Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Magnificent Morning in Morgantown

Two years ago the Not Now Silly Newsroom featured a Special Travelogue during The 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip For Research. After I published A Tribute to Don Knotts ► Morgantown's Favourite Son, the search for Don Knotts' roots has became an annual tradition of my yearly Road Trips.

Through necessity The 4th Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research was hastily planned. At first it appeared as if there would be no Road Trip this year, but fate intervened to make it happen. With just a few days notice I contacted all the usual suspects, loaded up the car, cranked up the tunes, and headed for the open road.

This year's Road Trip was my most ambitious. It would take me from Sunrise to Hamilton and Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Then I would swing through Detroit, which inevitably leads to Canton Township, not to mention Ann Arbor for another visit with Pastor Kenny. Then would come Elyria and Columbus, both in Ohio, before making my way back to Sunrise. However, my first official stop would be Morgantown, West Virginia, to visit with one of my anonymous sources.

I had already been motoring north, with a carefully planned itinerary that left nothing to chance, when I recieved an IM from my source for all Knotts Knews. I was still a day from Morgantown. My my host wrote: 
"If you can manage to stay in Morgantown a few hours Saturday, the Don Knotts statue is being dedicated at 10 am."
To which I replied, "YES!!! YES!!! YES!!!"

A picture of the maquette taken 2 years ago with
the crack in the leg (under the elbow) clearly visible
In that post of 2 years ago I exposed how some unthinking tourist broke the maquette of Don Knotts at the Morgantown Visitors Center. Amazingly I said this back then:
This maquette is to become a larger-than-life statue of Don Knotts to be erected on the waterfront. Morgantown is hoping to create a whole day of it, whenever it is, with a dedication and unveiling. An entire weekend of Don Knotts Days might include parades, picnics, band concerts, beauty pageants, culminating in a massive fireworks display. I sure hope I'm invited to the event I just created in my head.
Now, amazingly, synchronicity had worked to make my invitation happen. 

I checked out the weather report and learned it would be hot and humid in Morgantown. The northeast had just entered another record-breaking heat spell.




I cranked up the tunes even louder and stepped on the gas, arriving early enough on Friday to take a gander at where the unveiling would happen.

In front of the Metropolitan Theatre: The brass star with the Don
Knotts statue all wrapped up waiting to be sprung on the world.
While I had been told the statue would have a place of honour at the waterfront, either I had been misinformed or there had been a change of plans in the intervening 2 years.

When I arrived in Morgantown the Don Knotts statue was all wrapped up in a blue tarp on Main Street, directly in front of the window at the Metropolitan Theatre. It's just a few feet away from the brass star featured in the Not Now Silly Newsroom Follow-up, last year's Don Knotts Is Back ► A Morgantown Update.

To be perfectly honest, I thought the front of the Met to be a far more appropriate location for Knotts' statue. After all, this is where he got his start in the Professional Show Business with his ventriliquist dummy named Danny "Hooch" Matador.

Having scoped out the location, I retired for the night, filled with dreams of how Morgantown would honour its favourite son:
The parade would start at the waterfront with the Morgantown High School Brass Band leading the procession. It would wind its way past all those places important to Don Knotts, from his childhood home to where he bought his chewing gum. Baton twirlers launch their instruments high into the air, the sun glinting off the chrome as they spin higher and higher and, just before they are lost in the glare of the sun, drop back into the twirlers hands in perfect synchronization. Vintage cars of all descriptions separate the marching soldiers from the motorcycle police, with sirens blaring. And, bringing up the rear, a giant float with a 20 piece Steel Drum band. [It's my fantasy and I love Steel Drum music.] As the entire shebang winds its way up Main Street, patriotic bunting flaps in the lazy breeze, while the sidewalks are jam-packed with people all holding up a single bullet.
The reality was much more prosaic.

Because downtown Morgantown is a maze of one way streets, it would have been difficult to close Main Street entirely, so only half the street was closed down. That meant that all during the ceremony there were cars passing behind us, some with loud music drowning out the speakers.

I remarked to my friend that this felt like Mayberry all growed up.

There was a cozy, small town, Mayberry feel to the whole festivities. Local raconteur Larry Nelson was Master of Ceremonies, keeping the crowd assembled on the blacktop in the swealtering 95 degree heat entertained as a delay kept Karen Knotts, Don's daughter, from arriving on time. Mayor Marti Shamberger was there to pay tribute and give us a capsule biography of Knotts. John Pyles, one of his oldest friends and the man who led the fundraising to get the statue made, told stories of Don Knotts' many visits back to Morgantown to decompress away from the Hollywood scene. Karen Knotts continued along that same theme, telling the assembled crowd about how much Morgantown meant to her father and what an important touchstone the town was to the family during visits.

Then sculptor Jamie Lester, who graciously granted me a few words before the festivities began, spoke abut how humbled he was to have been chosen to honour Knotts in this way and why the statue is not a representation of Barney Fife, the character he's best remembered for. While he holds Barney Fife's Deputy Sheriff cap, the statue is meant to represent the entire man.

Which led to the inevitable unveiling of the statue:


After the ceremony Karen Knotts performed her acclaimed one woman play "Tied Up In Knotts" -- on the same stage that her father had once trod inside the Metropolitan Theatre -- about growing up with a famous father.

Sadly, I couldn't stay for Karen Knotts' performance. Under my original plan I was to have left for Hamilton, Ontario at the break of dawn. I was already a half day behind schedule with a whole lot of road, not to mention a border crossing, still ahead of me.

However, as I drove towards the Peace Bridge I couldn't help but sing this song:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Don't Give Up The Fort ► A Pastoral Letter

One block south of 8 Mile is the intersection of Gilchrist Street and Hessel Avenue

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Dear Pastor Kenny: 

Remember the fort we built in the backyard behind my garage on Gilchrist?

I distinctly remember scrounging some of the lumber for it from the excavation ditch that later became the Southfield Freeway. I can't remember who was with me that day, you or Dean Donaldson, but if it was you, it's safe to admit it. The statute of limitations on that crime has long expired.

It was a pretty sweet fort, as I remember. With the liberated plywood as a roof and walls, it was water-tight when it rained. We spent a fair amount of time hanging out in there, but I spent more. There were many times I'd sit in the fort reading comic books. It became my refuge away from my sisters. As you may remember, I had 4.

My old backyard showing the room my father added to the
back of the house, taken on August 2, 2016. The first thing I
noticed was that the cherry tree next to the garage was no longer
there. It was beautiful in the spring and you could sit on the
garage in the sunshine and pick cherries all the doo dah day.
Did you ever wonder why we still don't have that fort to sit within and ponder the world?

I destroyed it in a fit of pique.

My parents were bothered by the mess we left behind and ordered me to clean it up. I walked across the street and tried to get you and Dean to help me. Neither of you could be bothered, so I decided the fort had to go. With tears in my eyes, and filled with childish rage, I ripped it apart within minutes, demonstrating how shoddy we were at fort building and how I can, at times, be my own worst enemy.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

In the last 8 months my life has been on a metaphoric fort busting bender, until I find myself beached here 13 miles from the beach -- right back where I started.

Don't give up the fort.

Just when things seemed at their lowest ebb, I hastily prepared another of my epic Road Trips to visit Pops. Knowing we'd meet again on my swing through Michigan, I had a lot of time to think over what I wanted to ask you during all of that driving. I was telling my friends along the way, most of whom have read my previous Pastoral Letters, that I was going to see you again. Most of them also knew of my troubles of late. I started to make the joke that with all that was going on in my life, I needed to be Pastor-ized.

Your house still looks picture perfect, Ken
I had hoped to meet you in our old neighbourhood, where your house still looks picture perfect. However, time constraints meant we only had a small time together and I was on vacation, for the most part. I didn't mind traveling to Ann Arbor to meet you.

I wanted to share everything that occurred since the beginning of the year, but we certainly didn't have time for that, so I shared the highlights lowlights -- including the heartbreak I experienced just days earlier in Toronto. I even told you the joke above about needing Pastor-ization. Then I popped the question that had been on my mind since I left Florida. It started as a far more complex question, but during all those miles on the road it became simpler and simpler until I boiled it down to 10 words:

"What is the answer when Jesus is not the answer?"

Your answer was very Zen: Connections.


I am still processing what that means for me. I've come to the conclusion that not all connections are real connections. Nor do I really want to be connected to all those who are connected to me. The contradiction is that my writing at the Not Now Silly Newsroom, as well as my oversized presence on the facebookery and Twitterverse is all about making connections to many people I have no real connection with. Heavy, eh?

On my most recent road trip in front of my
former Kensington Market house on Nassau
IRONY ALERT: The person/place I truly wanted an improved and stronger connection with has gone cold and I have no idea how to rekindle it.

Ken, your other suggestion -- to get back to Drum Circles -- is a good one. Pops' hospitalization kept me busy since early June, and there was no time. One of my favourite ones is tomorrow. It's the monthly Drum Circle where I actually composed most of my first Pastoral Letter to you. However, here's another contradiction: I'm not a joiner.

Speaking of joiners, I have always . . . what's the correct word -- envied? coveted?-- someone who has a God to believe in. When life turns to shit, there's an entity to pray to. Atheists don't have that. Without those connections of which you speak, I've got to tough it out on my own.

The last time I believed in something bigger than myself was, in reality, not all that long ago. It was only last year and I wrote about it in a previous Pastoral Letter which I titled Before and After Synchronicity. Now I'm not sure if what I believed was real. It all seemed so right and this feels so wrong.

I no longer know what to tell the crows.

I hope it's not another year before we see each other again, Kenny, but I expect it will be. In the meantime, feel free to reply. I told you that I write these more for myself than for getting a reply. However, this time I'd love to read your thoughts.

Your childhood friend,
Marc Slootsky

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Man Without A Country ► Unpacking The Writer

Edward Everett Hale
When I was in elementary school -- back when they still taught Civics -- one of my favourite short stories was The Man Without A Country, by Edward Everett Hale. These days, whenever I cross the border between Canada and the United States (as I did recently), I am reminded of this heart-breaking story.

SPOILER ALERT: It was many years after I first read it that I learned that The Man Without A Country is not a true story at all. It was a newly-minted (in 1863) allegory about patriotism and The Civil War, which was currently ripping the country apart.

None of that meant a thing to the young, unsophisticated, me. It felt true, like a good Onion story. Like a bad Michener novel, it was peopled with real folks. Like Citizen Kane, it is the story of one man piecing together the life of mysterious man. It would always bring me to tears. I can still remember the disappointment I felt when I discovered I had been hoodwinked by a brilliant writer.

The Man Without A Country was written as if the author had only just read an obituary of a little remembered figure in history and expounds on why this man should be remembered 50 years after the events described. The author relates how Philip Nolan, whose obit he stumbled across, had been friends with Aaron Burr and was tried for treason along with him in 1807. In a fit of pique Nolan renounces his country and proclaims, "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!" The judge sentences him to be put on board U.S. war ships, never allowed walk on U.S. soil again, nor could people tell him of news back home. The WikiWackyWoo picks up the story:
As it appeared in The Atlantic in 1863
Deprived of a homeland, Nolan slowly and painfully learns the true worth of his country. He misses it more than his friends or family, more than art or music or love or nature. Without it, he is nothing. Dying aboard the USS Levant, he shows his room to an officer named Danforth; it is "a little shrine" of patriotism. The Stars and Stripes are draped around a picture of George Washington. Over his bed, Nolan has painted a bald eagle, with lightning "blazing from his beak" and claws grasping the globe. At the foot of his bed is an outdated map of the United States, showing many of its old territories that had, unbeknownst to him, been admitted to statehood. Nolan smiles, "Here, you see, I have a country!" The dying man asks desperately to be told the news of American history since 1807, and Danforth finally relates to him almost all of the major events that have happened to the U.S. since his sentence was imposed; the narrator confesses, however, that "I could not make up my mouth to tell him a word about this infernal rebellion." Nolan then asks him to bring his copy of the Presbyterian Book of Public Prayer, and read the page where it will automatically open. These are the words: "Most heartily we beseech Thee with Thy favor to behold and bless Thy servant, the President of the United States, and all others in authority." Nolan says: "I have repeated those prayers night and morning, it is now fifty-five years." Every day, he had read of the United States, but only in the form of a prayer to uphold its leaders; the U.S. Navy had neglected to keep this book from him. This is the supreme irony of the story. Nolan asks him to have them bury him in the sea and have a gravestone placed in memory of him at Fort Adams, Mississippi or at New Orleans. When he dies later that day, he is found to have drafted a suitably patriotic epitaph for himself: "In memory of PHILIP NOLAN, 'Lieutenant in the Army of the United States. He loved his country as no other man has loved her; but no man deserved less at her hands.'"
Had I known when I first read the story that I would come to feel like Philip Nolan, The Man Without A Country, I may have cried all the harder back then.

Unlike Nolan, I have never renounced my 'Merkin citizenship. I did, however, take up Canadian citizenship. To do so I swore an oath to "the Queen, her heirs and assigns" that I'd not vote, nor serve in the armed forces of another country. I take that oath seriously. Renunciation, on the other hand, is an overt act.

The only time my citizenship gets complicated is when I am crossing from Canada back into the United States. When I am going into Canada all I have to do is flash my Canadian Citizenship picture ID and --- Bang! Zoom! --- I'm in.

However, I've learned that coming back into 'Merka it's best that I don't mention my Canadian citizenship if I can help it. When asked "citizen of what country" I answer truthfully. "United States" precisely because I have not renounced my citizenship. I learned a number of years ago that the United States does not recognize the concept of "dual citizenship" and claiming such only complicates matters at the border. Hoo boy! I am made to feel as if I am The Man Without A Country.


This 3rd filming of the story was a Made For TV
Movie
. Earlier versions were filmed in 1917 and 1937.



The Monthly Top Ten


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Apologies to my regular readers who have noticed I've been neglecting Not Now Silly for the last little while. If you've been paying attention, you will know that Pops was hospitalized in June and spent 7 weeks there. More recently he was transferred to a rehab center, where he's made amazing progress.

Then there was the 3 week Road Trip, details of which are still to come. I thought I would have time to update the Not Now Sill Newsroom while I was on the road, but there was so much to do that I never got around to unpacking the laptop.

Even though I've been away, the Not Now Silly Newsroom archive has had quite a workout. Here's this month's Top Ten. (The All Time Top Ten is in the column to the right.)

1. Who Is To Blame For The Destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup House?
2. The 4th Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research
3. Javier Gonzalez Kicks Off His District 2 Campaign
4. Say Goodbye to the E.W.F. Stirrup House While You Still Can
5. The Detroit Riots ► Unpacking My Detroit ► Part Five
6. Coconut Grove in Black and White
7. Did Roger Ailes Dupe James Rosen, Or Did Rosen Dupe 'Merka?
8. Tribute to Don Knotts ► Morgantown's Favourite Son
9. Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?
10. Harry Nilsson ► Thursday (Here's Why I Did Not Go To Work Today) ► A Musical Interlude


I've stoked the fires under the Steam-Powered Word-0-Matic and the Newsroom is back up and running full-tilt, balls out. I already have several stories in the pipeline that include: A brand new, exciting Don Knotts and Morgantown Update; another Pastoral Letter, following my most recent visit with my oldest childhood friend, Pastor Kenny, who has written a very important book; Notes From A Road Trip, which I'm still collating and trying to make sense of; and a long, involved investigative article about a Miami institution that I've been researching for almost 3 years and writing, on and off, since early June. There's a just a small amount of research left on that one and it'll be ready for prime time.

And, along the way, there will be some surprises. Consider tossing a little bit into the Tip Jar above and help support Investigative Journalism from the Not Now Silly Newsroom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Who Is To Blame For The Destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup House?

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.

Mission accomplished!!!

Read Say Goodbye to the E.W.F. Stirrup House While You Still Can, but here's the capsule version for those who don't follow links:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Read more:

Trolleygate Brings A Community Together


Unveiling the One Grove Mural
Recently I discovered The Stirrup Family Legacy website. Part of the About SFL page reads:

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. [1] 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 [2], The Stirrup Townhouses [3], and the Stirrup Senior residences in Coconut Grove [4]. 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.

[1] Not any more, as this entire post proves
[2] The E.W.F. Elementary School is named after E.W.F. Stirrup, II, not the patriarch
[3] If this refers to Stirrup Grove, on Franklin Avenue, that is the only thing I've ever discovered actually named after the patriarch
[4] 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.

WAIT!!! WHAT???

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 a
t 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.

I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The 4th Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research

Hey kidz. The Not Now Silly Newsroom is on the move again and will be (almost) live-blogging the entire experience as I go. Just like the last 3 times.

This trip to Canton Township, Michigan, will be by way of Morgantown, West Virginia, to reacquaint myself with the roots of Don Knotts; Toronto, where I have much family and many friends; Detroit, to check up on my family there and see how they're taking care of Pops; and then Elyria, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; and Centerville, a real nice place to raise your kids up.

But, we all know it's really Canton Township, Michigan that has captured my heart. Oh, sure, people make fun of it because it's only a township. But, it has a population of 90,173. That doesn't seem like much, but that makes it the second largest township in all of Michigan. And, the 11th largest community in the state.

Huzzuh!

Huzzuh!!

Huzzuh!!!

As the WikiWackyWoo is only too happy to reveal:
As of the census[1] of 2010, there were 90,173 people, 32,771 households, and 24,231 families residing in the township. The population density was 2,121.5 per square mile (819.0/km²). There were 34,829 housing units at an average density of 789.8 per square mile (304.9/km²). The racial makeup of the township was 72.2% White, 10.2% African American, 0.2% Native American, 14.1% Asian (8.0% Indian, 2.2% Chinese, 0.7% Filipino), 0.0% Pacific Islander, 0.7% from other races, and 1.91% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.1% of the population. 
Which explains a lot. For history buffs, the Wiki also reveals:
The Township of Canton was created by act of the Michigan Territorial Legislature on March 7, 1834 out of a southern portion of Plymouth Township. It was named in honor of the port and provincial capital known historically as Canton, Imperial China, which in 1918 was renamed Guangzhou (Chinese: 廣州; pinyin: Guǎngzhōu) — now the capital and largest city of Guangdong province, People's Republic of China.

I KNEW IT!!!

Those damn Commies!

Meanwhile, watch for my updates from the road starting on the 21st.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Do It Yourself! ► Throwback Thursday

With far too much on my mind this week to properly prepare a Throwback Thursday, I challenge you all to make up your own. 

It's a point of pride with me that I have no idea what my weekly Throwback Thursday will be when at wake up around 5AM Thursday morning. While sipping my first mug of coffee, I check out the WikiWackyWoo for inspiration. Then I spin out several hundred (or a thousand or two) words on the topic of my choosing.

Now you can do likewise. Here are today's choices. Have fun.

Events

Births

Deaths

Holidays and observances