paperwork on some 100-250 properties and I was expected to return pictures of them in 3-5 days.
As an aside: Imagine you needed to visit that many properties. You’d drive yourself bonkers if you tried to chart the most efficient route. Thanks to (the now discontinued) Microsoft Street and Trips. I could plug all the addresses into the laptop, hit OPTIMIZE, and — after the machine thought about it for a while — it would spit out the perfect route. If I put my address as the first and last, it would route me down one side of Southeast Florida and up the other.
Being new to South Florida, I couldn’t have told you the difference between Coconut Grove, Hialeah, Hollywood, Opa-Locka, Cutler Bay, or Miami Beach — or how to get there. Thank goodness Microsoft Streets and Trips also had a USB GPS thangie to hang on my windscreen.
A recent pic of 3678 William Avenue, the first
house I ever photographed in Coconut Grove.
One day I was down in Cutler Bay. My next stop was on William Avenue, in Miami (actually Coconut Grove, but I didn’t know that then). The GPS directed me to Main Highway and told me to head north.
I remember laughing at the time because it was not a highway. Nor did it seem very main. It was a narrow two lane road — one in either direction — which felt hemmed in on both sides by vegetation and the walls of gated communities. I later learned that this actually was once part of the main highway to get from Miami to the very bottom of the state, long before the overseas highway was built to Key West.
Once I was on Main Highway the GPS told to me to turn left onto Charles Avenue. As soon as I did I saw the Charles Avenue Historic Marker. It’s rare to see a marker this big on a residential street. Being a history buff I pulled over and read the marker.
The first black community on the South Florida mainland began here in the late 1880s when Blacks primarily from the Bahamas came via Key West to work at the Peacock Inn. Their first hand experience with tropical plants and building materials proved invaluable to the development of Coconut Grove. Besides private homes the early buildings included the Odd Fellows Hall, which served as a community center and library, Macedonia Baptist Church, home of the oldest black congregation in the area, and the A.M.E. Church, which housed the community’s first school. At the western end of Charles Avenue is one of the areas oldest cemeteries.
Looking from the front door of the house on William Avenue
Instinctively I could read between the lines of this sign:
“If it hadn’t been for the Black Bahamians, the White folk would have starved. This is where they lived, close to where they worked in the nascent White tourist industry.”
After reading the Charles Avenue Historic Marker, I turned to look at the E.W.F. Stirrup House for the first time. In a neighbourhood filled with one story shotgun shacks and little Conch-style houses, it was this gloriously large 2-story house, painted white with yellow trim, shining brightly in the South Florida sun. I was struck by 3 things: 1). It’s beauty; 2). How different it looked from the rest of the houses; and that it was empty.
I moved on to photograph the house on William Avenue. Then I was sent over to an address on SW 27th Avenue, which the GPS told me was exactly a mile away. I wasn’t prepared for how the neighbourhood changed from an obviously depressed area to ritzy. So ritzy, in fact, that the nondescript street address I was given was the Ritz-Carlton Residences tower, right next door to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel tower, in Coconut Grove.
I couldn’t get past the concierge to deliver the letter I had in my hand. And, I’m not even sure I could have passed the dress code besides. Because I had hundreds of properties to photograph, I took his picture and demanded to know his name for my report.
Looking into the back door of the house on William
However, I couldn’t get that yellow and white house on Charles Avenue out of my mind. As soon as I got home I jumped on Google Maps. The first surprise was that on the satellite view there were two houses on the north side of Charles Avenue, across the street from the Stirrup House. Those houses were no longer there. Why? That was the first mystery to solve. After that I was hooked.
I soon learned that the house that I found so attractive for its majestic simplicity (not a contradiction) was known as the E.W.F. Stirrup House. There was scant biographical information for Mr. Stirrup on the net, but I hoovered up what I could as fast as I could.
I also learned that the 33133 Zip Code is considered one of the most exclusive in the entire country. I had discovered a place of extreme contrasts, but my education on Coconut Grove was just beginning.
It’s probably fortunate for all involved that this financial institution sent me back to the address on William every few weeks to make sure it was still there. I’m not sure I would have driven down on my own had it not been for that. After a few visits, following a bunch of research on Charles Avenue, I was hooked
on the legacy of E.W.F. Stirrup, which seemed to have been forgotten.
His house was empty and undergoing the DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT that I’ve
documented in the 7 years since discovering it.
Furthermore, going back to the same address on William every month, or so, allowed me to follow the progression of this other property over the same 7 year period.
When I first started dropping off letters and taking pics of the house on William, it was still occupied. I’d leave my letter in the screen door. The next time I’d return it was gone and there were signs of recent occupation. However, eventually the last letter I had left was still the door, along with flyers and the other paper detritus that marks the beginning of an empty house. I left the new letter, in case someone was collecting the mail piling up in the mailbox, but reported the house as empty to the financial institution.
The back of the house on William. One of the reasons it
stood out was, like the E.W.F. Stirrup a few blocks away,
was one of the few 2-story houses in this area of West Grove.
One day I arrived to find a fire-engine red notice on the door condemning the property. Right around that time I stopped working for the financial institution because someone undercut my price. However, I continued to visit Coconut Grove for my own research on various stories in Coconut Grove.
SYNCHRONICITY ALERT: Recently I’ve been working with someone in West Grove to research a complicated story that requires driving around the neighbourhood. Recently they were ranting about a property on William Avenue that was possibly being used as a crack house, but certainly being used by the homeless.
It’s the house on William that introduced me to Coconut Grove!!!
The front door is gone. The back door is wide open. It’s filled with mold and mildew and the ceilings have fallen in. There’s a hole in the roof. Clothing and blankets are scattered through the front of the house and it’s clear that people have been sleeping there.
I told my source the story about how this very house led me to discover Coconut Grove. They told me they’ve reported this house to the City of Miami and we should go look at it. That’s when I took the pics that accompany this article.
Francisco J. Garcia of Miami’s Department of Planning
and Zoning provided the answers to residents’ questions
Community involvement was strong last night in Coconut Grove as more than 200 residents packed a meeting hall at Plymouth Church to vent and make plans.
The homeowners of South Grove are up in arms and called this “Community Organizational Meeting,” which was attended by Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell, Miami-Dade District 7 Commissioner Xavier Suarez, and Francisco J. Garcia, of Miami’s Department of Planning and Zoning. Homeowners want to develop a strategy to put a stop to the division of large properties to build more homes; the demolition of old houses; the building of ‘cookie-cutter’ houses, derisively called White Boxes; and the continued destruction of the Grove’s famous tree canopy.
Oddly enough, these are the exact same issues I’ve been quietly researching for the last several weeks, even before this story bubbled up to the surface. My interest began when a source suggested I attend a Planning and Zoning meeting about potential “up-zoning” of a certain property. Up-zoning is when a developer asks for more than is allowed by the Miami21 code and — usually — gets it. This piqued my curiosity. A few weeks later the same source took me around to show me the contemporary ‘cookie-cutter’ houses being built. These concrete White Boxes stick out like sore thumbs among the older homes that fit the neighbourhood.
Just some of the White Boxes being built all over Coconut Grove
However, all my research — and all the houses we looked at — was in West Grove, where the prevailing style of house are either one-story Shotgun Homes or Conch-style houses, both reflecting the neighbourhood’s rich Bahamian history.
South Grove architecture, on the other hand, is distinctly different and all over the map, as it were. The houses there are
more suburban in style, from the earliest one-story small cottages, to the more recent Monster
Homes of the last few decades, and everything in between. Because this area was developed from the
1920s onward, the houses reflect nearly every kind of home architecture attempted
since then. And, as people were told at last night’s meeting, these White Boxes are what developers want to build because, they claim, it’s what people want to buy.
This demolition on Charles Avenue has taken place
over the last 6 weeks. That is not a typo. This is how it
looked on April 27, 2016, the same day South Grove
residents complained about their precious tree canopy.
However, that’s not the most glaring difference between West Grove and South Grove. In fact, as I’ve joked before, the difference is like Day and Night.
West Grove is the Black area of Coconut Grove. It can’t be said any simpler than that. The area is blighted, and has been for decades, precisely because it’s the Black area.
QUICK HISTORY LESSON: Unlike most Black neighbourhoods of its era, Coconut Grove is unique because the people owned their own homes. At one time Coconut Grove had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country. [Read: Happy Birthday Coconut Grove. Now Honour Your Past] This meant they couldn’t be dislodged as they could in other U.S. cities where Black folk rented from absentee landlords. However, the same economic factors that kept Black neighbourhoods in poverty elsewhere also worked on West Grove: low wages, an inability to get home improvement loans, and systemic racism. However, the neighbourhood has remained predominately Black as folks passed their houses down to generation after generation, the way White people pass down the family jewels.
End of history lesson.
This is the same rooming house as above on April 2, 2016
Earlier in the day I met with a second anonymous source who has also been researching the White Boxes in West Grove. Oddly enough, before we went to look at them, they wanted to take me to see a house on Charles Avenue that I had already taken a number of pictures of.
This demolition has so far taken about 6 weeks. The site has never been secure, making it an attractive place to play for local kids. But the nails sticking out of the boards are the least of the problems. This house was filled with asbestos, from the roof shingles to the several layers of paint on the walls. The prevailing winds have scattered some of it to wherever prevailing winds blew for the last 6 weeks.
The woman who lives next door has asthma and was just getting sicker. She and her husband have gone to live with relatives up north, in Georgia. The rest of her neighbours will just keep breathing it in until something is done about it.
One kind of nondescript White Box being built in West Grove,
this one on William Avenue. That’s actually the front of house.
People have complained to By-Law Enforcement about the unsafe demolition site and are still waiting for something to happen. There is, apparently, a promise for it to be cleaned up by the city in the morning. I sure hope they take into account the toxicity of some of the materials.
Meanwhile, South Grove residents were told on Wednesday night if they see anything hinky happening in their neighbourhood — from illegal tree-cutting to demolitions without a permit — to call By-Law Enforcement. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they respond a lot quicker than they have to this disaster on Charles Avenue in West Grove.
As South Grove meets with their elected representatives, West Grove is as ignored as ever. As South Grove begins the task of forming a Homeowners Association, West Grove is quietly gentrified without anyone noticing. When will West Grove get the same kind of attention from the City of Miami as South Grove?
The area surrounding the Coconut Grove Playhouse
[Click map to enlarge] LEGEND:
A). Grove Gardens Condominiums; aka The Monstrosity; B). Regions Bank; C). The E.W.F. Stirrup House; D). Zoned residential lots, used for illegal parking; E). Part of the 45 parking spaces leased for Valet Parking; F). Blue Star Drive In & remaining 45 spaces leased to Valet parking; G). Playhouse Parking Lot operated by the MPA; H). Unlocked gate directing traffic onto William and Thomas Streets and location of arrow directing cars to exit onto Charles Avenue; I). Main entrance/exit for main Playhouse parking lot; J). The Bicycle Shop; K). The Barnacle, now a State Park, once belonged to Commodore Ralph Monroe, a contemporary of E.W.F. Stirrup; L). Rich people in gated enclaves; M). Far less well off people in West Grove, which has remained predominately Black and depressed during the last 125 years; N). Commodore Plaza, named after Ralph Monroe, is lined with pricy eateries and more expensive art galleries, meant for people with more disposable income than those on the surrounding blocks.
A year-long investigation by the Not Now Silly Newsroom has uncovered a situation in which valet parking companies continue to rip off City of Miami taxpayers for an untold numbers of dollars.
Last year, when Miami-Dade Cultural Czar Michael Spring untangled the Gordian knot of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, several pieces of that complex puzzle were the various parking lots surrounding the Playhouse. Paradise Parking was kicked off the main parking lot [G on map to the left] — after having squatted on it for several years — in exchange for an arrangement where it rents 45 parking spaces from the MPA, at $6 a day per, immediately behind the Playhouse in lots [E] and [F].
It never occurred to me when I went into journalism that I’d be sitting in parking lots noting the movements of cars and valets, but that’s part of what I’ve been doing for the last year. That surveillance led to several articles. After my last series of parking lot stories, a gate at the west end of the Coconut Grove Playhouse parking lot was ordered locked. It turned out the valets on Commodore Plaza had demanded it be left open on busy Friday and Saturday nights in order to make their job easier.
However — and this is crucial — the valet companies don’t run the parking lots, nor the city for that matter. They just think they do. That’s why they run roughshod over West Grove, caring little about the agreements they’ve already made. They are playing the city for chumps and stealing money from taxpayers.
Which brings us to the evening of Saturday, May 2nd. There was a big event at the Cruz Building on Commodore Plaza [N], one street over from the Playhouse parking lot. (The Cruz Building, rumoured to have been built with cocaine money in Miami’s Go-Go 80s, is rented out for weddings or bar mitzvahs and the like.) Saturday’s event must have been bigger-than-average because the single block of Commodore Plaza was bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic in both directions, with an officer directing traffic directly in front of the Cruz building. Many parking valets were taking cars from the swells and zipping off somewhere, as the security officer held up traffic for them.
That got my journalistic senses tingling. Where were the cars going?
The last time I heard of a big affair at the Cruz building, the valets were illegally parking cars on the 2 residential lots [D] on Charles Avenue, immediately across the street from the E.W.F. Stirrup House [C]. The neighbours called the Not Now Silly Newsroom, which led to this reporter asking 11 questions of [allegedly] corrupt Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. He refused to answer any of them and punted them to the Miami Parking Authority. After waiting 2 months, I finally got answers to those questions that fell within the MPA’s bailiwick; not all did, so there are several questions outstanding.
On May 2nd, after some surveillance at 6:30 PM, I discovered the valets were taking cars from the Cruz Building and parking them in the MPA lot, which is not a part of the 45 spaces rented from the MPA. Eventually, by 9PM, the MPA lot was filled with cars, many of which were parked by valets. Private citizens would pull into the parking lot, drive around the small circle and, finding no parking spaces, would leave. Every car that left without finding a parking space was money taken out of the Miami taxpayer’s pocket by the valet parking companies.
This is more egregious than it sounds for 2 reasons:
The citizens were behaving better than the valets, who stuck their Cruz Building cars anywhere they’d fit, whether there were lines on the ground, or not;
At 9PM, parking lot [F], which is rented from the MPA was 100% empty, while parking lot [E], also rented, had only 8 cars in it.
[As a side issue: The Regions Bank parking lot, [B] had 18 cars in it, more than I’ve ever counted before. I have communicated with Regions Bank only to learn it has sanctioned this valet parking arrangement. The bank cited — GET THIS!!! — how it’s a convenient arrangements for their own customers because it allows them to drive right up to the night deposit. However, Regions better hope their customers are driving skateboards, because that’s all that will really fit.]
In short: The valets fill up every surrounding parking lot first, before they start filling up their own. They’re playing the city and Regions Bank for chumps and stealing money from the taxpayer.
When I told this story to Art Noriega, head of the Miami Parking Authority, he hit the roof on Monday morning. Can’t wait for my follow-up interview with him.
Let’s tie all this up with a pretty little bow for people who need to have their noses rubbed in the corruption before they actually see it.
The valet companies are connected to Gino Falsetto through Andrew Falsetto at Paradise Parking;
Aries, through other companies, owns the 2 vacant residential lots across the street from the Stirrup House, which had a cute little West Grove shotgun-and conch-style house on each before they were razed;
Aries torpedoed several plans over the years to reopen the Coconut Grove Playhouse, allowing further Demolition by Neglect of that venerated structure that the community is still trying to save;
Finally, Aries built the Grove Gardens Resident Condominiums, aka The Monstrosity, which set a new precedent for higher density structures in West Grove;
Is it not obvious to the Powers That Be that a single entity is responsible for most of the deterioration of the area immediately surrounding the Main Highway and Charles Avenue, which has been designated a Historic Roadway?
How does Gino Falsetto get away with all of this right under everybody’s collective noses? More to the point: Am I the only one watching?
First an apology to my most rabid readers. I’ve not published as many original stories this month as usual. While Headlines Du Jour is fun to put together, and a very popular series, I don’t consider any of that original writing and don’t take all that much pride in it, other than a job well done when it’s done. It’s aggregation. I’m fine with calling it that, but wish I had published more new stuff this past month. Maybe I can make that my very first New Year’s Resolution to break.
Meanwhile, I’ve been going though the Not Now Silly Newsroom archives and sharing important, funny, or just plain weird stories on social media. I know it doesn’t fully make up for a lack of NEW, but as I like to tell people, “It’s not a repeat if you never saw it before.”
Part of what’s been keeping me busy is the Friday Fox Follies, which I’ve been crafting the last few months for PoliticusUSA. Because I always saw it as an outgrowth of Headlines Du Jour, from the start the idea was to use actual headlines found on the innertubes to craft a story arc that covers Fox “News” shenanigans and tomfoolery from Friday to Friday. Trying to shoehorn in the actual headlines creates some grammatical irregularities and awkward constructs, but overall I think it’s working. Your mileage may vary.
In the beginning it took me almost 2 days to compile and write, but I’ve managed to get it down to a solid 6 hours of writing for approximately 1200 words. Here’s my methodology: During the week I compile intriguing Fox “News” headlines as they present themselves. Midweek I look to see what themes might be developing and I start thinking about the shape the column might take if these trends continue. By the time I wake up Friday morning at 5AM to start writing it, I have the basic outline and an opening paragraph in my head. After taking a quick look to see which Fox “News” personality said something stupid while I was sleeping, I hit the ground running. Provided there are no power outages (never a guarantee around here), I send it off to the editors some time between 1 and 3PM.
But still, those 6 hours are 6 hours I can’t devote to writing about Coconut Grove, the E.W.F Stirrup House, and what I still hope will be a new ongoing series, Pastoral Letter.
The Charles Avenue Historic Marker with
the E.W.F. Stirrup House in the background.
Also keeping me busy this month has been some pretty extensive research concerning Coconut Grove and Charles Avenue. I’m pulling at several different subject threads simultaneously. This has required spending many hours in the City Clerk’s office doing some deep research on Charles Avenue, the E.W.F. Stirrup House, and Miami Commission meetings, with still many more hours to come.
I have been researching two of these topics for an entire year. While I had hoped to hold them until I had all my ducks in a row, a recent flashpoint has made it important to finish one in a timely manner. To that end I now have outstanding emails with both a Media Relations Associate at a bank’s HQ and a City of Miami Commissioner. Each email requested ON THE RECORD written answers to a series of questions. We’ll see whether I even get the courtesy of replies. If I’m not satisfied I may have to resort to another FOIA request.
Meanwhile, the residents of West Grove continue to get the short end of the stick, while Aries Development and Gino Falsetto seem to get away with everything short of murder. My interest in Coconut Grove started with falling in love with a house, researching its history, falling in love with the legacy of the man who built it, and then falling in love with the people and the neighbourhood, that is sadly being gentrified out of existence around the edges.
Digging really deep into my id without revealing too much: It was just a month ago when I embarked on what I thought would be a great series — my own Tuesday’s With Morrie — when I published Finding An Old Friend ► Unpacking My Detroit. It still might. However, I must admit to initially being totally flummoxed about where to take it. Let me explain:
I was overjoyed to locate my childhood friend Kenneth Wilson and surprised to learn he was one of the first (maybe only) evangelical pastors in the entire country to OPENLY argue for the church to be inclusive (not just tolerant) of the LGBT communities. I wrote him that open letter, which I posted, and then waited for a reply. It didn’t occur to me until a few weeks later that maybe Pastor Kenny posted his reply somewhere on the innertubes. Turns out I was right. What surprised me more was the realization that he delivered his reply as a sermon from the pulpit. A printed version is at The Gospel of John, Chapter One: They Came in Twos and a live (slightly different) recording can be found HERE.
I arrived back in Kenny’s life at an interesting time for him. In his sermon he says goodbye to his church. He’s not explicit about who fired whom, but it’s clear this is his last sermon from the pulpit of The Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor. Obviously the same notoriety that allowed me to find my childhood friend so easily caused a rend in the tapestry of his church. He said, in part:
Ann Arbor Vineyard, carry the seed of the kingdom with you into your next chapter. If there are tears, and I hope there will be a few, use those tears to sow the seed for a new harvest.
I could imagine you becoming an even more multi-ethnic congregation than you are now. I could imagine your ministries flourishing in new, unforeseen ways.
To those who will join Emily and me in new Blue Ocean Church Plant, lets use our tears to sow the seeds we bring with us, from this awesome place, this house of the Lord…
Together, Ann Arbor Vineyard and your newest Blue Ocean church plant lets make this our song:
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
My final practical tip [as the recorded sermon deviates slightly from the printed version], is at a moment like this, when you don’t know what you’re supposed to say, don’t say nothing.
And then he called for 2 minutes of silence which ends his reply to me.
I’ve now read, and listened, to Pastor Kenny’s Pastoral Letter to me several times. I kept more than 2 minutes of silence because I wanted to respect any mourning period he may have had for losing his gig, but more importantly, because I simply didn’t know what to say. So, I said nothing.
His sermon — his reply to me — was religious allegory and I’m not steeped in religious allegory. It took me quite a while to interpret it. And, I recognize, I may still have it all wrong. However, it has meaning for me now when it was just words when I first read it. That’s why I’m working on the next Pastoral Letter, which (like everything else) is taking longer than I thought. However, it’s been started and is the next post I intend to finish. Meanwhile, Ken did send me his phone number and I really have to clear some time to phone him.
Incidentally, for those who keep track of this kind of Westerfield Minutia, Zachary Harvard Weed, who inhabits the pages of Farce Au Pain, lives in the house that Kenny’s family once lived in. Adrian Roland Thompson lives in the house I grew up in.
A snapshot in time: The All Time Top Ten at the time of this writing.
At year’s end it’s always nice to take a look at some stats, facts, and figures, especially as we get closer to launching a brand new, improved Not Now Silly Newsroom under our own domain name.
I’m quite proud of my All Time Top Ten, at left. Except for #6, Chow Mein and Bolling 5, which is silly fluff, but the readers just love it. I like to think the rest are all important stories on important topics and thank my readers for having the intelligence to boost them to the Top Ten list. The Blogger platform doesn’t give me very many stats, but one that’s always intrigued me is the search engine results that people received just before they washed up at Not Now Silly. Because this is getting long enough, and because I’ve got other shit to write, I’ll end this with 3 pics: The All Time search results, the top monthly search results, and the weekly flotsam and jetsam.