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Saturday, August 31, 2013

History Is Complicated ► Save The E.W.F. Stirrup Playhouse!

The Coconut Grove Playhouse anchors one corner of
Charles Avenue, where it dead-ends at Main Highway
History is complicated, real estate history even more so. At one time all the land at the east end of Charles Avenue in Coconut Grove was owned by E.W.F. Stirrup, one of Florida's first Black millionaires. In fact, Mr. Stirrup once owned most of Coconut Grove, the irony being 33133 is now considered one of 'Merka's most exclusive area codes. To honour history I propose the Coconut Grove Playhouse name be changed to the E.W.F. Stirrup Theater.

Follow along: Back in the day, when a man of Mr. Stirrup's complexion could not get into most movie theaters in the country, E.W.F. Stirrup owned the land on which the Coconut Grove Playhouse now sits. In order to bring culture to Coconut Grove, Mr. Stirrup sold the land on which the Coconut Grove Theater was built in 1927. While the movie theater was practically on his doorstep, that didn't guarantee that Mr. Stirrup could enter the theater during Jim Crow days. How close was it? Watch:

Less than 300 feet separate the front door of the E.W.F. Stirrup House
from the box office of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, just catercorner

Mr. Stirrup may have been the exception that proves the rule. 

It's quite possible that a man of Mr. Stirrup's means could have crossed The Color Line easily. It's within the realm of possibility that he could have walked the 250 feet, from his front door to the Coconut Grove Theater's box office, and buy a ticket at a time when other Black folks couldn't. That would have put Mr. Stirrup in the same category as Dana A. Dorsey, who was Miami's first Black millionaire. Mr. Dorsey was allowed to cross The Color Line as the only Black man allowed to ride on the elevators at Burdines department store. This during the same period when other Black folk couldn't even try on the clothes in the store to see if they fit. History is complicated.

Flagler Street in the '40s, with Burdine's in the background
Like Stirrup, Dana Dorsey made his fortune with real estate. At one time Dorsey was one of Colored Town's [Overtown's original name] largest landholders. When the William Burdine ran into money troubles, he turned to Dana Dorsey for a loan, which allowed the store to survive an economic downturn. From that day on Dorsey was the only Black person who could ride the elevators at Burdines of Flagler Street, until the store was fully integrated after his death. The exception that proved the rule. History is complicated.

SLIGHT TANGENT: How Overtown Got Its Name: 

Henry Flagler's railroad created south Florida
Overtown was one of two Colored Towns in Miami. The older, and smaller Colored Town was a part of Coconut Grove, which predates Miami. Kebo, the name the Bahamians gave their West Grove neighbourhood, eventually became hemmed in by White neighbourhoods. Black folk looking for housing had to look elsewhere, and many settled in the newer Colored Town to the north. This area was designated by Henry Morrison Flagler. As he did through every town he rammed his railroad, Flagler designated the northwest sector to be a Black neighbourhood. This was not as progressive as it sounds. These Black enclaves had a never-ending supply of workers who did the actual backbreaking labour of building a railroad through a swamp. History is complicated.

This later Colored Town became the business and entertainment district for the growing Black community that the railroad brought. Later it provided the hotels where people like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington could find a hotel room after playing for the rich White folk, because they were not allowed to stay in the hotels in Miami and Miami Beach. History is complicated.

Between Coconut Grove in the south and Colored Town in the north is where the fledgling town of Miami grew up. When the folks in Coconut Grove talked about going to the Black entertainment district, they said, "Let's go Over Town" and the name stuck. The city trying to designate the area Washington Heights, despite it being on the same sea level as the rest of Miami. Eventually everyone gave in and it became known officially on maps as Overtown. History is complicated.


One other thing links the E.W.F. Stirrup House with the Coconut Grove Playhouse and that's the rapacious developer I have profiled here repeatedly, Gino Falsetto. Through a property swap, and later what appears to be a shady real estate deal, Falsetto's Aries Development Group has got its corporate grubby mitts on a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House, although the house must remain in the family in perpetuity.

In an odd coincidence [and everything traced to Falsetto is filled with odd coincidences] Aries Group also has his fingers in the Coconut Grove Playhouse pie, and has scuttled more than one previous deal to renovate the Playhouse. Whatever backroom deal the town big wigs have already decided upon, Gino Falsetto is still an impediment to any Playhouse restoration plan unless he signs on.

Ever since Falsetto got his hands on the property he's done virtually nothing with the E.W.F. Stirrup House, except to allow it to undergo Demolition by Neglect. Last week I posted a video I was able to take of allegedly illegal work the inside of the Stirrup House because the property was left open and the house was left unlocked. There was no building permit, either prominently posted outside as the law demands, or hidden inside the house.

I had been assured that a building permit had since been obtained, but a week later it was not posted on the property. I am starting to wonder if they truly have a building permit. I'm starting to wonder whether they truly have a brain. When I returned on the 27th, the front door on the right was left unlocked again, which you can see in this video:

It's almost like Gino Falsetto is hoping some accident will befall the house, before he actually has to spend the money to restore it LIKE HE PROMISED 8 YEARS AGO!!! During that time Falsetto managed to find the money and energy to build the monstrosity behind the Stirrup House, the multimillion dollar, mixed use development, with fancy restaurants and valet parking, known officially as the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums. Yet, Falsetto has only recently spent the $10 bucks to buy some plywood to board up the upper windows, which had been open to the elements for the last 8 years. Oh, wait. Never mind. That looks like a piece of scrap. There's no better proof that Gino Falsetto has been a bad steward of an historic community asset. What's worse, as I keep pointing out, every infraction committed by Falsetto's workmen is cited against the actual owners of the property, Stirrup Properties, LLC.

One again watch another video which shows how proximate the Coconut Grove Playhouse is to the E.W.F. Stirrup House and recall how both these structures are linked through both Mr. Stirrup and Gino Falsetto:

That's why I now propose to rename the Playhouse the E.W.F. Stirrup Theater.

Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House and Theater!!!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Grove Harbor ► No Skin In The Game

When I think of seashore I don't think of chrome and glass superstructures.
A faithful reader has written [privately] to ask that I get involved in the latest Coconut Grove controversy, Grove Harbor * [sic], or Grove Horror as some of the locals have taken to calling it. To that end, I spent about 2 hours reading up on the project, both pro & con, but mostly con because there seems to be more of that 'out there' on the innertubes.

I'm philosophically against any development on any waterfront anywhere in the world: It blocks access to the waterfront, no matter how small the waterfront or the development. I am reminded of Frank Lloyd Wright who loved to build on hills, but said you should never build on top of a hill because you lose the hill. Same thing in my opinion.

I tend to think of all Coconut Grove issues in relation to the E.W.F. Stirrup House. This proposed development is just a mile's walk from the E.W.F. Stirrup House. At one time it might have been a gorgeous walk. Walk it these days and you'll barely catch a glimpse of the majesty of Biscayne Bay, with Miami Beach in the distance, even though you're walking parallel to it. Decades of bad decisions along the waterfront have led to what it is today, for better or worse.

What would Emperor Headly do?

The footprint of the proposed Grove Harbour development is roughly everything
on the right half of this vintage post card, but the historic buildings will remain
Let's face it, that job is already filled by alleged corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. However, if I were a benevolent Emperor of Coconut Grove, here's what I'd do to correct previous dunderheaded mistakes along that section of South Bayshore Drive, after hanging banners that said "The Waterfront Belongs to Everybody."  
  1. Raze every building on the east side of South Bayshore Drive from McFarlane through David T. Kennedy Park, except those few that have historic designation. 
  2. Declare the resultant green space, once landscaped, a People's Park;  
  3. If the members made enough noise, I might be inclined to grandfather in establishments like the Coral Reef Yacht Club and the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, that serve a 'community' of members. However, I would maintain a public access to the waterfront for all;
  4. I would be disinclined to grandfather in commercial enterprises such as Scotty's, the Chart House, or any of the boat sales/rentals places or the charter boat companies. If any of those businesses wish to remain on prime Coconut Grove real estate, they will have to pay through the nose, on short leases, with all the money going into waterfront improvements;
  5. Decree that from this day forward nothing larger than bike racks and public restrooms could be built on the east side of South Bayshore Drive until the end of time;
  6. Remove every parking space from the east side of South Bayshore Drive, forcing people to walk over from the thousands of parking spaces just a few short blocks away in Coconut Grove Center;
  7. Create level pedestrian crossings at every intersection along South Bayshore Drive, forcing drivers to yield to anyone within the crosswalk; 
  8. Add calming speed bumps and traffic circles to discourage drive-through traffic on South Bayshore Drive;
  9. Set my mind on other ways to encourage pedestrians and make it harder for cars along South Bayshore Drive;
  10. Rip out all the mangroves in Peacock Park, which were only planted in the '80s;
  11. Take back Peacock Park from the private lease given to St. Stephen's Church (What the hell was Sarnoff thinking on that one?);
  12. Turn the former NET office into something that actually serves the community.
An artist renderinging of Grove Harbor at night,
when the chrome and glass will really shine
That's just 12 things I would do off the top of my head and, admittedly, I've done no research on these ideas. However, none of my suggestions would ever include building a chrome and glass thingamajig on the waterfront, give restaurants 80-year leases, and attach a huge parking garage. But, that's just me because, in my opinion, the waterfront belongs to everybody.

Truth be told, this is a long-winded way of saying I really don't care and I am hesitant to get involved in this battle. I have no skin in the game. I don't live in Coconut Grove. I don't own a boat, therefore I don't need that kind of access to the water. Nor am I one of those rich folks on the west side of South Bayshore Drive, hoping a few deluxe restaurants and a glitzy glass and chrome dealie on their doorstep will improve their property values. It's hard not to compare those values to the property values on Charles Avenue, just a mile away, where the E.W.F. Stirrup House is still undergoing Demolition by Neglect.

Despite the wish fulfillment expressed in the One Grove mural, Coconut Grove is one of the most racially and economically divided communities you're ever going to see. This project is only 2.2 miles away from the Trolleygate garage, which is across from the One Grove mural, but it might as well be a million miles. The concerns of the folks on South Bayshore Drive are light years away from what affects the people of West Grove. One community is complaining about a huge development that MIGHT be placed on its doorstep, while the other is complaining of huge diesel bus maintenance facility ALREADY dropped on its doorstep, which a judge recently ruled they are powerless to stop. What's wrong with this picture?

At the unveiling of the One Grove mural earlier this year
Truth be told, I really don't know enough about *THIS* particular project to jump into it. There will apparently be a referendum, so the community will have its say. And, when I say "community" I really mean Miami as a whole, because Coconut Grove is only a fraction of Miami. And, the community will get whatever the community decides, unlike West Grove.

However, there are two big red flags on this project that should give everyone pause:
  • Just like Trolleygate and the Coconut Grove Playhouse, all the serious negotiations and decisions have already happened in the back rooms between the politicians and the developers. 
  • Allegedly corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff is involved in Grove Harbor negotiations up to his hip-waders.
As near as I can tell the referendum will just be the rubber stamp to what Coconut Grove assets allegedly corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff has already sold out to the developers. Unless the Coconut Grove community can muster enough opposition to stop the project, it's a fait accompli. Just like Trolleygate was for his other constituents. Rich or poor, Black or White, Marc Sarnoff doesn't care who he sells out.

I'll leave this windmill for the Coconut Grove Grapevine to tilt at.

* My fingers stutter whenever I am called upon to type a word that should have a "U" in it, like harbour and colour.

UPDATE: It turns out my fingers needn't stutter. Grove Harbour is spelled exactly the way I would spell it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Coconut Grove Grapevine Update

It was just a few days ago I took Tom Falco, of the Coconut Grove Grapevine, to task for his nutty conspiracy theories concerning me and Not Now Silly. I called the post Go Home, Coconut Grove Grapevine, You're Drunk!

In that post I graciously offered Tom Falco the opportunity to retract his crazy accusations. He has yet to do so. I had planned to just leave it alone . . . until I found the following on his failure of a blog, posted just yesterday:
I've been drawn quite far into this debate about the waterfront plan. I've always taken great pride on debating the issues and not getting personal. I will try not to do that anymore, simply because I don't like it.