"Vizcaya Garden," 36 X 60"

 

Viz-Garden_thumb.jpg

 HERE IS a view of the rare clearing of the lush hardwood hammock forest covering much of his land that James Deering allowed, being (in the end) a sucker for dramatic effect.
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I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of creating it, sitting outside, en plein air, splashing the paint on canvas with the luxury of actual view before me, even if I found myself crammed (along with folding seat, wooden easel, paints, brushes, and etc.) into an impossibly narrow wedge of bare earth between the thick forest at my back, and the driveway running so close in front that I had to take care to keep my toes from wandering on to pavement. You know how Miami drivers can be…
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And in their goal of inspiring dramatic effect with this simple “open space in the wood,” Deering and project director Paul Chalfin, perhaps with the participation of young project landscaping whiz Diego Suarez, succeeded brilliantly.  Midway between imposing front gate and sumptuous villa, in the thick of solid forest, incoming guests spy off to the right this sun-dappled field, haunted by figures poetically sculpted of stone by Italian hands of an era even then centuries past. Suggestive of the ancient and dreamily forgotten, its genius is in its simplicity. And like much of what is most delightful about Vizcaya, it paints convincingly and with a light touch an illusion partaking of the mythical.

Though subtle in its effect, the area remains nonetheless a mystery, nestled within the embrace of another, larger, and the whole of it given sanctuary behind striking walls decoratively “scratched”with geometric design that Chalfin demanded be done by hand and without the assistance of modern tools, and painted in pastel shades of yellow and pink.

From the very beginnings of the project the walls had been a personal priority for our friend James; he relished the very idea of them. They would define, or “outline,” protect, and serve as intriguing public “face” of the extensive private realms lining either side of South Miami Avenue, all matters of great importance to him.

Providing to those outside of the walls a finely crafted and elegant “face,” I suppose he’d hoped, might be sufficient, “enough of him,”  to satisfy at last the endless hunger and restless curiosity that seemed to flutter restlessly inside of them. How could he possibly be expected to explain, and how many times?  The people of Miami in fact loved, even revered the man, whose unlikely project, and the significant flow of cash it would generate for years to come, had been itself sufficient to lift their city above a dead-serious local depression in which it had become stuck, salvaging for many the dignity of a respectable means of economic survival. They loved him, but for whatever reason Deering could not feel it. And so, in the absence of close personal friendships he might turn to, and rely upon, the shy, lovely, and improbable man occupied himself with seeing to the construction on Earth of a heavenly vision that he’d probably figured all along would in time belong to the people.
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James Deering valued nothing above personal privacy, or the native integrity of the virgin forest entrusted him by the fates for safekeeping.  Even so, outside the walls his personal privacy suffered, as people apparently helpless to do otherwise became fixated on his provocative status as “bachelor,” developing a morbid obsession on the unspeakable question of “what manner of man” he might truly be.

And both Deering and brother Charles had by then been visiting the Miami area for some years, to spend time with their father at his winter home in Coconut Grove. They’d been coming long enough to see the changes, and witness with growing pain the damage so casually and as a matter or course wrought by man. They’d come to cringe at the way even the most extravagant and impenetrable green seemed to melt away from the Earth, like ice, once the mark of human footprint had been pressed upon it.

Inside the walls he gave unto us a great gift, which I set out one day to capture, and now share.

Thank you.

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“A Fantastical Aerial View of a Miami of 1912, 2 of 2 in a Series.”

THOUGH we may still be in recovery from our last dizzying encounter with the “futuristic” vision of the Magic City published in the Miami Daily Metropolis newspaper of Nov. 2, 1912, Redland edition, we must nevertheless steel ourselves to proceed yet further upon that mind-blowing and wildly improbable path known as “history.”  Time is on the wing, after all, as is this eagle clutching in its talons a box camera! And, as so profoundly observed by singer/ songwriter Steve Miller, “Time keeps on slipping  slipping  slipping into the future.” (Sounds better when he sings it.)

Here is yet another extraordinary window of the imagination opened up to the Miamians of 1912, to intrigue, excite, amaze, and sell newspapers.  It tells me, among other things, that the city’s unparalleled land boom of the 1920’s was less a spontaneous phenomenon, simply “flashing” into being almost overnight as it so convincingly appeared, than a harvest reaped from seeds planted some years before, quite consciously and intentionally.

This document, as well as any other I’ve ever seen, may be understood as a suitably fantastical blueprint for the “Magic City” to come. It is a dreamy window to a larger and impossibly audacious dream.

I hope that you may enjoy it, looking back, as much as I’d imagine did our forebears of 1912, their gaze fixed breathlessly forward, and stirred deep inside by a sense of profound hope.

redland

Thank you.

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"Siesta Key," 30 X 40

AN experience of a sweet place, in the kind of simple moment that you can never quite see coming, but as time’s river flows on, you come to realize that it’s sort of quietly stayed with you.  And you’re so glad.

7                                                         P. Crockett

Thank you.

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Dateline: Real-Life Adventure in the Miami River, 1896 "Paul’s Safari Into the Miami’s History"

Or,  A Moonlight Swim in the Miami River

THE following passage is borrowed from my favorite source on Miami’s history du jour, Herbert J. Lowing’s The World’s Miami:

51900

IF the stories told of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay of  the early days can be believed, it must indeed have been an enticing, exotic spot.

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 Tropical shrubbery, stately royal palms, beautiful waters flowing languidly between banks invisible behind overhanging trees and bushes, fish leaping from the waters, birds in the air and for six months of the year as near absolute perfection in climate as one spot can possibly have—all these, and more, for as one  floated along that gentle stream and out onto the shimmering surface of the Bay, then indeed one could “rave“ and still be truthful. Biscayne Bay is beyond doubt the most beautiful sheet of water in the Americas and its marvelous colors and matchless beauty defy description.

1Miami, Fla. River Scene, postmarked 1906.

     The beauty of Miami‘s Bay, the fragrance of the flowers, the health-restoring powers of the climate, would alone have attracted and held an ever increasing family of enthusiasts but it would have grown in a slow and gradual way and would still be just the little village, delightfully appealing, that it was in the late ’90s.

3On the banks of the Miami River, in the locale of today’s downtown Miami. 1890’s.

The  Miami of those days is well illustrated by the following.

   “On a bright moonlight night, in the spring of 1896, a number of pioneers plunged into the Miami River, at the foot of Avenue D [today’s Miami Avenue] and were enjoying swimming from shore to shore.  In the midst of this refreshing exercise the terrifying cry of “Alligator” broke the stillness of the night and precipitated the swimmers into a scramble for safety to the banks of both sides of the stream. 

One of the bathers, a former resident of Fort Pierce, who had studied the habits of the alligator in its haunts on the shores of the Indian River felt the closing jaws of a monster alligator upon his shoulder. Without emitting a sound he injected the tips of his fingers into the eyes of the brute and was instantly released.  After having his wounds cauterized, he secured a row-boat and rifle and set out on an alligator hunt vowing to kill the brute that attacked him.  He persisted in the hunt for several nights until he finally located and slew the monster.” *

(*The writer quotes the account from Historical Sketches and Sidelights of Miami, Florida, by Isidor Cohen.)

6The River had always been the natural habitat for the American Alligator, which is (in all fairness) generally quite shy and non-aggressive as a species.This one must have been
hungry but chose its quarry poorly, becoming the hunted rather than hunter.

It happened here, folks!

Thank you.

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Visions of Future, Past: the Miami of 1912 Looks Forward.”

DARING foretell the future, even charting out a map, has got to be a daunting task under the best of circumstances. That would have never been more true than in the Miami of 1912, when a city celebrating its 16th year continued taking shape with dizzying speed. A downright respectable little town, seemingly intent only on its own becoming, was popping up irrepressibly and all around, in what had so shortly before been only wilderness, populated by a small handful of families.

In a special “Redland Edition” of the Miami Daily Metropolis newspaper (on its way to becoming the Miami Daily News) dated Nov. 2 of that year, a “Vision of the Future” was laid out for the benefit of posterity, such as us. The Redland lies about 40 miles south of Miami and is a peaceful and primarily agricultural kind of place. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s probably because, completely unlike Miami, it is not always “selling itself” exactly as if it stood in desperate need of still more people.

Whatever else might be said of the map, the sketching prophet correctly captured the growth spots not only of Coconut Grove and Miami, especially where its downtown was evolving, but also Key Biscayne and Miami Beach. It’s a fun little trip to an imagined world. (Note the cute train heading out to the docks, at Goulds.)

 

map miami 1925_02_e
Thank you.


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"Life is a Journey"

An illustration.

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Thank you.

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“By Request: My Mother on her Wedding Day."

A SPECIAL friend on Facebook asked about this photo, of which she caught a glimpse in last night’s post. Donna, it’s my Mama!

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The picture captures a moment in Aug. 1953, as Miss Anne Howe O’Quinn, of Lillington, NC, is prepared to take as her betrothed Lt. Jerry B. Crockett, of Miami, FL, stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC. Her name will become Mrs. Anne O’Q. Crockett. (Or, as was then the custom, “Mrs. Jerry B. Crockett.”)
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Just last week, my Dad emailed a current pic of his beloved, captured by him with his iPad (!) as they “set the sun” together at their home on the N.C. beach (my Mom’s home state, and the truest home of her soul). According to personal tradition, she enjoys a split of champagne, and he a “dry” martini (hold the Vermouth, please) with olive, which in the end he always feeds to her.

My Dad said, without saying, “Paul, just look at how beautiful your Mother is!” And when I speak to Mom on the phone, I ask, “So, how’s my beautiful Mama?” “Oh, LORD, child,” she says, “aren’t YOU an unbelievably positive soul.” She laughs. “That Crockett….” she mutters, speaking of her husband of 62 years this coming August. She does not like the picture, one bit But that’s all right. “I know what I know,” I tell her.

I do loves my Mama. And yes, Dad, I agree with you, on this one.

Thank you.

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Dateline: A Family Outing to Miami Beach, mid-1930’s "Paul’s Safari Into Miami’s History"

 

“OH, LORD, It’s Those Dang Crocketts Again! Lookit! Even Miami Beach is not Safe Anymore!”

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Numerous generations have congregated for a lovely visit to the beach. R to L, starting with back row: Great-grandfather James (“Pap”) Crockett, of Humphreys County, TN (named after family friend Jesse James, whose horse he was given the great honor of walking daily as a child. The Irish detective Pinkerton was hot to capture or kill the murderous robber, but never succeeded because such local support helped him “step into the life” of just another mud-covered Tennessee Farmer. Once in that role, he gambled, sued, and carried on generally doing whatever else an individual of that time and place would do, assuming he had little shame and less fear.)

Beside him is his wife Maggie Hampton Crockett, my namesake, and also that of my nephew Jackson Paul Hampton Cole. My cousin Patrick entrusted me with her “friendship quilt” following the death of my Aunt Bettina a couple of years ago. It hangs in my upstairs home office:

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Back to the photograph. Next, to her right stands her son, my Grandfather, Bruce Crockett, “the luckiest man in the world,” joined by the singular star of his night skies, Annelise. The brunette on the left, I believe, is my Grandfather’s sister Beulah, having joined the folks for what must have been an adventurous excursion down to Miami.

(Hanging by Maggie Hampton’s quilt , by the way, is a scythe hand-turned by my Grandfather Crockett for use out in the fields, a precious heirloom which I’d starve if I ever had to actually use! )

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Last but not least, we have the fearsome four, themselves! Oldest and youngest, Betty Jean and my father Jerry, stand conspiratorially together, and finally Jo Ann and Marjorie. Everybody looks swell in their swim suits, huh?

A good time was had by all. May they all now rest in peace. And may I say, Thank you, God, that we still have my Dad here among us? He is the last of his tribe now, and, with Mom, the first of ours. In our hearts, now and always.

Thank you.

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"A Rare Rendering of Coral Gables’ Coliseum, 1927, Offers Missing ‘Piece of the Puzzle’ to its Understanding."

1The building and grounds as once envisioned. The side garden brings to mind the one adjacent to Coral Gables’ City Hall.

I WAS quite excited to chance upon the image above, which at a glance both clarified that something about the Coliseum had always seemed a mystery to me, and provided an excellent clue to its resolution. A couple of months ago, I looked into and wrote about the history of this extraordinary building that was for so long an integral, if unheralded, part of the community. As the decades came and went it had been dedicated to a considerable variety of different purposes, and in one capacity or another touched a surprisingly large number of residents of Miami and South Florida. It had served as a striking and unusual backdrop to the unfolding story of our lives.

Yet what was it, really?

In retrospect, I researched and wrote up the last post, at least in part, because I sought to simply understand. The Coliseum seemed “unclaimed” by Miami, despite its grand size and close proximity, and discarded altogether by Coral Gables. I understood that it had first taken shape in the fertile imagination of visionary Coral Gables founder George Merrick, but based upon my experience of the rest of his “City Beautiful,” so consistent and impeccable in its exacting aesthetic, I had a difficult time picturing any place that this oddly monumental and rapidly fading structure might have once taken within that great and shimmering vision.

2The Coliseum That Became.

OUR love for the Coliseum never necessarily had anything to do with making sense. It wasn’t any kind of dazzling architectural excellence, or intriguing “story” of forgotten dreams and faded glory, shadowing the place like a ghost, nor any other single quality that dazzled us, drawing us near and touching our hearts. In retrospect, the Coliseum called to mind a whale, noble and fine, somehow tragically beached upon the shores of time. It wasn’t necessarily here because it belonged; it quite clearly did not. But it came to belong because it was here. The epic crumbling building definitely had a tale to tell, but no means of sharing it.  And though it was said to have once been a source of great-shared pride, any such days of glory, even back then, were long gone, lost even to living memory.

No one really understood its true purpose, or exact reason for being. Fortunately, however, such details have never been prerequisite to love in the human heart.

Perhaps the neglected monolith touched something within us that understands what it is to be loved and then cast aside, or to be simply left behind as others move forward, feeling forgotten or abandoned, most especially once the ravages of age have started piling up upon themselves.  Part of us dreads the idea of reaching that inevitable state with no one near to consistently love us, tend to our needs, or otherwise give us the help we need.  A natural sympathy might easily extend to the building, and we might have been inclined to love it simply because we could.

We love it no less even when it has begun literally coming apart, reaching a point at which massive chunks of elaborate antique plasterwork have started plunging randomly and occasionally down from somewhere high above, within its heavens, striking the floors upon which we walk with the thunderous force of small meteors. But still, any sentiment attached need not trump our native drive to stay alive, and we are then called upon to reckon with a problem.
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For so many years, the building had given us all it had, retaining its stubborn ridiculous dignity despite the numerous reinventions foisted ungainly upon it, according to the ever-changing whims of need and fashion.  During the years of WW II it had found use as a ground-based facility for pilots-in-training; thereafter, in 1947, a sports facility (“home court” for UM basketball games, hosting also prize fights, wrestling matches and roller derbies); then in 1950, following its purchase by the enterprise “Holiday on Ice,” become a popular ice skating rink, offering occasional shows and also the site of Miami’s unsuccessful stab at the creation of its own Hockey League. After the rink had run its course and been shut down, the building was purchased by Harold Vineberg in 1956, and a Bowling Alley opened its doors that enjoyed a good 22-year run. In its final incarnation the building served as a Sportrooms gym and recreational athletic facility. And that was all she wrote; in 1993 the old place met unceremoniously with the wrecking ball. The wrecking ball won, as it always does, and in no time at all, the Coliseum was no more.

No services were held.
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I am excited to share with you the drawing above, published for the first (and possibly only) time in October of 1927. If you give it just a moment of your time, you might feel a “click” of “A-Ha!” and understand at least how the building was first pictured in the imaginations of George Merrick and his creative team, featuring prominently architect Phineas Paist and the developer’s relations, the Finks, Uncle Denman (the city’s Artistic Director), and cousin H. George (a prolific architect who designed over 400 different homes in the early Gables.)  The drawing, much more effectively than might any number or words, *shows* us through illustration the high place once assigned the Coliseum in “the very idea of the Gables,” and the unique role it was once intended to take as a shared point of community pride. It was “community,” after all, that remained at the very heart of George Merrick’s vision for his Coral Gables, the unifying framework for its rich and fantastically diverse whole.

As explored in my last post on the subject, the project was all-but stopped short by the real estate “bust” that hit Miami with such jarring force in 1926, even before the killer storm blew in from Hell itself, under cover of darkness and essentially unannounced. The shrieking winds quite literally shredded, smashed, twisted and tore to pieces the last tattered remnants of Miami’s extraordinary “Boom” years. The winds and pitching surf that night took with them well over hundred human lives, the city’s wealth, as a municipality and also family by family, and its final reserve of dignity.

 

3The World’s Miami, October of 1927. A desperate effort to “sell” a Magic City fallen flat on its face, “with just enough history to make the rest intelligible.
(With grateful thanks to the University of Miami Digital Collection)

The image was found hiding in plain sight, in a fascinating publication titled The World’s Miami, published in October of 1927 and posted online as a public service as part of the University of Miami’s celebrated Digital Collection. The illustration really had no business being published at all, though I’m certainly glad it was: by that point both the drawing and its message had become, quite sadly but undeniably, lie. Dedication ceremonies for the Coliseum building, in essence the original vision seen, reduced to skeletal form, were held the following month; there can be little doubt that the author knew full well that the facility and grounds as pictured– inspired and *alive* in that almost boozy warmth and “can do” spirit of the heady boom-time years–was never to be.

It’s easy to understand why the image would have thereafter been so scarcely seen, even in historical circles. It would not only have embarrassed the visionaries in its extravagance, but also tended to strip the building that was, of any respect it might otherwise garner in its own right.

Yet the heart of the vision, at least, remained.  And under the circumstances that was no small thing; the achievement gained was nothing short of heroic. Many are the boom-time fever dreams that in the end came to naught, after all, and the Coliseum had been a large and luminous dream of the first magnitude.  It was “homeless” from the beginning, you see, for the very atmosphere in which it had been conceived and first given tentative form– one lighter, more expansive, alive with endless possibility, and so much more kind– no longer existed by the hour of its groundbreaking. The party was over; even the dream itself had quickly begun to grow faint and recede in memory. Yet as if to insult, the sun kept on rising and setting, day after day. Life went on. Damn it. Life went on.

But to their great credit: they dreamed big, and they tried. They tried!

Thank you.
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(With grateful acknowledgment to the University of Miami Digital Library Collection, an indispensable community resource.)

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The Birth, Life, and Death of the Improbable Coliseum, Coral Gables, FL 1927-1993.

1The Coliseum, late 1920’s.

GOD knows, Miami is haunted by more than its share of “ghost buildings,” and the longer one’s experience here, the more true that becomes. And like so much else occupying that most mysterious realm of our hearts and of personal memory, there seems no requirement that our relationship with these places, once part of the backdrop to our lives, necessarily need make any sense, at all.

I say that because when I think about it, I’m surprised how often the Coliseum will just kind of cross my mind, or pop into my head. Part of the reason is certainly circumstance; I quite often head out to the Gables, Grove, etc. with a “straight shot” down SW 16th Street, which dead-ends into Douglas Road, or 37th Avenue.  That intersection is exactly where the Coliseum sat for so many years, in its stubborn and crumbling glory. When it does come to mind, the thought will many times bring with it a little smile to my face. I’m not exactly sure why that may be, but that’s all right.
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2Construction site, 1927. Note the sign announcing its coming.

THE Coliseum had first been conceived by George Merrick, Coral Gables’ founder, as an exhibition hall-type space, useable for public meetings, concerts, operas, sports events, and (hopefully!) the hosting of large conventions.  In a grand gesture, he had chosen to build on the very edge of Coral Gables, with its front open to neighboring Miami. In Merrick’s vision, the Coliseum Hall would belong to both municipalities, uniting the people in a sense of shared pride. He called it “the Miami Coliseum, in Coral Gables.” The idea made sense; George Merrick had called Miami home and experienced his life here since boyhood, served on its city commission, and built and sold two other subdivisions before the hour had finally come when his dream of a “City Beautiful,” to be called “Coral Gables,” would start becoming manifest.

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Aug. 4, 1927. “How Does the Coliseum Look, Now?”

Bringing to mind a glorious whale sadly beached on the shores of time, the Coliseum has been described as a “flawed vision.” The real problem, however, might well have been less the project itself than its awful timing.  It seems to have been born under star-crossed skies; while the immense undertaking was still underway, the bottom fell out from under Florida’s overheated real estate market.  The once-mighty streams of income started drying up fast.  The party was over. Merrick found himself between a rock and a hard place generally, with the Coliseum project probably near the top of the very long list of insoluble puzzles he suddenly faced.

It was that problematic kind of situation in which he lacked the cash to properly finish the place off, and he was able to see none coming in, yet he had to keep pressing forward, as best he could, in the desperate hope that it might pay for itself. Or at least, generate some revenue. Or something.
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4Can you feel the pride in the words written on this photograph?

It finally opened its doors, with great fanfare, for a gala celebration on November 10, 1927. The event was attended by a standing room-only crowd that nevertheless overflowed the building, gathering in clusters on the lawn outside in the glow of its soaring open windows. Stirring speeches were made by prominent members of the community, congratulatory telegrams read from Thomas Edison, Herbert Hoover, and others, etc.  Quite interestingly, in the report of the event published in the next day’s Miami News, observation was made that “In each one of the talks… the thought was emphasized that the new building, of spacious architectural design with beautiful hangings, more than adequate stage and excellent acoustic properties, is a stirring memorial to the faith, perseverance, and energy of a people who, in a time of depression, have reared a magnificent auditorium which would bring forth comment were it the largest city of the country.”

5Image of the Coliseum in 1947, as published in a retrospective by beloved local historian and onetime Editor of the Miami News Howard Kleinberg, published on Oct. 9, 1982.

The comment is interesting, because the Great Depression would not befall the nation until almost two years later, its arrival generally marked on the calendar by the infamous “Black Tuesday” of Oct. 29, 1929.  Yet clearly Miami’s “local depression” had already hit, and it was a hard one. With the plunge of land values, a good number of the people had been left not only suddenly broke, but also deeply ashamed and embarrassed. They had flown so very high, and talked so proud, and were now wounded in their pride. In a sense, by the time the Great Depression finally drifted in like a lingering malignancy, Miamians had already become seasoned veterans in the heartbreaking experience of navigating a bleak  landscape of shattered dreams. They were no longer “civilians,” like most of their fellow Americans across the country.
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The project had limped along, and finally been completed despite the sorrowful state of Miami’s economy, but Merrick and his dreams were dealt another serious blow with the unforeseen onset of the Great Depression.  With few exceptions the delightful concerts, grand exhibitions, and conventions envisioned, just didn’t happen.

It hosted a scattering of events in the 1930’s, was put to use by the military during WW II as a ground school for training in aviation, and in 1947 was converted to a sports facility used by U of M for its home games, wrestling, boxing, and roller derbies. In 1950 the building changed hands and became a popular ice skating rink. Six years later it became a bowling alley that enjoyed a 22-year run before its final sale, to Sportrooms gym, in 1978.  Its colorful story finally wound down to its end in 1993, when the building came down to make way for the newer.

And, because we are human, we remember the Coliseum fondly, and sometimes miss it.

Thank you.

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