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Sunday, April 9, 2017


         Coconut Grove has had some weird characters passing through ( Heartless Steve Bannon rented a home here recently) but few had a dolphin in their swimming pool.  Two houses east of us, Dr. John C. Lilly once kept Flipper in his concrete pond back in early 70's.
        The well-known neuroscientist wrote 19 books, invented the isolation tank and hung our with with Timothy Leary and Alan Ginsberg.                        

    His long exploration of the human consciousness included trying to communicate with porpoises. Besides Backyard Flipper, Lilly had tanks at his Coconut Grove lab, in the old Grove Bank building at Fuller St. and Main Highway. In the early 70's, almost anyone could walk in and share a few words -or a song- with them. The main idea was that if you took enough acid and gave our watery friends the same, you might have great conversations or, at least, imagine them.  I think about this every time I pass the historic Lilly House at the corner of Hibiscus and Palmetto Ave.


    This incredible residence was built in the mid- 20's.  Dr. Lilly, hailing from frigid St. Paul, Minnesota, bought it in1965 and it was a part of the family until it sold last week.


Despite apparently ingesting prodigious amounts of hallucinogenic drugs, the non-stop scientist/philosopher held on for 86 years, dying peacefully in 2001. 

      His not-too-friendly daughter, Leslie Lilly, inherited the Mediterranean jewel and visited once a year until the the deal closed a few days ago. A backyard dolphin is something but here's the  most amazing thing about the transfer:
The new owner will not be tearing the old house down to build a big white box! 

      He's English.  Steve and his partner enjoy aged wine, expensive, cheese, and historic houses. 

   Before the deal closed the Lillys had an unusual  garage sale. Leslie and her husband rolled out a lot of old junk and put high prices on everything.

      For half a century the Flipper family kept to themselves, the tall iron gates rarely opened.  I've always known it to be a little spooky, very elegant, well-kept, and quiet. With ten-foot walls surrounding it, I had never seen the fabled dolphin pool.  That changed when the gates rolled open for the expensive junk sale.

      I rushed in to see what I could not for years. There were  a pair of Leslie's baby shoes, no steal at $20.
When I started snapping pictures of the Byzantine entrance Leslie quickly approached to tell me there was a $5 photography fee. 
    So funny, that Leslie.  
She went on to tell me the life-size photo Marjory photo she's snagged at Marjory Stoneman Douglas' 100th birthday party could me mine for $75. I laughed and told her I'd be taking it from her trash pile the next day.

      Her grandparent's steamer trunks ($50 each)were in awful shape. I was told they'd crossed the Atlantic many times. "I guess I shouldn't have let them rot", said Leslie.  Still, their aging bones had a well-worn beauty, almost wabisabi.
 The house and the back yard were off limits. I snapped this photo of the Mystery Dolphin Pool -through a garage window- before Leslie could charge me for it. 

    "Where's all the dolphin memorabilia?" I asked her husband who said, as a lawyer, he once represented the Grateful Dead. He smiled and said, "Oh, there isn't any out here. We kept the good stuff inside!".  
    But they did sell the best thing and we will be enjoying this Lilly House for years to come.

1 comment:

  1. I met John C. Lilly and his wife Toni years after this house, when they were living in L.A. and he was teaching at Esalen Institute. He was a brilliant man who'd apparently had a great deal of difficulty learning to be human. I could relate to that. He was years ahead of his time in his eventual appreciation of dolphin intelligence, even though much of the marine biology community still spit after they mention his name. Altogether an under-appreciated intelligence.