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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Unpacking Coconut Grove ► Part 2.2 ► The Neighbourhood Around The E.W.F. Stirrup House

The open gate with the condo complex in the distance.
On a visit to Charles Avenue yesterday the gate was open on the E.W.F. Stirrup property, so I walked right in. I was able to take some interesting close up pictures of wood rot and other damage that normally can't be seen from the sidewalk or the bank parking lot. It revealed how much damage has been caused by simple neglect of this house that stands as a testament to one of Florida's first Black millionaires, a man who once owned most of Coconut Grove and helped build the early Bahamian community of The Grove, literally with his own hands.

The last time I found the gate left open it was because the landscaping crew had unlocked it, but were working on the empty lot across the street. So I wandered onto the property and started taking pictures. The landscaping crew noticed and started yelling at me, waving frantically. I waved back as if to say, "Hello!" One of the guys got on his cell phone and within minutes a Security Guard from the condo complex behind the Stirrup House (see below) showed up to shoo me off the property. I was able to engage him in conversation for a while and he revealed a few clues about what may have happened to stall all work on the Stirrup House, which had apparently been promised as a gift of sorts to the neighbourhood as a historical community center of some sort. Unfortunately, it's not something I have been able to confirm as of yet, so I dare not repeat it.

The front door of the E.W.F. Stirrup House taken from
outside the fence. Ferns now grow on the concrete.
Synchronicity may have been at work again yesterday when I spoke to another gentleman who just happened to be riding past on a bicycle. He's lived in the Grove 50 years and seems to know where all the bodies are buried. We had a good conversation and would be talking still, I imagine, if not for the lightening and thunder of an approaching storm. He wanted to pedal home before he got soaked. Unless he lived a block away, he got drenched. The sky opened up in a deluge, with barely a drop or two to give final warning.

When I told him I was a journalist investigating the E.W.F. Stirrup House, he told me some wonderful stories concerning 'interesting' real estate deals in The Grove, including some about the 3 lots that were assembled to build the condo complex behind the Stirrup House. During this conversation he dropped one important name -- one I had not heard before -- and a cursory investigation of that name reveals that he is actually the guy that might have piled up all the bodies needing burying.

All of this -- what the security guard told me, what this bicyclist told me, the gentleman who appears to have assembled the 3 lots -- are just more unconfirmed threads for me to pull to see how this story unravels. However, now I have the name of someone who knows all the players and may no longer have an axe to grind. Or, in the alternative, may have a very large axe to grind. Either way, if I can connect with this gentleman I might be able to solve the riddle of the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

Meanwhile, nothing really changes on Charles Avenue as long as you don't consider continued deterioration as no change. This is why I am calling this DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT, because nothing else makes any sense. Why would such a beautiful example of a 19th Century house, a house that has survived on that spot for more than 100 years be allowed to rot? Nothing in Florida, it seems, is allowed to get much older than 20 years. In the many decades I've been visiting (and 7 years living here) I have seen buildings go up and down and up and down and up and down on the same piece of land. Who cares? They're usually gas stations or banks or were gas stations and became banks, or vice-versa. There's no sense of age -- of history -- in Southern Florida, except for a few small pockets. Most of those have been preserved, restored with love, and maintained as historical sites or museums.

The clock is ticking as the E.W.F. Stirrup House rots.

Take a look at the rest of my photo essay below and please read the previous chapters of Unpacking Coconut Grove, Florida, 33133 ► Part OnePart 1.1Part Two: E.W.F Stirrup, His House and All His Other HousesPart 2.1


Wood rot under the window frame on the side of the E.W.F. Stirrup House.



Wood rot at the side door, which is now being invaded by vines.

A pile of wood behind the house, under a huge bower that developed from all the vegetation. It's where trash is
hidden from the prying eyes of Miami by-law inspectors because it's against the law to pile up trash on your property.

This pile of landscaping clippings is also under the bower. It also (allegedly) breaks the law.
It doesn't look like much in this pic, but it's about 3 feet tall. That's a nine foot palm frond on top.
The extent of the wood pile under the bower. It's several feet high. This is the opening of the bower.

What kid wouldn't want to play in a bower this size?
While it was impossible to tell from any vantage point, these plants must be invading the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

The plants are clearly invading the house through a side window.

The side door with the other window, open to the elements. The bower is on the left.

The condition at the bottom of the side door.

A window on the east side of the house open to the elements. The house appears to store construction debris.
Any thunderstorm coming in from the ocean will blow water right into this window.
Close up of the porch of the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

Other side of same post.

She's a beauty, ain't she?


Just a reminder of what this is all about.

The condo complex behind the Stirrup House sits on the corner of Franklin and Main Highway. It includes unobstructed views of Biscayne Bay from the upper floors, 2 high-end restaurants, a recreation of a former venerated neighbourhood bar called The Taurus, and valet parking. I have been told there was a "Save the Taurus" campaign when the possibility of its demise was announced years ago. I'll be writing more about this complex in Part Three of Unpacking Coconut Grove, Florida.

This is one of the gated communities on the opposite side of Main Highway. At one time it was the extension of Franklin Avenue to Biscayne Bay. Now it's gated and inaccessible, even to the Google Street View Car.

This is another of the gated communities on the other side of Main Highway. Camp Biscayne, which is also closed to Google Street View, has a long and rich history going back 109 years. Camp Biscayne is so exclusive that even though it's only a short block away from gated Franklin, there is no access from Franklin, or vice-versa.

Picture of the abandoned Coconut Grove Playhouse, taken from Camp Biscayne entrance where the gentleman and I spoke.

Detail of the Coconut Grove Playhouse.

Detail of the Coconut Grove Playhouse.

Picture of the Coconut Grove Playhouse sign taken from inside the car after the skies opened up.
If you want to help me save the E.W.F. Stirrup House you could provide no greater service than sharing this with people you think may care.