|One of the first pictures I ever took of the |
E.W.F. Stirrup House - August 26, 2009
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.
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
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|
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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|
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.
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.
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.
Trolleygate Brings A Community Together
Unveiling the One Grove Mural
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.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.
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.
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.  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 , The Stirrup Townhouses , and the Stirrup Senior residences in Coconut Grove . 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.
 Not any more, as this entire post proves
 The E.W.F. Elementary School is named after E.W.F. Stirrup, II, not the patriarch
 If this refers to Stirrup Grove, on Franklin Avenue, that is the only thing I've ever discovered actually named after the patriarch
 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.
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.It turned out to an unnatural disaster that destroyed the house: a decade-long campaign of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT.
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.
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 BoardThe 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|
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.
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
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.
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.
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 HillPeter 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.
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 at 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/ApathyIt 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.
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 RacismThis 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.
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.