Tag Archives: Cocoanut Grove

The Latest Play on the Coconut Grove Playhouse

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One of my sources sent me the following document. This appears to be the memorandum that will be voted upon during the Miami-Dade Commission meeting on Thursday, March 12, 2015.

* Memorandum from Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez

DATE: March 9, 2015

TO: Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez
CC: Mimai-Dade County Board of County Commissioners
FROM: Xavier L. Suarez, Commissioner, District 7

RE: Coconut Grove Playhouse Proposed MOU

Below please see a proposed set of parameters in the form of a memorandum of Understanding (MOU). I believe it reflects the best elements of what you and I have discussed over the last few months as the “two-theater solution.”

I would appreciate hearing back from you directly with your feedback before the Thursday hearing wehich I have scheduled as Chairman of the Exonomic Prosperity Committee. I have mentioned to Chief of Staff Alex Ferro that I am available at your conveience.

Memorandum of Understanfing
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WHEREAS, it is the will of the Mayor and Commission of Miami-Dade County that the Coconut Grove Playhouse should be restored to its historic glory and configuration; and

WHEREAS, the objective of historic preservation calls for a restoration that will, as close as possible, maintain the façade, configuration, and size of the Coconut Grove Playhouse; and
WHEREAS there is an opportunity to build two theaters, one in approzimate size of 300 seats and one in the approximate size of 750 seats, upon a site plan as per the attached sketch (to be sent under separate cover); and
WHEREAS, the funding necessary to build two such theaters requires that operating and management agreements be in place with those who will manage each one, as well as a master agreement with an entity that fuses the powers of government and the private-sector donors who will fund the approximately two-thirds of the total budget needed to build the two theaters.
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NOW THEREFORE the parties agree as follows:

  1. The preliminary layout attached hereto is approved in principle.
  2. A new entity will be formed that includes majority representation from appointees of Miami-Dade County and Florida International University, and minority representation from the private-sector donors and artistic consultants. That entity will act as the landlord and will be governed by the Sunshine Law as well as competitive bidding rules for public entities in Florida.
  3. Long-term operating agreements will be entered into with separate theater groups to operate the large theater and the small theater which will assure common use of facilities, parking and compatible schedules. In case of a legal dispute that is not amicably resolved, the two companies agree that the “landlord” is the sole and final arbiter of any legal disputes, with no recourse whatsoever to appeal decisions. (It is understood that each theater group will have unfettered discretion on artistic matters.)
  4. The small theater will have GableStage, Inc. or its assugnee as the operator; it will have a built-in educational component, as agreed to by all the parties in its particulars.
  5. The large theater will have a newly formed non-profit entity or foundation as its operator, and will have Kevin Spacey as its artistic consultant, with compensation initially to be paid to him by private contributors. It is understood that Mike Eidson, as founder of the Coconut Grove Fpundation, Inc., will select its first board of directors, its initial members and will formulate its internal operating agreement.
  6. Design costs of both theaters will be borne by the County from its G.O.B. funds until the end of the design phase, presently anticopated to end in about 18 months.
  7. In the event that private funds are not obtained in sufficient amount to complement the county’s $20 million and reach a figure sufficient to build both theaters, this MOU will be revised to account for that contingency in a way that is satisfacory to Miami-Dade County and Florida International University. In that eventuality, it is understood that no private entities will have vested rights to the mentioned operating agreements for either the large or small theaters; and no reliance should be placed by either theater group on the assurance that the long-term operating agreements will be continued as envisioned here. In other words, this is a condition presedent to the rest of the MOU.
  8. The continuance of the long-term operating agreements, as envisioned here, will be subject to a condition subsequent,t [sic] which is that they will each have performance criteria, as determined jointly by Miami-Dade County and Florida International University.
  9. All other agreements in existence, including those with the Miami Parking Authority and the City of Miami, remain in effect as long as they are consistent with this MOU.
Xavier L. Suarez
Miami-Dade County Commissioner
District 7

There still seem to be a lot of holes in this agreement. The biggest of which is where the extra $40 million (and that’s a conservative estimate) coming from to build the 2 theaters, retail, parking garage, and apartments. Who is going to cough up the funds to build a world class theater in Coconut Grove?

Who will be the “private contributors” who will have “minority representation” on this Board of Directors? Not Now Silly has discovered that those with the money call the shots, regardless of minority representation.

The big fear that some people have is that the fundraising to build the theater could delay the project to the point the State of Florida gets tired of waiting. Florida could then sell the land to the highest bidder and the corner of Main Highway and Charles Avenue could become a MASSIVE development that would put Cocowalk and Mayfair to shame.

* I was forced to remove the original PDF because it was messing with stuff under the hood of the Not Now Silly Newsroom. H/t to SAVE THE COCONUT GROVE PLAYHOUSE for the doc pics.

Some More Coconut Grove(s) History

Cocoanut Grove is a 1938 movie, made well
after Coconut Grove lost the “A” in its name

I’ve been collecting historic pictures of Coconut Grove as long as I’ve been researching and taking pictures of the E.W.F. Stirrup House. For the past several years whenever I stumbled over a new old picture of Coconut Grove on the innertubes, I save it to my hard drive. I have built up a pretty fair collection, but I am always looking for more. 

Direct searches for pictures, or articles, on historic Coconut Grove, Florida can be an exercise in frustration. All searches are complicated by how many things have been named Coconut/Cocoanut Grove over the years, how often the generic term “coconut grove” has appeared in print over the years, and how often things have been misspelled on the internet over the years.

The candy bar is not the village

There’s the candy bar, of course, but that’s just the beginning. High up on any Googalizer list is the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. During Hollywood’s heyday the nightclub drew celebrities and Hollywood royalty to witness shows that featured performers such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Benny Goodman, and Sammy Davis, Jr., just to name a few. Long before the Oscars were ever televised, six Academy Award ceremonies were held at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub. Incidentally, Robert Kennedy gave his last speech at the Ambassador Hotel and was gunned down in the kitchen on his way out of the hotel. The kitchen, the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, and the Ambassador Hotel no longer exist, but they live on on the internet.

The Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador
Hotel during happier and kitchier times:

Another Cocoanut Grove nightclub was built as a roof garden atop the Century Theatre by impresario Florenz Ziegfeld — who had taken over the struggling theater built a mile north of the actual Theater District — with partner and Broadway producer Charles Dilligham. Even this couldn’t save the building, which also suffered from poor acoustics, and it was knocked down to build the Art Deco Century Apartments in 1931.

The aftermath of the horrific Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, 1942

While there’s a Cocoanut Grove ballroom and conference center on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the most famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub was the site of the deadliest nightclub fire in history. On that night in 1942, 492 people were killed, and hundreds injured,as a fire tore through the Boston nightclub during Thanksgiving celebrations. From the WikiWhackyWoo:

As is common in panic situations, many patrons attempted to exit through the main entrance, the same way they had entered. The building’s main entrance was a single revolving door, rendered useless as the panicked crowd scrambled for safety. Bodies piled up behind both sides of the revolving door, jamming it to the extent that firefighters had to dismantle it to enter. Later, after fire laws had tightened, it would become illegal to have only one revolving door as a main entrance without being flanked by outward opening doors with panic bar openers attached, or have the revolving doors set up so that the doors could fold against themselves in emergency situations.

A lot of laws were changed in the wake of the Cocoanut Grove fire and whenever there’s another fire in a nightclub, newspapers have to make reference to the tragedy in Boston. It’s in their contract.

At least on Google video searches I’ll always stumble across one of my favourite Marx Brothers movies. While the first Marx Brothers release, “The Cocoanuts” took place in Cocoanut Grove, Florida, it was filmed in Astoria, Queens between performances of their smash hit musical Animal Crackers. It was based on the earlier Broadway hit, The Cocoanuts, something that also crops up in many Google searches; which always find Gus Arheim and His Cocoanut Grove Orchestra; Judy Garland’s opening night at Cocoanut Grove; Mercury at the Cocoanut Grove; not to mention Phil Harris and His Cocoanut Grove Orchestra. Adding to the confusion is an episode of The First 48, called Gangs of Little Havana/Execution in Coconut Grove, which pops up; as does an episode of Sell This House, when Cesar and Lisa Verde tried to unload their Coconut Grove house. Both get posted on the YouTubery occasionally, but are always removed by a copyright take-down order.

Liverpool had a nightclub called Coconut Grove; as does Sacramento; as did Dundee, Scotland; and Buffalo, New York; while a cartoon I’ve never been able to find is called The Coo-Coo Nut Grove, and spoofs the famous Hollywood nightclub; a suburb of Darwin, in the Northern Territories of Austrailia, is called Coconut Grove; not to mention a song I have yet to hear, written for the Fred McMurray movie Cocoanut Grove [poster above] by Harry Owen, of Harry Owen and his Royal Hawaiians, who also wrote one of my favourite tunes, “Sweet Leilani.” [A long time ago I created a Spotify playlist with about 100 versions of Sweet Leilani.]

Which brings us full circle. Harry Owen was able to write music for and appear in a Fred McMurray movie was because Hawaiian Music was a hot a craze in “Merka at one time. From there the interest went World Wide and now there are many several whole bucketfuls of stuff named Coconut Grove all around the world, from carpet cleaners to hole-in-the-wall diners to motels. Sometimes they make the news. Sometimes my Google ‘As It Happens’ Alerts go haywire for nothing to do with the Coconut Grove I’m monitoring. F’rinstance, remember that recent crazy FloriDuh story, that broke national, because the two convicts escaped using forged release papers, like recently when those two escaped convicts were nabbed at the Coconut Grove Motor Court.

If you think all of that makes a search for Coconut Grove complicated, I have been adding my own to the Googleopolis. All my Not Now Silly posts on Coconut Grove rank fairly high on the Googalizer now andI have to weed through those now to find anyting worthwhile.

ANd, Because I have been trying to become more multi-media savvy here at Not Now Silly, for the last week I have been learning how to use a movie making program. When I realized I had all the makings for a pretty little montage, I created my latest entry to the Google Coconut Grove search engine confusion.

Play this movie full screen for the best effect

If I still have your attention, here are a couple of other montages I’ve put together:

As always, comments welcome.

Groucho Marx ► Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

Dateline October 2, 1890 – Julius Henry Marx is born in NYC. Later he is nicknamed Groucho and, along with his brothers Chico, and Harpo, became one-third of the greatest comedy team of all time: The Marx Brothers.

The Marx boys started in Vaudeville as singers. The Four Nightingales were Julius, Milton (also called Gummo), Arthur, and another boy named Lou Levy. They were always near the bottom of bill. After one performance in which the audience was more interested in a mule kicking up a fuss in Nacodoches, Texas, they started cracking wise onstage. Among the ad libbed gems: “Nacogdoches is full of roaches” and “The jackass is the flower of Tex-ass.” As it turned out, they were better comedians than singers. Instead of getting angry, the audience loved them. The Marx Brothers completely rewrote the act (read: borrowed a skit about a schoolroom and had it rewritten to suit themselves) and toured in variations of it for the next seven years or so, adding Chico along the way.

There were actually 5 Marx Brothers. 1938: Front L-R:
Harpo, Chico, Groucho; Back L-R: Zeppo, Gummo

Each of the brothers played upon a comedy trope popular at the time. Harpo played a “Patsy Brannigan:” An Irish ruffian. He was uncomfortable speaking onstage, so he took the advice of his show-biz uncle Al Shean to remain silent and mime. Chico used an Italian accent that had, in real life, helped him avoid some bullies who were looking for a Jewish kid. Groucho played the teacher in this “Fun In Hi Skule” skit with a German accent. However, after the Lusitania was sunk a German accent was no longer funny to ‘Merkins. Groucho dropped the accent and became the character we know today: a rapid-fire, joke-cracking Lothario.

After seven years The Marx Brothers found themselves at the top of the bill and starring in their own Broadway shows, two of which became their first two movies: “The Cocoanuts” and “Animal Crackers.”

FUN TRIVIA: The action in “The Cocoanuts” takes place in Coconut Grove, Florida, during the land boom of the 1920s. Coconut Grove is also the location of the E.W.F. Stirrup House, which I am trying to save from a rapacious developer. Take a few minute to read about my ongoing series dedicated to the campaign to save this 120-year old house, which is currently undergoing Demolition by Neglect.

In all, The Marx Brothers made 13 movies together and Groucho made another 13 movies without his brothers. By the time Groucho became a radio show host for “You Bet Your Life,” which he later took to tee vee, he had already been in show biz for nearly half a century.

Here are some highlights of Groucho’s long career.

This was Phyllis Diller’s first appearance on national tee vee:

Just think: Had it not been for that mule in Texas all those years ago, we might have never heard of The Marx Brothers. We are lucky to have had them.