By: Arva Moore Parks
If you think of Coconut Grove as only a trendy shopping and entertainment area you are missing its claim to fame as Miami’s oldest community. Long before there was a City of Miami, hardy, sea-loving people built a small village in the tropical wilderness.
Its first settlers came from the Bahamas and were soon joined by a worldly group of individualists—sailors, intellectuals, naturalists, millionaires and artists—who gave the Grove its enduring identity and live-and-let live lifestyle. Although now part of the City of Miami and threatened with overdevelopment, its history endures in its numerous historic sites, tree-choked highways, rambling lanes and weathered stone walls.
If you can join a pair of perceptive eyes with a rare type of historic tunnel vision, you can still get a glimpse of what Coconut Grove offered its pioneers more than a hundred years ago and discover what sets it apart from the rest of Miami.
1. Peacock Park
2820 McFarlane Road
Peacock Park is a public bayfront park that honors Charles and Isabella Peacock, who built Miami’s first hotel, the Bay View House, here in 1883. They inaugurated the area’s first tourist season, and the small hotel became the gathering place for the nascent Coconut Grove community.
2. Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove
2985 S. Bayshore Drive
In 1891, Flora McFarlane, South Florida’s first woman homesteader, organized the Housekeeper’s Club to bring the women of the community together. The present building, designed by Walter DeGarmo with native oolitic limestone (coral rock), opened in 1921. In 1957, the club changed its name to the Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove.
3. The Coconut Grove Library
2875 McFarlane Road
In 1895, the “Pine Needles,” a club for young girls, founded the Coconut Grove Exchange Library upstairs in the Peacock Store. The men of the community built a library building in 1901. In 1963, T. Trip Russell designed a new building on the site and incorporated a replicated façade of the original building into his award-winning design.
4. Eva Munroe’s Grave
2875 McFarlane Road
The iron fence to the left of the library entrance surrounds the grave of pioneer Ralph Munroe’s first wife, Eva Hewitt Munroe, who died in 1882. It is Miami’s oldest marked grave.
5. The Coconut Grove School
3351 Matilda St.
This school is the ancestor of the first public school (1887) in what is now Miami-Dade County. The original H.H. Mundy-designed building of the present school, visible from Matilda Street, opened in 1911. A new high school addition, designed by Walter DeGarmo, visible from Grand Avenue, opened in 1922. The high school closed in 1926 and the elementary school took over the building.
6. The Old Bank of Coconut Grove
3430 Main Highway
Designed by Walter DeGarmo in 1923 for the Bank of Coconut Grove, it was later the home of the John C. Lilly Research Institute for interspecies communication between man and dolphin.
7. Peacock Plaza and Anthony Arcade
3436-3438 Main Highway
Although it has been altered, the building is one of the few remaining Mediterranean-style commercial structures in Coconut Grove that followed a 1920s town plan for the area by Philadelphia architect John Erwin Bright. Banker John R. Anthony built the arcade in 1925.
8. The Barnacle
3485 Main Highway
This State of Florida historic site is Miami’s oldest home in its original location. The Barnacle, designed by owner Ralph M. Munroe in 1891, offers visitors the opportunity to almost re-enter the “Era of the Bay” before Henry Flagler’s railroad came to Miami in 1896 and sparked rapid development. Often called the “Father of Coconut Grove,” Munroe was a pioneer photographer, author, sailboat designer and environmentalist.
9. Coconut Grove Playhouse
3500 Main Highway
Designed by architects Kiehnel and Elliott for Coconut Grove’s first mayor, Irving J. Thomas, and his partner Fin L. Pierce, the Coconut Grove Playhouse first opened as a movie theater on January 1, 1927 to rave reviews. Millionaire George Engle bought it in 1955 and after extensive renovations reopened it as a legitimate theater on January 3, 1956. Now closed, supporters hope for a re-opening after restoration.
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