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Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
May 2017

It’s hard to frame a city’s past if nothing remains of it

TBuildings_13he Dade Heritage Trust has just unfurled its annual list of the 11 most endangered historic properties in Miami-Dade.

Some you may know: Miami Marine Stadium, Little Havana, the S&S Diner, the DuPuis medical building on NE 2nd Avenue and 61st Street. Others you may not: the Dorsey House and Dr. Johnson’s X-ray clinic in Overtown, and the padlocked Lincoln Memorial Park cemetery in Brownsville, where Dorsey and at least 527 other souls lie buried among overgrown weeds in neglected graves.

“There’s nothing in Miami that doesn’t have a story four or five layers down,” says Trust director Christine Rupp, who took on the job in December 2015, after eight years as director of the Coral Gables Museum. “If you think you know the story, keep digging. The key to our mission is to develop the political will for a stronger preservation ethic and preserve those buildings and sites that help tell the story of Miami.”

One of the most protected sites is the Trust’s very headquarters in the colonnaded, lemon-colored 1905 house at 190 SE 12th Terr. that was Dr. James Jackson’s surgical clinic, moved by barge to its current site from downtown in 1916. Most days, behind the native cocoplum, coontie, necklace pod, and lantana that Rupp planted herself, she keeps busy writing grants, negotiating with officials and developers, organizing weekly walking and monthly bike tours, among much else, and cooking up public historical awareness events like the “Rollin’ on the River student art and photo+graphy” contest.

The building’s survival is assured, thanks to a citywide 55 percent vote last November 8 to amend the city’s charter to grant the trust a 30-year lease. The Trust pays the city $600 a year for 30 years, with two renewable 30-year extensions. Other costs, such as insurance and maintenance, come to about $50,000 a year, from a total Trust budget of $353,000.

“That vote was a big victory for us,” says Dolly McIntire, who founded the Trust in 1972. “It got our name out there before the entire electorate, and they supported us. I was holding my breath.”

With good reason. Just north of the Trust’s headquarters, Florida East Coast Realty developer Tibor Hollo’s Panorama Tower is heading toward its scheduled October completion, at 85 stories and 830 feet. And just across the street to the east, at 1201 Brickell Bay Dr., Hollo, who turns 90 in July, plans to outdo himself with a “tower of the future” at 1049 feet -- as tall as the FAA allows -- for possible groundbreaking in 2019. It will be the tallest building south of Manhattan, in the most densely populated neighborhood south of Manhattan.

Next on her agenda, an all-day November 3 preservation confab at the historic 1926 Olympia Theater on Flagler Street, in partnership with HistoryMiami, the Latin Builders Association, and the Builders Association of South Florida.

Preservation efforts in Miami-Dade are a patchwork quilt at best. Coral Gables and Miami Beach, for instance, have robust, well-staffed historic preservation departments. The City of Miami has one full-time and one part-time staffer.

Moreover, historic preservation designation hardly guarantees survival. Owners can simply let buildings slide and roofs collapse, get a municipal board to designate them as unsafe structures, and demolish them.

Rupp knows the odds, and puts a premium on civility.

“We’re an organization with one full-time staffer and a limited budget,” she says. “I’ve found out that if you persevere, if you’re patient, if you’re polite, you’re going to get further.”

So here’s this year’s list of the sites, plus some of their stories and status: Anderson’s Corner, Babylon Apartments, DuPuis Medical Office and Drugstore, Flagler Workers Cottage, Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Little Havana/Riverside’s historic corner stores, bungalows and 1920s apartments, Mariah Brown House, Miami Marine Stadium, Office in the Grove, Overtown’s historic buildings (Dorsey House, Dorsey Library, X-Ray Clinic), S&S Diner.

Buildings_1

DuPuis Medical Office and Drugstore, 6041-45 NE 2nd Ave., built 1902. Pioneering doctor John G. DuPuis arrived in Miami at age 23 in 1898 and built this two-story building in Lemon City as the first concrete building north of Flagler Street. Designated historic in 1985; yet it is now a façade with a collapsed roof. In the center of Little Haiti, it now stands as part of Magic City, a $1 billion, 15-acre development partnership between Metro 1 Properties president Tony Cho and Silicon Valley entrepreneur and real estate developer Bob Zangrillo. The first phase includes a sculpture garden at the site of the old Magic City Trailer Park, the 30,000-square-foot Magic City studios, and the 15,000-square-foot innovation center.

Status: The building is going before the city’s Unsafe Structure Board. Cho has said he’ll either rebuild or restore it, but there’s no firm guarantee.

Buildings_2

S&S Diner, 1757 NE 2nd Ave., built 1938. Designated historic in 2003. The 12-foot-wide diner, with its U-shaped counter, opened to fanfare in 1938 and kept its vibe with movie posters and linoleum until it closed in July 2016. Known and loved by generations of Miamians, the restaurant was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and was the subject of the 1987 documentary, Last Night at the S&S Diner. The site is vacant and deteriorating.

Status: The owners plan to sell the whole block, except for a tennis court, to a mixed-use developer who intends to integrate the diner’s original architecture into the project. (Think about the 1929 Sears Tower integration into the Adrienne Arsht Center, where it is now called the Carnival Tower and houses Books & Books.)

Buildings_3

Dorsey House, 250 NW 9th St., Overtown, circa 1913, designated 1983. Dana Dorsey, the son of slaves, came to Miami as a carpenter in 1896, saved his money, and started buying one parcel at a time in Overtown. He reinvested and expanded his holdings, founded the Negro Savings Bank and the Dorsey Hotel, sold much of Fisher Island to Carl Fisher, and became Florida’s first African-American millionaire. When he died in 1940, flags all over segregated Miami were lowered to half-staff.

Status: The property is vacant, unattended, and owned by the Black Archives, a foundation dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Overtown. Plans unknown.

Buildings_4

Dorsey Library, 100 NW 17th St., Overtown, built 1941. Designated 2003. Dana Dorsey had just a fourth-grade education, but he put a premium on education and donated land for black schools in segregated Miami. Fifteen days before his death, he donated this land for a library, which opened a year later with 2000 volumes and served the community for two decades before it moved to newer, larger quarters. This boarded-up building is his legacy.

Status:The Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency and City of Miami have hired architecture firm M.C. Harry to survey the property and create plans for its restoration. When Dorsey gave the property to the City of Miami, he required that it be used for a library purpose. While libraries have changed, the building is almost certain to return for community use.

Buildings_5

X-Ray Clinic, 171 NW 11th St., Overtown, built 1939, designated 1984. This was the office of Dr. Samuel Johnson, South Florida’s first African-American radiologist. He built the clinic because black residents weren’t allowed to use the X-ray facilities at Miami’s City Hospital (now Jackson Memorial). The designer of this one-story streamlined building was a mechanical drawing instructor at Booker T. Washington High School, identified only as “Mr. Barker.”

Status: The building is owned by the Overtown CRA. Exact plans unknown.

Buildings_6

Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery, 3001 NW 46th St., Brownsville, opened 1924. This is where much of Miami’s black history lies buried: D.A. Dorsey; Henry Reeves, founder of the Miami Times; and Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry, the first African-American woman lawyer in Miami-Dade and first African-American woman to serve in the Florida Legislature, are among the 538 souls interred here in above-ground graves, on account of the high water table. This was the county’s foremost black cemetery through the days of segregation, but deterioration set in from the early 1970s as families chose plots elsewhere, until the state shut it down in 2003. Today the 20-acre cemetery is closed and surrounded by a crude chain-link fence and barbed wire. Gravesites are defaced and in bad shape; the place is overgrown with weeds. The owners cannot pay for the upkeep.

Status: Randolph Williams, a 79-year-old retired accounting and law professor in Palm Beach County, is pursuing the case in court as a pro se litigant to force the county to take over the site. His father, mother, and two siblings are buried there. He has launched a group, Friends of Lincoln Cemetery, assembled 400 petitions, and created the www.blackgravesmatter.com website. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmondson has twice dispatched prisoners to weed the property. Says Williams: “For a vibrant and important world city, this property is a gruesome sight. It’s amazing that no one has stepped forward to help. Chris of the Dade Heritage Trust is the only one who seems remotely interested. It seems the county could have found $1 million to take over the site and $200,000 or $300,000 a year to maintain it. Black people and the whole community should be pissed about this.”

Buildings_7

Babylon Apartments, 240 SE 14th St., designed 1979, completed 1982, designated 2016. This five-story ziggurat apartment building, in vivid red, arguably put Arquitectonica on the international architecture map and was central in establishing Brickell as a residential district. Miami officials scheduled the boarded-up structure for demolition, but the city’s Historic Preservation Board unanimously declared the site historic in July 2016. The owner, Francisco “Paco” Martinez Celeiro, had tried to obtain a demolition permit from the city to declare the building unsafe.

Status: The owner, a former “spaghetti western” and native of Spain, is sitting on the property, which has not been occupied in nearly three years.

Buildings_8

Flagler Workers Cottage, Fort Dallas Park, 60-64 SE 4th St., built 1897, designated 1983. Until a few years back, this yellow two-story framed structure along the Miami River housed Bijan’s on the River restaurant. Back in 1897, it was one of at least 30 rental houses Henry Flagler constructed for workers building his Royal Palm Hotel. The building was moved to its current site in 1980, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, and is boarded up and fenced off today.

Status: The City of Miami, which owns the park, issued a request for proposals for a new operator but received no bids, presumably because the city made the operator responsible for the building’s restoration. The city is planning another RFP. In the meantime, Dade Heritage Trust has made the cottage a possible project in the Miami Foundation’s Public Space Challenge.

Buildings_9

Miami Marine Stadium, 3501 Rickenbacker Causeway, built 1963, shuttered after 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. Miami architect Hilario Candela created the stadium using a spectacular cantilever design. Built for $2 million, this 6566-seat stadium was the first purpose-built structure for powerboat racing in the United States, and over the years also hosted many a concert. Last November the Miami City Commission voted to borrow up to $45 million to renovate it.

Status: R.J. Heisenbottle Architects is performing initial survey work, drawings, and cost estimates for the stadium’s renewal, a quarter century after it closed.

Buildings_10

Mariah Brown House, 3298 Charles Ave., Coconut Grove, built 1890, designated 1995. Years before the City of Miami was founded in 1896, Coconut Grove was settled by white pioneers and African-Bahamian residents, including Mariah Brown, who moved to Florida in 1880, worked at the Peacock Inn hotel, and walked there from this house. This is typical of the wood-frame and shotgun houses built in Key West and Bahamas, and nearing extinction in the West Grove.

Status: The building is owned by the Coconut Grove Cemetery Association, with restoration efforts driven by J.S. Rashid of the Collaborative Development Corporation, with the support of Sandy Riley, who wrote the one-woman play Mariah Brown. Says Rashid: “The powers that be have been given every consideration. But in our neighborhood, the powers that be are just scratching their heads. Our mission is to preserve our economy and our history, and protect ourselves from the tsunami of gentrification.”

Buildings_11

Office in the Grove, 2699 S. Bayshore Dr., Coconut Grove, built 1970. This ten-story landmark that houses the accounting firm Kaufman & Rossin doesn’t immediately come to mind as historic, but it has been deemed a “mid-century important building” in South Florida, particularly in its exterior shape and the lobby design. Kenneth Treister, the original architect, is a strong advocate for granting the building historical status.

Status: Mast Capital, a private equity fund, bought the property for $29.5 million in 2014, intending to develop it. The property had no historic designation when it was purchased. The owner would almost surely contest such a designation, just as the preservation community would likely try to halt a demolition permit.

 

Corner stores, bungalows, 1920s apartment buildings in Little Havana-Riverside One of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods, Little Havana has a rich, turbulent history of its own. Absentee ownership, disrepair, and rising land values are threatening buildings scattered throughout the neighborhood, and the Little Havana National Treasure initiative is seeking to find solutions.

Status: The trouble here? Little Havana has an 80 percent rental rate. If an owner paid $30,000 or $40,000 for a property and was offered $500,000 or $1 million today, that owner would have every incentive to sell. The Dade Heritage Trust is looking into designating historic preservation properties by type, as Coral Gables did with coral rock homes.

Buildings_12

Anderson’s Corner, 15700 SW 232nd St., built 1911, designated 1981. Far to the south, near the Redland, William “Popp” Anderson, who worked for railroad magnate Henry Flagler, built this general store at the midway point on the logging trail midway between the Florida Everglades and Black Point when the hardscrabble wilderness was beginning its transformation into a thriving farming community.

Status: This property is under private ownership and has fallen into disuse since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The Dade Heritage Trust has yet to reach the owners, despite repeated attempts.

 

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