OPINION: A dagger into the heart of Alfred Browning Parker’s legacy

Karelia Martinez Carbonell

Martinez Carbonell is the president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables

A recent article mentions Alfred Browning Parker as one of the modernist architects that became famous for his sustainable designs “maximizing shade and airflow and aimed to work with nature.”  The irony is that the story comes at the heels of news that an Alfred Browning Parker residence recently sold for $36 million as a teardown

“Birds Eye-View” Photo by Ezra Stoller c ESTO

The Parker-designed Gables Estates waterfront property at 140 Arvida Parkway was being considered for historical designation by the City of Coral Gables when the process was thwarted by a new state law effectively bypassing local historic preservation ordinances. HB423, passed last year, allows homes in coastal areas to be demolished and requires no historical oversight or review. All in the name of climate mitigation.

Image of Miami architect Alfred Browning Parker’s waterfront 1963 home in Coral Gables.. Photo by Ezra Stoller c ESTO

The legislation passed under HB423 has far-reaching implications for the historic fabric of the state of Florida and also “catastrophically” aggravates climate change.  Mitigating sea level rise is treating the symptom not the cause and does nothing to protect the environment. The new law accepts the dire prognosis of climate fate as fait accompli and this does more harm than good

The genesis of the law may have been in good faith, but the new standards are in bad form. Sea level rise is one of the side effects of poor planning and lack of stewardship of the built environment. 

Rising sea levels correlate to rising carbon [mainly due to over development] and it can be mitigated if municipalities accept the reduction of embodied carbon in  their sustainability policies. Allowing old homes in coastal areas to be demolished and rebuilt because they are vulnerable to sea level rise is like killing patients because they are vulnerable to disease. This law does not mitigate climate factors, it aggravates them. 

Main stair with outdoor view of historic waterway. Photo by Ezra Stoller c ESTO

Building construction and operations are responsible for approximately 40 percent of human produced carbon emissions worldwide, adding to a warmer climate and rising seas. 

As a matter of fact, studies show that allowing demolitions for new construction is “environmentally catastrophic.” According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “Arguments that promote a practice of disposable real estate are unsustainable at best and at worst environmentally catastrophic. New buildings…will likely never offset the carbon cost of their construction. We don’t have time to simply build our way to a sustainable future.” 

As of January 1 2022,  demolitions of coastal homes require no historical oversight.  This decree will slowly erode the state’s cultural and architectural heritage while simultaneously speeding up the climate challenge. 

According to Randolph Henning, an expert on the architecture of Alfred Browning Parker, the property is a model of environmental and sustainable design.  It was Parker’s personal residence and received national notoriety when “House Beautiful” selected it as its PaceSetter home in 1965. According to Mr Henning, the property is the best preserved example of the architecture of Alfred Browning Parker in existence anywhere. Henning adds, “Its loss would be a dagger into the heart of the legacy of Parker and a significant and irreplaceable loss to the architectural fabric of South Florida.”

140 Arvida is a model of environmental and sustainable design. It was  Parker’s personal residence and received national notoriety when “House Beautiful” selected it as its PaceSetter home in 1965. 

HB423 is causing havoc to our cultural and architectural heritage.  Significant waterfront homes are being lost to a de facto law. Just last month, the Al Capone mansion in Miami Beach fell victim to this new reality. 

My overture to the new owner is thus: although you have the right to tear down your property, you also have the right to keep it standing.  An acquisition of this architectural magnitude can only be appreciated not demolished. Please listen to the expert. 

The views expressed in opinion pieces are those of the opinion authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Gables Insider, its staff or its affiliates. If you would like to submit an opinion for publication, please email it along with a photo and a two sentence biography of yourself to [email protected].


14 thoughts on “OPINION: A dagger into the heart of Alfred Browning Parker’s legacy

  1. UPDATE!

    The property at 140 Arvida Parkway received an approved demolition permit From the City of Coral Gables on October 26. It has subsequently been razed. GONE.

  2. Being a friend of the family I have been in the house. I have seen the house from the water and I have seen the house by riding my bike through Gables Estates ! It is like no other house in Gables Estates or for that matter in South Florida !!! a lot of the materials used to build. This house cannot be found any longer.!!! if I had to describe the house in one word, it would be character with very few if any of the houses being built now have !!! I read where somebody said it’s like buying the Mona Lisa, painting and throwing the painting away because you like the frame. !!!

  3. I did some checking on the Florida State legislature pages and this bill passed the Senate 38-0 and the House 113-0. So, every democrat and every republican voted in favor of this law. Hmmm?

  4. A buddy and I that attended UM’s School of Architecture were always out exploring and found ourselves on Arvida Parkway in ‘65, when we spotted this impressive home in the finishing stages of landscaping and FF&E installation. After a short walk around, a tall, grey haired, handsome man came out to see what we were doing there- We explained we were Architecture students and he took us on a guided tour. We had no idea until much later that our private tour was led by Alfred Browning Parker.

  5. I was shocked to read the ‘Nick’ diatribe which contained almost nothing to do with the Alfred Browning Parker article referenced but was rather a hateful and muddled rant against Coral Gables and so many people. It pains me to see someone spewing such incendiary comments in this type of forum.

  6. This “law” is indeed a travesty. I heartily agree with what Bruce Fitzgerald says and reiterate his
    pleas to the owner. Either change the law or change your mind on this, and accept my thanks.

  7. The new owners are Stupid. Who would pay so much for a lot to be surrounded by rude, nasty, ignorant people? OK to tear down & replace if they were to hire a Pritzker (sim to Nobel) Prize Architect for the replacement. The Previous Board of Architects with Carlos Mindreau was tougher on window design, etc. Many other homes in the Frank LLoyd Wright style already torn down in Gables Estates & Journey’s End, so that the newer Board Members can express themselves. They also passed the Garden of the Lord Multifamily project. Many Architects sell their integrity to the Developers. The Developer Patrons/ Buddies pay them with fancy sports cars, women & even Coke. Remember this is Miami, life in the fast lane.

  8. Same In Hawaii. Historic Magnum PI estate torn down by President Obama to make way for 2 new homes for his daughters. The Liberals/ Progressives destroy the physical environment & the moral environment. There are lots of fake conservatives out there who pander to the lumpen proletariat to enrich themselves. The cheap gas & low income tax attracts poor or poor minded/ destructive people to Florida. Smarter, more conservative Miamians have left to Palm Beach & Collier (Naples) Counties where gas is more expensive then the rest of Florida. In Coral Gables we need to be tough & conservative like before. No Trucks. The City won in Court! Lots of guys pretending to be macho driving trucks. All the successful & reasonable Gables contractors also have cars, SUVS or a garage, or let their workers drive the trucks. Gables Politicians promote a Carnival on the Mile during Lent. How disrespectful to Christians! Why? To please the GREEDY Gables merchants. So the riff raff from surrounding areas gets accustomed to Downtown Gables and will return & spend at the food joints or Ross. Lax Traffic Enforcement in the Gables, so as not to piss off the cheap patrons. This would hurt business. We live in a Sanctuary Metro Port Area where LGBTQ & Greedy run the show. San Francisco for the Poor. We have a terrible climate, so we reel them in with cheap gas & casinos as in Nevada. Don’t need brothels here because the poor immigrants service the Tourists as there night jobs

  9. Alfred Browning Parker’s architectural genius was way ahead of its time. This Arvida Parkway home was built with every consideration for major weather events, including flooding. It has endured in mint condition for 60 years! This spectacular home should be preserved & exempt from the 2022 Florida statute. It is shameful to see this masterpiece wiped away.

  10. There are two very bad development laws which were passed by our Florida legislature. They are dangerous to all of our State historical fabric and need to be changed immediately. One specifically, HB423 has already allowed the systematic erasing of our history. Giants such as Parker will be reduced to books or God forbid, a quick Google search.

    As another distinguished local architect, Ed Grafton, said…”You can’t teach pigs to sing”.

    Being a former Trustee of the Dade Heritage Trust, there is no excuse for our elected officials to sit by idlily and do no more than whine about it. It is time for them to work hard to change this awful law in Tallahassee before it is too late.

  11. The salient points made by Dr. Carbonell, along with those by Andres Viglucci in the Miami Herald (15 October 2023) should be required reading for all those who care about the future of Miami, including members of our legislative body in Tallahassee and, in particular, the owner of the property at 140 Arvida Avenue. Consider this a cri de coeur to preserve our architectural and environmental resources. And to the owner: We’re talking to you, sir.

  12. The city management, engineers by thought and practice, could care less about the value and loss of the few remaining historical construction. The culture is tear down and build, build, build the bigger the better. And, of course, make the sidewalks as close to the main roads as possible.

  13. Bravo! Dr Carbonell! I would love to see this piece and that recently published in the Herald, appear at a national level to include a major network exposure!

  14. Miami used to be city beautiful. Now it’s the Miami where whoever the highest bidder is will tear it down and build a sugar cube box structure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *