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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is Gino Falsetto Breaking The Law Again? ► A Charles Avenue Update

The Charles Avenue historical marker with the
E.W.F. Stirrup House across the street.
It's always been about the E.W.F. Stirrup House. My research into Ebeneezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup has led to many interesting tangents, none of which would I have ever heard about had it not been for Mr. Stirrup.

Among those tangents include my series No Skin In The Game, documenting 90 years of Coral Gables racism; my investigations into [allegedly corrupt] Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, who managed to build himself a dog park and a traffic circle, not to mention the undying enmity of his West Grove constituents; and my ongoing reporting on Trolleygate, which culminated in a hearing at the Dade-County Courthouse on Friday. However, I would never have come across those stories had I not accidentally encountered the Charles Avenue historical marker in February of 2009. That was the day I first set eyes upon the E.W.F. Stirrup House and fell in love.



That's the very same day I started researching the history of the house, which quickly led to the discovery that E.W.F. Stirrup was a remarkable man -- decades ahead of his time. Mr. Stirrup created an area unique to this entire country. Because of his efforts Coconut Grove at one time had the highest percentage of Black home ownership in the entire country, which might be the only reason West Grove has remained intact all these years.

Elsewhere in 'Merka, Black neighbourhoods were comprised of a majority of renters, with absentee landlords. This is why I-95 could be punched through the middle of Overtown, or why I-75 totally obliterated Paradise Valley, in my home town of Detroit.

Yet, sadly, Mr. Stirrup's legacy is barely known to the people of Coconut Grove. If they know the name at all it's only because of the E.W.F. Stirrup Elementary School. However, that's not Mr. Stirrup being honoured by having a school named after him. That's his son. Not that he doesn't deserve to be commemorated, because he was a man with a legacy in his own right. However, his father was far more significant to the history of Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida and the United States. This is not hyperbole. Read my previous chapters on the E.W.F. Stirrup House to understand why Mr. Stirrup was important and why it's imperative to save his house.

Even though the E.W.F. Stirrup House has been designated historic by the City of Miami, a rapacious developer got his hands on the Stirrup House 8 years ago and has been allowing it to undergo Demolition by Neglect ever since. Aries Development is the name of the company and and Gino Falsetto is the name of the man who runs it. Falsetto is Canadian, not that I hold that against him because so am I. However, Falsetto left a string of bankrupt restaurants behind in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on which the Canadian taxpayers lost an estimated $1,000,000. And, of course, all the employees and vendors lost money. However, shortly afterwards Falsetto landed on his feet as one of Miami Real Estate's big wheelers and dealers. Then he set his eyes on Coconut Grove and built the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums on Main Highway, immediately behind the E.W.F. Stirrup House. And that's when the E.W.F. Stirrup House began to fall apart.

One wonders if the Canadian taxpayers provided Gino Falsetto with the grub stake to buy into the always over-heated Miami real estate market.

During Falsetto's property-trading he managed to acquire a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the ownership of which still remains in the Stirrup Family. At the time he acquired the lease, Falsetto promised to restore the house. In the 4 years I have been visiting the house, and the 4 years prior to that, he's done virtually nothing, except to make things worse by allowing it to undergo Demolition by Neglect.

It was just a year ago, August 18th, that I got into the house for the first time. I documented that in a Not Now Silly post called Unpacking Coconut Grove ► Part Four ► Open Houses and Broken Laws. Compare the pics in that post to the current look of the interior in this video taken on August 16, 2013:


All of that interior destruction is apparently taking place without the benefit of a plan for historic restoration, which I am told must be approved by the Miami Historical Board before any work is to take place. The work is also being done without benefit of a building permit, which must be posted prominently on the property while work is going on and until the completion of the renovation.

A wide-open gate on the Stirrup property says, "C'mon in."
Let me tell you a little something about getting inside the E.W.F. Stirrup House. Last Friday was the first time I ever surreptitiously entered the house, but the two previous times I was invited in by workmen.

There was a time I used to wander onto the Stirrup property at will. There was a very large hole in the chain link fence at the extreme south-east corner of the property. After I started posting pictures of the property (that had obviously been taken from on the property), I discovered the hole had been patched. Once that hole was fixed I stopped slipping through that gap. Nor did I ever slip through the gap between the two front gates, which are chained together so loosely that Rush Limbaugh could squeeze through. However, I have encountered those gates wide open on many subsequent visits. When the gate is left wide open I take that as a personal invitation to document Gino Falsetto's shoddy stewardship of a precious Miami historic site.

On August 16th, when I arrived at 7 a.m., the gate was wide open and had clearly been left that way overnight. I wandered onto the property and took several pictures before I headed off to my next appointment. However, I noted something on that visit that required an additional visit later to see whether my eyes were deceiving me.

When I got back to the E.W.F. Stirrup House I discovered my eyes hadn't deceived me at all. The front door had been left open a crack all night and, at 2 in the afternoon, it was still open the same crack, which meant that there had been no workmen there in the interim. So, if an open gate says, "C'mon in," so does an unlocked front door. My desire to save the house and protect it from idiots who have no conception of the history the house represents overrules any proprieties about property rights.

An example of some of the destruction that's taken place inside the E.W.F. Stirrup House.
So, yesterday I a very busy boy. I spoke to a very nice woman at the City of Miami Historical Preservation office. She told me that as far as she could tell, there were no plans on file for historic preservation of 3242 Charles Avenue, aka The E.W.F. Stirrup House. However, she would have to do some more research before she could state that categorically.

Then I left a message for Peter Iglesias, who is head of the Building Department, where any building permits would have been issued for work on the E.W.F. Stirrup House. However, I suspect there is no building permit. Just like there was no building permit last year when I reported [allegedly] illegal demolition work inside the house. That file was closed without a determination. What's crazier is that no matter how many times I called back, no one was ever able to tell me what happened to my complaint, only that it had been closed. I had a confirmation number and everything. I believe it fell into a Black hole, pun intended.

In fact, I have documented here, in an open letter to Miami, how all my previous phone messages left for City of Miami employees have all gone into the same Black hole. Miami employees never answer their phones and have never returned the phone messages I've left. I was shocked when Marina Novaes in the Historic Preservation office answered her phone. That was a first! She took my number and said she'd get back to me. That would also be a first.

And, just like last year, and the [allegedly] illegal demolition work inside the house, it's invisible if and when the building inspector comes around because IT'S ALL HAPPENING INSIDE THE WALLS OF THE HOUSE, not outside. I can't stress this enough. That's why Gino Falsetto has been getting away with this [allegedly] illegal work. And, that's why I took the risk and decided to enter the house. I've got it all documented if the City of Miami Building Department Chief Peter Iglesias wants to see what's happening inside this historic house.

After cutting back the vines in February, they've not been cut since. Before
they were cut the last time, they grew 30 feet high and over the top of the house.
And, while I'm on that topic: The City of Miami by-law compliance officers need to see what's happening behind the house, too. I've documented previous occasions when the property has been cited for a lack of landscaping upkeep and graffiti on the back wall. Remember that Gino Falsetto (Aries Development) is the lease-holder. However, it's the owner, Stirrup Properties, that gets cited for all the deficiencies caused by Falsetto. Do I have to point out the obvious? The Black corporation is being blamed for the White corporation's misdeeds.

However, Gino Falsetto seems to have learned something else: the by-law compliance officers cannot see what's behind the house, so that area is almost never landscaped. It became a jungle, which I also documented in previous posts. It grew over 30 feet tall and part way across the roof of the house in the back, all unseen by the by-law compliance officers.

That jungle was cut back drastically in February for the first time in the 4 years I have been visiting the property. However, that had nothing to do with being cited by the city. It was in advance of a meeting of the Charles Avenue Historic Committee, on which Gino Falsetto sits. He wanted to be able to point to SOME WORK having taken place, in case people asked. However, what was done actually destroyed part of the house, as documented here.

Since then the vines have been allowed to grow unmolested again.

Say, I got an idea! Let's start a pool and bet on how tall the vines are allowed to grow before Gino Falsetto feels he needs to impress someone else with the work he hasn't been doing on restoring the E.W.F. Stirrup House and it gets cut back again merely for appearance sake, and not because the vines are harming a precious historic house.

Of course, if the City of Miami ever manages to inspect the inside of the E.W.F. Stirrup House and determines that Gino Falsetto has ordered illegal work, it will be Stirrup Properties, LLC, that is cited and/or fined.

Let's face it, Gino Falsetto doesn't care about Stirrup Properties, LLC; Coconut Grove history; or the Stirrup legacy; nor has he shown any care of the historic 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House. Falsetto is a rapacious developer who cares only about making money by developing property. In fact, having to save the Stirrup House foils Falsetto's ultimate plan. He has managed to scoop up every bit of property surrounding the Stirrup House, including a financial stake in the Coconut Grove Playhouse. An empty lot where the Stirrup House currently sits would be far more valuable to Falsetto than this house that he's committed to restoring. Is that why he's allowed 8 years of Demolition by Neglect to eat away at the house? Is that why the property is left unsecured, hoping for an accident to happen?

Here are several more pictures of the state of the E.W.F. Stirrup House on August 16, 2013: