Friday, October 21, 2011

Miami Social Diary

Saturday afternoon in Coconut Grove. A Silver Cloud awaits a bride and groom just married at the landmark Plymouth Congregational Church.
Coconut Grove: From Arquitectonica to Zen
By Augustus Mayhew

Before Calle Ocho, South Beach, the Design District and the Wynwood Arts District, there was Coconut Grove. One of Miami’s oldest settlements secluded amidst Biscayne Bay’s coves and shielded from view by a tangled jungle of tropical landscapes, The Grove was an unpretentious hideaway for decades attracting a diverse mix of wealthy recluses, zealous sailors, live-and-let-live eccentrics, and eclectic architecture.

Coconut Grove and Palm Beach shared many pre-Flagler cultural characteristics. While Palm Beach evolved into an international resort destination, the Grove retained a more carefree environment that celebrated its uniqueness.
I enjoyed the few years I lived in North Grove in a small one-story U-shaped stone-floored hacienda that opened onto a broad waterfront terrace with a staircase leading into the bay.

That is, as in Eden and most everywhere else since Genesis, until the bulldozers and pile drivers “ … paved paradise to put up a parking lot with a pink hotel and …” Cottages were leveled in favor of multi-story townhouses and high-rises catering mostly to yuppies, remember them, and South American exiles. Art galleries and craft workshops morphed into commercial complexes where tie-dyes and leather-goods were replaced by tennis bracelets. And with the influx of the gentlemanly cocaine cartels, poodles were joined by Dobermans as Welcome mats were exchanged for security cameras and electric fences. By the mid-1980s, a local headline described Coconut Grove as “Florida’s booming capital of glitz.” Thus, I moved on.

Thirty years later, while it appears The Grove’s village ambiance for the most part could not resist reimagining itself somewhere else, like Caracas, Rio, Jersey City or maybe Marbella, some of its defining picturesque elements remain, perhaps best represented by The Kampong, the landmark Fairchild-Sweeney estate now a National Tropical Botanical Garden. Here are a few scenes and impressions I found this past weekend during my ramble around a place I once considered paradise.

North Grove
My old neighborhood around South Bayshore Lane and Fair Haven Place was once a diverse blend of pre-WW II and Mid-century Modern houses.
Today the 1700 block of Fairhaven Place and South Bayshore Lane features houses like the one pictured above, similar to the one that replaced the bayfront house where I once lived.
Also set in my old hood, this elegant three-story residence commands an inviting presence.
Unlike Palm Beach where ficus hedges are regarded as a prominent landscape element, Coconut Grove houses rely on thick tropical plantings, elaborate walls and beautifully-crafted gates.
The Grove’s gates are an aesthetic attraction.
The Gibraltar Hotel on Grove Isle’s northernmost point affords views of Mercy Hospital and downtown Miami. Planned initially as a 40-story condominium, after much community opposition Grove Isle was built as three 18-story residential buildings with a marina, spa, and hotel. Grove Isle was in my backyard, gone forever was one Biscayne Bay’s treasured undeveloped panoramas.
Dinner Key
Having been frozen in fear, maybe scared to death best describes it, during a sailboat excursion aboard a 45-foot Morgan in Key West, I learned to SunFish sail and basic skippering at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club. Above, a view at Dinner Key looking out towards the moored sailboats.
Designed by the New York architectural firm of Delano and Aldrich, the Miami City Hall building opened in March 1934 as a Pan American Airways seaplane base, the world’s largest marine aviation terminal. Described as “conservatively modern,” Pan Am’s base served as a prototype for similar facilities in Rio and New York. Purchased by the City of Miami in 1946, the complex’s interior was redesigned and utilized as City Hall beginning in 1954.
The façade features a frieze of winged globes and rising suns linked by sculptural eagles at each corner.
Pan American Seaplane Terminal at Dinner Key, aerial. c. 1935.
A Pan Am Clipper ship arrives at Dinner Key.
The original interior of Pan Am’s passenger terminal building, pictured above, underwent major alterations before it became City Hall in 1954.
Seminole Indians aboard their crafted dugout canoes are in stark contrast to Pan Am’s “flying boats.”
A view from Dinner Key looking northeast towards the Miami skyline.
This view from Dinner Key looking southwest towards the Grove’s commercial core offers a contrast between a cluster of older fishing boats with Bayshore Drive’s formidable condominiums.
Center Grove
Today Johari Haircuttery’s frame bungalow cottage appears anomalous, surrounded by multi-story concrete buildings.
A five-story residential building next to Johari’s cottage. I remember Le Bouchon du Grove as the Coco Plum restaurant, the village’s prime breakfast spot, where you might catch a glance of Roy Cohn’s Rolls-Royce making its rounds around The Grove. Hattie manned the front and cash register at Coco Plum, always outfitted in what appeared to be the previous night’s disco attire.
While Arquitectonica’s work can be found amongst skylines from Miami to Macau, architects Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Laurinda Spear recently transplanted the firm’s global headquarters from Brickell Avenue to Coconut Grove where they began their practice in 1977.
On the move at Arquitectonica’s new sustainable headquarters in Coconut Grove.
Arquitectonica, 2900 Oak Avenue, Coconut Grove. Courtyard.
Store fronts have been augmented.
A Miami policeman takes note of a Ferrari.
Mayfair in the Grove
Mary Street at Grand Avenue


Our neighborhood supermarket was demolished and replaced by Mayfair in the Grove, architect Ken Triester’s adaptation of a fashionable European-styled mixed-use complex. Described as “elegant” and acclaimed for adding “texture” to The Grove when it opened in April 1979, the three-level Mayfair was first comprised of a hotel, restaurants, and 50 high-end boutiques, among them Balmain, YSL, and Valentino. The shopping village was said to rival Rodeo Drive, “a getaway from the antipeople atmosphere of suburban malls.” By the time Triester and developer Joseph Garfield sold the complex in 1987 to the Ohio-based DeBartolo Company, it consisted of 100 “high-fashion” boutiques, six restaurants, four garages, and “Miami’s most expensive hotel.”

In September 2010 Mayfair was sold for $37.8 million to a Palm Beach investor, WMPI LLC, represented by Timo Kipp, Whalou Properties Management at 125 Worth Avenue. Mr. Kipp is the son of the late Ernst Ludwig “Captain Lou” Kipp, whose father Karl-Heinz Kipp is the billionaire (Forbes #154) founder of the Massa department store chain. Whalou also owns 400 Royal Palm Way where the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Palm Beach Daily News are located, and 125 Worth Avenue. The seller Deutsche Bank gained control of the Mayfair property following a 2005 foreclosure on a $53 million loan as the previous seller had paid $65 million for the property in 1998. Today, the “high-fashion” boutiques are nowhere to be found; the Mayfair Hotel is offering the Mayfair Suite for a daily rate of $129 US. Known for his design of the Holocaust Memorial on South Beach, Mr. Triester’s design may be Mayfair’s most enduring influence.
Gaudi meets Wright? The bookstore comprises the complex’s southwest corner. Across the street, the 200,000-sq.-ft. four-story CocoWalk “lifestyle center” has been troubled by financial woes, featuring a Cheesecake Factory, Hooters, and Victoria’s Secret. Mayfair in the Grove, panel detail.
Mayfair in the Grove, west elevation, detail. Mayfair combines a vast array of decorative elements.
Opened in 2002, the Miami Conservatory of Music is a non-profit organization with 300 students located on the east side of the Mayfair I building.
Mayfair in the Grove, tile detail. These chevrons reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.
Located at 3000 Florida Avenue, the newly-renovated Mayfair Hotel and Spa comprise the multifaceted complex’s northwest corner with 179 rooms and a 4,500-sq.-ft. spa. Although much more colorful, the dynamic of the hotel’s layered interior courtyard reminded me once-again of Wright’s early organic work at Florida Southern College.
Mayfair Hotel and Spa, interior courtyard.
A shadowless deChiricoesque landscape between Mayfair I and Mayfair II with the Sonesta Hotel and parking garage enclosing the view.
An arch extends across Florida Avenue to a parking garage.
Street arch, a Miroesque detail.
Main Highway
Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Highway. Originally designed as a Spanish Rococo movie palace by Kiehnel and Elliott in 1926 and later converted into a legitimate theater by Alfred Browning Parker, the playhouse re-opened as a regional theater in January 1956 with the US premiere of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Opening nights once drew more than one thousand black-tie theatergoers. The theater has been dark for more than five years.
From showplace to shambles. Closed since 2006, the playhouse’s fate is much like the Royal Poinciana Playhouse’s demise in Palm Beach. It appears the most recent plan calls for a facadomy, keeping the façade, converting and adding condominiums, and building a new adjacent 300-seat theater. In today’s text-tweet-and-touchpad virtual universe, live regional theater may represent an archaic form of entertainment enjoyed only by a few more culturally-diverse urban centers.
Main Highway is one of Florida’s most scenic canopy drives. One summer I bicycled daily along Main Highway from North Grove to Matheson Hammock Park.
The Ransom Everglades School is one of several private schools and churches along Main Highway.
El Jardin, 3747 Main Highway Coconut Grove. Richard Kiehnel, architect. Built for Pittsburgh Steel president John Bindley in 1917-1918, today El Jardin is home to the Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic prep school. Kiehnel’s tour-de-force predates Addison Mizner’s residential work in Palm Beach and along with Vizcaya is believed to be the area’s oldest Mediterranean Revival-style buildings.
El Jardin’s stylish gatehouse, now an entrance to the Carrollton School campus.
In South Grove on the east side of Main Highway, several of the bayfront estates have become gated subdivisions; on the west side of the highway, modernist houses, such as the one pictured above, have been built as infill amidst the pre-WW II cottages and bungalows.
Across the street from the Ransom School, Zen Village offers a spectrum of alternative potentials.
Plymouth Congregational Church
3400 Devon Road at Main Highway
In 1916 New York architect G. Clinton Mackenzie designed the Plymouth Congregational Church. Topped with a gabled roof and constructed of oolitic limestone, the church’s façade is highlighted by twin bell towers and on the east side a cloistered courtyard is enclosed by limestone walls.
Wedding guests waited outside the church for the bride and groom who were having photographs done after the ceremony.
The church’s cloistered courtyard is located just beyond the wall that extends along the right side of the photograph.
In the center niche above the more 300-year-old front entrance doors, a statue of a “Welcoming Jesus Christ” greets visitors.
The Kampong of the National Tropical Botanical Garden
4013 South Douglas Road
Open by appointment only kampong@ntbg.org
As you drive south along Main Highway, it becomes Douglas Road where the most noticeable landmark is The Kampong, the private residence of Dr. David Fairchild and his wife Marian Bell Fairchild. Several miles to the south, the 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden was opened to the public in 1938. The World was My Garden, Dr. Fairchild’s autobiography, was co-written with Elizabeth and Alfred Kay, longtime Palm Beach residents.
As Chief of the Office for Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction at the United States Department of Agriculture, the renowned Dr. David Fairchild introduced the nation to more than 50,000 varieties and species of plants. Having acquired land in Coconut Grove in 1916, he began a garden for many of the plants he collected on his expeditions. Twelve years later the Fairchilds built a house, making The Kampong, Malaysian for “village,” their permanent home. During the early 1930s, Marian Fairchild’s sister Elsie Bell Grosvenor, they were the daughters of Alexander Graham Bell, and her husband National Geographic Society founder Gilbert Grosvenor purchased the adjoining property, which they named Hissar after the town in Turkey where he was born.
David and Marian Bell Fairchild during their 1940 Pacific expedition aboard the Cheng Ho, considered “the most luxurious junk in the world” that was customized as a plant collecting vessel. Courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Archive.
The Fairchilds’ longtime friend Standard Oil heir Ann Archbold was the expedition’s primary financial backer. Courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Archive.
After Marian Fairchild died in 1963, The Kampong was purchased by Edward and Catherine Hauberg Sweeney. Mr. Sweeney served as president of the Explorers Club; Mrs. Sweeney was a PH.D. botanist, philanthropist, and preservationist. Often called the “Savior of The Kampong,” Dr. Sweeney was primarily responsible for preserving and transforming the property into a botanical garden. Thus, the property is referred to as the Fairchild-Sweeney House. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, The Kampong was eventually gifted to the National Tropical Botanical Garden organization.
The Kampong, entrance gates.
Yin-yang reflection ponds are located at the entrance.
Low oolitic limestone walls line the drive leading into The Kampong, the Fairchilds’ 11-acre compound consisting of an education center, several cottages, a dormitory for visiting scholars, a tennis court, the David Fairchild Museum, and an incomparable landscape with many of Fairchild’s prized finds, a mangrove preserve, ponds, inlet, and a solar water still invented by Alexander Graham Bell.
The lotus pond.
In 1928 the main house was designed by Washington and New York architect Edward Clarence Dean who a decade earlier created In the Woods, the Fairchilds’ Chevy Chase estate. For the Coconut Grove house, Dean utilized an oriental-inspired motif.
A shade tree at The Kampong. The meetings to establish the Everglades National Park were held at The Kampong with conservationist and neighbor Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In 1929 David Fairchild became the first president of the Tropical Everglades Park Association.
To the left of the main house, the Schokman Education Center was added in 2007.
The Kampong reflect Fairchild’s interest in Asian artifacts. In Washington, David Fairchild was celebrated as the first individual who imported and planted Japanese cherry blossom trees.
From the limestone path leading to the main house, a view west towards the road that points back to the front gates. The front door opens onto a breezeway with views east towards the tennis court and Biscayne Bay far beyond.
In the breezeway, the carved Asian panels were added after Catherine and Edward Sweeney bought the property in 1963.
The Kampong’s original coquina-bordered swimming pool.
Simply spectacular!
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.
Historic photographs courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.
Click here for NYSD Contents