Following Historic Preservation Board Vote, Future Of Historic Garden Of Our Lord To Be Decided By City Commission

Ariel Fernandez

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On Wednesday, January 18th, the fate of the Historic Garden of Our Lord was discussed and voted on by the City of Coral Gables’ Historic Preservation Board.

As previously reported on Gables Insider, 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 the garden. The garden is located on the property of the former St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church (110 Phoenetia Avenue), and traces its history to 1951.

Bolton filed her 123-page petition for historic designation on August 19th, 2022. In it, she receives cooperation and statements from several respected members of the community.

The January 18th meeting had large participation with numerous members of the community attending to voice their opinions, including students and parents of Crystal Academy which is also located on the property. The school will be torn down and moved to an alternate location during the construction process.

Coral Gables’ Historic Preservation Officer Warren Adams, Bonnie Bolton and the developer’s attorney, Jorge Navarro, each made a presentation, and members of the community expressed their opinions.

Warren argued that the architect of the garden was not confirmed and alluded to the fact that that would make it difficult to designate. However, members of the board argued that an architect not having been previously designated does not mean their work cannot now be designated as historic. Not having the architect be a known architect, they argued, does not remove the fact that it may be historic.

The Board then had a discussion and each member voiced their opinions on the application. Two members, John Fullerton and Michael Maxwell, both expressed their support for the historic designation of the garden. Their arguments were both rebuffed by former Historic Preservation Officer and current Board Member Dona Spain, who advocated on behalf of Adams’ point.

Fullerton and Maxwell made a motion to designate the garden as historic and it failed on a 6-2 vote. A second motion to deny the designation passed with Fullerton and Maxwell voting against.

Bolton is working on filing an appeal, which would be heard by the City of Coral Gables Commission.


21 thoughts on “Following Historic Preservation Board Vote, Future Of Historic Garden Of Our Lord To Be Decided By City Commission

  1. This is a truly peaceful and beautiful oasis that I would walk to a lot just to feel the serenity. It was always locked the past few years but I would still go just to feel the peace and beauty. Places like this are irreplaceable and need to be preserved.

  2. If anything, a compromise could perhaps be reached by the developer incorporating the existing trees and some of the greenery in their plans. It’s not just sad to see a familiar sight demolished. It’s the beauty and diversity of flora and fauna that that little plot of land offers our community. The plot attracts many song birds and it’s a welcome respite for some of us that walk the area. I surely will be vigilant that the trees on the side walks are protected and preserved.

  3. My 2 cents. Same as Asturias property of a few years ago. The city of Coral Gables has a known finite number of properties. I would think the City and Historical Preservation Board should make historical assessments and designations of entire City in mass as a project. This way they would have it be known upfront to prospective buyers and not on the backend. If needed, the property list could be reviewed every 10 years and updated, but not after sales are made.

  4. Commendations to board members John Fullerton and Michael Maxwell, who were the sole advocates in support for the historic designation of the garden. The premise of their comments centered on the concept that “old places matter” and that the code sometimes impedes the community’s desire to protect important heritage sites.
    They were rebuffed by a majority of the board members present.

    The overwhelming show of support from the community and neighbors cannot deny the connection between people and places. The Garden of Our Lord is a significant historic resource no matter the contrary vote by the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Board.

    And for that reason, this Garden is worthy of a miraculous intervention. Anyone out there listening?

  5. Maybe it failed because it’s not, you know, historic? Once again, this is not a public park owned by citizens. It’s a privately owned parcel and the owner has the right to develop it as he sees fit, provided he remains within the existing applicable zoning. On that point the commission should remain firm.

  6. It appears that the stars were aligned in rejecting historic designation for The Garden of Our Lord during the January 18th vote by the City’s Historic Preservation Board. By “stars” I refer to local architects Richard Heisenbottle and Jorge Hernandez, along with the City’s Director of Historical Resources and Cultural Affairs, Warren Adams, each of whom presented arguments against preservationist Bonnie Bolton’s application for the Garden’s historic designation. which was shortly thereafter denied by the Board in a 6-2 decision.

    Among the salient points raised were the alleged second-tier status of the Garden’s architect
    (Robert Fitch Smith), the current deteriorated condition of the Garden, and the absence of a recognized architectural style that is actually exemplified by the Garden’s original outer wall —
    all in counterpoint to the long-standing concerns of neighborhood residents, who include Bolton.

    Overlooked in the discussion was the recognizable similarity between the Garden’s signature wall and the walls surrounding Vizcaya, where Italian Renaissance architecture has long been stylistically “recognized” as well as historically designated. One also has to wonder why the Garden’s condition had been allowed to deteriorate and who was responsible for its maintenance over the years. Decay is not a valid reason for non-designation.

    The “elephant” in the chamber was developer Sergio Pino, owner of the property in question (as well as the surrounding properties), who has envisioned a mixed-use project on the site that could incorporate — or not — The Garden of Our Lord. What ultimately presented itself on January 18th was a singular opportunity for Pino and his Century Homebuilders Group to rise to the occasion, take the high road, and donate the narrow Garden (not the full parcel) to the City as a public and
    permanent pocket park — at once creating community good will, preserving a revered greenspace, and raising the bar for future development in The City Beautiul.

  7. My siblings and I went to school there in the 70s, it was called St. James School. The Principal was Ms. Martin, and she has been a huge influence in all of our lives, even to this day. Ms. Martin would take the students through The Garden of Our Lord and tell us bible stories and talk to us about the garden that has trees and flowers that you won’t find anywhere else. We are incredibly sad about the decision to tear it down so another developer can put up a monstrosity of a building, undoubtedly without any Coral Gables charm. But, Coral Gables charm? That does not exist anymore! No doubt Mayor Lago is the worst we’ve had, by far! Selling city vacant lots, tearing down 2 story buildings, and putting massive ones in their place, some places don’t have sidewalks anymore. And then the people have to live in the shadows of those huge buildings so they won’t get sun! RIDICULOUS! There’s money going to the pockets of City Hall – Lago is selling Coral Gables, piece by piece. The name Coral Gables and “The City Beautiful”, no longer applies.

  8. Please, stop delaying my pockets being filled with cash. Pino is one of my biggest contributors through his numerous companies, and I need this deal too. I am hard at work destroying this city.

  9. Read today it’s a done deal – 7-2 in favor of Cason and Bucelo- the developers favorite candidates for the commission- oh Ariel I hope you win 🏆

  10. The success of any appeal depends upon how much money the developer has given as campaign contributions to the members of the Commission.

  11. They are turning our beautiful city into Brickell Ave. If we wanted to live on Brickell we would move there. Please respect the beauty and historical value of our city.

  12. So Sad.
    The loss of yet another small piece of what makes CG unique is sad. As a teenager, my best friend and I would walk to the library and visit the garden. I guess memories are all we will have of the Gables that made it safe for kids to explore the City Beautiful. No longer.

  13. Coral Gables politicians are making decisions that detract from what makes Coral Gables unique. It’s gross. Soon with all the buildings on steroids it’ll be no different than any other place in Miami, which doesn’t really value its historic places. What makes the Gables beautiful is its history. The garden is one of those places that make the Gables what it is. Stop chipping away at it!

  14. Please Focus on FIXING Ponce De Leon Blvd between Santillane and SW 8 Street. Road is full of pot Holes. we were told 3 years ago this would be fixed. Stop building and fix what we have

  15. I attended and spoke at this meeting. I was disappointed with the outcome, obviously. I suggested and hoped that the developer might somehow be able to dissect-out and preserve the garden as part of his overall project. While many complained that the garden was in sad shape: of course it is NOW! The developer who purchased the property has it locked and has no reason to invest in any kind of “maintenance” for something he’s planning to demolish. One of the beautiful bronze-signs on the outside wall of this garden states: “The development of the Garden of Our Lord was started in the summer of 1951. In a sense, work on it will never be completed for it is continually changing and in need of loving care”. The Historic Preservation Board demonstrated their lack of “love” or responsibility to protect such a beautiful, tranquil, and lovely place by allowing developers to remove the garden completely. Our City government is slowly but surely allowing developers to chip away at all these charming places that actually make Coral Gables “the City Beautiful”. It’s such a shame that residents have to fight so hard to help protect the sanctity of places like the “Garden of Our Lord”, – only to see developers win yet again.

  16. To be fair, the developer did inquire as to the historical significance of the property before purchasing and was told by city staff that it could not be designated historic. Bonnie Bolton did an amazing job of research, and gathering support in the community. In the end, members of the board had to follow rather strict rules in their determination. Each expressed their desire to save all significant properties, but most lamented they must follow the rules of evidence in such matters.

    Representatives of the Woman’s Club next door voiced concern about the potential dilemma for interrupting their venue rental business, which has raised funds their children’s dental clinic for the past 60 years. Construction, parking, noise, disruption is their grave concern. The developer agreed to meet with the Woman’s Club leaders to discuss their concerns.

    On the whole, it was a win for local historic preservation for so many people to show supporting a matter of local historic preservation, which so often is ignored or lacks empathy by the busy residents of Coral Gables.

    If the matter goes before the commission, the strict rules of historic designation don’t matter as much as public sentiment since city leaders ultimately answer to voters.

    The solution probably lies in the developer’s willingness to creatively and sincerely incorporate some portion of the sacred garden in his plans so as to honor the historic property and respect the wishes of those that advocate for these important issues.

  17. I am a neighbor of this historic garden. Please do not remove this peaceful and lovely garden which welcomes all.

  18. I hereby declare Mayor Lago to be our Lord Mayor which makes this his Garden, and you don’t mess with the Lord’s Garden, especially when its greenery fights global warming.

    Thank you.

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