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.
One of the first pictures I ever took of the
E.W.F. Stirrup House – August 26, 2009
This is the inevitable finger-pointing now that the sad, almost decade-long, purposeful campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT on the once-historic E.W.F. Stirrup House has ended.
SPOILER ALERT: In the end rapacious developers got what was wanted and needed. The once-historic house E.W.F. Stirrup House is no more, replaced by a reconstruction — or re-creation — which will be much easier and cheaper to bring up to the current building code.
The developers were given permission by the Miami Historical Board to destroy the historic structure and replace it with an exact duplicate because the building was too far gone from termite damage and wood rot to restore. Those are the exact same conditions the developer allowed to be exerted on the house during the nearly decade-long campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT.
City of Miami By-Law enforcement
officers discovered the E.W.F. Stirrup
House before I did – August 26, 2006
This reporter has been documenting in pictures and video the E.W.F. Stirrup House for more than 7 years. The thousands of pictures I’ve taken of this building over the years — which was designated a historic structure — proves how the all-wooden house was left open to the elements for most of that time, pointing to an unmistakable campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT.
What’s more, there will be no penalty whatsoever and the developers may have even received grants to do what they did.
[This grant business is still being researched. As usual, a city department pledged to get this information to me weeks ago and has yet to do so. I knew I should have gone with a FOI request, as opposed to a personal promise.]
Who is responsible for this travesty? There’s enough blame to go around. Let’s name names.
Gino Falsetto/Aries Development
Click to enlarge
It all starts here.
However it happened (and I heard a doozy of a story that I was never able to confirm) several lots on Main Highway, at the corner of Franklin Avenue, were purchased and combined for development. So far, so good. Plans were drawn up. So far so good. Before building permits were issued there were objections that had to be satisfied from 3 different community groups, as the story goes:
On the opposite side of Main Highway are several incredibly exclusive gated communities. How exclusive? The houses start at about $2 million and go into the stratosphere from there. The closer you get to Biscayne Bay, which is only 1000 feet away from the formerly-historic E.W.F. Stirrup House, the more you pay exponentially.
These rich NIMBYs were concerned that their sunsets would be spoiled by a huge building to the west. While it’s unknown what height the developer originally proposed, eventually it was agreed to lower it to 5 stories and step it back from Main Highway, so that it would not create a huge edifice. However, that 5 story wall was instead presented to the rear of the E.W.F. Stirrup House.
The second group accommodated were the Taurus’ customers. They argued that their historic drinking hole should be saved because it was old. The Taurus was a longtime Hippie Hangout, celebrated in story and song. One of the reasons it still was the place to drink in 2006 was because it was the only joint in the area that had a free parking lot. [We’ll ignore the implications of drinking and driving.] The rest of the Grove had parking meters or lots before you could go drinking.
So, The Taurus was saved. One story says it was moved a few feet.
Another says it was always right where you see it. But, it was saved.
TO BE FAIR: The Taurus is an old building and one could argue that it should have been saved after all. I have found references from 1906 in which it was a Tea Room. However, it’s not as old as the E.W.F. Stirrup used to be before it was recreated.
Then comes the once-historic E.W.F. Stirrup House.
Some of the people of West Grove — the Black neighbourhood fanning out immediately west of the E.W.F. Stirrup House that would not have existed had not Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup built it with his own 2 hands — were worried the Stirrup House might not be saved.
Old Man Stirrup, as some called him, was the patriarch of the neighbourhood, one of Florida’s first Black millionaires, and a man who thought that home ownership was important for the Black families arriving to become the service industry for south Florida’s nascent tourist trade. His 2-story house, in a area of small 1-story Conch and Shotgun houses represented the legacy of the neighbourhood, which is why old-timers were concerned about its potential destruction.
The developer made a commitment to the citizens of West Grove: The E.W.F. Stirrup House would be saved. However, that’s where the stories diverge. Some people remember that what was promised was a historic museum and resource center. The other story goes that this was the promise made by another group for the Mariah Brown House, a few doors to the west, and that a Bed and Breakfast was always what had been proposed for the once-historic E.W.F. Stirrup House all along.
The recreated Mariah Brown House at 3298 Charles Avenue
IRONY ALERT: The Mariah Brown House was once the oldest house on Charles Avenue. When it was recreated, that honour then went to the E.W.F. Stirrup House.
No matter. What eventually got approved and built at Franklin and Main is officially called the Grove Gardens Residence
Condominiums, at 3540 Main Highway. Unofficially (in the Not Now Silly
Newsroom) this structure is known as The Monstrosity. It’s also a blockbuster, in
an older sense of the word: the building that busts the block; the building
that future developers will point to and say, “But you’ve already allowed
this kind of density, height, and development in this community. Why not me?” [Prediction: eventually the Coconut Grove Playhouse restoration (or will that be another reconstruction?) will point to The Monstrosity to show what’s been allowed. But, as usual, I digress.]
This picture is from February 22, 2013. I had already been
photographing these open windows for 4 years at this point.
It’s crucial to keep this in mind as you continue to read about this travesty:
Once Aries Development got its grimy hands on the E.W.F. Stirrup House, it did nothing. It didn’t even bother to seal the house. It didn’t bother to close the windows. For the better part of a decade the house was open to the elements.
This is not how you treat a structure you are committed to saving. This is a structure undergoing a clear and purposeful campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT. What more proof is needed?
In fact, it was only recently (within the last year) that boards went up on the windows pictured above, but other broken windows and open windows were left alone.
E.W.F. Stirrup’s Descendants
Heretofore I have been careful not to criticize the Stirrup Family, but that ends now.
This picture from July 17, 2012 shows how invasive vines
were allowed to grow up the back of the house, over part
of the roof, and directly into the windows and wood on
the east side of the house. See below for the after pic.
The 5-story Monstrosity looks down upon the jungle.
When E.W.F. Stirrup died in 1957, he left it in his will that the house had to remain in the family in perpetuity. While I had always thought codicils like that could be challenged, to the family’s credit this one never has been.
The house is currently owned by Stirrup No. 1, LLC, a company owned by the grandchildren of E.W.F. Stirrup, which includes E.W.F. Stirrup, III. The Stirrup grandchildren, through this company, entered into a business arrangement to turn the Stirrup House into a Bed & Breakfast.
Here are the broad contours of this business deal:
The Stirrup descendants, who also owned two properties on the north side of Charles Avenue immediately across from the Stirrup House, agreed to a complicated swap. Aries would trade 2 brand new condos in The Monstrosity to the Stirrup grandchildren for
those 2 properties on the north side of Charles, a 50-year lease on the
formerly-Historic Stirrup House built with their grandfather’s own hands, and $10.00 to make it all legal. Which is how Aries got its hands on this cultural treasure, which it proceeded to destroy by a decade-long campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT.
Once the deal was done, it appears as if the Stirrup grandchildren turned their backs on the Stirrup House, now literally in their own backyard. If the condos they were given are on the north side of The Monstrosity, they were able to look down upon the disaster that their grandfather’s house had become during this purposeful campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT.
IRONY ALERT: Whenever the city cited the property for non-compliance, it didn’t cite Aries Development, which had a 50-year lease on the house and was responsible for its upkeep. The city fined the company owned by the Stirrups for all infractions because it was the owner of record.
It’s impossible to know what was happening behind the scenes, but if this were my grandfather’s legacy, I would have been jumping up and down to get the developer to do the right thing by him — to save the historic E.W.F. Stirrup House, the oldest house on Charles Avenue, from a campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT.
It’s also impossible to know what motivated the Stirrup grandchildren to enter into a business agreement with Aries Development to turn the house into a B&B. Was it money? Were they sold a bill of goods by Aries? Were they blindsided by the horrible treatment the house received at the hands of the developer? However, as [silent?] partners in this business deal, some of the blame has to go to them for being terrible stewards of their grandfather’s house and his legacy.
LaTasha and LaToya Stirrup pointing to
E.W.F. Stirrup – One Grove mural unveiling.
This collaborative effort was born in the social media space following an inspired Facebook discussion among a few family members. While aware that our family story is already in the public domain and has been for some time, we acknowledged that the telling of our family story varied greatly and was regrettably unknown to many– particularly to those most needing to hear it. We came to an agreement as a family and decided to act–as a family, for our family.
We agreed that our family story is a classic American immigrant tale; one that is deeply rooted in the American dream.; one that is both exemplary and extraordinary; one that deserves to be told; and one that should rightfully be told by the Stirrup family.
All I’ve ever wanted was to restore the legacy of E.W.F. Stirrup, whose story I accidentally discovered. I became fascinated with the man and what his life meant for Coconut Grove, a place that proves the exception to the rule in Race Relations in this country. As the only person writing about him over the last 7 years, I welcome their inclusion. His is a story that needs to be told widely.
At a Coconut Grove Collaborative meeting (described below) is when I first met SFL’s LaToya Stirrup (and her sister LaTasha). They had read my articles on their great grandfather and thanked me for keeping the legacy alive. We started up an email conversation that ended abruptly. I was told through sources that, although they were not of the side of the family that gave up the 50-year lease on the Stirrup House, they were told by the family to stay away from me because I was criticizing the Bed & Breakfast deal.
However, if we’re going to tell E.W.F. Stirrup’s story, let’s tell it correctly. The Our Patriarch page reads:
Stirrup constructed more than 100 homes in his lifetime, providing an opportunity for newly arrived Bahamians to actually own their first home. Many of the houses built by Stirrup remain, and are concentrated around Charles Avenue (originally Evangelist Street) close to the present-day Coconut Grove Playhouse, and the heart of the Bahamian community. Stirrup’s own home is at the head of Charles Avenue, and has survived as a legacy to its builder.  Over the years, many across Miami have continued to honor the legacy of Stirrup by keeping his memory alive in books as well as naming buildings around the city after him, like E.W.F. Stirrup Elementary in West Miami , The Stirrup Townhouses , and the Stirrup Senior residences in Coconut Grove . His residence, which still stands today, [see 1] as well as the street he cleared to serve as the major thoroughfare for the community, Charles Avenue, were both designated Historic Sites by the City of Miami.
 Not any more, as this entire post proves  The E.W.F. Elementary School is named after E.W.F. Stirrup, II, not the patriarch  If this refers to Stirrup Grove, on Franklin Avenue, that is the only thing I’ve ever discovered actually named after the patriarch  Also named after E.W.F. Stirrup, II
J.S. Rashid of Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation
Before I throw shade at Rashid, a man I happen to like, let me praise him. Two years ago I covered the Gibson Plaza Groundbreaking ceremony in A Grand Day For Grand Avenue. Rashid spearheaded this project, which is right across Grand Avenue from the cute little Conch-style house that holds the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation. Gibson Plaza is now completed and a happening thing.
February 22, 2013 — six more months of growth on those
vines pictured above — when landscapers (and I use the
term loosely) ripped away the vines that had grown into
the siding and windows. This ruined the side of the house.
S’funny story: I was in Coconut Grove that day to attend
a Historic Charles Avenue Committee meeting at the
Collaborative Development Office at which I knew the
E.W.F Stirrup House was on the agenda. This clearing of
the lot was, as predicted, brought up as an example of
all the good things that were were taking place at the
Stirrup House by Aries.
This landscaping is the only thing that ever happened,
not counting the illegal removal of the old trees.
Rashid is also the force behind the Kroma Gallery, the only place along the west end of Grand Avenue that White folks will go to. He has also worked diligently for the infilling of lots in the West Grove with affordable housing, although property values have skyrocketed so much lately that the “affordable” part is now a pipe dream.
If anyone has been waving the flag for West Grove, it’s J.S. Rashid, a community organizer out of Chicago that’s managed to get some things done despite the uphill battle.
But, Rashid is a deal-maker. A community organizer. A go-along-to-get-along guy. However, I think he bends over backwards for developers.
F’rinstance: when Aries Development needed to get the zoning on the E.W.F. Stirrup House changed from single family dwelling to commercial to accommodate a Bed & Breakfast, Rashid was there to support the project, appearing on the tee vee tubery and everything. While the video has been disabled, CBS Miami produced this report in May 5, 2011, two years after I started my lonely campaign to SAVE THE E.W.F. STIRRUP HOUSE. Quoting from Land Fight Brewing Over Historic Coconut Grove House:
The developer that owns the condo’s behind the Stirrup house has taken out a 50 year lease on the property and is proposing rezoning the area for adaptive use that mean it can turn it into a business like a bed and breakfast or a cafe.
Community Activist Jihad Rashid was against the idea but he now calls the plan a win-win.
“With the protection that comes with that rezoning, the community can maintain its character and enhance our property and lifestyle and showcase our history,” said Rashid.
The developer has agreed to leave a one foot residential zone around the property to prevent other neighbors from wanting to turn their land into commercial zone. It has also agreed to restore the Stirrup house to its original state and in case of a natural disaster it would build a replica of the building.
It turned out to an unnatural disaster that destroyed the house: a decade-long campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT.
Had Rashid remained opposed to this rezoning, it’s doubtful the house would have been turned into a Bed & Breakfast. However, to be fair, it probably wouldn’t have changed the campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT that had started years earlier.
However, had Rashid been more proactive, some of this might have been prevented. At the meeting I described above, when the representative of Aries Development stood up to give a progress report, and mentioned the recent landscaping I stood up gave him a blast, saying that not only was it the only thing done to the house, but it also managed to destroy part of the house when the vines that had grown into the wooden siding were just ripped away.
Rashid, who chaired the meeting, shut me down immediately by saying, “We’re all looking forward. We’re not looking back,” which is an insidious way of blame dodging I’ve written about before (under very different circumstances in my rant Treacherous Double-Dealing).
Bottom line: Over the years I tried to warn Rashid several times that things were rotten over at the E.W.F. Stirrup and nothing ever changed. The Community Activist was active elsewhere.
City of Miami Historic and Environmental Protection Board
The HEP Board ultimately approved the plans that allowed this property to be used as a Bed & Breakfast. While there were all kinds of protections in place, the developer was able to get away with nearly a decade of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT because once the HEP Board approved the plan, it never bothered to check on what was happening to this structure — even though it was designated a historic site by the City of Miami.
And, the protections seem inadequate or written with loopholes you can drive a cement truck through. F’rinstance: In the approval documents the developer needs to get a Certificate To Dig before it can dig a hole. This needs to be signed off on by an archeologist. Once I realized I had had lost the fight to turn the E.W.F. Stirrup House into a Bed & Breakfast, I shifted my focus to agitating for an archeological dig of the Stirrup property.
The property is a huge double lot which has been owned by the same family for more than 120 years. Who knows what artifacts, buried just below the surface, could be discovered in an archeological dig? An archeological dig could reveal how life was lived by Bahamian immigrants in Coconut Grove at the turn of the last century.
Trench and rebar – February 3, 2016
On a recent visit to the Stirrup House, I discovered a backhoe digging a 2 foot deep trench all around the house despite the HEP Board calling for an archeological dig. So, I quickly called Megan Schmidt, Chief Preservation Officer of the City of Miami City of Miami Historic Preservation Office (see below) to see if they had a Certificate To Dig.
Days later, after the trench had already been dug, rebar inserted into it, and the whole thing filled with cement, I FINALLY got my return call. Apparently the developer did get a Certificate To Dig, but — GET THIS! — the archeologist doesn’t actually sign off on the project until the whole thing is finished.
Then what’s the purpose of the HEP Board requiring an archeologist to sign off on it after the fact if there is no archeology done? I’ll wait.
TO BE FAIR: The trench was dug to place a concrete footing all around the house so that they could slide massive steel I-beams from one side of the house to the other to support it during the work. However, that was all wasted effort and money, since they could have just razed the house and rebuilt it, as opposed to replacing the house one board at a time until nothing of the old house was left. And, with the scaffolding they put all around the house, most people I spoke to were fooled into thinking it was a renovation. After I told them to take a closer look, they realized exactly what I was talking about.
City of Miami Historic Preservation Office
The foundation trench has been dug, cemented, and
the steel i-beams slung underneath the house, but
before the house got jacked up. February 24, 2016
To her credit Megan Schmidt, of the City of Miami Preservation Office, is one of the few people in Miami government to return my phone calls, even though it takes her days to do so. Also to her credit, she agreed to meet with me once and opened up the entire Stirrup House file to me, which was surprisingly thin. [The reason being, she said, is because each city department keeps its own files.] She also shared the plans on file that merely showed the exterior elevations. I wrote about this in Shocker!!! E.W.F. Stirrup House Plans Are Finally On File.
However, at that same meeting she grossly misinformed me. I specifically asked whether the developer had the required building permits to start work. She told me they didn’t. Months later she said that either I misunderstood her answer, or she misunderstood my question. As it turned out the approval from the HEP Board (above) was all the permitting needed to begin the renovation. That precluded my last opportunity to stop the project.
At the time we met I shared with her my research on the house and my suspicion the rapacious developer was allowing it to undergo a purposeful campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT. She thanked me for my interest and told me her office had to rely on people like me because they were so understaffed. But, was that just lip service? It’s hard to know.
I begged her to keep an eye on the house and she said she would. However, nothing ever changed and the developers were able to pull the wool over her eyes. The Historic E.W.F. Stirrup House is no more.
This is the elaborate web of scaffolding erected all around the Stirrup
House. While it provided stability to the structure, it also disguised what
was going on behind the scenes. In this picture, along the bottom of the
Stirrup House, note the new metal sill plate all around the house.
Also many of the horizontal support beams have already been replaced.
April 27, 2016
When I recently called her to say the entire house was being replaced, she tried to argue the point with me.
She claimed the scaffolding surrounding the house was only there to protect the house during renovation. I asked if she had been there recently and she said she had in the last few weeks. I said she needed to go back ASAP to see how little of the old house was left.
I also told her that the contractor informed me that it was all going to be replaced, board by board. I further informed her that the scaffolding actually was disguising that fact, either accidentally or by design.
However, Megyn Schmidt didn’t seem at all surprised or shocked that this project had become a reconstruction, saying casually that sometimes that’s the price of Historic Preservation.
No! The price of Historic Preservation is to preserve the building!!!
The developers AVOIDED the costs of Historic Preservation through its deliberate, almost decade-long campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT. That’s my whole point. They benefited by destroying this historic house, important to the Black community.
Schmidt was also the one who told me, two months ago, that to the best of her knowledge the City of Miami gave the developer a grant for the Stirrup House, which would have gone through the District 2 Commissioner’s office. When she said she would get the paperwork on this grant for me, I jokingly asked whether I should file an Freedom Of Information request, or should I just trust her to get it to me? I’m still waiting.
On May 11, 2016 only the roof and a small
section near the front of the house remains.
I knew should have filed under the Florida Sunshine Law, not that it ever gets me anywhere.
TO BE FAIR: She has called me once in the interim to tell me that she may have been mistaken about the grant coming from the District 2 office, but she still remembers a grant and she was still looking for me. Yet, I have called her office and left messages several times since. She has not returned those calls and I know nothing more than I did when she offhandedly mentioned she believed there had been a grant.
I’ll update this grand business when I know more. However, that the developers may have received taxpayer dollars to destroy the E.W.F. Stirrup House really sticks in my craw.
Peter Gardner/Sabal Hill
Peter Gardner is the least culpable person on this list. He’s the newest developer to sign onto the E.W.F. Stirrup clusterfuck, only within the last year.
When I recently heard that he was now involved in the Stirrup House Bed & Breakfast my interest was piqued. I had heard his name, and that of his company Pointe Group (now Sabal Hill) as being one of the developers who wanted to gentrify Grand Avenue. This is a 6 block project that’s been bandied about for years and years and years.
Here’s the scaffolding coming down on June 20, 2016
There are two ends to Grand Avenue, the east end and the west end. The east side has CocoWalk and all the new development. From the east end you have access to Biscayne Bay and, more importantly South Bayshore Drive and Main Highway, both with their multi-million dollar estates.
Looking west down Grand Avenue from Margaret. This
model shown to me at the Sabal Hill offices makes it
appear as if Grand Avenue will become a gentrified
concrete canyon, despite Peter Gardner’s protestations.
The west end of Grand Avenue, from Margaret Street on, is the West Grove ghetto with the fabled US-1/Dixie Highway at the far west end. However, this entire end of Grand Avenue has gone from being the thriving Black Business District — when segregation gave this stretch of stores a virtual monopoly with the Black community — to the depressed area it is in now. The very same systemic racism as existed in every city in this country also exerted itself on this stretch of Grand Avenue. There was virtually no urban improvement in West Grove for more than 50 years, until Rashid built Gibson Plaza.
The biggest problem with this stretch of Grand Avenue is that these properties — which could once be had for a song because the neighbourhood was blighted — have been flipped too many times by speculators and developers. It’s still blighted, but now the land is too expensive to build anything that won’t create a concrete canyon along that stretch of Grand. Land is a machine that has to pay for itself. Only massive development will allow this land to pay its own way in the future.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE: I met with Peter Gardner a few weeks back, surprised that he’d even talk to me after all I’ve written about the Stirrup House and the rapacious developers who got their grimy hands on it. None of the other developers involved ever replied to me.
I told Peter Gardner I was heartbroken over what happened to the Stirrup House at the hands of his current partners, Aries Development. Now that I no longer have to watch the Stirrup House I was going to start investigating Grand Avenue.
For his part Gardner kept talking about the fact that he’s a born & bred Coconut Grove boy who only wants what’s best for Coconut Grove. However his definition of what’s best for Coconut Grove is diametrically opposed to what I think is best for Coconut Grove. I don’t think wholesale gentrification will be good for the people in West Grove. Gardner tells me it could still be 2 years before the first shovel goes into the ground for these Grand Avenue developments. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail before then or, at the very least, plans are made for all of the current residents living in relative poverty to be relocated to affordable housing.
Something that greatly troubles me is how Sabal Hill has also acquired those two empty lots across the street from the Stirrup House (see above). He’s betting those 2 properties will become more valuable once the Stirrup House Bed & Breakfast and the Coconut Grove Playhouse are finally re-opened. Gardner paid $1,000,000 for those lots that are zoned for Single Family Dwellings. He will never be able to make his money back by building single family dwellings. He will need a zoning variance to build duplexes, apartment buildings, or a business.
There had been houses on those properties before Aries Development got its grimy hands on them. However, they were torn down so those lots could be used as a marshaling yard for the construction of The Monstrosity. In fact, those 2 lots are just some of the affordable housing knocked down to build that ugly thing.
The community needs to appose any change of zoning for those two properties, otherwise — ONCE AGAIN — the developers will get what they want by pulling the wool over the eyes of the City of Miami Planning and Zoning Department.
The Black Residents of West Grove/Apathy
It has to be said: The residents of West Grove are an apathetic lot. Whenever I talk to folks in West Grove about the E.W.F. Stirrup House, I get a big shrug. The Old Timers, who are old enough to remember Mr. Stirrup in his lifetime, have expressed little concern for the building. Younger people don’t even know who the hell E.W.F. Stirrup was and why his legacy is so important.
Looking south across the two lots acquired by Sabal Hill, to the
E.W.F. Stirrup House, dwarfed by The Monstrosity behind it.
One of my [Black] sources has a theory about this apathy. It starts with many decades of systemic racism. Black folks were used to being ignored at City Hall. It was all they could do to get low-paying jobs, put food on the table, and see their children get an education and stay out of trouble.
Who had time to concern themselves with the house of a rich man? E.W.F. Stirrup may have been one of Florida’s first Black millionaires, but he was also called a slum landlord because some of his rental properties were in pitiful condition. So few people in West Grove know of E.W.F. Stirrup that his reputation hardly matters. However, make no mistake, there is a Black neighbourhood in Coconut Grove due to his efforts.
The White Residents of Coconut Grove/Systemic Racism
This is what 13 decades of Institutional Racism looks like. And, it was no different in Coconut Grove than anywhere else in this country, except for one thing: E.W.F. Stirrup built more than 100 homes and then bartered, rented, or sold them to the growing Black families that were arriving to become the service industry for the nascent tourist trade.
Note the difference between how Commodore Ralph Monroe has been honoured and how E.W.F. Stirrup has not. They were contemporaries and both are considered Founding Fathers of Coconut Grove. Their houses were only 625 feet apart. Yet Commodore Monroe’s house was restored and turned into a Florida State Park called The Barnacle.
The plywood sheeting is going up on June 7, 2016. The last part of the formerly-historic E.W.F. Stirrup House left was the roof. And, as you can see, that’s also been destroyed. It will probably be coming off.
Conversely, the E.W.F. Stirrup House was torn down to build an exact re-creation to be turned into a commercial Bed & Breakfast for Rich White Fucks, as I call them. I wonder what Mr. Stirrup would think about that?
Meanwhile, you can barely find information about E.W.F. Stirrup, his life and legacy online. I have only ever been able to find one photograph of Mr. Stirrup, even though Ralph Monroe was a photographer.
None of this would have happened had E.W.F. Stirrup had been White. West Grove wouldn’t look the way it does now if it were White. The same systemic racism that plagued other cities also worked its devolution on West Grove.
The empty residential lots are immediately
behind the Charles Avenue Historic Marker.
One of the things the folks who live along Charles Avenue were promised was the valet parking at The Monstrosity would not increase traffic on Charles, designated a Historic Roadway.
Another thing the residents along Charles Avenue were promised is that the two empty lots on the north side of Charles Avenue, across from the E.W.F. Stirrup House (and also controlled by Aries Development) would not be used for parking.
Both of these promises are being broken on a regular basis. Worse still: The residents on Charles Avenue tell this reporter that complaining to the City of Miami has been a waste of their time.
The valets (who — I wish to stress — are innocent freelancers caught in the middle) zip in and out Charles Avenue to get to the lot behind the Coconut Grove Playhouse. Making traffic matters worse, Miami Parking Authority painting an arrow on the ground, directing traffic to an exit on Charles Avenue.
Last night, as the photo on the right depicts, cars were being parked on the empty lot behind the Charles Avenue Historic Marker. This was overflow from the 45 spaces Aries already rents from the Miami Parking Authority behind the Coconut Grove Playhouse.
In addition, I watched a valet park a car in an empty space on the Regions Bank parking lot, where there were 9 other cars parked. It is unknown what arrangements Aries Development has made with Regions Bank, but after my recent dust up with Regions, I may just ask some pointed questions the next time I go in and ask for change for the parking meter.
That all these promises are being broken is important for reasons beyond the additional parking and the traffic problems. I have been assured that the zoning on the two vacant lots across the street from the E.W.F. Stirrup House, on which cars are now being parked, are zoned residential. I’ve been further told that this is the type of zoning that can never be changed. It will always be zoned “single family.”
However, 1). This same official (speaking off the record) who also told me there would never be parking on those residential lots and, if there was, the neighbours should complain [see above]; 2). That’s exactly what everybody said about the E.W.F. Stirrup House, before Aries managed to get the zoning flipped to commercial. Just another example of of how developers get whatever they want in Miami.
TO MAKE A SHORT STORY LONGER: Before Aries Development got its rapacious, grimy hands on these two lots there were cute, little shotgun houses on each. Aries knocked them down to use these lots as a marshaling yard to build The Monstrosity. Later it, apparently defaulted on a loan it had taken out using these lots as collateral. As a result they were sold at auction. However, in a supposedly arm’s-length sale, the property appears to be back under the control of Aries Development. How does that ever happen, except illegally?
Anywho . . . it’s just another example of Aries Development being The Worst Neighbour Ever!!!
CLICK TO ENLARGE: This is the overall plan for the
House and Property. Charles Avenue runs
along the top and
Main Highway is the angled street at the
right. The irregular shape on the bottom half is the Grove
Gardens Residence Condominiums, known in these pages
Monstrosity. To the left of that are two other buildings
belonging to The Monstrosity. What the rest of this post will
concern itself with is the 100′ x 100′ square at the top of the
plan. Of note is how this plan shows a continuous flow from
The Monstrosity through the Stirrup Property to Charles Avenue.
While there has actually
been no approval given to create one
large property from Franklin through to Charles Avenue, the
developer has already removed the 8 foot wall that once separated
two properties. It was done without a demolition permit, as
Aries seems to do
everything: without the proper permits.
Like a bookend, at the far end of Charles Avenue, is the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery, named after E.W.F.’s childhood sweetheart. It was once the only place in Miami where Black folk could be buried. To put it simply: The history of Charles Avenue is the beginning of Miami’s history, but it also tells a story unique to this country. Because of the almost single-handed efforts of Mr. Stirrup, Coconut Grove once had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in this country.
Let me state upfront, in case I’ve not made it abundantly clear in previous posts, that I am totally opposed to turning the E.W.F. Stirrup House into a Bed and Breakfast. A Bed and Breakfast does nothing to honour the legacy of Mr. Stirrup. Furthermore, these plans do nothing to honour the legacy of a Black neighbourhood that’s been
struggling since the very beginning. However, these plans do everything for Aries Development and the continued gentrification of West Grove. To truly honour Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup, his house needs to relate to its neighbours on the west, not those in the other directions.
Plans for the E.W.F. Stirrup House have been hard to come by.
The last time this reporter spoke to anyone about plans for the E.W.F. Stirrup Property was around the time of The Great Miami Tree Massacre. Talking to the City of Miami, I learned there were no plans whatsoever on file for the E.W.F. Stirrup House. Of greater concern was that there were no plans on file to cut down the trees on the property. Miami takes its canopy seriously; more seriously than it takes its historic buildings, ironically enough. It’s illegal to cut down trees without the proper permits, which are only issued after a landscaping site plan has been submitted and approved. Because no landscaping plans had been filed, and no permits issued, the city cited and
fined the property owner* $1,000.00 per tree, or $4,000.00 total, and ordered a remediation plan.
CLICK TO ENLARGE: The landscaping plan that was approved after
the fact. This square is all we are going to concern ourselves with.
NB: A landscaping plan was eventually submitted — after the fact — which was eventually approved — after the fact — and all the fines were eventually expunged — after the fact. After all, this IS Miami, where developers get whatever they ask for.
As a result of a Freedom Of Information request, I finally have schematics of what Aries Development intends to do with the E.W.F. Stirrup Property. Gino Falsetto has been saying for years that he intends it to be a Bed and Breakfast. However, “some people say” the original promise was to turn it into a neighbourhood museum. TO BE FAIR: Another neighbourhood faction remembers it always being proposed to be a B&B. Interestingly, neither promise can be found in the City of Miami records. [However, Not Now Silly has recently been given another source of Miami documents to search. There may be more on this aspect of the development coming soon.]
As a novice in studying architectural plans, I took these to an architect who also renovates properties under historic protection. While I thought I had pure gold, I was cautioned not to put too much credence in these plans:
The plans are conceptual at this point and not yet fully compliant with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Properties. A process needs to be initiated to designate the property properly if that has not been done yet so that it will be eligible for Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits. There is a note on the plans that the developer is seeking compliance with these Standards so that they can access federal historic tax credits and incentives as a part of the financing but there is no evidence that this process has been initiated. The process includes designation as a property individually listed on the National Register or a contributing building as part of a Historic District, then a 3-part application for the Historic Tax Credits through local, state and federal agencies.
This is the note referred to above. It’s the only thing on the entire plan that gives me any hope
that, after almost a decade of Demolition by Neglect, the developer MIGHT do the right thing.
A detailed explanation of the E.W.F. Stirrup property plans:
The E.W.F. Stirrup House is the irregular grey structure at the upper left. Currently, it’s the only structure on the property. It’s been undergoing nearly a decade of
Demolition by Neglect. It has still yet to be sealed from the elements and is never secured. [More about that later.]
On the plan the Stirrup House retains its current footprint. However, there is nothing in these 14 pages of plans that speak to what is intended for the renovations that need to take place inside of the house to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast and bring it up to code, while retaining its historical significance. That will remain a mystery until Aries eventually files those plans. I won’t hold my breath.
Bisecting this plan from top to bottom is a paved driveway. I have been
told this won’t be used as a driveway. I don’t believe it for one second. It’s as wide as the
front gate on Charles Avenue, a gate large enough to allow container trucks through. I do not for one minute accept the proposition that cars won’t
be parked along this driveway in the fullness of time. However, if it
pleases you to call it a footpath, who am I to disabuse you of that
The plan indicates a desire to build four additional ‘structures’ on the property. Five, if you include the new fountain. Let’s take them one by one:
CLICK TO ENLARGE: This drawing shows
the New Guest Suites Pavilion as it relates
to the E.W.F. Stirrup House. TO BE FAIR:
At least they are making it look as much like
a Bahamian Conch Style House as possible.
1). Immediately behind the E.W.F. Stirrup House is a brand new proposed structure. On the plans it’s labeled the “New Guest Suites Pavilion.” I’m sure when the preliminary approval was given for a Bed & Breakfast no mention was made of a separate structure on the property to hold bedrooms.That being said, the New Guest Suites Pavilion is composed of, essentially, two 22′ 2″ x 11′ hotel rooms, side by side, under the same roof, with two storage areas along the west wall.
TO BE FAIR: The New Guest Suites Pavilion have been designed to imitate the Bahamian-style Conch house architecture of some other homes in Coconut Grove.
However, these questions needs to be asked: A). Why does Aries Development need two additional guest suites to add to its Bed & Breakfast? B). Isn’t there enough room in the 2-story, historically designated, E.W.F. Stirrup House that Aries already promised to restore?
2). To the east of that structure, past the new fountain, is a small 12′ x 12′ storage shed.
While everyone always needs more storage, isn’t there any place in the 5-storey Monstrosity for storage? Why does Aries need to dump a storage shed on the Stirrup Property?
TO BE [SARCASTIC AND] FAIR: At least they are tucking it out of the way, next to the air conditioners that cool the restaurants in The Monstrosity, which were dumped on the Stirrup Property years ago. In point of fact: The Stirrup Property has always been where Aries dumped whatever it didn’t want to spoil the perfect ambiance of The Monstrosity.
3). Just north of the storage shed is an area called “Terrace” on the plans. It appears to be a large tree surrounded by 4 tables for restaurant seating. No doubt this is related to:
It’s this last feature I find the most offensive, but it’s the clue that everything about this plan has been designed to line the developer’s pockets. Nothing about this plan speaks to the rich history of the original Bahamian community. To my thinking, this plan screams Rich White Hipster, while it doesn’t even whisper Black Historic Preservation.
The Parrillada Grill, as it relates to the E.W.F. Stirrup House (far
left). The floor plan is counterclockwise to actual orientation.
The drawing shows an open-air structure with a roof. Inside there appears to be everything needed for an indoor/outdoor kitchen, including what appears to be BBQ cookers, stovetops, ovens, and fridges.
Surrounding three sides of the Parrillada Grill is a waist-high counter, over which food can be served, with bar stools surrounding it.
How does a Parrillada Grill fit into the overall Charles Avenue Historic Roadway? How does adding all of these amenities to the Stirrup Property benefit the neighbours to the west? It’s clear how it benefits the bad neighbour to the south.
If I were making the decisions, and clearly I’m not, I would refuse to allow Aries Development to expand its little empire before Gino Falsetto has made good on his original promise to RESTORE the E.W.F. Stirrup House.
Lookie: Newly sodded!!! The E.W.F. Stirrup House still ignored.
Why should Gino Falsetto be rewarded with approval for these grandiose plans to turn the E.W.F. Stirrup Property into his own personal fiefdom when he has yet to do the barest minimum to preserve the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the 2nd oldest house in Miami?
However, when Aries needs to pretend there has been some progress, it does something superficial. A few years back, in anticipation of a Charles Avenue Historic Preservation Committee meeting, it removed all of the vines growing up the back of the house and across the roof. However, in the process it destroyed parts of the house. Now that people have started sniffing around about its plans for the property, Aries laid down sod. Once again, Aries will be able to point at something and say, “See? It’s getting better.”
But, “better” would also mean that Aries is PROTECTING the house. All available evidence points to the opposite. The house has been empty and undergoing Demolition by Neglect for the entire time Aries has held the lease. Aries has yet to even seal the Stirrup House from the elements, which are extremely hard on wooden structures. Water, mold and mildew are its worst enemies and it rains here almost daily.
Front gate left open at 7:15 AM
Furthermore, Aries Development does not even secure the house or the property. This past Saturday morning, at 7:15 AM, this reporter was able to walk right in the unsecured front gate of La Bottega, one of the restaurants on the ground floor of The Monstrosity.
However, even if that front gate were left locked, the fence behind it
is only waist-high and provides no deterrent to those with nefarious
intent. [Original renderings show the waist-high fence was to be as tall as the 6′ gate.]
As I walked through the gate, I stopped several times to take pictures. I did not hide or act furtive. Nor did I rush. No one stopped me. No one challenged me. In fact, I did not see another person the entire half hour I wandered around.
Access to La Bottega’s patio seating.
The E.W.F. Stirrup House is to the right.
Once this gate is navigated, one has free access to The Stirrup Property, through the patio seating at La Bottega. It’s not just early in the morning when no one’s around. It’s all day long. When Calamari, La Bottega and The Taurus are open for business, any of their patrons can access the Stirrup Property.
And, not just patrons. Absolutely anyone. Later in the day, at around noon, I strolled in and walked past the hostess saying, “I need to use the washroom.” But I didn’t. While still within her sight lines I walked past the washrooms, through to La Bottega’s outdoor patio, to the very back of the Stirrup House. There I met a guy who worked for the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums. We had a 15 minute conversation about the house and his boss, Gino Falsetto. I think I told him that his boss is the devil incarnate, but I may have just called him evil. At no time did he ever challenge me for being there and happily engaged in conversation until I excused myself.
7:15 AM: The back door is open. At noon it was open wider.
The back door of the E.W.F. Stirrup House is never locked!!!
It’s almost as if Aries Development doesn’t REALLY care about the E.W.F. Stirrup House. For all it knows people have been sneaking inside to sleep or smoke crack.
A developer who cares about his investment will make sure it is kept safe. A developer who doesn’t care turns a blind eye to what’s going on, with the hopes that somehow the house, an impediment to his larger plans, might just disappear when no one is looking, either by Demolition by Neglect or fire. Aries Development seems to think that proposing a white picket fence at the front of the property will make people forget nearly a decade of Demolition by Neglect.
[Pictured above are details of the architectural drawings. See the full documents below.]
* The property owner of record is not the rapacious developer who got his grubby mitts on a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House. However, whenever the lessee is delinquent in its commitment to provide upkeep on the property, it’s the owner of record which is cited and fined.
The Charles Avenue Historical Marker has been repaired!!!
This is actually a big deal for me, forget the neighbourhood.
It was the physical condition of this historical marker that alerted me I had stumbled across an interesting story about Race Relations in ‘Merka. You can take the journalist out of the newsroom, but you can’t take the newsroom out of the journalist. I just didn’t realize how deep into the Coconut Grove rabbit hole this story would take me.
The condition of the marker on January 16, 2009, the first
time I saw it. The bags of garbage covered up a broken base.
Follow the bouncing ball, dear readers:
I stumbled across the Charles Avenue Historical Marker in 2009. At the time I was still embedded in my long-form performance artist character of Aunty Em Ericann. When Aunty Em wasn’t tickling the internets, I was freelancing for a banking clearinghouse, inspecting and taking pictures of houses in foreclosure.
Still new to South Florida, it was a great way to learn my way around. My route took me from Florida City — called the Gateway to the Keys — north to Hollywood. The real estate failures I visited ran the gamut from condemned properties to multimillion dollar homes in some of the most exclusive gated communities in the entire country.
On January 16, 2009, I was working my way up from Florida City, through Cutler Bay into Miami. The GPS told me to go up Main Highway and turn left onto Charles Avenue. Almost immediately I saw the Charles Avenue Historical Marker. Markers this size are rare on a residential street. Since I’m a history buff, I had to stop. This is what I read:
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.A. Methodist Church, which housed the community’s first school. At the western end of Charles Avenue is one of the area’s oldest cemeteries.
Had it not been for the Black Bahamians of Coconut Grove the White folk would have starved in this God-forsaken swamp. Had the Bahamians not built it, this neighbourhood never would have existed.
My second visit on March 2, 2009
While 6 years of subsequent research only confirmed Aunty Em’s original conclusion-jumping, it was the garbage bags piled up all around the marker that set off my Racial Radar™. Here was a marker memorializing the first residents — Black residents — yet it became just another stop for garbage collection along the street. Six weeks later I came by the same spot only to discover a new assortment of garbage at the foot of the marker. However, this time I was able to see that the base had been broken, and not recently.
Because I never metaphor I didn’t like, for me this summed up race relations in ‘Merka over the last century. That simple discovery 5 years ago led to all my subsequent research on Coconut Grove, Charles Avenue, Trolleygate, Soilgate, the [allegdly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff and the E.W.F. Stirrup House.
The E.W.F. Stirrup House across the street from the marker.
January 16, 2009 was also the day I first set eyes on the lovely E.W.F. Stirrup House, catercorner to the historical marker, on the south side of Charles. It was empty the first I spied it and it remains empty, as Aries Development allows it to undergo continued and deliberate Demolition by Neglect.
For the longest time nothing changed at the historical marker, either. It remained broken, leaning back against the fence. However, a few years back I noticed the sign had been straightened out. A short time later a small plant, which only recently started to justify its existence with beautiful red flowers, had been added between visits.
However, that’s all that has been done . . . until quite recently. Between my last visit and yesterday the Charles Avenue Historical Marker has been given an entire new base and pole about 2 feet east of the former location. The new pole is round steel and feels much more substantial than the previous flimsy aluminum one. The base also seems better and more deeply embedded in the ground, with concrete surrounding it. It’s also been set on a slightly different angle, giving it a greater prominence to on Charles Avenue.
IRONY ALERT: The biggest surprise of all is that no one seems to know who repaired the sign. I have now interviewed representatives of the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation Committee, the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation, and the Coconut Grove Village Council. So far it remains a mystery to everyone I’ve interviewed, as well as everyone they’ve spoken with.
Eventually we may solve the mystery of who fixed the Charles Avenue historical Marker.
April 21, 2014 panorama • Right: The refurbished Charles Avenue marker at the beginning of the historic roadway. Charles Avenue was laid out by E.W.F. Stirrup and ends at Douglas Road, the site of the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery. This quaint cemetery is named after the childhood sweetheart and, later, wife of E.W.F. Stirrup. At one time it was the only cemetery where Black folk could be buried in the Miami area. Far left: The 5-storey Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums looming over the modest 2-storey house E.W.F. Stirrup built with his own hands for his family. The developers of The Monstrosity have been allowing the 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House to undergo Demolition by Neglect for more than 8 years.
That’s the very same day I started researching the history of the house, which quickly led to the discovery that E.W.F. Stirrup was a remarkable man — decades ahead of his time. Mr. Stirrup created an area unique to this entire country. Because of his efforts Coconut Grove at one time had the highest percentage of Black home ownership in the entire country, which might be the only reason West Grove has remained intact all these years.
Elsewhere in ‘Merka, Black neighbourhoods were comprised of a majority of renters, with absentee landlords. This is why I-95 could be punched through the middle of Overtown, or why I-75 totally obliterated Paradise Valley, in my home town of Detroit.
Yet, sadly, Mr. Stirrup’s legacy is barely known to the people of Coconut Grove. If they know the name at all it’s only because of the E.W.F. Stirrup Elementary School. However, that’s not Mr. Stirrup being honoured by having a school named after him. That’s his son. Not that he doesn’t deserve to be commemorated, because he was a man with a legacy in his own right. However, his father was far more significant to the history of Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida and the United States. This is not hyperbole. Read my previous chapters on the E.W.F. Stirrup House to understand why Mr. Stirrup was important and why it’s imperative to save his house.
Even though the E.W.F. Stirrup House has been designated historic by the City of Miami, a rapacious developer got his hands on the Stirrup House 8 years ago and has been allowing it to undergo Demolition by Neglect ever since. Aries Development is the name of the company and and Gino Falsetto is the name of the man who runs it. Falsetto is Canadian, not that I hold that against him because so am I. However, Falsetto left a string of bankrupt restaurants behind in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on which the Canadian taxpayers lost an estimated $1,000,000. And, of course, all the employees and vendors lost money. However, shortly afterwards Falsetto landed on his feet as one of Miami Real Estate’s big wheelers and dealers. Then he set his eyes on Coconut Grove and built the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums on Main Highway, immediately behind the E.W.F. Stirrup House. And that’s when the E.W.F. Stirrup House began to fall apart.
One wonders if the Canadian taxpayers provided Gino Falsetto with the grub stake to buy into the always over-heated Miami real estate market.
During Falsetto’s property-trading he managed to acquire a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the ownership of which still remains in the Stirrup Family. At the time he acquired the lease, Falsetto promised to restore the house. In the 4 years I have been visiting the house, and the 4 years prior to that, he’s done virtually nothing, except to make things worse by allowing it to undergo Demolition by Neglect.
All of that interior destruction is apparently taking place without the benefit of a plan for historic restoration, which I am told must be approved by the Miami Historical Board before any work is to take place. The work is also being done without benefit of a building permit, which must be posted prominently on the property while work is going on and until the completion of the renovation.
A wide-open gate on the Stirrup property says, “C’mon in.”
Let me tell you a little something about getting inside the E.W.F. Stirrup House. Last Friday was the first time I ever surreptitiously entered the house, but the two previous times I was invited in by workmen.
There was a time I used to wander onto the Stirrup property at will. There was a very large hole in the chain link fence at the extreme south-east corner of the property. After I started posting pictures of the property (that had obviously been taken from on the property), I discovered the hole had been patched. Once that hole was fixed I stopped slipping through that gap. Nor did I ever slip through the gap between the two front gates, which are chained together so loosely that Rush Limbaugh could squeeze through. However, I have encountered those gates wide open on many subsequent visits. When the gate is left wide open I take that as a personal invitation to document Gino Falsetto’s shoddy stewardship of a precious Miami historic site.
On August 16th, when I arrived at 7 a.m., the gate was wide open and had clearly been left that way overnight. I wandered onto the property and took several pictures before I headed off to my next appointment. However, I noted something on that visit that required an additional visit later to see whether my eyes were deceiving me.
When I got back to the E.W.F. Stirrup House I discovered my eyes hadn’t deceived me at all. The front door had been left open a crack all night and, at 2 in the afternoon, it was still open the same crack, which meant that there had been no workmen there in the interim. So, if an open gate says, “C’mon in,” so does an unlocked front door. My desire to save the house and protect it from idiots who have no conception of the history the house represents overrules any proprieties about property rights.
An example of some of the destruction that’s taken place inside the E.W.F. Stirrup House.
So, yesterday I a very busy boy. I spoke to a very nice woman at the City of Miami Historical Preservation office. She told me that as far as she could tell, there were no plans on file for historic preservation of 3242 Charles Avenue, aka The E.W.F. Stirrup House. However, she would have to do some more research before she could state that categorically.
Then I left a message for Peter Iglesias, who is head of the Building Department, where any building permits would have been issued for work on the E.W.F. Stirrup House. However, I suspect there is no building permit. Just like there was no building permit last year when I reported [allegedly] illegal demolition work inside the house. That file was closed without a determination. What’s crazier is that no matter how many times I called back, no one was ever able to tell me what happened to my complaint, only that it had been closed. I had a confirmation number and everything. I believe it fell into a Black hole, pun intended.
In fact, I have documented here, in an open letter to Miami, how all my previous phone messages left for City of Miami employees have all gone into the same Black hole. Miami employees never answer their phones and have never returned the phone messages I’ve left. I was shocked when Marina Novaes in the Historic Preservation office answered her phone. That was a first! She took my number and said she’d get back to me. That would also be a first.
And, just like last year, and the [allegedly] illegal demolition work inside the house, it’s invisible if and when the building inspector comes around because IT’S ALL HAPPENING INSIDE THE WALLS OF THE HOUSE, not outside. I can’t stress this enough. That’s why Gino Falsetto has been getting away with this [allegedly] illegal work. And, that’s why I took the risk and decided to enter the house. I’ve got it all documented if the City of Miami Building Department Chief Peter Iglesias wants to see what’s happening inside this historic house.
After cutting back the vines in February, they’ve not been cut since. Before
they were cut the last time, they grew 30 feet high and over the top of the house.
And, while I’m on that topic: The City of Miami by-law compliance officers need to see what’s happening behind the house, too. I’ve documented previous occasions when the property has been cited for a lack of landscaping upkeep and graffiti on the back wall. Remember that Gino Falsetto (Aries Development) is the lease-holder. However, it’s the owner, Stirrup Properties, that gets cited for all the deficiencies caused by Falsetto. Do I have to point out the obvious? The Black corporation is being blamed for the White corporation’s misdeeds.
However, Gino Falsetto seems to have learned something else: the by-law compliance officers cannot see what’s behind the house, so that area is almost never landscaped. It became a jungle, which I also documented in previous posts. It grew over 30 feet tall and part way across the roof of the house in the back, all unseen by the by-law compliance officers.
That jungle was cut back drastically in February for the first time in the 4 years I have been visiting the property. However, that had nothing to do with being cited by the city. It was in advance of a meeting of the Charles Avenue Historic Committee, on which Gino Falsetto sits. He wanted to be able to point to SOME WORK having taken place, in case people asked. However, what was done actually destroyed part of the house, as documented here.
Since then the vines have been allowed to grow unmolested again.
Say, I got an idea! Let’s start a pool and bet on how tall the vines are allowed to grow before Gino Falsetto feels he needs to impress someone else with the work he hasn’t been doing on restoring the E.W.F. Stirrup House and it gets cut back again merely for appearance sake, and not because the vines are harming a precious historic house.
Of course, if the City of Miami ever manages to inspect the inside of the E.W.F. Stirrup House and determines that Gino Falsetto has ordered illegal work, it will be Stirrup Properties, LLC, that is cited and/or fined.
Let’s face it, Gino Falsetto doesn’t care about Stirrup Properties, LLC; Coconut Grove history; or the Stirrup legacy; nor has he shown any care of the historic 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House. Falsetto is a rapacious developer who cares only about making money by developing property. In fact, having to save the Stirrup House foils Falsetto’s ultimate plan. He has managed to scoop up every bit of property surrounding the Stirrup House, including a financial stake in the Coconut Grove Playhouse. An empty lot where the Stirrup House currently sits would be far more valuable to Falsetto than this house that he’s committed to restoring. Is that why he’s allowed 8 years of Demolition by Neglect to eat away at the house? Is that why the property is left unsecured, hoping for an accident to happen?
Here are several more pictures of the state of the E.W.F. Stirrup House on August 16, 2013:
I’ve written extensively about the historic 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House, but far less about the 86-year old Coconut Grove Playhouse. In the beginning, despite them being catercorner from each other, I assumed they were two separate stories. My focus has always been in saving the E.W.F. Stirrup House, so I just put the Playhouse out of my mind. I concentrated on learning everything I could about the E.W.F. Stirrup House and Mr. Stirrup’s amazing legacy.
That the Coconut Grove Playhouse was undergoing the exact same kind of Demolition by Neglect as the Stirrup House, seemed like a bizarre coincidence. However, through my research I’ve come to realize two things: 1). Many of the same people are involved in both the Stirrup House and the Playhouse; 2). There are no coincidences in multimillion dollar real estate deals.
While the same rapacious developer claims effective control of both properties — and the same I’ll-do-anything-for-any-developer-City-of-Miami-Commissioner appears poised to help any way he can — something far more important connects the Coconut Grove Playhouse and Mr. E.W.F. Stirrup.
History is complicated: In the years just before Miami annexed the sleepy little village, the power-brokers of early Coconut Grove (read: White folk) drew up the Bright Plan, an ambitious building project that would have transformed the downtown area with Mediterranean-style fountains, a Mediterranean-style town hall, and a large golf course. Nothing ever came of the Bright Plan because the bottom dropped out of the Florida real estate market and Miami annexed Coconut Grove. However, one building from the Bright Plan was actually built: The Coconut Grove Playhouse, hence the faux Mediterranean-style architecture. E.W.F. Stirrup may have felt it was worth selling off a sizable plot of land (of what had traditionally been the Black Grove) to bring culture to Coconut Grove.
Mr. Stirrup had to walk less than 250 feet from his front door to the box office of the Playhouse. I wonder, as I always do in cases like this, whether Mr. Stirrup was allowed to go inside the movie theater he allowed to be built. Movie theaters in those days, if they allowed Black folk at all, were strictly segregated. Black seating tended to be in the upper balconies. I have yet to find the information that would answer these questions for the Coconut Grove Playhouse, but it’s interesting to speculate based on what is known about the period.
White hand, Black hand; Left hand, Right hand
Members of the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce in front of the
Coconut Grove Playhouse, 1946, when the building was already 20 years old.
Tonight the right hand and the left hand might as well be in two separate time zones. At 6:00 PM, in White Coconut Grove, Richard Heisenbottle will be presenting architectural drawings of a renovated Coconut Grove Playhouse at a private yacht club. Heisenbottle is well-known for his historic renovation work, which includes the Trapp Homestead in Coconut Grove. Heisenbottle also took part in a Coconut Grove Playhouse Charrette of several years back. No telling whether these designs sprung out of the charrette or are wholly new designs and ideas for the site.
Almost as if there is a competition, at 7:00 PM, in Black Coconut Grove, the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation Committee meets. Among the topics that will hopefully come up at that meeting are the E.W.F. Stirrup House and historic design elements for the Charles Avenue Historic Designation Roadway, a title the street picked up last year.
There’s just one problem: The Coconut Grove Playhouse and the E.W.F. Stirrup House are both on Charles Avenue. These two historic community resources have to be part of the same holistic vision in order to save the unique character of West Grove. However, that will never happen if these groups don’t start talking to each other. The Playhouse people seemed unaware of the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation meeting and the Charles Avenue Preservation people were unaware of the Playhouse meeting.
Looking west along Charles Avenue from the back of the Coconut Grove Playhouse. The Charles Avenue historical marker is on the right and the stately, 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House on the left.
Coconut Grove could become the jewel of south Florida, if only the Right Hand knew what the Left Hand was doing and if only the White Hand knew what the Black hand was doing. I’m learning that Coconut Grove is just segregated that way, the way it has always been.
I’ve been documenting the E.W.F. Stirrup House since July of 2009, during which time I have researched its rich 120-year old history. In those 4 years absolutely nothing has changed. The house has been allowed to undergo Demolition by Neglect, while the developer that controls the property has done nothing to preserve this architectural jewel. In this follow-up to my recent blog post The E.W.F. Stirrup House ► Before and After, I get back inside the E.W.F. Stirrup House.
Anticipation of Wednesday’s upcoming Charles Avenue Historic Preservation meeting must have rapacious developer Gino Falsetto scrambling to give the appearance that he actually cares about historic preservation. It would be most awkward if, at Wednesday’s meeting, anyone questions whether his stewardship of one of Coconut Grove’s historic landmarks has been a monumental 8-year mistake, even if it has been.
After the vines were ripped away. This is what
happens when a community asset is ignored
for 8 years. February 22, 2013
Efforts this past week to ‘pretty up’ the property — by cutting back the plant growth that has had 8 years to attack the house — is the
equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. When you’ve allowed a house to
rot for 8 years without even bothering to seal the windows from the
elements, anything done now is only being done for purely cosmetic
reasons. IRONY ALERT: When Falsetto’s work crew indiscriminately ripped out the vines that
had been allowed to penetrate the house, it exposed the damage Falsetto’s 8-year control of the E.W.F. Stirrup House has wrought.
“Some people say” my blog posts have placed Falsetto in an uncomfortable position. Until I happened along, his real estate manipulations were hidden in plain sight. However, as I researched the long history of the E.W.F. Stirrup House, I couldn’t help but learn why the house has been empty for these past 8 years. Posting my research (as I discover it) has built up an awareness in the local community and a trust in my reporting. Community leaders in West Grove were unaware of some of the history I’ve uncovered. Now they come to me for accurate information about the Stirrup House.
Even the immediate neighbours of the E.W.F. Stirrup House are slowly coming to the realization they were hoodwinked 8 years ago. The developer of the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums promised to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House. No one recalls anyone ever mentioning a Bed and Breakfast at the time. Yet, with the help of Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, Aries Development (aka Gino Falsetto) was able to get a change of zoning for the Stirrup House to Commercial from Residential. This only happened within the last year. That couldn’t have been what was proposed 8 years ago, could it? If so, why did it take so long?
What about the inside of the house?
I’ve now been lucky enough to get INSIDE the E.W.F. Stirrup House on 2 separate occasions. The first time was August 17, 2012 and just last Friday, February 22, 2013. In the post Unpacking Coconut Grove ► Part Four ► Open Houses and Broken Laws, I documented how (allegedly) illegal demolition work was being done inside the Stirrup House without benefit of a building permit.
The inside of the house on Friday proved that Falsetto learned nothing from my earlier post. He continued to have (allegedly) illegal demolition work done inside the house without having a proper building permit issued by the City of Miami. There was a bathroom on the second floor in August. It has since disappeared. It’s just another example of Gino Falsetto getting away with something in plain sight.
BEFORE – August 17, 2012:
No one is claiming it was an attractive bathroom
and, to be fair, it would have had to come out anyway.
AFTER – February 22, 2013:
And, poof, it’s gone. No building permits were harmed, or issued, during the making of this documentary.
Not obtaining a building permit is just more proof that Gino Falsetto feels the rules are for other people, not himself. I have already documented how he left a string of bankruptcies behind in Ottawa, Ontario. Stiffing the Canadian taxpayers may very well have been how he was able to financially insinuate himself in the Miami real estate market as a player. That takes big money.
However, Gino Falsetto seems to have a pattern of turning his bankruptcies into his own financial gain. Furthermore, not all his schemes seem to be 100% legal. Two posts by an anonymous blogger, if true, appear to show that Gino Falsetto made out like a bandit — both literally and figuratively — on another one of his foreclosures:
Gino Falsetto (1) developed the Grove Garden Residences condominium in Miami’s Coconut Grove.
With his eyes on the financially strapped, closed Coconut Grove Playhouse for acquisition and development into a commercial complex, he aimed for the two vacant lots behind the theater. These two lots totaling 10,620 square feet, zoned single-family residential are located at 3227 and 3247 Charles Avenue in Coconut Grove.
The deal sounds wonderful. The sellers of the two lots took title to two Grove Garden Residences condo units which financial whiz Gino valued at $500,000 each — that’s one million dollars for two overgrown lots that generate no income, not even legitimate parking fees.
Gino Falsetto (2) is now the proud owner of real estate abutting the Coconut Grove Playhouse and promptly secures a $700,000 mortgage loan. After all, the two lots overgrown with weeds are worth a million smackers. Right?
What about the bank? They want to get their money back, don’t they? But Gino Falsetto didn’t repay and the bank initiated foreclosure proceeding just 21 months after they had filled Gino’s pockets with $700,000.
Gino Falsetto didn’t put up a fight and didn’t deliver an offer to make good on his loan obligation. Why should he? Gino’s no fool. The judge handed down a final judgment of $720,546.28; and the two empty lots were picked up by Pierre Heafey (3) for $200,100 in the foreclosure auction.
Just nine months later, Pierre Heafey sold the property to Gino Falsetto (4) with a quitclaim deed for $215,800. Please note, it’s now a different company that owns the property. Is it to fool the creditor, the bank that handed Gino $700,000 and got back $200,100? Does the IRS not tax such windfall profits? Perhaps they don’t know what’s happening here.
That reads like a real estate scam to me, but what do I know? I am new to the world of high finance where all these sleazebags do business. Maybe there’s a legitimate way for Gino Falsetto to default on a property, yet still wind up owning it. But I doubt it.
Remember: This is the man that has effective control over the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the two vacant lots across the street, the Coconut Grove Playhouse, the Taurus Bar, Calamari’s, the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums and, quite possibly, Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. In fact, Gino Falsetto has managed to gain control of every property surrounding the Stirrup House, except for the Regions Bank on the corner and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn he’s got an offer to buy that as well.
But what about the rest of the inside of the house already?
Most of the changes inside the Stirrup House seemed superficial to this reporter. However, a subsequent interview with a developer disabused me of that notion. The whole reason there is a requirement for a building permit is to ensure that all demolition, not to mention renovation, conforms to Miami’s historic preservation laws. IRONY ALERT II: What’s been done inside the E.W.F. Stirrup House so far might not only contravene City of Miami by-laws, but also go against the standards established by very people gathering this Wednesday at the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation meeting, of which Gino Falsetto is listed as an “historic asset.” You can’t make this stuff up, people.
Meanwhile, all the junk cluttering the rooms seen in my previous post has been removed. Except for various doors, and a very small pile of construction materials (which might even get used if there is ever any construction), every bit of crap that had called the E.W.F. Stirrup House home has been removed. That’s progress of a sort, I guess. But it’s not a lot to show for 8 years of stewardship.
It probably has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the next Charles Avenue Historic Preservation meeting is this Wednesday, but there were big doings afoot at the E.W.F. Stirrup House yesterday.
The meeting announcement (left) lists rapacious developer Gino Falsetto under the rubric “Historic Assets.” Presumably that means the 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House, which his Aries Development controls through a 50-year lease. Falsetto claims he wants to preserve and renovate the house, turning it into a Bed and Breakfast. If that were truly the case, why has he been allowing it to undergo Demolition by Neglect for the better part of a decade? Why wouldn’t Falsetto do the bare minimum to protect his asset by — at the very least — sealing the windows to keep out the weather? Wood, water, and Florida humidity don’t mix very well and Gino’s given them 8 years to work their moldy magic on this architectural gem.
However, lo and behold: Yesterday a crew was cleaning up the Stirrup property by removing the vines and bushes that had grown all over the back of the house. This blog has documented how the property becomes an unruly garbage dump between citations from the City of Miami. The property is always cleaned up before fines are levied. Then it’s allowed to slowly fall into disarray until the next city inspector posts a citation on the property about all the garbage, weeds, and graffiti. Despite occasional landscaping, the vast Westerfield Archives has several year’s worth of pictures that prove these bushes and vines have never been cleared away. This was not just another minor clean-up.
Could it be that Gino Falsetto realized that eyes would be on the E.W.F. Stirrup House again this week because of the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation meeting? After 8 years of inactivity, is it possible that Falsetto wants to be able to say at Wednesday’s meeting “Things are happening,” only to let it slid into disarray until the next time it gets cleaned up?
[Continued after the jump.]
BEFORE – September 14, 2012
AFTER – February 22, 2013
You can clearly see the damage of vines having 8 years to work their way into the structure and what happens when they are finally ripped out indiscriminately. [Above]
Before – July 17, 2012
After – February 22, 2013
However, that’s just the property. This clean-up is primarily superficial, except for the new scars left on the structure from the brutal landscaping job. Sadly, the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the object of my affection, continues to rot away. To be fair: There has been some very minor work inside the house, which will be the subject of an upcoming post.