Bonnie Bolton Files Application To Designate Coral Gables’ Garden Of Our Lord A Historic Site; Owner/Developer’s Attorney Calls It An “Abuse”

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
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Coral Gables resident and daughter of the late activist Roxcy O’Neal Bolton, Bonnie Bolton, has been working with members of the community to preserve Coral Gables’ Historic Garden of our Lord.

Located on the property of the former St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church (110 Phoenetia Avenue), the Garden of our Lord traces its history back over 70 years, to 1951.

According to a Miami Herald article from the time of the garden’s opening, and referenced by a recent Herald opinion piece by Bea L. Hines, the garden “contain(s) trees, plants and shrubs of the Bible and other flowers and trees of religious significance.” In fact, in Bolton’s application, she included several newspaper clippings which referenced the origins of the seeds. One of them is a Miami Herald article from May 26, 1952, explaining that “seeds from the Garden of Gethsemane will be planted in a few months, They will be brought to this country by Miss. Hagel Wostby, a St. James member.”

The Garden of Gethsemane is located at the base of the Mount of Olives and is the place where Jesus Christ was arrested before his crucifixion.

Property Ownership

The congregation of St. James began dwindling and it struggled to recover after the outbreak of COVID-19. In November of 2021, the Church, adjacent school (Crystal Academy) and Garden of our Lord were purchased by Century Home Builders for $9.75 million.

Century Home Builders, a developer, has since filed plans to develop new luxury condos, while incorporating a location for Crystal Academy within the building.

However, the plans call for complete demolition of the Historic Garden. Herein lies the controversy.

As the land is private property, the City has told Bolton and members of the community advocating on behalf of saving the Garden, that the City has no ability to save land.

Application For Historic Designation

However, a historic designation declaration by the City of Coral Gables would save the garden.

Bolton filed her 123-page petition for historic designation on July 28th, 2022. In it she receives cooperation and statements from several respected members of the community including former member of the Coral Gables Board of Architects, Carlos Marin.

In addition to arguments for saving the historic trees in the Garden, she also makes several other arguments for historic designation.

Cemetery

Over the course of the years, the Garden had become the final resting place for veterans and members of the community. However, record of the Garden being registered as a cemetery could not be located.

The City informed Gables Insider that the developer had exhumed the remains of those buried that it had confirmed that the families were happy receiving the returned remains.

Gables Insider conducted a public records request and was unable to find any communications where this was documented. The City did, however, receive an email from the developer’s attorney stating, “enclosed please find a letter from our legal counsel Wendy Russell Weiner confirming that we have removed the cremated remains from the property and have delivered (t)hem to the next of kin. We have also conducted an on-site inspection with a license(d) Funeral Director, Ari Oberstein, and confirmed that there are no further burial sites on site.” The email was received on August 19th, weeks after the City had told Gables Insider the process had taken place.

Notable Architecture

The Garden is bordered by a very ornate perimeter wall. Through her research, Bolton was able to find that the architect behind its design was Robert Fitch Smith.

According to Bolton’s application, “Smith, was the first Dean of the University of Miami’s Department of Architecture. Smith also designed various historic buildings like the historical significant ‘Java Head’, the Biscayne Plaza Shopping Center, Miami’s first suburban strip shopping center; the University Baptist Church of Coral Cables; Shenandoah and Westminster Presbyterian Churches; North Hialeah Methodist Church; The Museum and Garden House at the Fairchild Tropical Garden; Bay Oaks Home for the Aged; and the National Register-listed “Thomas Arden ‘Doc” House.’”

Historic Plaques

Smith’s perimeter wall also features several plaques honoring among others, veterans.

According to the City, an arrangement has been made to take these plaques from their historic location to the War Memorial Youth Center’s memorial feature. Although, no plan could be located in the City records.

“An Abuse”

Historic Designation Applications come with a process. This one, due to its numerous arguments for designation will take more time to process.

In an email to the media on September 12th, Coral Gables Director of Communication Martha Pantin stated that, “A lengthy designation request has been filed by Ms. Bolton. As a result, the staff must review all issues presented.” She continued, “The review is currently underway, because the request for designation was lengthy staff is conducting a thorough review of all issues presented.”

Century Home Builders and their legal representatives are not happy, as this represents a potential significant delay to their plans.

On the day Bolton filed her complaint, City Historic Preservation Director Warren Adams emailed Century’s attorney Jorge Navarro, “we received a Historic Designation Application for the garden. I will send a copy to you when I can – it’s been submitted in plastic folders in a binder so I’ve asked Nancy to scan it. I’m at City Commission today but we should discuss once you’ve had an opportunity to review the application.”

Whether communication or discussion with Navarro and/or Century Home Builders is part of the process is unknown.

Navarro replied, “it’s unfortunate that someone would abuse of the Historical Designation process this way.”

Gables Insider reached out to Navarro for clarification on what he meant by abuse. He said he would reach out, but did not.

His client is seeking the City’s indulgence in changing zoning for the property in order to be able to build the project, as it is not permitted as of right.

What Comes Next?

The Garden of Our Lord will be discussed at the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, September 13th, where Century Home Builders is expected to make a presentation to the Commission.

As for Bolton’s application, Pantin explained that “if staff were to determine that the property should be historically designated it would require Board review. If staff were to determine the property is not eligible for designation, the applicant may present the proposal for designation to the Board.”

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49 thoughts on “Bonnie Bolton Files Application To Designate Coral Gables’ Garden Of Our Lord A Historic Site; Owner/Developer’s Attorney Calls It An “Abuse”

  1. IN THE GARDEN. 1950’s “I walk(ed) in the garden, alone, while the dew was still on the” Ylang Ylang tree. Nearby, in the sanctuary of the church I too, as did Ms Chopra, attended Confirmation Classes. I recall learning that Catholics were bad and we were good. I also recall confirmation classes on account of Joan Kennedy was also in attendance and she was the most well developed girl in the 7th grade. A wonder of life, nature and a gift of the divine. Joe Cotton, a Ponce de Leon/CGHS classmate, ’53, was also poured with me through the wonders of the Catechism. We go way back. He and I were alter boys at St James, and in our official function we had to wear skirts and blouses and carry tapers up to the alter to light those suspiciously Jewish looking candles. Then we’d sit unsupervised in the back of the church behind a floor to ceiling curtain trying our best to be quiet during the sermon, and then pop out again to solemnly walk up the aisle to ceremoniously put the candles out using cups on the opposite side of the tapers. We tried to not be obvious about it but we silently competed for who could light them and put them out the fastest even while feigning holiness. Behind that curtain one of the things we could do to pass the sermon time was play with yo yos. Loop the loop, walk the doggie, etc. Once I decided, with Joe’s encouragement, to try Round the World. As the yo yo reached apogee in its arc near the ceiling it’s orbit took it through a glass chandelier. Thereafter the shards reigned down, not from heaven, and out in front of the curtain the congregation erupted in wonder and mayhem, with the service coming to a halt. After being apprehended by Rev Sartorious I was made to show contrition by earning money mowing lawns so as to pay for the damage to the light fixture. And he forbid his daughter, Carline, from going with me to another movie at the Coral Theater.

    But enough about me. My mom, Pauline Ruth Fluck Ehly, originally from Bethlehem PA, was one of the founding members of ST James and a devout stalwart pillar of the congregation, eventually the choir director, decorated the church every Christmas and was known for the goodies she baked for church social functions. She was proudly enthusiastic about the Garden of Our Lord and would be dismayed for hers, and the other founder’s efforts to be desecrated and turned into a frigging condo.

    I live in Alaska now, but when visiting Coral Gables I always revisit my youth by going by St James, the Venetian Pool, CGHS and prior to ’93 the Coliseum on Douglas Road to reflect on how fortunate I was to have been raised in peaceful, beautiful, relaxed and crime free Coral Gables. Preservation of the Garden of Our Lord could not be a more worthy cause. Its historical and religious value should be left both for its beauty as a living tribute to God’s Nature.

    But now “the voice, I hear, falling on my ear” is that of the scurrilous money changers who need to be given the treatment once allegedly given by “Jesus (who) went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought (in) the temple.”

  2. I wholeheartedly support Ms. Bolton’s efforts to save The Garden. It is half a block away from where I have lived since 1978. I recall from my daily walks past this property, the scent of Ylang-ylang wafting over the wall: That’s one of the ingredients of Chanel #5 and is unforgettable–and quite rare in the Gables. I know since I used to walk all over town–from Calle Ocho down to Matheson Hammock and between Douglas and Red.
    So, I’ve witnessed a lot of The City Beautiful in my time here and count The Garden as one of its gems. 36 Phoenetia, where my dear departed neighbor Marcie Trager once lived, is across from me and is designated ‘Historic’. She’d tell me stories about the pine forest west of her back in the old days. Certainly The Garden deserves similar.

  3. It is absolutely horrific that the city is not doing anything to stop the Garden of Our Lord from being taken down. This is a historic property that is important to the community. The city should be doing everything in its power to protect it.

  4. We live in Coral Gables because of all the green spaces and historic buildings. If the city is just going to allow anyone to demolish these sites there is honestly zero reason to differentiate Coral Gables from any other part of Miami. If Garden Of Our Lord is indeed taken down, my family will be leaving, there is no reason to stay if this is the direction this city is going.

  5. Please save the Garden of our Lord. The spirit of our precious Lord and Savior dwells there. My beloved husband Danny Lee Garrett’s tribute plaque rests in the wall surrounding the garden. Many trees and plants were also donated in his memory and continue to thrive there. Danny, an Army veteran, died at age 27 on February 25, 1966. Danny had been baptized, confirmed, married, and eventually buried from St. James. His is just one of many stories associated with St. James and our beautiful garden. I am Danny’s wife, Gail Chopra. I became a member of St. James in the late 40s as a child. My parents were Mr and Mrs. Andrew Forger. I was confirmed there by Pastor Hively in the 1950s, and married at St James Dec. 21, 1963. For me, the church and garden are as sacret as the Garden of Gethsemane, where our dear Lord prayed before his Crucifiction. May God continue to bless our beloved St. James Lutheran Church as it forever embraces the Garden of our Lord. May it always watch over all of us that love it so.

  6. I hope you win this ms.bolton why whould we need another building when the garden is way better than a building. We don’t need another building there is like a million of different places to build a building NOT in a HISTORICAL GARDEN!! A garden is way more beautiful and meaningful than a building. Once this garden demolished we won’t see it again and it wont be replaceable. We need the garden not another building. Ms.bolton i grant you the best of luck and I know you and the people who are helping would win you are the best Ms.Bolton.

  7. I’m grateful to Bonnie for her persistence and devotion to preserving a very special part of Coral Gables. She has my support, 100%!~.

  8. The Gables is a true gem whose unmistakable hallmark is these precious places of architectural revivalism that attract families, inspire the mind and soothe the soul. These foundations of the Gables are a precious commodity in Florida, where the untamed lust for dollars has scarred and destroyed places of natural beauty. Coral Gables is a lesson of natural integration and an immerse city plan that innately conjures a respect for the wisdom of the past. I commend this brave young lady for selflessly doing what commissioners agencies and boards should do.
    Look around … Coral Gables is blighted by taller and taller classless structures that almost scream encouragement for money over quality…. Coral Gables brilliant designers incorporate nature…but the greedy with no vision destroy it… Coral Gables commissioners are commissioners FOR THIS VERY REASON, TO PRESERVE A CITY PLAN THAT SPEAKS TO THE SOUL AND UPLIFTS NATURE…Don’t be surprised if morals decline with the decline of precious places like these. Please rally support to designate this obvious GEM A historic site…

  9. The magnificent cathedral in NYC… St. John the Divine..has a facebook page that features their Biblical Garden. I support Bonnie Bolton’s important effort.

  10. WORTHY OF PRESERVING

    I commend Ms Bonnie Bolton for her relentless and selfless advocacy on behalf of the preservation of the Garden of Our Lord and I agree with Miami Herald journalist Ms Bea Hines when she observed in her recent article, “some things are worthy of preserving.”

    And this Gables garden is worthy. It is no ordinary piece of land. It holds as much emotional aura as it does historical flora. Entering the walled enclave, one feels the spirit. And yes, as developer Mr Pino states in Hines’ Miami Herald piece, it should “be handled with the utmost respect.”

    A garden sitting on consecrated ground should not only be respected but revered.

    Founded in 1951 by parishioners as a biblical garden, seeds brought back from the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem germinated into plants that included date palms and clumps of bulrushes. Plantings also included hyssop and cypress, cassia, red sandalwood, apple, camphor and cedar of Lebanon, the oleander, mulberry, fig, myrtle, the balm tree and the spikenard shrub used for special anointing. Walking among the trees and shrubs native to the Holy Land, one is transported to an otherworldly experience hard to explain. An eden in the midst of our garden city as George Merrick would have imagined it.

    It is a memorial garden, and also a cemetery–a final resting place for some families. A sacred ground.

    Seventy plus years ago, the Garden of Our Lord was one of only three biblical gardens in the United States, created as a sanctuary for prayer and meditation. Grieving families carved out a garden as a place of spiritual comfort. It is fitting it should stand in perpetuity not fall to indifference or a multi-story condo.

    The understanding is that the parcel where the garden sits still remains designated as Religious/Institutional land until a zoning change is approved. Some things are worthy of a miraculous intervention.

  11. The future of any city depends on the understanding and preservation of the intent of its founders. Coral Gables has always been a beautiful city. Different in its individuality and heritage. There are no rows of “cookie cutter” homes lining it’s beautifully tree lined streets and avenues.
    I came to live in Miami in 1973, after spending 11 years in New York City. I drove by Coral Gables every day to attend the University of Miami. I loved the homes and gardens and all the historic places including the Garden of Our Lord. I promised myself that someday I would be able to live in this gorgeously preserved city. I achieved that goal in 1979 by buying my first home on Asturia. I now live on the Biltmore Golf Course, and each day when I look out my windows and gaze at the Biltmore Hotel, I remember how at one time it was also threatened by destruction. Thankfully people like Bonnie fought to preserve it. I can’t imagine looking out my windows and seeing some glass structure staring back at me.
    We must remember why we moved to Coral Gables in the first place and preserved its history and structure, which lured us here. I stand with Bonnie and all those who fight to preserve the City Beautiful and not turn it into a concrete and glass jungle. That’s already available on Brickell, to where those who do not appreciate and love our history can move and keep on building as high they want. In the Gables we don’t need a neck brace to see the sky. Let’s keep it that way.

  12. It’s the North Gables – it needs ritzy condos —by 8th Street- you will get mugged in the park

  13. Open space is sacred space! Once it is lost it cannot be found again.Go for it ,Bonnie. The citizens of Coral Gables support you. Now it is up to the Commission to support the citizens

  14. The raving of a madman:

    “They’re Hercules I can tell by that name that you’re a liberal tell me do you walk to work do you use electricity in your house do you cook an electric stove do you barbecue do you use the toilet and waste water as far as cherry picking the Bible you made a mistake buddy there you crossed the line you don’t know who you’re talking to I read it every day I know it from A to Z something that you should pick up and read one day and you’ll learn that God which by the way you spelled it wrong and only the Jews leave out the old between the G and the D but those are my brothers they can do it cuz that’s the god of Abraham Isaac and Jacob but God even though he was love and his love and will always be love allowed War how do you think the Jewish people made Israel 5,000 years ago no Israel is not occupied Israel is Israel it’s the land of the Jews given to them by God well Joshua wiped out a lot of civilizations and tribes on the way to the promised land and who gave him the strength God and in one day if you bother to open the Bible and read it in hezekiah’s time God himself wiped out 180,000 Assyrians and the king of Assyria escaped but he didn’t Escape God God then used his children to kill him in his Palace in his bed you should open the Bible and read it buddy maybe you won’t be such an airhead when you respond to someone tell me to go to Sunday school but you missed the whole point instead of trying to adopt a garden why don’t we focus on adopting kids that need love and you will get love back a little planning is going to give you love buddy and I think you need love”

  15. The Garden of Our Lord is already the highest and best use of this small piece of land. How can there be a higher use than praise for God? How about making the Garden an amenity for your luxury condos? Or better yet, how about much needed affordable housing for those in religious or academic professions?

  16. Yeah Bonnie! Thank goodness for people like yourself and your mother before you, who are not afraid to stand up to development. I think this should be designated historic and let the developer preserve the garden for future generations.

  17. It should be preserved and opened to the public. Obviously, the City of Coral Gables is moving towards over-development and high density. Working class people that live in that area of Coral Gables are getting pushed out. The beauty of the Gables wasn’t just it’s natural and architectural beauty, but that it was accommodating of people of different economic strata. The park on Menores is one of the most lively parks in Coral Gables. People live here. People have a sense of community here. If you can’t save that, at least consider leaving pockets of what it once was as respite. I will support any efforts to preserve the Garden. Thank you for informing.

  18. Developer Sergio Pino could donate/ deed the parkland with condition park named Sergio Pino Park and develop only the Crystal Academy and church building portions of the site. His name could live on forever. He and his family already have enough money. A little altruism wouldn’t hurt. Option 2: The condos would be worth more $$$$ with a park next door. Or a PRIVATE walled park/ garden with fancy swimming pools for future luxury condominium residents. In the ritzier parts of London there are gated parks only for surrounding neighbors. The building shouldn’t be too tall/ phallic.

  19. City should buy the land! Millions spent on TINY neighborhood parks. Makes more sense to buy this BIG DOUBLE CORNER, already walled property in DENSER North Ponce Neighborhood. The City could even build Housing at the Church or Crystal academy site, or offices, another Police substation. This is an opportunity for the City!

  20. How many more buildings do we need in the Gables? Ponce is beginning to look like a concrete canyon. The US1 corridor and the area around Merrick Park has plenty of development. The garden is not a good place for more development.

  21. They’re Hercules I can tell by that name that you’re a liberal tell me do you walk to work do you use electricity in your house do you cook an electric stove do you barbecue do you use the toilet and waste water as far as cherry picking the Bible you made a mistake buddy there you crossed the line you don’t know who you’re talking to I read it every day I know it from A to Z something that you should pick up and read one day and you’ll learn that God which by the way you spelled it wrong and only the Jews leave out the old between the G and the D but those are my brothers they can do it cuz that’s the god of Abraham Isaac and Jacob but God even though he was love and his love and will always be love allowed War how do you think the Jewish people made Israel 5,000 years ago no Israel is not occupied Israel is Israel it’s the land of the Jews given to them by God well Joshua wiped out a lot of civilizations and tribes on the way to the promised land and who gave him the strength God and in one day if you bother to open the Bible and read it in hezekiah’s time God himself wiped out 180,000 Assyrians and the king of Assyria escaped but he didn’t Escape God God then used his children to kill him in his Palace in his bed you should open the Bible and read it buddy maybe you won’t be such an airhead when you respond to someone tell me to go to Sunday school but you missed the whole point instead of trying to adopt a garden why don’t we focus on adopting kids that need love and you will get love back a little planning is going to give you love buddy and I think you need love

  22. A Century Homebuilder’s project? Great, now Coral Gables will look more like Doral. Ugh, get a real developer to build in our Garden City

  23. We all have rights, including the developer, and everyone’s rights should be respected. Maybe a compromise can be reached allowing the developer to build higher in exchange for saving the garden.

  24. One more thing, specifically in response to JP Fernandez, because I hate it when people cherrypick the Bible:

    The Bible says humans were given dominion to use G-d’s creation responsibly. G-d did not give us license to pave, drill, spill, burn, bomb, discharge, build, saw, defile, foul, tunnel, frack, clear cut, slash and burn, dam, pollute, or strip mine without concern for G-d’s Earth. If you think otherwise, then you need to go back to Sunday School because you clearly didn’t get the memo.

  25. Did the city have a chance to buy before the church sold to the developer? Regardless, the developer bought something that it owns, which counts for something, but that $9+ million risk may not pay off. It would be a shame for the garden to be destroyed. Perhaps the interested parties can reach a satisfactory compromise? That would be better than a lengthy and expensive fight. Remember Wawa: Even though the opponents prevailed, the trees were still cut down, leaving an ugly, fenced eyesore for the foreseeable future.

  26. Why don’t we worry more about kids that need parents instead of putting segments on TV adopt an animal weak or adopt an animal month why don’t we adopt kids instead of loving so much to all these plans and this and that and this aunt and this little bird and this little thing why don’t we show love to an abandoned child put your emphasis on something that it will be more meaningful to that child that has no love than a little plant tell me that’s a little plant have feelings or does the child and by the way I adapt to the child I didn’t need to adopt a child but I adopted a child and that is tremendous love that that child gives

  27. I say move the garden tell me how many people visit the abandoned Cemetery that’s south of sunset in about 48th Avenue they have made it into a walkway and a nice little garden but I never see anybody walking in that Cemetery or in that historic Garden why didn’t more people go attend the historic church and if you want to bring religion into it God said that man shall have the control of all living things and of the land not the other way around today we worship more animals than we do abandon kids and are orphanages are full of adopted kids if you all need some love at the Garden why don’t you think of adopting a child and put your love in that child and not on a little tree or little plant

  28. Dear “It Isn’t Yours”. You are an awful ugly nasty vindictive person and one who does not belong in our Community. I am sure you are on the payroll for this project because no one would say such a thing if they did not see $$$ first. God is watching you.

  29. It isn’t private property, because you need a zoning change from the City of Coral Gables. It has a clear stake in the property.

    Don’t threating to destroy the Garden, if you don’t get your zoning change.

    You’re annoying Someone bigger than the City.

  30. It is private property and “abuse” is an apt description. If he doesn’t get zoning change approved I hope he just plows the “historic” “green space” that’s younger than half your readers and leaves it empty as a gift to you whiners who don’t understand the concept.

  31. Abuse? How ridiculous. Ms Bolton has done her homework, well done! I hope the city commission and those in power read this application thoroughly before making any decisions on the gardens’s fate. The developer must spare this small parcel in his huge design and save the garden, as the many beautiful old trees, the significant architecture & heartfelt memorials really are worth saving. The application for historic designation may be lengthy but worth reading, the history and research on this place is very interesting. It is necessary to have the required knowledge to make an important decision when the time comes. Have a heart Mr Pino & Century Builders – do the right thing.

  32. We don’t save our history….we destroy it and then go to Europe to see all the historic buildings and places they have…..does not make sense!!!

  33. I hope we can preserve the Garden of the Lord. Beautiful place , great green space and a piece of Gables history. Its a shame we already lost the mission style church . Let us not loose this historic site!

    J Turner

  34. The city of Coral Gables is becoming another Brickell, full of concrete, heavy noisy traffic going through residential areas creating hazardous situations for pedestrians and cyclists. The disregard for what the city beautiful is supposed to represent is taking place at a rapid pace.
    More and more buildings with more and more problems brought in.
    What a shameful way to disrespect what little nature we have around us.

  35. A community that does not respect its past, is one that is doomed for failure. We are tired of all of these third-world mindset financial vultures whose minds only think rebars and concrete. The “concrete only” virus that has slowly but surely killed the City of Miami and other municipalities led by third-world mindsets has been creeping into the City Beautiful. Time for a new name; City Concrete? Not so fast. It is always the same suspect developers. They talk a good game, but fail to build community and thrive on destroying existing ones. Excellent work, Ms. Bolton. You have my support and many other Gables residents’ as well. Here we go again. Reload for this one. On to victory. Not resident abuse, rather developer misuse.

  36. Reminds me of the song “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. The garden should be preserved, it is part of the Gables’ history.

  37. Have often walked past this site but have never had access. Unfortunately it has not been a public space….

  38. Our city leaders are so worried about peacocks making noise in Coral Gables, yet they are not willing to save such a beautiful and historical monument honoring The Lord. Very sad. Hopefully the garden will be saved.

  39. Bonnie you have as much moxy as your Mom.
    Thank God for people like you.
    You go girl!
    You will beat the big bad developers!

  40. It’s a beautiful and peaceful garden. With so much history, I hope it can be designated a historical site.

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