TO: Jones, Isiaa <IJones@miami.gov> SUBJECT: Frustration Over PRR 16-452: FOIA Request DATE: September 28, 2016
CC: Melendez, Eleazar <ElMelendez@miamigov.com>;
Russell, Ken (Commissioner) <email@example.com>; Mendez,
Victoria <VMendez@miamigov.com>; Hannon, Todd
<firstname.lastname@example.org>; The Loyal Readers of the Not Now Silly
Newsroom; Various Facebook Groups and Pages of my choosing
morning I sent an email which stated I’d be at Miami City Hall on
Tuesday to inspect the files you said would be waiting for me. In that
email I asked 2 questions, basically: Whether the fee for the emails I
requested was still on the table and how much it costs to photocopy per
I never got a response to that email, so I didn’t
know when I arrived on Tuesday morning whether my 24 hours notice was
sufficient. Luckily, when I arrived, I was expected.
There were 2
boxes of material for me to look through, but only a small portion of
the total answered any of my search criteria. The rest was just all the
city files that arrived in those boxes from the former-Commissioner’s
While some of it was quite interesting — and
I wish I had the budget to photocopy that entire 2 inch thick Reid
Welch file — and while some of it matched my search criteria, none of
it is what I asked for.
I asked for all of the email, not the files.
mentioned this to City Clerk Todd Hannon during a brief conversation
yesterday. He had me second guessing myself because he said I had asked
for everything, and the boxes of files was just one stream for my
request. The other stream was the electronic request for all of the
I am not sure what instructions Mr.
Hannon received, but this is exactly what I asked for, from my original
email to Commissioner Russell:
I would like to receive any email [from the former District 2 Commissioners office] that references the following keywords:
And, I’m still waiting.
To be perfectly honest, I was requesting the email FIRST in case it gave
me new information to add to a RECORDS search. You see, my RECORDS
search would have come later, based upon what the emails revealed.
drove down to Miami from Sunrise yesterday hoping to do all of this on
one trip. No one in the Clerk’s office knew a thing about the email I was supposed to examine.
Aside from the gas wasted, I spent more than 3.5 hours on the road
[Yeah, it shocked me too. The roads were bad yesterday.]
about my time and gas makes me wonder how many keystrokes it took your
IT guy to come up with a cost of $100.31. How many minutes from an IT
guy am I paying for? What is the basic rate?
good piece of news: I now know that you charge 15 cents per photocopy,
because I got a few made out of those boxes. That’s Kinko pricing.
I’d like to draw your attention to the penultimate paragraph of a
letter Commissioner Ken Russell sent to the Miami Herald, published
Our decision on Thursday morning is not an easy one, but it is very
simple. Our attorney withheld public records, and I have lost my trust
in her. This cannot be denied, and it’s enough to call for her removal.
What’s at stake, however, is much greater. The commission has this
opportunity to tell the public that we prioritize transparency and
accountability — that we don’t agree that friends in high places should
be able to circumvent our public process.
I’m still waiting for transparency. None of this should be as hard as it has been.
I have chosen to make this a public reply to an email recently received from the City of Miami’s Public Records Department.
TO: Jones, Isiaa <IJones@miami.gov> SUBJECT: PRR 16-452: FOIA Request DATE: September 16, 2016
CC: Melendez, Eleazar <ElMelendez@miamigov.com>;
Russell, Ken (Commissioner) <email@example.com>; Mendez,
Victoria <VMendez@miamigov.com>; Hannon, Todd
<firstname.lastname@example.org>; The Loyal Readers of the Not Now Silly
Newsroom; Various Facebook Groups and Pages of my choosing
Hello and thank you for your prompt attention to my FOIA request, which I first sent to the office of the District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell. You’ve summed up my keyword search criteria correctly.
However, while some may feel the fee to acquire these emails small, as a citizen blogger with a budget of $0 and zero cents, I simply cannot — will not — pay this cost. If I were, say, the Miami Herald, I could easily afford this. Unfortunately these are topics that never much interested the Miami Herald. So, it’s left to a citizen-journalist-blogger like me to ask these inconvenient questions.
I have been writing about Trolleygate and Soilgate as separate issues from their beginnings. However, recently it began to appear as if there is a connection between these two stories. Hence, my records request.
Tangentially, there was a time in this country when anyone could wander down to the local City Hall and ask to take a look at a file. Now one must pay the costs of retrieval, from an expensive and complicated system the city set up, because that’s the only option. While I understand how that makes sense fiscally, costs like this run counter to the Florida Sunshine laws. The information should be free.
Additionally, in your email you state:
The process to create the storage media will take approximately 4 business days after receiving the approval and payment. The costs includes [sic] searches for Civilian mailboxes. Police mailboxes are not included. If the request is related to a law matter case or may include any other exempted emails then a review of the results may be required before being released and this may add more delivery time and cost.
That means there will almost assuredly be additional, hidden, costs because at least one of these matters was the subject of extensive litigation, which the city of Miami eventually lost. This cost the City of Miami and the city attorney’s office a hefty legal bill that has yet to be tallied. [Hey! That might make another good Public Records Request, but one thing at a time.]
Yet, due to city protocol, here’s how Eleazar Melendez, Chief of Staff at the Commissioner’s office, was forced to reply to my FOIA request:
I am passing your email to the city attorney’s office, as we discussed, in order to fully and legally comply with this public records request. They will perform a full and exhaustive search for the terms requested and, as we discussed, might ask for a payment in order to cover resources being dedicated to performing the search.
The City of Miami attorney the District 2 Commissioner wants fired replied:
Will handle. Thx.
Victoria Méndez, City Attorney
Consequently, and for the reasons listed above, I am CCing the current District 2 Commissioner to see whether he is interested in discovering what kind of strange deals were made by his predecessor to:
3). Appear to act as political lobbyist and fixer when he intermediated between Astor Development and a community group to offer $200,000 to remediate Armbrister Field with AstroTurf in order so that they drop their objection to the Trolley maintenance garage being built on Douglas Avenue [Read: Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?];
4). Subtly threaten his constituents to withdraw his approval supporting local community initiatives if they refuse to drop their objections to the Trolley maintenance garage [Read: The Trolleygate Dog And Pony Show];
That is why I am making a formal request to the current District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell to request these documents on behalf of the citizens of West Grove, who have been fighting systemic racism for many decades.
It has always been my contention that many of the decisions that affected West Grove made by the previous office-holder appear to have been a modern day extension of the systemic racism that has plagued the West Grove – and, to make a larger point, the entire country – over the last century. [Read: Modern Day Colonialism and Trolleygate] There is no way a Trolley maintenance garage would have ever been sited near Shipping and Virginia and it’s instructive to note that Blanche Park, across the street from the previous office-holder, was the first park closed due to toxic soil and remediated (and remediated more than once, for that matter).
I just want to find out what was happening behind the scenes while the constituents were being kept in the dark.
Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.
Chief Word Wrangler
Not Now Silly Newsroom
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.
Since my last visit the house has been cited for a by law infraction.
When I attended the meeting at Plymouth Congregational Church for South Grove residents to complain that developers have been allowed to get away with lot splitting and building Big White Boxes in their exclusive neighbourhood, there was one repeated piece of advice from the Miami officials to the homeowners:
Meanwhile, South Grove residents were told on Wednesday night if they
see anything hinky happening in their neighbourhood — from illegal
tree-cutting to demolitions without a permit — to call By-Law
Enforcement. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they respond a lot
quicker than they have to this disaster on Charles Avenue in West Grove.
That disaster on Charles Avenue was finally cleaned up. However, it took over 6 weeks to get a gigantic pile of demolished house removed.
Maybe “See something; Say something” is advise that only applies to the residents of South Grove. Because last week, in Unpacking Coconut Grove & The Writer, I introduced you to 3678 William Avenue, a house on the next block over from Charles. Very little has changed since I visited.
This won’t deter any kids, the homeless, or crackheads.
As I was taking pictures last week I listened to someone on their cell phone reporting the address to City of Miami officials. It had already been reported to the NET office previously, according to my source.
The only thing that’s changed since last week is that Miami inspectors cited the house for a By Law infraction. Additionally, a lock has been placed on the front gate, presumably by the owner because that’s not the kind of thing the city does. However, that fence is 3 feet tall, tops. Any child older than 2 can easily climb over it, which is what the reports are meant to prevent.
Unlocked houses are attractive to kids. When I was taking my pictures last week there were a couple of kids playing in the street right outside the house. I know if I lived in the neighbourhood I’d have been all over this place as a kid.
The house remains unlocked and open to anyone who wants to get inside.
It really does no good to just slap a By Law infraction notice on the house and a bicycle lock on a gate that anyone can climb over. This house needs to be sealed. Children can get seriously hurt in it. There are signs that people have been sleeping in it and it is a potential safe haven for crackheads.
According to the City of Miami property search website this house is owned by LEMANO INVESTMENTS LLC. , a company that owns 19 other properties in Miami, the only place that I’ve bothered to search. The registered agent’s name & address is: MOYAL ACCOUNTING SERVICES INC, 10796 PINES BLVD, SUITE 204, PEMBROKE PINES, FL 33026. The manager of that company is listed as HENRY, FREDERIC, 2550 SOUTH BAYSHORE DRIVE, COCONUT GROVE, FL 33133, a pretty ritzy address, if you ask me. I can’t imagine why they cannot afford to buy a few pieces of wood to seal this house. Maybe somebody from the city should give them a call and ask.
BTW: Along with the notice slapped on the house, the city sends a registered letter to the owner. However, it needs to be asked: How many previous citations have been slapped on this house since I first started taking pics of it 7 years ago?
If the owner won’t do the right thing, the City of Miami needs to show up with some plywood and seal the front and back doors and charge it back to the owner. From my understanding this house has been reported to the City of Miami enough times that the city might find itself legally liable if something terrible were to happen now.
As South Grove meets with their elected representatives, West Grove is
as ignored as ever. As South Grove begins the task of forming a
Homeowners Association, West Grove is quietly gentrified without anyone
noticing. When will West Grove get the same kind of attention from the
City of Miami as South Grove?
Would this disaster have gone this long in South Grove without the city taking action? Or is “See something; Say something” just an empty slogan — like FAIR & BALANCED — no matter what part of District 2 you live in?
In 2009 I was relatively new to Florida. Embedded in my online Performance Art character of Aunty Em Ericann, this happened at almost the same time I started writing for NewsHounds. Coincidentally, I was also 2 years into a research project on Sistrunk Boulevard — once the vibrant Black business district of the once vibrant Black neighbourhood in Fort Lauderdale.
I was researching Sistrunk because one of the characters in Farce Au Pain will eventually need to leave Detroit in a hurry. I decided to place him near Sistrunk. [See if you can guess who.] Researching Sistrunk meant I was already learning about Race Relations in South Florida. On the day I am about to describe I was also in the middle of reading Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen. It’s a book that explains why every city in this country looks the way it does. The history of Sistrunk is no different than any other Black enclave in the U.S. — except NYC and, as I was to eventually learn, Coconut Grove, which followed a different path than most cities. [NYC is usually the exception to any rule.]
Meanwhile, when I wasn’t at the library reading the stacks about Sistrunk, and when Aunty Em wasn’t trolling Right Wing Nut Jobs, I was freelancing for a financial institution (that I won’t name). My job involved visiting properties in foreclosure, taking photographs of them, and uploading them to a restricted web site to prove they were still there. My territory was huge: Hollywood to Homestead, including Miami Beach.
It sounds crazy, but I was sent to the same properties every 3-4 weeks and nothing ever changed. About 1/3 of the time I also had to leave a letter. I got triple the fee for those. I always took a pic of me leaving the letter, so there was never a dispute. I even got paid for arriving at a gated community, being denied entry, and taking a pic of the guard who sent me away.
It all seemed like money wasted to me, but the financial institution was shoveling it in my direction. Who was I to say no to Bank Money? It was during the height of the foreclosure crisis and there was no end to the work. Each week I’d get paperwork on some 100-250 properties and I was expected to return pictures of them in 3-5 days.
As an aside: Imagine you needed to visit that many properties. You’d drive yourself bonkers if you tried to chart the most efficient route. Thanks to (the now discontinued) Microsoft Street and Trips. I could plug all the addresses into the laptop, hit OPTIMIZE, and — after the machine thought about it for a while — it would spit out the perfect route. If I put my address as the first and last, it would route me down one side of Southeast Florida and up the other.
Being new to South Florida, I couldn’t have told you the difference between Coconut Grove, Hialeah, Hollywood, Opa-Locka, Cutler Bay, or Miami Beach — or how to get there. Thank goodness Microsoft Streets and Trips also had a USB GPS thangie to hang on my windscreen.
A recent pic of 3678 William Avenue, the first
house I ever photographed in Coconut Grove.
One day I was down in Cutler Bay. My next stop was on William Avenue, in Miami (actually Coconut Grove, but I didn’t know that then). The GPS directed me to Main Highway and told me to head north.
I remember laughing at the time because it was not a highway. Nor did it seem very main. It was a narrow two lane road — one in either direction — which felt hemmed in on both sides by vegetation and the walls of gated communities. I later learned that this actually was once part of the main highway to get from Miami to the very bottom of the state, long before the overseas highway was built to Key West.
Once I was on Main Highway the GPS told to me to turn left onto Charles Avenue. As soon as I did I saw the Charles Avenue Historic Marker. It’s rare to see a marker this big on a residential street. Being a history buff I pulled over and read the marker.
The first black community on the South Florida mainland began here in the late 1880s when Blacks primarily from the Bahamas came via Key West to work at the Peacock Inn. Their first hand experience with tropical plants and building materials proved invaluable to the development of Coconut Grove. Besides private homes the early buildings included the Odd Fellows Hall, which served as a community center and library, Macedonia Baptist Church, home of the oldest black congregation in the area, and the A.M.E. Church, which housed the community’s first school. At the western end of Charles Avenue is one of the areas oldest cemeteries.
Looking from the front door of the house on William Avenue
Instinctively I could read between the lines of this sign:
“If it hadn’t been for the Black Bahamians, the White folk would have starved. This is where they lived, close to where they worked in the nascent White tourist industry.”
After reading the Charles Avenue Historic Marker, I turned to look at the E.W.F. Stirrup House for the first time. In a neighbourhood filled with one story shotgun shacks and little Conch-style houses, it was this gloriously large 2-story house, painted white with yellow trim, shining brightly in the South Florida sun. I was struck by 3 things: 1). It’s beauty; 2). How different it looked from the rest of the houses; and that it was empty.
I moved on to photograph the house on William Avenue. Then I was sent over to an address on SW 27th Avenue, which the GPS told me was exactly a mile away. I wasn’t prepared for how the neighbourhood changed from an obviously depressed area to ritzy. So ritzy, in fact, that the nondescript street address I was given was the Ritz-Carlton Residences tower, right next door to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel tower, in Coconut Grove.
I couldn’t get past the concierge to deliver the letter I had in my hand. And, I’m not even sure I could have passed the dress code besides. Because I had hundreds of properties to photograph, I took his picture and demanded to know his name for my report.
Looking into the back door of the house on William
However, I couldn’t get that yellow and white house on Charles Avenue out of my mind. As soon as I got home I jumped on Google Maps. The first surprise was that on the satellite view there were two houses on the north side of Charles Avenue, across the street from the Stirrup House. Those houses were no longer there. Why? That was the first mystery to solve. After that I was hooked.
I soon learned that the house that I found so attractive for its majestic simplicity (not a contradiction) was known as the E.W.F. Stirrup House. There was scant biographical information for Mr. Stirrup on the net, but I hoovered up what I could as fast as I could.
I also learned that the 33133 Zip Code is considered one of the most exclusive in the entire country. I had discovered a place of extreme contrasts, but my education on Coconut Grove was just beginning.
It’s probably fortunate for all involved that this financial institution sent me back to the address on William every few weeks to make sure it was still there. I’m not sure I would have driven down on my own had it not been for that. After a few visits, following a bunch of research on Charles Avenue, I was hooked
on the legacy of E.W.F. Stirrup, which seemed to have been forgotten.
His house was empty and undergoing the DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT that I’ve
documented in the 7 years since discovering it.
Furthermore, going back to the same address on William every month, or so, allowed me to follow the progression of this other property over the same 7 year period.
When I first started dropping off letters and taking pics of the house on William, it was still occupied. I’d leave my letter in the screen door. The next time I’d return it was gone and there were signs of recent occupation. However, eventually the last letter I had left was still the door, along with flyers and the other paper detritus that marks the beginning of an empty house. I left the new letter, in case someone was collecting the mail piling up in the mailbox, but reported the house as empty to the financial institution.
The back of the house on William. One of the reasons it
stood out was, like the E.W.F. Stirrup a few blocks away,
was one of the few 2-story houses in this area of West Grove.
One day I arrived to find a fire-engine red notice on the door condemning the property. Right around that time I stopped working for the financial institution because someone undercut my price. However, I continued to visit Coconut Grove for my own research on various stories in Coconut Grove.
SYNCHRONICITY ALERT: Recently I’ve been working with someone in West Grove to research a complicated story that requires driving around the neighbourhood. Recently they were ranting about a property on William Avenue that was possibly being used as a crack house, but certainly being used by the homeless.
It’s the house on William that introduced me to Coconut Grove!!!
The front door is gone. The back door is wide open. It’s filled with mold and mildew and the ceilings have fallen in. There’s a hole in the roof. Clothing and blankets are scattered through the front of the house and it’s clear that people have been sleeping there.
I told my source the story about how this very house led me to discover Coconut Grove. They told me they’ve reported this house to the City of Miami and we should go look at it. That’s when I took the pics that accompany this article.
If you’re a longtime reader of Not Now Silly, you know of my years-long campaign to SAVE THE E.W.F. Stirrup House. It is with great sadness that I report the fight has been lost.
I’m throwing in the towel.
Let me be clear. A developer is going ahead with the “Historic E.W.F. Stirrup House Bed & Breakfast.” It is currently in the process of … what’s the correct word? Clearly not renovation.
I say that because I spoke to the foreman on the 18th, who confirmed what I feared. When they are done, not a single piece of the original house will remain. It will be all new construction — from the piers on which the house will sit right up through the roof.
This NEW! IMPROVED!! Stirrup House will be a mere re-creation. An ectype. An analogue of the original. A facsimile. A carbon copy. A semblance of the former. A clone. A chip off the old wood block. A mere imitation. Imposture!!! It will be a double, aka duplicate doppelgänger. A dead ringer for what used to be. A mega-ditto. An impersonation of a historic structure. An ersatz E.W.F. Stirrup House. It will be a deceit, or deception. It’s a put-on. A reproduction. A copycat. Bogus and just an effigy of the original. An incredible likeness. A look-alike. A replica. The spitting image. A pseudo E.W.F. Stirrup House, or a simulacrum. A twin, but counterfeit. It’s a fake, a forgery, and a fraud. Merely a knockoff. A phony E.W.F. Stirrup House. A sad replication. A rip-off. A hoax. A sham. A mock-up. A simulation. Just a representation. A shadow of its former self. An archetype of the Stirrup House. An impression of what once was. Merely an approximation. Possibly a reincarnation, if you believe in that.
The northwest corner of the Stirrup House, May 18, 2016.
On the left: front. On the right: the west side. Nothing of
the original house remains, the fate for the rest of the house.
In other words: even though he built
it with his own 2 hands, it will be a house that Ebenezer Woodbury
Franklin Stirrup never touched.
The act or process of depicting, by means of new work, the form, features, and detailing on a non surviving historic structure for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific time in its historic location.
I asked my source, who has rehabbed many old and historic houses, whether the preservationist community looks upon these recreations with the same disdain I now look upon the NEW! IMPROVED!! E.W.F. Stirrup House.
Not if it had burned down or had fallen so far into disrepair that nothing could be salvaged.
And, therein lies the rub.
The E.W.F. Stirrup House has undergone nearly a decade of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT. I have THOUSANDS of pictures of the Stirrup House that document the slow disintegration of the historic structure over
the last 7 years. For the majority of that time this house was not
sealed from the elements, with windows either open, missing, or broken. The all-wooden house had no protection from the wind-driven rain and from the invasive vines, reptiles and insects that took over when people moved out. No wonder the developers were able to argue nothing could be salvaged.
The official reason given for
starting from scratch is termite damage. However — and I cannot stress this enough — had the house been sealed
and protected, there may not have been quite the infestation. They allowed the worst devastation to occur on their watch. Before they got a hold of it, the house was a rental property.
Bottom line: The developer profited from allowing the house to fall apart. It would have been far more expensive to bring the old structure up to code than it will be to wire and plumb an entirely new structure.
The Mariah Brown House was once
the oldest house on Charles Avenue
IRONY ALERT!!! This is the same fate that befell the Mariah Brown House, a few doors west of the Stirrup House. What is now seen is not the Mariah Brown House. It’s a relatively new re-creation.
The Mariah Brown House was once the oldest house on Charles Avenue. “Mary the Washer-woman,” as she was known, and her husband were the first to buy land on the Frow Homestead on a footpath that later became Evangelist Street, for the number of churches that were strung along its length. It’s now known as Charles Avenue.
The Browns were among the original Bahamian labourers at The Peacock Inn, right at the beginning of the nascent South Florida tourist industry. Those tourists traps — just like modern day tourist traps — needed a service industry. The Bahamians drifting up from the Keys became those workers. After enough of them gathered in West Grove, Mr. Stirrup laid out Charles Avenue, slightly out of true east-west coordinates.
When the Brown House was reconstructed, the E.W.F. Stirrup House became the oldest house on the block.
I take absolutely no solace for being right all along. Right from the get-go I called this a case of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT. I predicted that the developer was hoping a hurricane would knock it down because he was quoted in the Miami media as saying that he would rebuild if that happened. Just substitute termites and wood rot for hurricane and you’ve got the picture.
If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I’ve been writing about West Grove for the past 7 years. Now, all of a sudden, it’s become très chic to write about Coconut Grove. The New Tropic has been all over it lately. In one recent article I couldn’t help but notice a new name attached to the reconstruction of the Stirrup House. I’ve never seen that name mentioned in connection of the Stirrup House before. However, it’s a name I recently heard in connection to a new Coconut Grove rumour that I am currently trying to chase down. Stay tuned on that.
I haven’t Googled the topic of the E.W.F. Stirrup House in a while because I was the only one writing about it. During the research for this article, to see whether there was something new I had missed, I was gratified to discover a website called Stirrup Family Legacy. Because I didn’t want to edit this, here’s the entire ABOUT page:
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.
The goals for the Stirrup Family Legacy are threefold. First, our
website is a means of preserving the Stirrup Family Legacy while
increasing the digital footprint of the Stirrup family story. We are
creating a lasting tribute to Stirrups who have passed on, and a living
legacy for current and future generations of Stirrups.
Finally, our web presence is also a means to unite our family with
the aid of the web–a virtual and ongoing family reunion that convenes
regularly in cyberspace. We created a family community where connection
and exchange of ideas, information, resources, and love can happen.
We thank you for finding us and invite all who arrive here to visit
often, contribute, become involved in our initiatives and above all,
spread the word! S<3
As I have stated many times: The purpose of my campaign to restore the E.W.F. Stirrup House was about much more than the house. It was also to burnish the legacy of Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup, a man way ahead of his time. During the Jim Crow years he made a fortune, but more importantly he made a home and neighbourhood for thousands of Bahamians and their descendants. The fact that there is still a cohesive Black enclave — in the middle of one of the most exclusive Zip Codes in the country — is a testament to this visionary. In the vast and ugly history of Race Relations in this country, Coconut Grove is the exception that proves the rule.
Animation: May 11, 2016, when more of the east wall still existed.
COMING SOON: Who is to blame for the destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup House?
Francisco J. Garcia of Miami’s Department of Planning
and Zoning provided the answers to residents’ questions
Community involvement was strong last night in Coconut Grove as more than 200 residents packed a meeting hall at Plymouth Church to vent and make plans.
The homeowners of South Grove are up in arms and called this “Community Organizational Meeting,” which was attended by Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell, Miami-Dade District 7 Commissioner Xavier Suarez, and Francisco J. Garcia, of Miami’s Department of Planning and Zoning. Homeowners want to develop a strategy to put a stop to the division of large properties to build more homes; the demolition of old houses; the building of ‘cookie-cutter’ houses, derisively called White Boxes; and the continued destruction of the Grove’s famous tree canopy.
Oddly enough, these are the exact same issues I’ve been quietly researching for the last several weeks, even before this story bubbled up to the surface. My interest began when a source suggested I attend a Planning and Zoning meeting about potential “up-zoning” of a certain property. Up-zoning is when a developer asks for more than is allowed by the Miami21 code and — usually — gets it. This piqued my curiosity. A few weeks later the same source took me around to show me the contemporary ‘cookie-cutter’ houses being built. These concrete White Boxes stick out like sore thumbs among the older homes that fit the neighbourhood.
Just some of the White Boxes being built all over Coconut Grove
However, all my research — and all the houses we looked at — was in West Grove, where the prevailing style of house are either one-story Shotgun Homes or Conch-style houses, both reflecting the neighbourhood’s rich Bahamian history.
South Grove architecture, on the other hand, is distinctly different and all over the map, as it were. The houses there are
more suburban in style, from the earliest one-story small cottages, to the more recent Monster
Homes of the last few decades, and everything in between. Because this area was developed from the
1920s onward, the houses reflect nearly every kind of home architecture attempted
since then. And, as people were told at last night’s meeting, these White Boxes are what developers want to build because, they claim, it’s what people want to buy.
This demolition on Charles Avenue has taken place
over the last 6 weeks. That is not a typo. This is how it
looked on April 27, 2016, the same day South Grove
residents complained about their precious tree canopy.
However, that’s not the most glaring difference between West Grove and South Grove. In fact, as I’ve joked before, the difference is like Day and Night.
West Grove is the Black area of Coconut Grove. It can’t be said any simpler than that. The area is blighted, and has been for decades, precisely because it’s the Black area.
QUICK HISTORY LESSON: Unlike most Black neighbourhoods of its era, Coconut Grove is unique because the people owned their own homes. At one time Coconut Grove had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country. [Read: Happy Birthday Coconut Grove. Now Honour Your Past] This meant they couldn’t be dislodged as they could in other U.S. cities where Black folk rented from absentee landlords. However, the same economic factors that kept Black neighbourhoods in poverty elsewhere also worked on West Grove: low wages, an inability to get home improvement loans, and systemic racism. However, the neighbourhood has remained predominately Black as folks passed their houses down to generation after generation, the way White people pass down the family jewels.
End of history lesson.
This is the same rooming house as above on April 2, 2016
Earlier in the day I met with a second anonymous source who has also been researching the White Boxes in West Grove. Oddly enough, before we went to look at them, they wanted to take me to see a house on Charles Avenue that I had already taken a number of pictures of.
This demolition has so far taken about 6 weeks. The site has never been secure, making it an attractive place to play for local kids. But the nails sticking out of the boards are the least of the problems. This house was filled with asbestos, from the roof shingles to the several layers of paint on the walls. The prevailing winds have scattered some of it to wherever prevailing winds blew for the last 6 weeks.
The woman who lives next door has asthma and was just getting sicker. She and her husband have gone to live with relatives up north, in Georgia. The rest of her neighbours will just keep breathing it in until something is done about it.
One kind of nondescript White Box being built in West Grove,
this one on William Avenue. That’s actually the front of house.
People have complained to By-Law Enforcement about the unsafe demolition site and are still waiting for something to happen. There is, apparently, a promise for it to be cleaned up by the city in the morning. I sure hope they take into account the toxicity of some of the materials.
Meanwhile, South Grove residents were told on Wednesday night if they see anything hinky happening in their neighbourhood — from illegal tree-cutting to demolitions without a permit — to call By-Law Enforcement. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they respond a lot quicker than they have to this disaster on Charles Avenue in West Grove.
As South Grove meets with their elected representatives, West Grove is as ignored as ever. As South Grove begins the task of forming a Homeowners Association, West Grove is quietly gentrified without anyone noticing. When will West Grove get the same kind of attention from the City of Miami as South Grove?
When I fired up this place, I had no real plan; I still don’t. I merely followed my interests, writing about whatever rang my bell at the time. I took the position that my interests, as interesting as they are, would be of interest to other interesting people. And, I also assumed, that my droll, tongue-in-cheek writing style would be endlessly entertaining, not to mention interesting.
Not following a road map has led me to some very interesting places.
F’rinstance: I never thought I’d be writing about Coconut Grove, which is 35 miles from where I live. I was still disguised in my Street Performance Art Installation as Aunty Em Ericann, when I discovered the Charles Avenue Historical Marker, the E.W.F. Stirrup House, and the shuttered Coconut Grove Playhouse. I distinctly remember getting home that day and telling friends I had found a story at the corner of Charles Avenue and Main Highway. I just wasn’t sure what it was yet.
That first encounter with Coconut Grove gave me an almost endless supply of stories about that community and its rich history. It’s the oldest neighbourhood in Miami and, at one time, had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country. Today the 33133 Zip Code is considered one of the most exclusive in the nation, while gentrification of The Grove continues to bulldoze the rich Bahamian history the original village was founded upon.
It took me quite a while to realize why Coconut Grove was one of the few places in Florida where I felt truly comfortable. To begin with, the Grove isn’t suburban, which is really what the rest of South Florida feels like. Hugging the east coast, it’s just one long, sprawling suburban landscape; gas stations and strip malls separated by gated communities, and indoor malls, all connected with ribbons of highways, each radiating the midday summer heat.
Coconut Grove is different. It still has faint echoes of the original Bahamian culture that built the neighbourhood. Later those original settlers were joined by artists wanting to capture the tropics in paintings, and one can still feel that vibe throbbing under the surface. The Bahamians and Bohemians got along together famously and, by the ’60, were joined by folksingers such as Fred Neil, John Sebastian, David Crosby, and Joni Mitchell. On a quiet day you can still hear their songs in the off-shore breezes.
There’s a deep Hippie vibe in parts of the Grove, the parts where I felt the most comfortable.
Montage by author
The overarching rubric for all of my Coconut Grove stories was Unpacking Coconut Grove. Right now I’m feeling nostalgic because I am Packing Coconut Grove; trying to tie up all the loose reportorial ends as I prepare to leave South Florida.
I’ve taken care of Pops for the last decade and I’m simply burned out. It’s time for me to return to Toronto, the city I call home, to recharge my batteries.
Ironically, I’m returning to KensingtonMarket, which has a similar Hippie feel as Coconut Grove. I lived in Kensington Market many years ago, but was able to experience it again anew when I visited Toronto in September. I spent most of my time in the Market and felt comfortable and at home. Soon I will be able to call it home.
Help me get to Kensington Market by contributing to my Go Fund Me:
Ken Russell, potential Commissioner-elect for District 2
while the Veterans’ Day commemoration gathers to march
I originally met potential Commissioner-elect Ken Russell way back when — during Soilgate — when I called out of the blue to interview him.
We met at a local coffee shop just as it appeared his battle with [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was finished. It was an epic battle over the toxic soil in Merrie Christmas Park and, in the end, the residents got the kind of toxic soil remediation they felt their children deserved.
While it appeared as if Merrie Christmas Park would be re-mediated properly, I was surprised when he moved on to his next concern, which was all the other toxic parks in the city. Russell was genuinely concerned that those residents might not have enough clout, or enough money, to hire a lawyer like he and his neighbours had. That’s when I knew Ken was about far more than his own property values. He had a Social Justice bone.
He wasn’t doing it for effect. At the time Russell had no intention to run for office, but the fight over toxic soil made him feel that he could do better than the current Commissioner. And, the secrecy in
which [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff went behind the backs of the residents, breaking several laws about proper notification for a Brownfield Site — not to mention when he lied to this reporter that it had never been so designated — told Russell there must be a better way to conduct city business on behalf of constituents.
It’s a sign!!!
The Veterans’ Day Parade marched right past this.
When he later declared he was running for District 2 Commissioner, Russell made transparency one of the cornerstones of his platform.
In one of the craziest election finishes in Miami history, Ken is engaged in a runoff election with wife of term-limited Teresa Sarnoff. However, with Sarnoff withdrawing from the race, the city lawyer says the runoff will still be held, but that votes for Teresa Sarnoff won’t count. Yet, Democracy dictates that the votes count and Ken maintains that he’s still in it to win it. He wants a clear mandate, so he’s still campaigning for every vote on November 17th.
Russell agreed to a sit down interview and suggested we meet in West Grove after the Veterans’ Day commemoration. As I drove down I couldn’t help but wonder if he had chosen the perfect photo op for a politician, or whether it was simply to accommodate me. I requested an interview, but told him it had to be on Wednesday because that was the only day I had free. I left it up to him to choose the time.
That we met in Coconut Grove for this interview seems appropriate because that’s where he received his highest support, with a nearly 20% turnout. It’s also the area I’ve been researching extensively since 2006. Watching Russell work the crowd was nothing like watching a politician work a crowd. There were enough hugs, kisses, handshakes, and genuine warmth in both directions, that it was obvious that Russell is already well-liked by this part of his potential constituency.
Russell surprised me by sitting in the grass his suit for this interview.
NNS: You’re making up for a politician that was reviled in this district. How are you planning to overcome that?
KEN RUSSELL: It’s true that part of the reason I got involved was seeing how my Commissioner operated and seeing how I felt things could be done better. The day he’s out of office, the day I get into office, that’s the first step and it’s really not that hard. A new tone, a new communication, a new conversation with the neighbours.
I’m already being told, and I’m not even in there, that this already feels different than it has for the last 9 years. So, the first step is to be open and even that, at the very least, wasn’t done to my understanding. And, that comes easy for me.
NNS: Especially in this neighbourhood of West Grove, the people here kinda felt burned by promises made years ago that were never fulfilled. Yet, you were able to overcome that to get a 20% turnout at the polls that went overwhelmingly to you. How are you going to keep that bridge open to the community?
KR: The community’s going to keep that bridge open. At this point, I owe so much to this area that I don’t even have a choice of closing the door. It’s too important. It’s been vocalized and it’s been publicized well enough where my heart is, that I couldn’t turn back if I wanted to, and I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of the West Grove and, despite advice I received early on, I could see that there was a community here with a lot to lose, that would turn up at the polls if they felt they had an advocate.
NNS: And, you’re going to be that advocate?
KR: Absolutely. I’ll be the best that I can.
NNS: One of the things I did during the elections is I did door knocks with you in various neighbourhoods. Where do you think your biggest support was coming from overall?
KR: I knocked [on] over 2,000 doors during the 10 month period, all the from the South Grove to the West Grove to Morningside. It was very difficult to knock doors in Brickell and downtown, but we found other ways to reach the community there. The largest support was from the Grove as a whole, all parts of the Grove together. There was nearly a two-to-one margin in my favor at almost every major precinct in the area.
NNS: Do you have any job you want to do on Day One?
KR: Day One is learning for me because I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially within process. I have the intention of what I’d like to accomplish and, as you can see here today, just the conversation, the conversation that we’re having even today with folks, is part of the first step; is part of that first step of giving them a trust [and] a feeling of comfort that their Commissioner is going to be open with them.
NNS: Is there any big project you’ve got in mind? Something you want to try to do while in office.
KR: Yeah, I would like to see something good come of the Trolley garage. I’d like to see that building serve the community. And, I’ve heard a lot of good ideas, but not in a formal setting to where I could say what should be done with it, but it’s a symbol of how this part of town’s been treated and, I think, in the same symbolic gesture should be converted into something that builds up the community.
With that Ken Russell was off to a meeting at Miami City Hall, where the learning curve for a new potential Commissioner-elect is steep.
It was supposed to be a normal meeting of the Miami Planning and Zoning Board last night. The first 2 items were deferred from last month and there were a number of citizens who wanted to speak to it.
Normally when I attend a meeting at Miami City Hall, I know all about the issues that will be discussed. I knew nothing about this issue. All I knew is that one of my sources, who has yet to be wrong, strongly suggested I make time for the 6PM meeting without telling me why. That was the first time they were ever wrong. It turned out to be a 6:30 meeting.
And, the meeting didn’t even start at 6:30. It took a few extra minutes to get a quorum. However, once the meeting was gavelled to order, it moved pretty quickly to the first 2 agenda items, which had been deferred from last month in the hope that the residents and developer could work out an amicable deal. That didn’t appear to have happened.
A: The 4 parcels on the north side of Day Avenue; B: The 4
parcels on the south side of Day Avenue; C: Brooker St. is
where Coconut Grove ends and Coral Gables begins; D: Douglas
Avenue; E: The Trolly Garage, which was the last time the city
tried to run roughshod over the neighbourhood and won a Pyrrhic
victor that cost the city a lot of money, all because of
[allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff’s meddling.
In a nutshell, and not to get too deeply in the weeds: A developer wanted to “upzone” 8 parcels of land along Day Avenue to commercial from residential. Upzoning is the new word for variances, which appear to be routinely approved despite what the neighbours may want.
First to speak was the City of Miami’s lawyer, who seemed to have been asked by the board previously, to give the city’s recommendation on the upzoning request. After a whole lot of yadda, yadda, yadda the city decided to take a Solomonic approach. It recommended approval of upzoning the 4 parcels on the north side of Day Avenue (labeled A on the map to the right) and recommended denying the upzoning on the 4 parcels labeled B on the south side of Day.
Next it was the lawyer’s turn to speak on behalf of the developer. It was a whole lot more yadda, yadda, yadda, but this time couched in lawyer talk. However, as he spoke you could hear the citizens, the stakeholders, the taxpayers grumbling over the wording and assumptions being made.
Then the meeting was opened to public comments. People were asked to line up at the podiums on either side of the dais and given 2 minutes to explain their support or opposition to the application for upzoning. No one spoke on behalf of the upzoning. All were opposed.
First up was J.S. Rashid, CEO of the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Office, who spoke about how his organization is trying to maintain the fabric of the historic West Grove neighbourhood for decades, which continues to be whittled away by decisions made in Miami. He talked about the neighbourhood development zone which had been created previously and how this was more about equity than it is about the zoning of a few parcels. He brought up how there may be 8 parcels of land, but that represents 14 residential units of affordable housing for disenfranchise people. While he was hoping for a compromise, he said if there’s not a net benefit to the community in affordable housing, he was prepared to oppose the project in toto.
Then the various shareholders, citizens, and taxpayers turn. It was, in essence, the same arguments heard every time the people of West Grove come out to protect their neighbourhood. Paraphrasing many of the comments:
“You can’t do this.”
“Once again the historic fabric of the originally Bahamian neighbourhood is being destroyed for the sake of commerce.”
“Currently, this is affordable housing. If these are lost, what will replenish the supply of affordable housing in this impoverished neighbourhood?”
“We are 3 generations of Grovites who have lived on this block for over 30 years.”
It look as if the board was about to recommend they defer the issue all over again, because it truly seemed as if there might still be room for compromise. However, the lawyer for the developer didn’t think more negotiations would have been productive and asked for a decision.
Then it was time for more comments from the public. Step up Professor Anthony Alfieri. You may remember reading about Professor Alfieri in the Not Now Silly Newsroom’s An Introduction to Trolleygate and Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated. Alfieri was also instrumental in unearthing Soilgate (pun intended), when his team researching Trolleygate found a memo alluding to contaminated soil in several parks in Miami. Alfieri is from the University of Miami’s School of Law and the Center
for Ethics and Public Service; not to mention Founder of the Historic
Black Church Program.
Professor Alfieri made the comparison to Trollygate, that I had been waiting for, and how an approval of this upzoning would trigger Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968. As part of his presentation Alfieri remarked that they have been receiving anecdotal information — which was still being compiled — that developers across the city have been using coercion, intimidation and interference to deal with those opposed to upzoning plans. If that can be proven it could trigger the Klu Klux Klan act of 1871:
This legislation was asked for by President Grant and passed within
one month of the president’s request for it to Congress. Grant’s request
was a result of the reports he was receiving of widespread racial
threats in the Deep South, particularly in South Carolina.
He felt that he needed to have his authority broadened before he could
effectively intervene. After the act’s passage, the president had the
power for the first time to both suppress state disorders on his own
initiative and to suspend the right of habeas corpus. Grant did not
hesitate to use this authority on numerous occasions during his
presidency, and as a result the first era KKK was completely dismantled
and did not resurface in any meaningful way until the first part of the
20th century. Several of its provisions still exist today as codified statutes, but the most important still-existing provision is 42 U.S.C.§ 1983: Civil action for deprivation of rights.
The city’s lawyer couldn’t answer whether approval of upzoning would trigger the Civil Rights lawsuits, but stressed as strenuously that the Planning and Zoning Board is a single issue board. Civil Rights lawsuits was not within its purview to adjudicate.
Whether it had anything to do with the Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871, or whether common sense prevailed, the developers request was DENIED.