Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins ► Chapter Three
CLICK to enlarge: Red lines represent streets
never built, despite being on original planning maps.

I’ve written about Marler Avenue previously (Read Part Two of Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins). However, a (not so) quick history lesson here will better help you follow today’s bouncing ball:

Marler Avenue is a street in Coconut Grove just one block long, that connects to no streets, other than Hibiscus and Plaza, the two that feed it on either end. But, Marler was never supposed to just one block long. On the earliest planning maps of Coconut Grove, Marler is shown to have 3 other access points. Plaza Street, after a slight dogleg at Marler, was supposed to have extended south past Loquat Avenue. Likewise Hibiscus was supposed to continue past Marler and connect to Hibiscus in South Grove.

When and where the land grab was codified.
The Miami News – May 11, 1984

Most egregious, however, is Marler itself. It should have continued westward to connect to 37th, aka Douglas Road. However, the Loquatians (as those on Loquat call themselves), who lived along that stretch backing up onto Marler west of Plaza, just extended their backyards into the right of way, closing off direct access to Douglas. When, years later, the City of Miami figured out these White homeowners illegally squatted on city land, it chose to ‘grandfather’ the illegal land seizure, tax the larger parcels, and allow the building of a gated community — St. Hugh Oak — on the west end. However, no one seems to have considered what practical effect this might have.

The removal of these three lines on the street grid had an intended effect. It closed off Black Grove from White Grove. That this hemming in of Marler Avenue was Racism in Action is not even in dispute. It’s just a small part of the history of Race Relations (or lack thereof) in Coconut Grove that I’ve discovered since I began my research on E.W.F. Stirrup.

CLICK to enlarge: A 1947 planning map show
the three streets that were, eventually, never built.

I was alerted to Marler Avenue in an article in the Miami New Times called The Wall and have been fascinated by it ever since. I visit Marler as often as I do the E.W.F. Stirrup House, whenever I am in Coconut Grove. I have become such a fixture that neighbours invite me onto their porches for tea. I’ve been told of their struggles keeping children on the straight and narrow. Conversely, others have railed against cops at the new(ish) Miami police substation in Coconut Grove, because they treat all the kids alike, the good ones as well as the bad. Pastor Edmond Stringer, of Sweetfield Baptist Church on the corner of Marler and Plaza, proudly gave me a tour of his simple place of worship, telling me about the few pastors who preceded him and showing me their pictures.

The point I’m trying to make is I am no longer a stranger on Marler Avenue. The folks along the street approach me, freely sharing information, whereas they are, more often than not, wary of White folk who come ’round asking questions about race relations in Coconut Grove.

When Google Maps stands at the corner of Marler Avenue and Plaza Street
looking east, it can see THE WALL on the right, with the Sweetfield Baptist
Church on the far left. This is how THE WALL looked until this week.

One of the more interesting aspects of this short street, once you get over the whole racial angle that hemmed it in on all sides, is Marler Avenue only has one side to the street. Every house on Marler faces The Wall, which is set back about 4 feet from the curb. On the other side of this wall are the backyards of the houses on Loquat. In the most literal sense White Coconut Grove turned its back on Black Coconut Grove decades ago and never the twain shall meet.

And this is how it has been for the residents on Marler Avenue almost as long as anyone can remember. Until this week!!!

Not only did they bump out the wall, but stole one of
the trees. I wonder why they didn’t just take them all.

On Saturday I cruised along Marler Avenue and saw a work crew with a small CAT bulldozer with a pneumatic drill on the end. Wondering what was going on, I pulled over. When the work crew started up the drill, one of the White family came out to see what was going on as well. We talked for a minute or two. I told him it appeared as if they were moving the fence to abut the the curb, Mr. White assured me that would never happen, as that would be illegal.

Guess what I found when I went back yesterday, dear readers? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.

For reasons that are, as yet, unexplained. A property owner decided to bump out a portion of their backyard 4 feet. Originally there was a never-used gate there. However, because there is a tree there, it would have been useless to pull a car in and out. The gate section was moved east a few fence posts, which would allow for a car to go in and out. That part of ‘fixing’ the fence makes perfect sense. What makes no sense whatsoever (as yet) is this bump out.

Here’s a Google Maps image from March 2014. Note the new
garage [above left] that is not in this picture. I wonder if they
got a building permit for that structure.

How is this any different to the land grab made decades ago along the western extension of Marler Avenue? That was eventually forgiven, codified and part of it turned into a gated community.

As soon as I saw this bump out I went to talk to Mr. White. No one was home, so left a note and scooted over to Loquat to see which house owner decided he was entitled to more land than they purchased.

However, I need to stress this: the word “scooted” is a misnomer. Even though I was only a few dozen or so feet away from this house, the only way I could get to it is drive west on Marler, north on Plaza, west on Franklin, out to Douglas Avenue, make a left, drive one block south to Loquat — past the gated community of St Hugh Oaks — make another left and drive along Loquat, a number of houses past what once might have been the southern leg of Plaza Street. When I got there I realized I could have walked it easier through the Plaza Path. [See Part Two of Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins for a full explanation of the Plaza Path.]

While taking a picture of the house (really a duplex, two low-slung units side by side) I got a call from a different Mr. White, who lives with his brother. Having got my note, he saw the bumped out portion of the wall I referenced and called right away. Even though he was only a few dozen or so feet away from me,  I had to totally reverse the trip described above. Because it was afternoon rush hour, and Douglas is such a thoroughfare and hard to turn onto, I told him I’d be by in 3 minutes. Had I not been illegally parked on Loquat I would have walked.

Mr. White had not noticed the change in the wall until he read my note and looked across the street. He assured me he would tell his brother about my latest visit. After that we talked generally about Coconut Grove history, the systemic racism, the E.W.F. Stirrup House and the Not Now Silly Newsroom. Or, rather, I did. However, for me the biggest thrill of meeting the White Brothers over the last few days is that, vicariously, I knew their father.

That article I mentioned way up there, The Wall, in Miami New Times; the article that led me to care about Marler Avenue, begins:

When David White was a boy back in the 1930s, he and his family used to walk the three blocks from their one-story house in the Bahamian section of Coconut Grove to Plymouth Congregational Church in the white neighborhood, just through the trees to the south. The Whites’ house was on the middle of the block on Marler Avenue, which shared a tree line with that wealthier white area. From their front yard the Whites would meander a half-block to the end of Marler Avenue, then turn right onto a footpath that led to Hibiscus Street, which was then a dirt road. Two blocks more would bring them to Plymouth. For decades the majestic coral stone church was the only racially integrated house of worship in Dade County; it still towers over Main Highway.

In those days residents of the Bahamian Grove, now known as the black Grove, routinely walked to and from the white neighborhood — the adults to work, the children to play. White’s parents, who moved to Coconut Grove from the Bahamian island of Eleuthera in 1901, were no exception. His father worked as a gardener and his mother as a maid. As a young man David also worked as a gardener and made the same brief commute, on foot, as his father.

White and his wife Tessie still live on Marler Avenue, in a house next to the one he was born in. But nowadays he would have to climb a ten-foot chainlink fenced topped with strands of barbed wire to take that first right onto Hibiscus Street into the predominantly white section. Not too easy for a 66-year-old retired public school administrator who is moving kind of slow these days.

At the very least, it seems I made some new friends on Marler Avenue and at least one enemy on Loquat.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

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