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Saturday, December 30, 2017


       In the 70's you'd see sailors in uniform marching in a parking lot on South Bayshore Drive. They were training at Coconut Grove's Naval Reserve Center across from Shake-a-Leg.
    In the 80's the federal government closed it and gave the property to the City of Miami. For a couple years we argued about whether these three acres should become an art center or a homeless shelter. While we were arguing the city sold it to a developer. He built a huge condo there,
The Grosvenor House.  The public got nothing.


 The same thing could happen to the Grove Playhouse. While the State of Florida owns the closed facility, we spend years arguing about its future. 
     Who knows? Our state leaders may give up on us and sell the property to another condo king.  The county, who has promised $20 million in bond money for the project, could back out too.

     I am tired of this sad, hulking mass festering on Main Highway. When our playhouse failed for the umpteenth time, and closed eleven years ago, we expected something to happen. We thought our elected officials would come up with a plan to either fix it up or tear it down. 
     Their efforts have led to nothing.
   When I pointed this out to Ken Russell, our latest  Coconut Grove city commissioner, he smiled and said, "It takes time to get it right". 
    That's a lot of "hooey". He had a plan but was not sharing it with me. 

      It does take time but not eleven years. What you do is work with groups of talented, committed citizens. You ask them to  come up with detailed proposals, ones that are aesthetically pleasing and economically viable. You then  choose the best one and go with it.
     That's what we expected our leaders to do years ago.
     These proposals could range from restoring the original 1200-seat movie theater (it is a very old movie theater modified in the 1950's for live productions) or tear the damn thing down and build a spectacular park.  
   Our local leaders gathering at "The Grove"in 1946. The playhouse was a movie theater for its first thirty years.

     In the middle of these two extremes is a mixed-use theater development that addresses the realities of our times and the community's needs.
Two groups recently emerged with competing plans to revive the playhouse.  Let's call them "300" and "700" (based on their proposed theater seating).
      The "300" group wants to completely restore the building that fronts Main Highway, what most of us think of as "The Grove Playhouse" (above). 
  The huge auditorium behind the entrance building (below)

would be replaced with a modern 300-seat theater, multi-level parking garage, and retail space. Their plans to finance it are in place. Proponents have cleared up all the title problems. A leading regional regional theater, GablesStage, has agreed to operate the facility and FIU has offered a Master's program as a part of the plan. The 300 group has done its "homework"

    I like"300" design because it is well thought out and it has a theater size that is commercially viable. In addition, it will cause less traffic congestion than the other proposal.

      The "700" group wants to restore the entire building that exists now -including the auditorium in the back- what we call the "gray whale".
   The grey whale is the bulging auditorium behind the theater's historic entrance/office building that fronts Main Highway. 
       The whale is certainly historic, nearly 100-years old. The 700 group want to build two theaters. One inside with 700 seats and a smaller, separate 200-seat room. I like the fact that this group is attempting to preserve an old building. Unfortunately, this ancient, empty space can not pay its way. Their plan to sell tickets for the 900 seats is not based on reality.  

     I have watched the Grove Playhouse die again and again because they could not "fill seats". Obviously, the 700 plan requires a much larger parking garage and will result in greater traffic congestion in Coconut Grove.
       For the past two years, Plan 700 has gotten little traction. Their group has made a lot of noise but their ideas have never seemed grounded or well thought out.

In the morning light, the gray whale can look blue.

    On the other hand, the Plan 300 folks moved ahead with county-support and detailed plans. They would  restore the most important part of our beloved landmark while building a modern facility behind it to house the theater.  The 300 leaders had a number of community meetings to present and discuss these plans. Until two weeks ago their proposal was moving along nicely; it could have broken ground in the coming year.
      Then, at a late night meeting in mid-December, the Miami city commission decided to derail the project. They voted to undermine Plan 300 by requiring "certain conditions" before it could move ahead.  These conditions are unreasonable and difficult to meet. Were the commissioners doing this because they thought Plan 700 was better, or, for other reasons?  
They aren't saying.
         We do know Ken Russell, the Grove's commissioner, led the derailment. As he did he said nothing about Plan 700's leader, Mike Eidson, contributing $2,700 to Russell's latest political campaign. Eidson's wife gave him $2700 as well.  Our new Mayor, Francis Suarez, who supports  Russell and the 700 plan, received $500,000 that Mike Eidson raised for his recent mayoral campaign.

      Call me naive but why can't our politicians be open about how they are influenced by the money they rake it to further their own political ambitions?  Why can't they say -truthfully or not- "I'm supporting this guy's plan to restore the playhouse and it has nothing to do with the fat checks he keeps handing me"?  

    If our city commission had considered what is best for the Grove -and not what is best for themselves- they would be supporting the 300-seat playhouse plan that is both realistic and economically viable. I am confident that most knowledgeable Grove citizens support the 300 plan as well.   
     In the mean time I expect our leaders will sit back and count their contributions while the gray whale continues to rot. Hopefully, the stench will not continue for another eleven years.
      Don't be surprised if the State, smelling money, sells the property to a developer. We'll have a Grosvenor House where we once had a playhouse. That's how it goes in Coconut Grove.


A broken old air conditioner is the only thing smiling at the playhouse these days.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017


     Need to perk up your home? Got a hole in the living room wall?  Maybe you need a King Mango banner!
      For three decades I painted these signs for the Grove's King Mango Strut parade. They were the ones leading the groups as they marched.
Most were painted quickly on colored paper.  They only had to last an hour.
      I was cleaning out my attic yesterday and found a few. I asked my son-in-law, "What do I do with these?".  
     Carlos suggested that I sell them.  I then recalled a time when I was younger, renting funky old houses with wall space to spare.  I thought,
"Yeah, maybe someone wants these".
    So here they are, five original King Mango banners offered for sale at prices less than the cost of the paper and paint it took to make them.
   The one below led our Marching Oil Slick twelve years ago.  We've had about three slicks since the Strut started in 1982.  Every time  BP or its friends dumped millions of crude we follow up with some slick, Strut humor.
Paint on paper reminiscent of water, 30" x 70", $6.

Eight years ago we had a King Mango parade in South Miami.  This'n led our effort, $8.

   A big part of every Strut is the Little Miss Mango procession.  Usually a dozen or two young girls vie for the crown.  After the judges convene, and decide, all girls tie for first place. Every one gets a tiara and sash. Each has her dream come true, becoming Little Miss Mango. 
Pink paper, gold glitter,   $7
    A school from West Kendall had a rockin' rhythm band in one of our parades.  $3.

    Unfortunately the Strut has changed and I no longer attend. We used to have unique grand marshals like Austin Burke, Janet Reno, and in 2008, an exceptional white chicken, "Mr. Clucky". He became famous for riding around South Beach in his owner's bicycle basket. 

Eileen and Bob Brennan gave me a Mr. Clucky mug for Christmas nine years ago.
   This redhead was such a Strut celebrity we had a  funeral for him in the parade after he died two years later. This was the banner honoring our dear friend back then.  There will never be a rooster like Mr. Clucky so this one is going for serious money, $12.

    If you'd like to purchase a banner, I will be happy to deliver it to my front gate, rolled and wrapped with a 100% cotton string.

      I'm holding on to a few others. The one below will be displayed at Miami's historical museum in their "Street Miami" exhibit beginning in February, 2018.  The mask will be there too.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017


    I'd love to play catch with my father again.  I can't but today, I did the next best thing. I got to throw with a fellow born five years after my dad, a man who became 100 years-old today .

   I'm on a softball team for seniors, "The Young Viejos".  We won today (15-6) but a much bigger thrill came as the game ended when we celebrated the 100th birthday of our oldest player, Tony Snetro.
    Tony's been with the team since it started in 1994.  Even then, when he was 77, he was an amazing athlete, a little guy a big personality.  He played ball quite well until three years ago when his doctor ordered him to watch games from the dugout. 
    He was born "Anthony Sinatra" in 1917.  As a young adult he tired of being asked if he was  "Frank's brother". Tony changed his name. When WWII broke out he joined the Navy and served with distinction on a destroyer in in the South Pacific.

      Tony Snetro came to Coral Gables today with his two kids so he could celebrate with his team and watch his favorite game. At one point his daughter turned to him and said, "Dad, you don't look a day over one hundred!".  And he wasn't.  Perhaps tomorrow. 

      During the fifth inning he'd had it with watching. Tony picked up his glove and walked out to left field.     His son, Tony Jr., tried unsuccessfully to stop him. As our oldest stood there and waited for a hit the rest of us were fearing a line drive might end his life. 
     I walked over and played a little catch with Tony just five-feet away. Tony Jr. stood close enough to catch his dad of he fell. A few throws seemed to satisfy our centenarian. Tony returned to the dugout.  I got to play catch with my father again.

Tony strikes a pose 
    After the game he received 
a proclamation from the city proclaiming 12-19-17 "Tony Snetro Day" in Coral Gables.  

      His teammate, Augustin Gonzalez (age 95) received one as well as the oldest active softball player in the United States (he went 4 for 4 today!).
  Augustin and Tony, enjoying our national pastime for 195 years.
     I am in awe of both honorees. They play a game they love that keeps them relatively young. 
I plan to continue my efforts hoping that I will get my own proclamation thirty years from now.

Tony surrounded by fans


   When we we received a wedding invitation from our artist friends, Sarah Newberry and Emmett Moore, we knew we were in for an ingenious affair.          


      Two hundred of us gathered at the historic Scottish Rite Masonic Temple where I was hoping we would be required to don fezzes. I love wearing hats but fez-less, we took our seats in the temple's fortress-like auditorium. A few minutes later Emmett's lovely bride waltzed up the aisle with her dad to the tunes of Procol Harum and Townes Van Zandt. 
     That was it. After the ceremony and their new status was announced, the happy newlyweds walked out under a "This Is It" sign.They were met with a profusion of smoke bombs. 
None of this "throwing rice" for them!

    Through the sulfurous haze they made their way to the nearby Miami River. Fortunately, Ernest Hemingway's fishing boat, "Pilar", was there to whisk them away.What could be more Miami than that?

Friday, December 15, 2017


     After Hurricane Irma blew through two months ago some looked at the sad blanket of fallen trees and thought, "Will we ever get rid of this mess?".  Grovite Mel Meinhardt thought beyond the clean-up phase.  He came up with an plan to raise money to plant new trees. 
     It's the "Grove Trees Calendar", a project that's been in the works since October. Locals were asked to submit photographs of their favorite local trees for consideration. Here are the photos I submitted,

   It's a little dark but I love this old photograph. I took it in 1977 looking east from Peacock Park towards Sailboat Bay.  Not long afterwards these willowy coconut trees were cut down when a palm blight hit South Florida.  
    Unfortunately,  the City of Miami replaced them with the mangrove trees that have walled off Coconut Grove's best view for 35 years.

    There are several spectacular kapok trees in Coconut Grove. This one, at the entrance of The Moorings, was planted in 1929.


        Imagine what the Grove's shoreline looked like before the Anglos arrived. I see it at the end of St. Gaudens Road where one of our original mangrove forests still exists.


    This isn't a great photo but you can see the two outstanding banyan trees framing a classic house on St. Gaudens.  If you look closely you can see the homeowner standing in her tree to the left.

     Strangler fig attemping to choke a wall on Main Highway,

      A rare sight, sparkling coconut palms on  Biscayne Bay, Carrolton School of the Sacred Heart on Main Highway.


     Palm frond in front of Helene Pancoast's place on Poinciana.
   While they'd make great Christmas gifts, you can't buy the calendars yet. The project team is still figuring out which trees work best.  When they come up with something I'll let you know.
    In the mean time, I may organize a bike tour to introduce you to these old friends personally. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017


        Developers have been pushing artists out of Coconut Grove for decades. One of the few remaining is stone mason, Josh Billig. 
   Since 1978 Josh has been Miami's premiere builder of stone structures.I got to know Josh back then. We were learning the craft as we helped build the 400-foot wall across from the Grove Playhouse.

   (Whoops. the app I use to write this blog went nuts and made much of the rest tiny.  
Welcome to the world of seat-of-your pants journalism.
I tried to correct it but it won't let me.  Have you a magnifying glass?  I will try to fix it again, later)
      We learned from the pros, Bahamian masons like Renfrew Stewart and Alphonso Benebee.

   It's always a thrill to pass by my 50-foot section and see the rocks I pieced together forty years ago. There are mini-sculptures within in it that I'll show you sometime.

     Two weeks of stone masonry was enough for me but fortunately, Josh Billig is still at it with his successful business, "Rockers". His beautiful creations are all over South Florida. 

      Here are a few,

 Carrolton School on Main Highway

 The entrance to Fairchild Gardens' visitors center.

                            The Billig's mailbox



One of Josh's best works is still in progress. It's the entrance of The Moorings,the gated community on Main Highway.
     Six hundred and fifty feet long, Josh and his crew have been working on it for over a year (it took a year and a half just to get permits).

    Stop by and see this cut-stone beauty. The hardest part, building the columns, is almost done. Josh expects the wall to be completed in early February.


Each rock is carefully cut on this huge chop saw.

For more information on Josh's coral rock creations, visit his website, .
His business partner (and wife), Michelle, can explain everything.



To see how Josh and his crew assemble these stone sculptures stop by The Moorings. They're building their latest beautiful wall one rock at a time.