Vox Student Blog

Catherine Santana: Westchester 2020

Photo by Catherine Santana (CC by 4.0)

Biography

Catherine Santana is a freshman at Florida International University as a part of the Honors College, currently majoring in a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry. She is a part-time phlebotomy technician and aspires to become a cardiologist in the future. Although most of her time is dedicated in science related activities, she enjoys reading and traveling attempting to immerse in other cultures. Catherine will be graduating in the spring of 2023 and is currently enrolled in the Italy Study Abroad course with Professor JW Bailly; below is her Ineffable Miami Project.

Geography


US Census Bureau/Public Domain

Westchester is bounded by SW 8th street on the north, SW 40th ST on the South, SW 117th Avenue on the west, and the Palmetto Expressway on the East. It has total area of 4 square miles (all land) and a 3-foot elevation. Although it is a census designated place (CDP), it is considered an unincorporated community.
Westchester has an ideal location. It is situated in the center of Miami, and is relatively close to other neighborhoods and cities, as well as access to expressways.

History

Westchester Miami, Fl/ Public Domain

Westchester was first developed after Henry Flagler extended the East Coast Railway. It had not been previously developed since it was considered ineligible due to its propensity to flood along with negative environmental conditions of the area. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the city started to implement different drainage canals, and projects, under the provisions of Federal Legislation, which transformed Westchester into a residential area.
Westchester was predominantly Jewish before the 1980s, due to the fact that Jewish immigration in the city increased after War World II. In the 1980s the population started to shift, there was an increase in Hispanic immigration during this period, especially Cubans related to the Mariel boatlift, which led to Westchester now being 92.3% Hispanic.
The residential area started by different projects in the twentieth century remains today in a neighborhood where 67% of the houses are own, and it is considered a dense suburban neighborhood.

Demographics

According to the Data USA website which was previously updated as of 2017:


Westchester has seen a great population change over the last 50 years. It shifted its recognition as a predominantly Jewish area to a Hispanic majority. The neighborhood has a population of 30,516 people and a growth rate of 1.52%. The population ethnicity is composed of 92.3% Hispanic or Latino, 6.36% white, and 0.59% Asian. The median age is 44.9 and the poverty rate is 16%. There is a median household income of $48,018, which experienced a -0.245% decline from 2016 to 2017. In 2017, male employees in Westchester made 1.34 times more money than females. Although the majority of the population is Hispanic, the average salaries recorded for Asians and Whites are the highest.

Photo by Leira Suarez/ CC BY 4.0

Biography of Laura Suarez (a Westchester resident)

Laura Suarez was born in Cuba on January 18th, 2001 and she moved to Westchester when she was 10 years old. Since then, she has been living with her parents and attends Florida International University as a Communications Major. She is pursuing a graphic design certification along with her bachelor’s degree in Communications and loves to paint in her free time.

She works in the Miami Dade County after school program for elementary schools.

Some thoughts of the neighborhood:

Catherine: What is your favorite part of Westchester?

Laura: My ability to stay exposed to Cuban culture, but also interact with some other ethnic backgrounds.

Catherine: What is your least favorite part about Westchester?

Laura: I would love to see more galleries and museums. Although it has cultural value as a neighborhood, it lacks places that focus in art expressions.

Catherine: Have you enjoyed the years residing in this neighborhood?

Laura: Yes! Breakfast in La Carreta and the Hispanic culture are close to my heart.

Catherine: What changes would you make if you had the opportunity?

Laura: I would open more places related to art. Some galleries or live performance “bars” for new musicians to get exposed.

Landmarks

Photo by Carlos A. Trellez. Local Guide, Google Pictures

The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, Florida International University:

The Frost Art Museum is one of the largest academic art museums in South Florida. It provides free access to the community to thousands of objects from different cultures and time periods. The permanent collection and exhibitions contribute to education of the arts and provides a place to appreciate arts in the suburbs, further away from the galleries in Miami beach. It welcomes hundreds of guests during Miami Art Week.

Photo by Marcelo Morandi. Local Guide

The Youth Fair:

The Youth fair is a seasonal event that occurs in March and April every year. The Youth Fair is not only a place to recreate, but also a fundraiser to give back to the community and provides hundreds of students with scholarships. The fair exhibits art works from students in different categories. In 2019 only, they exhibited over 63,120 pieces. It creates a magical place for the community, engenders the interest in art, and makes art more accessible to young minds.

Photo by Mythical Phoenix. Google Maps Local Guide

Santa’s Enchanted Forest:

Another Miami’s rite of passage from November to January every year. Santa’s is one of the most visited attractions in Westchester, and Miami in general. The carnival provides food, rides, shows, games, and attractions for the family.  

Green

Westchester counts with numerous small parks in different residential areas. Most of these smaller parks have areas designated for children. Some of the most popular activities include running, playing sports, picnics, and activities with children. As I have noticed in the parks and the frequency of visits provided by Google, they are mostly visited in the weekends. This could reflect the lifestyle of its residents, since the most common jobs in the area are related to Office and Administrative Support and Management Occupations (Data USA).

Google Local Guide

Tropical Park:

Tropical Park is one the most famous parks in Westchester. It attracts more than a million visitors each year because it provides a wide array of services. Paved pathways for bicycling, running, or walking are accompanied by fitness courts, boxing centers, baseball rental, sports competitions, equestrian shows, a tennis court, and a Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

Photo by Eric Bellins. Google Maps Local Guide

FIU Nature Reserve:

A project by the Office of Sustainability that aims to reduce FIU’s negative impacts on the natural environment. There are several volunteering opportunities, as well as internships and research projects to get students involved in sustainability.

Transportation

Photo by Laura Suarez. (CC by 4.0)

According to Data USA 83.9% drive alone, 9.24% carpool, and 3.54% work at home.

The majority of people use their cars as their means of transportation.  There is an average number of two cars per household and  an average commute time of 29.2 minutes without traffic, which may significantly increase in rush hours. Although Westchester’s residents have an average 29.3 minutes commute, it is considered advantageous compared to other parts of Miami due to its central location and access to expressways.

As for public transit it was steady from 2013-2017 with an approximate between 300-490 people using the available public transportation. Although there are bus stops throughout the neighborhood, the longer commute time and problems found in Miami’s public transportation may be the cause of the low percentage of people relying in public transit.

To move within the neighborhood people, use their cars. A small number of people move around walking or cycling, and it is mainly as a form of exercise.

Food

Top: Photo by Margarita Serrano. Google Maps Local Guide
Bottom: Photo by Idalia Mercedes. Google Maps Local Guide

Cuban Cuisine

La Carreta was founded in 1976 as an attempt to serve authentic Cuban food to the growing Cuban population. I have visited one of their most popular locations in SW 40th ST multiple times. Although the menu is based in popular Cuban staples, they have some classic American dishes in their kid’s menus, and for each of their meals. This decision caters different immigrants’ generations and tourists. Some of their most requested dishes include frijoles negros, ropa vieja, vaca frita, and moros. I also find their less traditional dishes such as pollo al ajillo (chicken in a garlic sauce) and palomilla steak very tasty.

Besides the food, the decoration of the place is similar to a museum. They have pictures and objects that describe their history as a restaurant, and their Cuban heritage. Service is excellent. Most of the staff speak Spanish as their first language and wear guayaberas to add to the overall experience.

Google Local Guide

Argentinian Cuisine
Graziano’s
An Argentinian restaurant founded in 1962 which offers different services in one location. It functions as an indoors market with an array of fresh products. Next to the market there is bakery and restaurant. All ingredients are fresh, and the service is warm. They also have one of the largest South Florida wine collections. A Sunday barbeque with Graziano’s selection of meat is among the most delicious family traditions in Westchester.

Top: Photo by Arjun Berry. Google Maps Local Guide
Bottom: Photo by Ray Bonilla. Google Maps Local Guide

Tasca de Espana
Tasca de Espana is fusion of Spanish and Indian flavors. Although a relatively small and inexpensive place, it makes a great impact providing live music. Some Havana nights, Latin American, guitar shows, and the iconic Sunday night flamenco are among their most popular shows. They menu has great diversity; however, the seafood paella is most requested dish.

Businesses

There are numerous small family own businesses in Westchester. Some of the most popular cater towards the residents with services such as gardening, construction, accounting, flower shops, coin laundries, beauty salons, gyms, travel agencies, and tech-repair. There are multiple small bakeries and restaurants. Most businesses are located in small plazas which combine national chain stores, small businesses, and places such as pharmacies and grocery stores

Photo by Laura Suarez. (CC by 4.0)

Dos croquetas A croqueta bar that provides a great variety of the classic Hispanic staple. They have multiple flavors, and reinvented classic dishes incorporating other classic Hispanic foods. Their presentation is typical to that of bars, and the overall decoration of the place is a contrast of the solicited “instagrammable” aspect and rustic features. They have implemented national shipping of their famous croquetas, cater parties, and use “La Ventanita” to reach more customers

Photo by Janette Rodriguez Google Maps Local Guide

La Sin Rival Bakery:

La Sin Rival Bakery serves classic Cuban pastries, and in the past few years, they have incorporated typical Venezuelan dishes with the increasing Venezuelan immigration. They are known for their excellent service, authenticity, and classic on the go breakfast.

Summary

Although Miami is represented by the media as one of the epicenters of debaucherous lifestyles, Westchester is not part of this overall description. There isn’t a night life, but rather small live performances in some restaurants. The neighborhood; however, showcases Miami’s ethnic diversity and Hispanic culture.
The Hispanic population comprises the 92.3% of the total population. Despite Cuban descendants are the majority of this Hispanic composition, there are several Colombian, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran roots that enrich the community. The Asian percentage of the population own several businesses, including small restaurants, which provide a great contrast to the Hispanic majority.
Florida International University is located in the perimeters of the neighborhood. It provides numerous job opportunities and it is one of the most popular universities the students in Miami Coral Park Senior High School, Columbus High School, and St. Brendan (high schools of the area) decide to attend.
This residential neighborhood, although small, has great cultural influence in the identity of Miami. It is not as recognized as Coral Gables, Brickell, or Miami Beach for its luxurious landmarks; however, it speaks to the middle class and the essence of Miami as a Mosaic of cultures.
Overall, you can be in Westchester arguing that the neighborhood is different from some Miami stereotypes, and at the same time listen to a political debate by a group of elderly people wearing guayaberas while having breakfast in La Carreta, that makes you acknowledge some stereotypes are indeed true. Miami is comprised by different cities and neighborhood that speak to different souls, and sometimes even the same soul is called to different places at different times.
If your soul is called to the best combination of authentic food from different places of the world, a quiet walk in a small park, and the amiability of the people I would recommend a tour around Westchester.

References

Florida International University – Digital Communications. “Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum.” Florida International University, frost.fiu.edu/.
“Home.” Sustainability, sustainability.fiu.edu/.
“Home.” Graziano’s, http://www.grazianosgroup.com/.
“Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition – Home Page.” Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition – Home Page, http://www.thefair.me/.
Services, Miami-Dade County Online. “Tropical Park.” Miami, http://www.miamidade.gov/parks/tropical.asp.
“Westchester.” FIU Digital Commons, digitalcommons.fiu.edu/mpo_dade/105.
“Westchester, FL.” Data USA, datausa.io/profile/geo/westchester-fl/.
“Westchester, Florida.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westchester,_Florida.
“World’s Largest Holiday Theme Park.” Santa’s Enchanted Forest, http://www.santasenchantedforest.com/.
“World’s Largest Holiday Theme Park.” Santa’s Enchanted Forest, http://www.santasenchantedforest.com/.

Molly Schantz: Coral Gables 2020

Molly Schantz is a Sophomore at the Honors College of Florida International University. She is majoring in Political Science on the Pre-Law track. After she graduates from FIU, she would like to go to law school and eventually practice environmental law. She has always believed that travel and cultural experience is the best way to get an education and being in a class where she can learn about topics outside of her major while also being outside a classroom is her ideal honors class. Molly is currently enrolled in the Honors College Italy Grand Tour Redux course and will be graduating in the spring of 2022.

Geography

Coral Gables City Limits, Photo from SmallWorldMaps.com

Coral Gables is a city on the eastern side of Miami-Dade County. It is a residential area that neighbors South Miami and Coconut Grove. The city begins at Red Road to the West and ends around Douglas Road. It is bordered on the North by Tamiami Trail/8th Street and the southernmost point is just North of the Deering Estate. Coral Gables is the home of the University of Miami as well as a multitude of desirable neighborhoods. It is also home of many multinational business headquarters and tourist landmarks such as the Biltmore Hotel.

History

Coral Gables, Photo from the Hotel Colonnade

Coral Gables was founded and developed by George Merrick in the early 1920’s. Merrick had inherited the land from his father when they were citrus groves at the time. He began to develop the groves into one of America’s first planned cities. By 1926, Coral Gables covered 10,000 acres of land and over $100,000,000 had been spent on city development. 

George Merrick, Photo from Florida Photographic Collection

George Merrick first served as the county commissioner for District 1 in 1915, where he truly made his mark by leading road construction in South Florida. Some of the most notable projects he worked on was the construction of Tamiami Trail and South Dixie Highway, also known as US-1. The projects would later be crucial in his creation and planning of Coral Gables. After his time as commissioner, he began designing the city of Coral Gables. His true passion was design and aesthetic which is why even today, Coral Gables has strict zoning and design policies and many of the buildings follow a very similar aesthetic. 

Merrick started with the 3,000 acres of land that his father left to him. He designed residential neighborhoods that catered to the growing upper middle class. Within 3 years he had designed and developed 1,000 mediterranean style homes that complimented the architecture of the historic Biltmore Hotel. He began to incorporate spanish-style architecture in his designs after that to add some diversity. The spanish-style roofing that you see on most of the homes in Coral Gables today is attributed to this. 

Coral Gables began to expand rapidly, especially with the addition of the University of Miami in 1925 which Merrick donated 600 acres to. Unfortunately the success and expansion of Coral Gables came to a halt in 1926 due to the Great Miami Hurricane and the Great Depression.  Merrick could not continue building Coral Gables as he went into debt and was asked to leave the Coral Gables Commission. 

While George Merrick is rightfully credited with the creation of Coral Gables, it is important to remember the historical context in which it was built as to not idolize him and recognize the origins. Merrick built this city with the intention of housing upper middle class white families and was even credited with saying that an ideal Miami would have all of the black people removed from the city limits. The demographics of Coral Gables in 2020 are much different than Merrick would have wanted, but it is still known as a wealthy residential part of Miami-Dade county.

Demographics

Based on 2019 Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau:

50,999 people are residents of Coral Gables. 51% of residents are female and over 50% of residents are between the ages of 18-65. 58.9% of residents identify as hispanic or latino and 34.4% identify as white alone. 39.3% of residents identify as a person not born in the United States and there are 1,202 residents that identify as veterans. There is an average of 2.59 persons per household since many are families with children. 96.1% of residents ages 25+have a high school diploma and 65.5% of those residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median household income for the residents of Coral Gables is $100,000 which attributes to the city’s stigma of being catered to the upper middle class. 

Interview of Susan Becker, Coral Gables Resident

Susan Becker, picture courtesy of her daughter, Julie Becker.

Susan is a Miami native. She attended Coral Gables Senior High School where she met her husband Irwin, another Miami native. They raised three children in South Miami and moved to a condo in the Gables in 2002 and have been there ever since.

Molly: What first attracted you to Coral Gables?

Susan: Location, location, location. It was easy access to everywhere; the airport, downtown, Coconut Grove, Key Biscayne (which is where my husband was working at the time.

Molly: In your opinion, what has changed the most within Coral Gables since you have lived here?

Susan: Population density. It feels like the population has at least doubled since we first moved here. There is a lot of congestion now.

Molly: If you could change anything about the city, what would it be?

Susan: Honestly, the synchronization of the traffic lights. I know it sounds trivial, but it feels like only in Coral Gables, none of the traffic lights coincide with one another. It causes a lot of unnecessary traffic.

Landmarks

The Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel, photo from Booking.com

The Biltmore Hotel is part of the Bowman-Biltmore Hotels chain. The name is derived from the Vanderbilt family and their Biltmore Estate which is now a mass tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina. The hotel was built in 1926 by John Bowman and George Merrick. At the time it was built, it was the tallest building in Miami, modeled after Giralda which is the medieval tower of the cathedral of Seville. The Biltmore Hotel was a place of luxury since its grand opening gala. It exemplified George Merrick’s aesthetic dream of mixing Italian, Spanish, and Mediterranean architecture with the lush landscaping abilities of the South Florida climate. In 1996 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. To this day it remains a high end hotel to host tourists and important figures that come to Miami from all around the world.

Venetian Pool

Venetian Pool, photo from coralgables.com

George Merrick designed the Venetian Pool to be a community hangout for residents that would go along with his idealistic small-town paradise that he had created for the City of Coral Gables. It was originally a rock quarry, but transformed in 1924 and renamed the “Venetian Casino” where it is reported that A-list visitors and celebrities would convene at when they were in town. The pool as we know it today, was created in 1989 as the need for a neighborhood casino became minor and a pool seemed to fit the family-centric lifestyle of the city. Some of the original limestone from when it was a rock quarry still makes up the surface of the pool. The Venetian Pool is the only pool on the National Register of Historic Places which makes it a hot tourist destination and makes quite a bit of revenue for the city every year. Admission fees range from $8-$13 and the pool is also available to rent for birthday parties or special events. They also have the Venetian Aquatic Club which offers swim classes and lifeguard certification and first aid courses.

The merrick house

The Merrick House, photo from Miamism.com

The Merrick House is the childhood home of George Merrick, the creator of Coral Gables. George Merrick’s father owned citrus groves behind the home. Those groves are the first pieces of land that Merrick used to build the City of Coral Gables. The house is now on the National Registry of Historic Places and offers tours to visitors of the home and 14 rooms inside. The house has been refurbished to its 1920’s state and filled with furniture and artwork that the Merrick family originally owned. General admission is $5 and tours are offered three times per day. Tourists can also schedule private tours with at least a two weeks notice. The house is closed to the public for the time being in cooperation with the Stay-At-Home order in place, but as soon as the order is lifted I would be interested in taking a tour after doing this research on George Merrick and his family.

Green

Coral Gables has more green spaces and a larger Parks and Recreation Department than I had first assumed. According to the Coral Gables Parks and Rec open space inventory, there are over 50 open green spaces within the city limits. Most of the land past SW 88th Street that is encompassed by Coral Gables is green space. For a comprehensive list of green spaces, visit http://www.CoralGables.com and see the Community Recreation department. I’ve highlighted some of the largest green spaces and my personal favorites below.

Granada golf course

Granada Golf Course, photo from CoralGables.com

The Granada Golf Course was designed and opened in 1923, before Coral Gables was even a city. Granada is the oldest operating nine-hole golf course in all of Florida. Anyone is allowed to play, but residents/members of the golf course get cheaper play rates. The golf course is 6,700 yards of green space and has a 1.8 mile radius. While it serves as a golf course year-round, it has been serving as a space for outdoor recreation during this pandemic. Hundreds of residents can be seen everyday creating their own outdoor gyms on the course or biking and jogging on the outskirts of the green. It is interesting to see how a privately owned golf course has become a public recreation park during this time of isolation and hardship.

Matheson hammock park

Matheson Hammock Park, photo from Trip Advisor

Matheson Hammock Park opened in the late 1930’s and has since become one of the most treasured county parks in Miami-Dade. It marks the southernmost part of Coral Gables and spreads across 630 acres of the coast of Miami. The design of the park is very intentional so that an individual or family could spend an entire day there doing different activities. There are hiking trails, biking trails, and natural swimming pools that are safe to swim in. There is also the full service Matheson Hammock Marina where visitors can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. They also offer powerboat lessons. The park includes Matheson Beach and a fishing pier as well as picnic benches and grills. It is a good distance from central Coral Gables and wasn’t created by George Merrick to be a part of his utopic city. It actually had nothing to do with Merrick at all. William Matheson donated the first 85 acres to begin the project and William Phillips put the park into fruition.

Fairchild tropical botanic garden

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, photo from FairchildGarden.org

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens opened in 1938. Dr. David Fairchild was a renowned plant explorer and scientist and chose to retire in Miami in 1935 after a long prestigious career. Combining the brain power of Fairchild, environmentalist Robert Montgomery, county commissioner Charles Crandon, and architect William Phillips, the Fairchild Gardens were born. Many of the plants featured in the gardens were collected by Dr. Fairchild during his travels. Major expansions of the garden happened post World War II, but the first few years were dedicated to building up the plant species diversity and using the acreage available to showcase tropical plants year round. In 1984 the garden became a member of the Center for Plant Conservation. After hurricane Andrew in 1992, the garden’s mission shifted slightly and has since been focusing on the preservation of native plants in South Florida as well as the identification of invasive species and how they arrive here. The Fairchild Gardens are also located in the southern part of Coral Gables, right across from Matheson Hammock Park. The gardens are another example of a successful part of the city that was not created by George Merrick and exemplifies the diverse landscape within the city limits of Coral Gables.

Transportation

Coral Gables Trolley

Coral Gables Trolley, photo from CoralGables.com

The Coral Gables Trolley is a free transportation service. The trolley began its route in 2003, managed by the Miami-Dade County Half Penny Transportation Surtax, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. The trolley has two main routes. One goes up and down Ponce De Leon Boulevard, starting at the Douglas Metrorail Station and going all the way to Flagler Street. The other is the Grande Avenue Loop Route which starts at the Douglas Metrorail Station and has four main stopping points which create a loop and ends back at the station. Both routes run every 15 minutes from 6:30am-8:00pm Monday through Friday. In 2017, the trolley service began operating on holidays excluding Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. According to CoralGables.com, the trolley provides free transportation to around 5,000 people every day.

Freebee

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Freebee Trolley in Coral Gables, image from ridefreebee.com gallery

Freebee is a transportation service company based in South Florida. It is an app that allows you to request a ride similar to Uber or Lyft, but minus the cost. Freebee is completely free for riders as the company has partnerships with the cities that it serves. The City of Coral Gables partnered with Freebee to offer more environmentally conscious transportation methods and reduce traffic congestion in conjunction with the free trolley service. Freebee is more accessible than the trolley as it operates on weekends, but the hours are 10am-10pm every day.

Both the trolley and Freebee are innovative and beneficial to the environment and the city, but I believe they should be implemented in neighborhoods where free transportation is more of a necessity. The demographic of residents in Coral Gables is not one of poverty or misfortune. Most residents have cars and have the income to afford personal transportation. In regards to environmental impact, it is crucial to have carpool services and green transportation services no matter where you are, and I hope other cities and counties take notice of these transportation methods and implement them where they are needed and less as a luxury service.

Food

The majority of the dining options in Coral Gables are high end restaurants that cater to the upper middle class, as the neighborhood was originally intended. There are some fast casual chains opening up every once in a while, but the general trend is upscale dining experiences. In general, Coral Gables lacks the Hispanic flare of Miami that most other neighborhoods are identified by and this is prevalent in the style of restaurants. The lack of Latin food doesn’t have to discredit the local restaurants that do exist in the Gables.

Orantique on the mile

Orantique on the Mile, photo from Urban Dining Guide

Orantique is a family-owned Caribbean restaurant opened in 1999. The Hutson family opened the restaurant to create a fine dining Caribbean experience. The inspiration comes from owner Cindy Hutson’s travel experience in the Caribbean. Known for its unique cocktails and island decor, Orantique stands out from many of its surrounding restaurants. It is one of the only Caribbean restaurants in Coral Gables yet the owners are American. The restaurant has fantastic reviews, I just found it interesting that it may be branded as authentic simply because there is no comparison within the area. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they are closed and I wasn’t able to try the food, but as soon as they reopen I plan on trying it out. My grandparents who are residents of Coral Gables speak highly of Orantique so I will take their word for now.

Threefold CAfe

Threefold Cafe, photo by The Hungry Post

Opened in 2014 in Coral Gables, Threefold has become a staple in Coral Gables. It is trendy, family friendly, and partners with other local Miami businesses such as Zak the Baker. Since they opened in the Gables, Threefold has opened two other locations in Miami. This is one of my personal favorite places to eat in Coral Gables. The food is really consistent and most of their food, including the coffee, is locally sourced which I appreciate. My family all the way from my grandparents to my baby cousins like going to Threefold as they have options for everyone. Threefold Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch, but not for dinner as they close at 4pm daily. I am a big avocado toast fan and I highly recommend trying theirs, it is amazing and they use bread from Zak the Baker.

Caffe Abbracci

Group photo of Nino, Eduardo, Mauro and Loris
Caffe Abbracci Owners, photo from CaffeAbbracci.com

Caffe Abbracci is one of the most well known local establishments in Coral Gables. Opened in 1989 by Nino Pernetti, Caffe Abbracci serves authentic Italian meals to regular locals as well as guests from all over the world including three U.S. Presidents and two sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justices. Nino Pernetti started as a barista in his hometown of Lake Garda, Italy. He traveled around the world to 15 different countries working for hotels and restaurants before he landed in Miami to which he claims is the most international city in the world and thus the perfect place to have a restaurant. Caffe Abbracci has 16 employees that have been there since the start in 1989 which contributes to their success and consistency. This is my grandparents favorite restaurant to order take-out from which has really come in handy during the Stay-At-Home order imposed by Governor Ron Desantis. Before the pandemic, I would always see the restaurant packed with people every night and I hope things return that way once life is back to normal.

Businesses

Commercial development in Coral Gables began to boom in the 1950’s with the addition of Miracle Mile. Also know as “the Mile”, it is essentially a strip of restaurants and commercial businesses that cater to residents and tourists alike. At the time of major construction in the late 50’s and early 60’s, many of the original architecture guidelines were broken and high rises were built and store fronts we constructed without the consistent mediterranean architecture of the residences first designed by George Merrick. Some of the businesses have been around for 50+ years while others are up and coming trendy companies that are appealing to the younger population of Coral Gables.

Actor’s playhouse at the miracle theatre

The Miracle Theatre, photo from Cinema Treasures

The Miracle Theatre first opened in 1948 in Coral Gables. It was a neighborhood movie theater with 1600 seats. It went through multiple name changes, but remained successful as a movie house up until 1990 when the City of Coral Gables purchased the theatre and began renovations to make it into a performing arts center in conjunction with a local theatre company called the Actor’s Playhouse. In 1995, the movie theater permanently closed and became the Actor’s Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. As commercial movie theaters became more and more popular, the success of a neighborhood movie theater decreased so I believe transforming it into a performing arts center was appropriate for the time. The one thing that to this day hasn’t changed, is the iconic art deco “Miracle” sign out front of the theatre.

As a kid I remember seeing performances of Annie and The Wizard of Oz at the Actor’s Playhouse and I have wonderful memories of the place. Not only do they offer performances, but the Actors Playhouse offers a full schedule of Theatre Conservatory classes as well as their youth summer camp (which, yes, I also attended as a child and played the Cheshire Cat in a rendition of Alice in Wonderland).

Books & Books

Books & Books, photo courtesy of Books & Books

Books & Books is an eclectic independently owned bookstore located in Downtown Coral Gables. Mitchell Kaplan opened Books & Books in 1982 with the purpose of creating more than just a bookstore. The historical context of Miami at the time of its opening is interesting to look at. Immigration was booming and hundreds of thousands of families were left living in tent cities attempting to integrate into society and immigrant children were not acclimated into the current education system. From the beginning, Kaplan had free and public poetry readings and literature events within the bookstore which created a name for Books & Books as being a community space and cultural hub. Books & Books is one of the few places in Coral Gables that does not signify the luxurious upper class nature of the city. It is simply a place where you can read books, buy books, see monthly art exhibits, hear authors read their books, hear and perform poetry, and much more. It is also one of the only places in Coral Gables that offers free live music. Books & Books is one of my favorite places not just in Coral Gables, but Miami as a whole.

Bellissima Bridal

Miami's 18 Best Bridal Stores for Wedding Dresses and Accessories ...
Bellissima Bridal, photo from Racked Miami

There are tons of bridal shops in Coral Gables, it almost feels overwhelming. I wanted to highlight Bellissima Bridal because they are a family-owned company that has been designing and selling wedding dresses and formal attire for over 75 years. Up until 2007, they operated without a true storefront, but the Coral Gables location is there only bridal salon. They pride themselves in being a family company as well as the clients they serve internationally. Bellissima has employees that are fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese in order to accommodate to their may clients that come to visit the shop from all over Latin America. Bellissima Bridal is a great example of a growing business in Coral Gables that caters to the ever-expanding tourist industry, rather than just residents.

Summary

Miami carries a heavy stigma worldwide of what it should be; diverse demographics, world renowned night life, skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and beaches. While some areas of Miami do include all of those things, it’s important to recognize the cities and neighborhoods within it that don’t fit the stereotypes. Coral Gables is essentially a utopian small-town that clashes with all different spectrums of Miami. It is nothing like Midtown or Miami Beach while it is equally nothing like Homestead or Westchester.

Coral Gables has been an up and coming neighborhood ever since it was created and has been successful in living up to its name- The City Beautiful. Some things that Coral Gables does well that should be a model for other communities is definitely the transportation services and green spaces. The implementation of a free trolley and a free ride-share service has benefitted Coral Gables environmentally and with street congestion. Free transportation lifts a financial burden off many people which would be beneficial no matter what neighborhood you live in. Coral Gables is home to many national landmarks as well as lush green spaces within its residential and commercial areas. The inclusion of Matheson Hammock Park and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens make Coral Gables a popular destination for tourists and also a neighborhood in high demand for residents and future residents.

Within all its luxury and aesthetic uniformity, it’s important to look past the beauty and attraction of the city and consider its problematic uprise. Coral Gables was created with the intention of catering to wealthy people and upper middle class families. It was also created with the intention of pushing black people out and essentially “purifying” the demographics of the residents. This gentrification is deeply rooted in history and hard to change. I think it’s interesting that George Merrick has so many namesakes and people visit his childhood home to learn about him when he would be considered very problematic by todays standard. He created his ideal community which excluded so many people in the surrounding communities and to this day, Coral Gables is not very accepting of those same people. There will always be “rich” and “poor” neighborhoods everywhere, but it is unfortunate that Coral Gables was created with the intention of gentrification of the area. It is a high end neighborhood set right in between areas that my mom wasn’t allowed to ride her bike around as a kid because it was considered the ghetto or a “bad neighborhood”.

Despite the discrepancies in its formation, The City of Coral Gables is a beautiful neighborhood with important historical context and I recommend taking a visit to see what it’s all about.

Citations

Molly Schantz: ASC Who Art Miami 2020

Artist: Jennifer Basile

Artist Quote

Handmade works of Art
Photo from JenniferBasile.com

“I don’t think you can teach creativity”- Jennifer Basile, talking about being both an artist and a teacher.

Student Bio

Molly Schantz is a Sophomore at the Honors College of Florida International University. She is majoring in Political Science on the Pre-Law track. After she graduates from FIU, she would like to go to law school and eventually practice environmental law. She has always believed that travel and cultural experience is the best way to get an education and being in a class where she can learn about topics outside of her major while also being outside a classroom is her ideal honors class. Molly is currently enrolled in the Honors College Art Society Conflict course and will be graduating in the spring of 2022.

Artist Bio

Jennifer Basile is a teacher, artist, and printmaker based here in Miami, FL. She was born and raised in Long Island, NY but moved to Miami with her family right before she started college. She comes from a long lineage of Italians, but has lived in the United States her whole life. Basile attended Broward Community College prior to attending the University of Miami where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts. She attended Southern Illinois University for where she received her Master of Fine Arts. She began printmaking at the University of Miami and made it her focus in graduate school. After graduate school, she moved back to Miami and began doing part time teaching at different schools, including her alma mater at the University of Miami. She also began teaching part time at Miami Dade College Kendall Campus which is where she currently teaches today. She has been teaching full time as a Painting and Figure Drawing professor at Miami Dade College for 18 years. Basile said she was able to get this position because she had spent all her time in graduate school in her elective courses learning painting and other mediums of art in order to keep her options open for her career, even though her main focus as an artist is printmaking. Many of her influences and inspirations that have gotten her to where she is today are her own professors.

Personal Identity

Boneyard Beach by Jennifer Basile, photo from LnS Gallery

Basile’s life experiences and influences have definitely gotten her to where she is now and inspired her to do what she does, but one of the biggest hurdles that she has had to climb over is being a woman in the art world. This struggle is what pushed her to succeed in the art of printmaking. In my interview with Jennifer, she mentioned how in undergrad she was doing mostly painting with all different kinds of professors from all different backgrounds and she liked having a variety of teachers, both male and female and with different artistic backgrounds. One of her professors, Lise Drost, told Basile that she “paints like a printmaker” which really first sparked her interest in printmaking as a focus. Basile began to fall in love with the “methodical and arduous process” of printmaking as she began taking classes under and working with Professor Drost. She describes printmaking as a very empowering form of art because it is gutsy and there really is no going back and sketching or fixing mistakes, you just go for it. As a woman, this practice and process was even more empowering because of how laborious printmaking can be. It can be discouraging to be passionate about a field that doesn’t open the same doors for women as it does men, but Basile found a true love for printmaking and never wanted to turn back. During her first few years doing part-time teaching, Basile also had gotten an artist residency with the Bakehouse Art Complex. She had a studio there where she was able to make large scale prints, which made her stand out from many other printmakers at the time. While at the Bakehouse, Bernice Steinbaum came to her studio one day and was so incredibly supportive of her art, that she commissioned Basile to make some pieces for her own home collection. This was one of those experiences that kicked off Basile’s career in the Miami art world. Luisa Lignarolo and Sergio Cernuda, the owners of LnS Gallery, were friends with Bernice and discovered Basile’s work right before the opened their gallery. Ever since their opening, Basile has been featured at the gallery and maintained a great relationship with the owners and been able to network with many other local artists, such as John Bailly. While these personal experiences have gotten Jennifer to where she is career-wise, the subject of her works remain fluid and don’t necessarily reflect a certain time or experience in her life.

Cultural Identity

7 Things You Didn't Know about Hokusai, Creator of The Great Wave ...
Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’

Basile defines herself as a contemporary artist simply because she is creating art in the contemporary world. As I mentioned before, she keeps the subject of her art fluid, especially since printmaking is such a unique form of art and is based on just doing more than planning. As an artist, she is really inspired by Japanese printmaking. She specifically mentioned Hiroshige and Hokusai, Both are famous Japanese printmakers from the 19th century- which just shows how printmaking has lasted the test of time. She always admired these artists, but her own work doesn’t reflect the style of Japanese printmaking. She is also inspired somewhat by the Baroque art movement. She relates this to her Italian heritage and said the “drama is very appealing” in Baroque pieces. The importance of light in art also became popular in the Baroque period and light is crucial to printmaking, but none of her pieces reflect Baroque-style paintings. Printmaking is all about making unique pieces that evolve with the artist that is creating them, rather than reflecting the time period or artistic movement.

Subject of Artwork

Muir Woods II by Jennifer Basile, photo from LnS Gallery

“I’ve never been a statement artist”, said Basile about her subject of prints. She has always appreciated the aesthetic value of art over the political or social statement trying to be made. She tips her hat to artists that can make pieces with a subtle statement or message while remaining aesthetically pleasing and challenging the viewer to find the meaning, but she doesn’t base her pieces off of deeper meanings. She is relatively consistent with her prints being of landscapes or things found in the natural world. She doesn’t let that limit her subjects, but it is just what she prefers to make. She is an environmentalist as heart and loves spending time outdoors. Some of her work may have a subtle message about the environment, but instead of making the statement that we are destroying the environment, she uses her prints as a way to create documentation of the environment as it is in the present. Her form of “research” is going on elongated hikes or ventures slightly off the beaten path and capturing photos of the landscape. Documentary in art often creates a yearning for preservation in the viewer.

Formal Elements of Artwork

“Ernie” Everglades Alligator by Jennifer Basile, photo from LnS Gallery

In discussing her creative process, Jennifer said one of the most important parts is the initial research or experience that she has with her subject of a piece. Immersing herself in the landscape or environment and capturing hundreds of photos and getting a better understanding of what she is going to emulate in a print is very valuable. Documenting her subjects through photos allows to her recreate the spacial elements. She doesn’t regularly do sketches or preliminary drawings and is more spontaneous with her process. Light is the most important forma element to be aware of when making relief prints and she uses photography to grasp the lighting of her subjects. She mentioned that the Baroque period of art history is an inspiration of hers because of the vast evolution of adding light and shadows to artwork and creating depth.

When it comes to teaching, there are basic techniques that need to be learned in order to successfully make prints. She allows her students to be creative and fluid in their own subjects and creative process, but emphasizes the technicalities of prints and challenges them to try new things once they have mastered a skill.

Exhibition/Project History

Little Pots by Jennifer Basile, photo from LnS Gallery

Jennifer Basile has had her work consistently shown at the LnS gallery for the last 3 years, but has done some individual traveling shows as well as a fellowship program out in California. She did a solo exhibition in Richmond, VA at the Iridian Gallery. It is an LGBTQ+ gallery that was doing a show featuring artists from the LGBTQ+ community, but wanted to move away from showing art that made statements about the community and instead just highlight artists from the community. While she was there, she got to work with students from VCU and speak to different classes about her work and printmaking. Basile also did a fellowship with the Kala Art Institute in Berkley, CA. She was there for 4 months making art and showing at the institute. She is currently trying to venture out in her career and is applying to different residencies and shows around the country.

Student Perspective

John Bailly’s FIU Honors Class “Art Society Conflict” at Jennifer Basile’s studio at Miami Dade College

I really enjoyed working with Jennifer Basile. She is super down to earth and blunt with the way she talks about art and I really appreciate that. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to spend much time with her in person due to COVID-19, our zoom meeting was very helpful and I learned a lot. For a class trip earlier in the semester, I did have the opportunity to visit her studio at Miami Dade College and make some prints. I definitely do not consider myself an artist, but that was such a fun experience and I enjoyed learning from her and allowing myself to get creative and try something new. I think printmaking is an underrated form of art and I have a lot of respect for the work that Basile and other printmakers around the world create.

Sources

  • “About.” Jennifer Basile, http://www.jenniferbasile.com/about.
  • “JENNIFER_BASILE.” LnSGallery.com, 25 Mar. 2020, lnsgallery.com/jennifer_basile/.
  • “HOME.” LnSGallery.com, 13 Apr. 2020, lnsgallery.com/.

Nicolas Tomaselli: Coral Gables 2020

My name is Nicolas Tomaselli, I am pursing a degree of Business Administration in Information Systems. I am currently the FIU campus intern for CDW, hoping to learn as much as I can about the technology industry. I am also looking to blend my future career with as much cross-country travel as I can as traveling is one of my many passions.

Geography

Coral Gables City limits, photo retrieved from floridahometownlocator.com

The city of Coral Gables is located southwest of Downtown Miami while still on the east side of Miami-Dade County. It is bordered on the west by 57th Avenue Red Road, on the north by 8th Street Tamiami Trail, on the south by the Deering Estate, as well as on the east around 37th Avenue Douglas Road. The City of Coral Gables is filled with beautiful scenery surrounding its residents’ homes as well as contains some of the most gorgeous parks and beaches Miami has to offer. Coral Gables continues to be a spot for tourists and locals alike to enjoy what Miami truly has to offer.

Miracle Mile, Photo retrieved from commons.wikimedia.org

History

George Merrick, Photo retrieved from Florida Photographic Collection

The City of Coral Gables was initially created and meticulously planned out by George Merrick, a real estate developer, during the Florida land boom of the early 1920s. In 1911 Merrick was studying law in New York City until the death of his father prompted him to move back to Miami. By 1915 he was appointed as the County Commissioner in District 1 by the governor. Merrick then spearheaded the construction of countless roads across Miami including Tamiami trail, County Causeway, and South Dixie Highway. The improvements to the roads enabled Miami to triple in population from 1915 to 1921 transforming an emerging city into a metropolitan paradise.

Beginning in 1922 Merrick began planning out his design for Coral Gables along the lines of the City Beautiful Movement inside of the 3,000 acres of land his father left him. The movement’s intent was to introduce grand obelisks, fountains and monuments into the feel and look of the city by placing them in parks, buildings and all throughout the city. Merrick also took heavy inspiration from Mediterranean Revival Architecture and believed it was the best way to design a city in Miami. In a New York Times Article in 1925 Merrick said, “Just how I came to utilize the Spanish type of architecture in Coral Gables… it always seemed to me to be the only way houses should be built down there in those tropical surroundings.”

Street View of Miracle Mile, Photo retrieved from coralgablesmuseum.org

Another one of the most important details Merrick paid attention to was zoning divisions. This meant Merrick wanted specific residential and commercial locations with clear divisions between the two. This is apparent in the four block wide and two mile long commercial district, which Merrick intentionally designed this way in order to be able to say every business in Coral Gables is just two blocks away.

Merrick is also credited with the establishment of the University of Miami with a 600 acre and 5 million dollar donation. Then just a few weeks before the opening of the first school year the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane devastates Coral Gables and Miami, followed by the Great Depression. These two events shut the door on Merrick for any future expansion of Coral Gables, but the work he had done up until that point was outstanding.

Demographics

According to the most recent United States Census estimates, Coral Gables has a population of 50,999 making it the 59th largest city in Florida. 51.52% of Coral Gables’ population is female while the remaining 48.48% is male. 58.9% of the entire 50,999 residents as well as 62.3% of the 46,505 white residents identify as hispanic. This large hispanic population is the main reason as to why 53.68% of the population speaks spanish. Another showcase of the hispanic presence in Coral Gables is the 39.30% foreign born population with 67.5% of that population being from Latin America. Median and mean household income for Coral Gables is $100,000 and $168,659 respectively. This above average income rate has plenty to do with 65.53% of residents having graduated with at least a bachelors degree.

Interview of Sylvia Planas

Sylvia Planas and her Husband Juan Planas, Photo provided by Sylvia Planas

Nick: When did you first move to Coral Gables and what initially attracted you to the city?

Sylvia: My husband, five children and I first moved to Coral Gables in December of 1987. One of the most important reasons we first moved to the city was the close proximity to my job at the University of Miami. Another reason that attracted us was the beautiful tree lined streets that covered our entire neighborhood. The ability to look out our window and see countless big trees is by far my favorite part of living in Coral Gables.

Nick: What are some of your favorite aspects of living Coral Gables?

Sylvia: The city’s strict rules on the upkeep of the homes for example not allowing trash to be on the side of the street and not being able to paint your home an ugly color like orange or purple keeps the neighborhoods looking consistently beautiful. This allows us to be able to have the ability to go for walks or bike rides in our neighborhood while admiring the beautiful homes and nature around our house and throughout the city.

Nick: What have you noticed that has changed since moving to Coral Gables?

Sylvia: We’ve noticed that recently a younger generation of residents moving into the city. As well as renovations of older buildings that have been transformed into places for new homeowners.

Nick: If you could change one thing about Coral Gables what would it be?

Sylvia: One thing that I wish would change about Coral Gables would be an increase in the tree trimming of the trees that line the streets. The falling branches create unnecessary debris on our lawn and the streets we have to drive through.

Landmarks

Merrick House

The Merrick House, Photo retrieved from miamiandbeaches.com

The Merrick House is the childhood home of Coral Gables’ founder George Merrick. This house sits on the land his father left to him which became the home to where Merrick would design Coral Gables. It started as a frame house in 1903 and was built upon in 1910.

Agrupacion Catholica Universitari Acu, Photo provided by Juan planas

During the 1960s the house was rented out by an organization known as Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria (ACU) of which my grandfather Juan Planas is a lifetime member. A couple of months after renting the house the City of Coral Gables did not allow their lease to continue due to strict family residential zoning. Since the house was rented by an organization and not a family they could not rent the home. Years after that The Merrick house was restored by the city to its 1920s time as well as improved on its aesthetic with the Merrick family’s art, furniture and personal treasures. The City of Coral Gables has guided tours on Wednesdays and Sundays for around the price of five dollars. The Merrick house landmark stands as a reminder of the brilliant founder who had a vision of such a beautiful city that we call Coral Gables.

Coral Gables Elementary School

10/6/1935: Coral Gables Elementary School building, Photo retrieved from flashbackmiami.com

During the beginning of the foundation of Coral Gables George Merrick sold this piece of land to the Dade County School Board in 1923. Initially Merrick sold the land for $10,000 and the construction of the building for $25,000 to create this public school in the same Mediterranean revival style as the rest of Coral Gables. By 1926 the school’s population had risen to 1,000 students. The construction of his school serves as a public school for families of all socioeconomic backgrounds. The school also provides learning for various foreign languages as well as learning for children with special needs. Overall Coral Gables Elementary just adds to the list of the great aspects there are to living in the City of Coral Gables.

City Hall of Coral Gables

City Hall of Coral Gables, Photo retrieved from townandcountrymag.com

Coral Gables City Hall was constructed from 1927 to 1928, after the devastation of the Great Miami Hurricane. The building was designed by Phineas Paist and Harold Steward in the same Mediterranean Revival style as the rest of Coral Gables. After the construction of this building it created a complete cohesive style of the entire city from its homes, offices, schools, and now its city hall as well. The City Hall of Coral Gables was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on July 24, 1974

Green

Matheson Hammock Park Beach

Matheson Hammock Park Beach, Photo retrieved from miamibeachadvisor.com

If you’re looking for an alternative to the crowded beaches of south beach when you’re visiting Coral Gables then Matheson Hammock is the ideal spot for you. Since 1930 Matheson Hammock welcomes tourists from all over the world as well as its own locals to its beautiful beach and its fun activities. Some of Matheson Hammocks’ recreational activities include delicious restaurants like Red Fish, a full service marina, a man made pool and scenic walking trails for its nature loving visitors. In the marina visitors can rent kayaks, paddle boards, and take boating lessons for both sailing and power boating. Overall Matheson Hammock provides a beautiful beach and various recreational activities for everyone to enjoy in the City of Coral Gables.

Venetian Pool

Venetian Pool, Photo from coralgables.com

Opening in 1924 Venetian Pool was part of George Merrick’s master plan of Coral Gables. When it opened in 1924 it was known as “Venetian Casino” because pools and swimming venues were referred to as casinos during the early 1900s. It was designed to be a community mingle area for residents of Coral Gables to hang out by a beautiful pool. The pool was crafted out of a rock quarry that George Merrick used to build many early homes in the city. Artist Denman Fink and architect Phineas Paist were integral in the design of not only Venetian Pool but of countless other aspects of Coral Gables. Since its inception in the 1920s Venetian pool has been a beautiful aspect of early Coral Gables and has become a famous staple of the city’s greenery.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Photo retrieved from ticketweb.com

Fairchild Gardens gets its name from one of the most famous plant explorers in history, David Fairchild. Fairchild started his career at age 22 by starting the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the United States Department of Agriculture. He then spent he rest of his career traveling the world searching for plants that could be of use to the American people. During his travels he visited every continent except Antarctica and brought back countless plants including: soybeans, bamboo, cherry trees, mangos, and nectarines to name a few. Fairchild then moved to Miami in 1935 and worked with other passionate plant collectors and environmentalists like Marjoy Stoneman Douglas, William Lyman Phillips, and Charles Crandon. This group of passionate collectors dreamed of some kind of botanic garden and worked tirelessly to achieve that dream. That dream came to reality in 1938 when Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden opened its doors to the public. The garden then became a member of the Center for Plant Conservation in 1984 by preserving endangered U.S. flora. After Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992, Fairchild Gardens has ramped up their efforts not only to restore the garden but to identify and save endangered plants ravaged by the storm. Since then they have continued to collect plants from all over the world and now include tropical fruit, orchids, and native Florida plants as part of their collections.

Transportation

Coral Gables Trolley

Coral Gables Trolley, Photo retrieved from miamionthecheap.com

Since its establishment in 2003 the Coral Gables Trolley has been taking residents, commuters, and tourists around the beautiful city of Coral Gables. The trolley was created as a free and environmentally friendly transportation service in order to relieve traffic around the city and connect its residents to the rest of the city. Every day around 5,000 people use the trolley’s convenient service. The Coral Gables trolley also links up with the City of Miami trolley on Flagler, Coral Way, and Grand Avenue. The trolly has two distinct routes, the North/South Ponce de Leon Boulevard and the Grand Avenue Loop route. The Ponce De Leon Boulevard route runs from the Douglas Metrorail Station to Flagler Street along Ponce de Leon Boulevard while the Grand Avenue Loop route runs from the Douglas Metrorail Station to Grand Avenue, LeJeune Road and Granello back to Douglas Station. Overall the Coral Gables Trolley acts as a free environmentally friendly form of transportation for its residents to travel around the city.

E-Scooters

Bird E-Scooters, Photo from rosenohrlaw.com

One of the very first things that I noticed after moving into Coral Gables was how many e-scooters were scattered around the city and specifically on Pone de Leon Blvd, the street I live on. It seemed you could not walk ten steps without noticing one propped up on the sidewalk or see someone riding it to work or lunch. I simply cannot count the amount of times I have used these scooters to go pick up food or to just ride around the city with friends. Coral Gables’ large but compact commercial district enables residents to be able to hop on a scooter and ride around the city unlike most parts of Miami.

Food

Miami’s Best Pizza

Miami’s Best old location, photo from google reviews

Coral Gables is also home to the greatest pizza shop in all of Miami, Miami’s Best Pizza. Its name speaks for itself in that for the past 50 years they have simply been creating the best pizza in Miami. Back in 1970 Miami, Florida got its first Little Cesars pizza joint on US-1. Despite the fact they had the name they didn’t have much of anything that would resemble other Little Cesars, like crazy crust. Then the original owner Al Papich handed down the store to his son Ray who then partnered up with Charles Butler. Then in 1990 when the franchise agreement ended the store polled their customers what the new name of the shop should be, thus Miami’s Best Pizza was born along with the slogan, “same pizza, same place, same people.”

Miami’s Best old location, photo from google reviews

Miami’s Best has been a staple in the community of Coral Gables over the 50 years they have been around. Throughout the time they’ve been making pizzas most of the went right across the street to the students of The University of Miami. Along with the ties to the university, Miami’s Best’s quality owners created a great area for families to spend time together and have a great meal. I can still remember watching the chefs make the pizza through the window and playing arcade games with my cousins waiting for our pizza to be ready.

Despite all the success Miami’s Best had over 44 years they still did not own the prime US-1 real estate their restaurant stood on. With their lease coming to a close and the recently passed away landlord’s family already asking the shops highest willing rent price, Miami’s Best Pizza came to a close. However, after a three year absence randomly a sign went up saying they would be back by the end of 2018 with the University of Miami as the landlord. This got me and my entire family extremely excited while we hoped and hoped it would feel the same. After they announced that they would be bringing bringing everything back from the oven to the telephone number, we began counting down the days till they reopened. I’m also happy to say that after a three year absence they didn’t miss a beat.

New Miami’s Best Location, photo from owner on google reviews

The Local Craft Food & Drink

The Local, Photo retrieved from miamifoodpug.com

The Local Craft Food & Drink was created by Miami’s own award winning chef Alberto Cabrera in 2011. Throughout Cabrera’s life he traveled throughout the United States and Europe learning how to cook with various ingredients from countless backgrounds rather than from a formal culinary education. After returning to Miami in 1996 he got a job at Baleen and four years he became chef de cuisine. He then worked at a few other restaurant such as Norman’s, la Broche, Chispa, STK Miami, and eventually designed an entire menu for Karu & Y. Once Karu & Y closed Cabrera began his first solo venture, The Local.

Alberto Cabrera at Little Bread, Photo retrieved from yelp.com

Alberto Cabrera’s vision for The Local, was to create a comfortable and friendly place for families and friends to enjoy some excellent gastropub. The Local’s menu is filled with excellent choices for both lunch and dinner for all types of tastes. Whatever you order whether it’s their famous Mississippi brisket burger, Nashville fried chicken sandwich; or if you’re in the mood for seafood their fish and chips or creamy polenta and shrimp, you’ll leave satisfied. The Local also has incredible appetizer options with their small plates of truffle fries, fried chicken bites, and their delicious disco fries which they cover in homemade cheese and bacon bits. With a comfortable atmosphere and spectacular menu you can never go wrong with stopping at The Local.

Nashville Fried Chicken Sandwich, Photo retrieved from google reviews

The first time my family and I ever visited, The Local, was the day we finished moving. After unboxing countless packages and lugging boxes up the elevator we visited The Local for dinner. We walked down Giralda and stumbled upon what seemed to be a trendy burger joint. After scanning over the menu we realized we found something much better. Deciding what to order was the most difficult part of our visit, but eventually we narrowed our decision down and ordered. After what ended up being three orders of truffle fries and our delicious meals we left knowing we found a special place.

The Local, Photo retrieved from google reviews

Havana Harry’s

Havana Harry’s entrance, Photo retrieved from zagat.com

Since 1995 Havana Harry’s has been Coral Gables’ delicious Cuban-American fusion restaurant serving as a local favorite and spot for tourists to try a taste of Cuba. Havana Harry’s has taken inspiration from Cuban, Spanish, and Latin-American dishes while putting their own twist to create an extensive and delicious menu. Whether its their vaca frita, bistec empanizado, or medianoche you can never go wrong with what you choose to order. They have also done an excellent job at creating an elegant yet comfortable feel to combine with their exquisite menu that visitors can enjoy during a casual lunch or sophisticated dinner.

I’ve been eating at Havana Harry’s for almost my entire life. Growing up in a large extended family, Havana Harry’s has always been our go to for family gatherings whether it’s birthdays or celebrations. Having the ability to mass order takeout food for 20 without losing any quality is just another thing that adds to the countless amazing things about this delicious restaurant.

Business

The Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel, Photo retrieved from wlrn.org

The Biltmore Hotel was first built by George Merrick in 1926 during his creation of Coral Gables. The Biltmore would then become home to Coral Gables’ affluent residents by hosting elegant galas, golf tournaments, fashion shows and water shows in what was once the biggest pool in the world. After years of being a staple in the city as a place for lavish gatherings it was turned into a military hospital during World War II. Even after the war concluded it continued as a hospital for veterans of the war. After the hospital was closed and the building an abandoned shell, the stories of the haunted hospital began. Neighborhood kids would sneak into the building so much the City of Coral Gables hired a security guard. After stories and rumors spread The Biltmore gained its reputation as a haunted building. In 1983 the city put $55 million into renovating the hotel and had it reopened in 1987. The beauty of The Biltmore Hotel and the history between its walls has made it a major part of The City of Coral Gables.

Jae’s Jewelers

Interior of Jae’s Jewelers, Photo from timeout.com

Jae’s Jewelers was established in 1945 by Brooklyn native George Hornik who moved to Miami in 1938 and then served in the Navy during World War II. After the war Hornik moved to Colorado where he studied watchmaking and eventually started his business repairing watches. By 1956 his partner and wife of 60 years convinced him to move the business to Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. Up until they passed the business down to their son they were affectionately known on Miracle Mile as Mr. and Mrs. Jae. Their son Bruce, a gemologist and one of the most knowledgable jewelers in the city and has also been nicknamed Jae.

Jae’s Jewelers early beginnings, Photo from jaesjewelers.com

Jae’s Jewelers has just recently gone into its third generation with both of Bruce’s daughters becoming gemologists as well. His daughter Jennie moved to Bozman and opened up a sister store while Jilian stayed at Jae’s and is now their sales manager. The passion the entire family has towards what they do is infectious to all who visit while the 54 years they’ve been on the mile has made Jae’s Jewelers a staple in Coral Gables.

Books & Books

Books & Books, Photo retrieved from booksandbooks.com

Books & Books was first opened by Mitchel Kaplan after he dropped out of law school in 1982 in a small 500 square foot space in Coral Gables. Over time Mitchel worked to create a comfortable space where like-minded people could visit, learn and discuss with their friends. Mitchel filled that small location with as many books he could about art, architecture, photography and more until they were able to move to their current location in 2001. After relocating across the street to a beautiful 1927 building listed in the Coral Gables Register of Historic Places. With a much larger location Books & Books was able to do much much more. Now they host over 60 author events per month featuring celebrities, artists, and poets.

Summary

Ponce De Leon Boulevard, Photo retrieved from realestatebulldog.com

For almost 100 years The City of Coral Gables has been a beauty, filled with vibrant art, Mediterranean architecture, gorgeous nature, and unique history everywhere you look. From the beginning of the planning of the layout and design of what George Merrick dreamed of, to the creation of what Coral Gables is today has left its mark on its residents and tourists that have experienced what this great city has to offer. The vast amount of landmarks scattered around the city truly showcases the deep historical background of the beautiful Coral Gables from its schools, buildings, and its own City Hall. The City Beautiful that is Coral Gables has created a mediterranean paradise in the middle of Miami, Florida as a home to countless backgrounds and ethnicities that truly encompasses what Miami is all about.

The beautiful nature scenery that encompasses the city and its residents creates the atmosphere of a paradise to perfectly surround the unique architecture that Miami had never seen before. From it beaches, parks, and tree lined streets Coral Gables has been shown to be perfect example of how to use nature to beautify an already gorgeous city. The presence of these sites have been present almost as long as the city itself, tying the natural surroundings of the city into what residents and visitors see whenever they look around.

Coral Gables is also home to countless delicious restaurants that in and of themselves have plenty of interesting historical backgrounds to go with the already historical city. These restaurants and business have become part of the great community of Coral Gables by creating comfortable and friendly locations for its visitors to enjoy the food they have to offer. The intimate relationships that customers create with the businesses themselves as well as the ones they build upon with their own friends and families can be attributed somewhat to the great memories they create at their favorite local spots. This tight knit community of Coral Gables is just another aspect that sets it apart from most cities.

Overall, The City of Coral Gables has been creating a place for its residents and visitors alike filled with unique food, architecture, history, nature, and art to truly encompass what it’s like to live in Miami. Still flourishing after 100 years, The City of Coral Gables isn’t looking to slow down their creation, continuing to build upon their own history and working everyday to make this city the best that it can be.

Citations

Kathleen Gomez: Miracle Miami 2020

Biography

Photo by Nick Gomez (CC by 4.0)

My name is Kathleen Gomez and I am a senior in the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature. My goal is to one day have a career that combines my passions for baking and literature.

Geography

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)
Map retrieved from Google Maps

In Downtown Coral Gables, you’ll find a 0.503-mile-long stretch of Coral Way between LeJeune Road and Douglas Road known as Miracle Mile. A one mile long walk up and down a street lined with unique stores and restaurants, Miracle Mile has come to be regarded as  “one of South Florida’s most sought-after shopping destinations.”

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

History

Miracle Mile was designed by George Merrick, whose namesake mall can be found right around the corner. Merrick boasted that “every business in Coral Gables was less than a two-block walk,” accomplishing his vision of an area that had everything a resident could need right at their fingertips. The placard on Merrick’s statue, standing proudly in front on City Hall looking out onto the Mile, has a quote that reads: “I have given my life to the development of our city and to the working out of an ideal.” Driving down the sunny stretch, almost people-less amidst quarantine, thinking about how I’ve missed walking down the sidewalk after a nice dinner out and eagerly awaiting the opportunity to visit the area again, it certainly feels like Merrick accomplished that ideal.

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

The 1940’s saw a trend for making outdoor shopping malls and so “after declines during the Great Depression and World War II,” efforts were made to rebrand the area in order to market it as a “high-end shopping destination.”

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

A placard towards the start of the walk down the Mile reads that “immediately after World War II, the ‘Father of Miracle Mile’ George K. Zain and his wife City Commissioner Rebyl Zain conceived, developed and implemented the concept of a Miracle Mile” for this section of Coral Way, and that the section was officially named Miracle Mile in 1955.  

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Albert H. Friedman, the owner of a high-end women’s clothing business, moved to South Florida and opened one of eight stores on Coral Way when Miracle Mile was “just a big, wide curbless street.” In 1954, Friedman met with J. Baldi of J. Baldi’s Salon, Sam Weissel of Sam’s Taxi Co. and Carroll Seghers, proprietor of Carroll’s Jewelers, in an attempt to acquire new business and they ended up forming the Miracle Mile Merchants Association. For his part in building up the area, Friedman was declared Mr. Miracle Mile in 1980.

Demographics

Miracle Mile is a boulevard dedicated to restaurants, boutiques, and galleries with more than 150 property owners and over 350 merchants including restaurants. Although no one lives on the Mile itself, it is known as “an elegant and sophisticated destination,” and is “Miami’s charming gem that locals like to keep secret and visitors fall in love with when they find it.”

Stefani Subil was born May 31, 1996, in Miami, FL and has lived in Village Green for pretty much her whole life but one place she likes to frequent and do some photography work is the Colonnade on Miracle Mile. 

Stefani’s thoughts on Miracle Mile:

Kathleen: Why do you like Miracle Mile so much?

Stefani: I like Miracle Mile because it’s a nice place to walk around with family or friends. They host a lot of fun events like “Carnival on the Mile” and it’s a good place to make new connections with other people in Miami. I like to walk my dog there a lot because it is pet friendly and when we eat at restaurants, they always welcome Whisky. Most of the places on Miracle Mile are pet friendly.

Kathleen: Why do you like taking pictures at The Colonnade?

Stefani: I decided to take pictures there because the architecture inside is very pretty and very typical of the Coral Gables ambience. I also chose the Colonnade in Coral Gables because it is in the heart of the city and it’s iconic.

Kathleen: In your opinion, how does Miracle Mile represent Miami?

Stefani: Miracle Mile represents Miami because they display a very close community and they tie together many cultures whether it’s at an event or if you are dining at a restaurant. It’s a very family friendly community and hosts events for all walks of life. Miami has very diverse cultures and to be able to see the Coral Gables community come together with different cultures is truly a beautiful thing.

Landmarks

Miracle Theatre

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

 In 1995, the “Actors’ Playhouse entered into a partnership with the City of Coral Gables in order to renovate the historic Miracle Theatre, transforming the Art Deco movie house into the company’s new home.” This addition to the Mile ended up being “the catalyst for revitalizing downtown Coral Gables.” The Actor’s Playhouse’s presence on Miracle Mile worked to enhance “the quality of life for the community and added to its economic prosperity with over 150,000 patrons attending events each year.” Not only does the theatre have productions playing all year, but they also offer theatre classes and educational programs.

Even amidst everything going on with the Coronavirus, the Actor’s Playhouse is still catering to the community by offering online master classes so anyone can learn to act, sing or dance from the safety of their own home.

City Hall

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Coral Gables City Hall offers the perfect view down Miracle Mile as it’s situated right at the mouth of the boulevard. Designed in the Mediterranean Revival style, City Hall was completed in 1928 by Phineas Paist and Harold Steward and features a stuccoed exterior, tile roof, clock tower, and a Corinthian colonnade. With all of these features reflecting George Merrick’s vision of a Spanish-Mediterranean city, City Hall still manages to have a touch of pure Florida to it as it was built of local limestone; no matter all the influences that congregate together in one place, City Hall, much like the people of the city itself, still manage to be uniquely Miami.

Hotel Colonnade

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Construction of the Colonnade began in 1926 and was designed by Phineas Paist in collaboration with Walter De Garmo and Paul Chalfin, the interior designer of Vizcaya, in a mixture of Spanish Colonial and Baroque styles. Merrick’s original intention for the building was for it to be a host to the largest sales center for the Coral Gables Corporation. Over the years, the Colonnade has been the home to various tenants from the Colonnade Movie Studios to a World War II parachute factory to a pilot training facility. 

In the 1980s, the Colonnade building was showing signs of deterioration but to keep in line with the historic preservation movement that kept modern high rises from changing the character of the area, a 1987 high-rise addition was designed for the backside of the building facing Aragon Avenue, adding an office, hotel, and parking space while keeping the historic low-rise building section fronting Miracle Mile intact. This piece of Colonnade history shows the dedication that the residents of Coral Gables have to the preservation of Miracle Mile’s aesthetic. 

Today, the Colonnade is a hotel that “celebrates the history of travel and the luxury of exploring a new destination in style.” Throughout the inside of the hotel is an original curated collection of art and statues. Keeping with the European feel of the boulevard, the Colonnade is a work of art itself, featuring vaulted ceilings, grand staircases, a rosary style stained glass window, Murano glass chandeliers, and ornate cathedral style wrought iron gates.

Green

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Miracle Mile prides itself on being a pedestrian-heavy area with wide sidewalks, stores lining the streets, and cars cruising down the center. While there is not a particular area dedicated to green on the Mile, there are certainly enough trees – specifically palm trees – dotting the median and either side of the boulevard to remind you you’re in Miami. Because the idea of Miracle Mile itself was an outdoor shopping mall, the main appeal of the Mile is walking down the sidewalks and dining outside under the beautiful Miami sky.

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

However, if you want to spend some time sitting in the grass, people watching, admiring the cars going by, and laughing at some Miami driving skills, there is a small patch of green in front of City Hall with a great view straight down Miracle Mile.

Transportation

To get to Miracle Mile, it’s easy to take the Miami Metrorail and stop at Douglas Road and then hop on the Coral Gables Trolley which travels up Ponce De Leon Boulevard from Miracle Mile to the Metro. The Coral Gables Trolley is free and runs every 12-15 minutes during the week.

In 1950, landowners entered into an agreement with the City to create public parking garages and on lots on the streets behind Miracle Mile and in 1970, when a proposal was made to close Coral Way to vehicular traffic, property owners on Miracle Mile opposed the idea making Miracle Mile continually accessible to cars. 

Food

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Ortanique on the Mile! is a family-owned fine dining restaurant that opened in 1999. Their food is described as being a “cuisine of the sun” and is a fusion of American, Caribbean, Latin and Asian cuisines. 

With dishes on the menu like West Indian Style Bouillabaisse and Jerk Rubbed Foie Gras, Ortanique puts their own flare on classic dishes, cooking with ingredients that are “not necessarily indigenous to Miami but indigenous to the people of Miami” all while providing a very multicultural experience as soon as you step into the colorful and tropical restaurant.

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Under an article entitled “Classic and Historic Coral Gables,” the final entry is none other than John Martin’s Irish Pub and Restaurant which has been open for 30 years. Much like Bellmont, you can go to John Martin’s for more than just a meal because Friday through Sunday they offer a variety of live entertainment. Dedicated to authenticity, you can go to this restaurant for a classic Irish pub experience and sit on the mahogany bar that was imported from a church in Ireland. John Martin’s is also the place to thank for being able to drink liquor served over a bar in Coral Gables, changing the city law that said liquor could only be served at a table.

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Bellmont is a family-owned restaurant that has been open since 2013 that offers authentic Spanish cuisine; you can even go to Bellmont and order a suckling pig. One of the best parts about eating out on the Mile is that you can really eat out on the mile, sitting outside on the wide sidewalks enjoying the Miami night and one thing Bellmont does to make the experience even more fun is that every Saturday night they have a local band come and play and invite their patrons to “Dine and Dance.” Something about ordering a whole pig and dancing to Spanish music just feels very Miami.  

Business

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

The Rose Tree Cottage is a little shop right at the start of the Mile that has an extensive collection of specialty gifts and furniture and also offers interior design services. The store started out the owner’s home and as it grew, her husband found this empty space on the Mile and suggested trying to open a real store. The Red Tree Cottage has been in business for 24 years and has loyal clients who come in from out of state or who call in and describe the person they are buying for, trusting the owner’s judgment to help them find the perfect gift. It’s personal touches like that that make the small businesses on the Mile so appealing.

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Walking into RazzleDazzle, you’ll feel like you’re stepping inside a New York barbershop from the 1940s with ornate decor lining the walls and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Voted the best barbershop in Miami, you can go to RazzleDazzle and get a haircut, shave, and shoeshine all in one place all with a very old-timey, Moulin Rouge vibe.

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Both sides of Miracle Mile have an excess of bridal boutiques ranging from chain stores like David’s Bridal and Rosa Clara to small businesses like Jaquelina’s Bridal and Merlili Bridal. If you’re a bride-to-be in Miami, chances are Miracle Mile is your go-to place to go wedding dress shopping because if one store doesn’t have your dream dress, chances are the boutique next door will.

There is definitely not a shortage of men’s fine clothing stores on the Mile either and one stand out shop is Pepi Bertini. Established in 1985, Pepi Bertini is the go-to place in South Florida for custom-tailored European style men’s clothing. Growing up in Cuba, Pepi Gonzalez’s father, a clothing designer, made him custom clothes and passed on that love for fashion to his son. Ever since the age of 13, Gonzalez has been making and selling clothes and his passion for his design comes through in his work, claiming that “At the end of the day, it’s all about the fit. Our customers demand a well-fitting suit and we deliver.” Gonzalez is also known for making little art installations in his window displays, keeping up with the stylish and current scene of Miracle Mile. 

Summary

Photo by Kathleen Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Miracle Mile seems to be an encapsulation of Miami in a one mile walk with its multicultural influences congregating on one street and its wide granite sidewalks designed to resemble the clouds of the South Florida sky. Miami is a city unlike any other and has come to be defined by the cultural influences that residents have brought with them from all over the world. The Mile’s Mediterranean architecture and restaurants that serve a wide variety of cuisines, from Thai to Irish to Caribbean to Italian, show that you can find a little of everything on your walk down the boulevard. Miracle Mile is the place to go for fine clothes, fine dining, and a more than fine time. With art and music events from Carnaval on the Mile to catching a performance at the Miracle Theatre, the Mile offers a little culture in between eating and shopping in an eclectic, South Florida way. Just like every new person you run into in Miami, every shop front down the street has its own unique story to tell. 

Works Cited

“About.” Shop Coral Gables, http://www.shopcoralgables.com/about/.

“Actors’ Playhouse at The Miracle Theatre.” Actors Playhouse at The Miracle Theatre, http://www.actorsplayhouse.org/.

“Coral Gables City Hall.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coral_Gables_City_Hall.

“Historic Coral Gables: Hotel Colonnade Coral Gables.” Historic Coral Gables | Hotel Colonnade Coral Gables, http://www.hotelcolonnade.com/about/history.

“History.” John Martin’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, http://www.johnmartins.com/history.

“Home.” Home, ortaniquerestaurants.com/.

“Miracle Mile (Coral Gables).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 July 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_Mile_(Coral_Gables)#cite_note-:0-4.

“Miracle Mile: The Evolution of a Street.” Coral Gables Museum, coralgablesmuseum.org/portfolio-item/miracle-mile-evolution-street/#av_section_2.

Nuevo Herald, et al. “Bellmont Spanish Resaurant.” Bellmont Spanish Resaurant, http://www.bellmontrestaurant.com/press/.

“Our Story & Legacy.” Pepi Bertini, http://www.pepibertini.com/our-story/.

“RAZZLEDAZZLE BARBERSHOP.” RAZZLEDAZZLE BARBERSHOP, http://www.razzledazzlebarbershop.com/#about-section.

Shop Coral Gables, director. Rose Tree Cottage. Youtube, 12 Jan. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1LdstP6pw4.

“Your Official Miami and Miami Beach Guide.” Your Official Miami and Miami Beach Guide, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/.

Natalie Carter: Clermont 2020

Photo by Gianna Bell

Biography

My name is Natalie Carter. I am an Honors College student at Florida International University majoring in Psychology and pursuing a career in the medical field. My goal is to attend medical school and become a neurologist because I am passionate about health and the human brain fascinates me. I was born and raised in a small town outside of Orlando, Florida called Clermont. I moved out of Clermont in the fall of 2018 to continue my education in Miami and have been in Miami ever since.


Geography

Photo on top left from Google Maps, photo on bottom left by Ebyabe CC by 3.0, photo on right by Paris Carter CC by 4.0

Clermont is a small city in Lake County, Florida strategically placed about 22 miles west of Orlando and north of Disney World. It is home to about 37,000 residents (“Clermont Fl Population” 2019) and is one of the fastest growing cities in Central Florida. The rural city has a unique landscape, as it is primarily made up of rolling hills and beautiful lakes. Sugar Loaf Mountain, pictured above, is located right outside of Clermont and has a peak altitude of about 312 feet, making it the fourth highest location in Florida (“Hills in Florida”). These rolling hills act as natural training grounds and attract many professional cyclists and Olympic athletes to come train year-round.

Both photos by Paris Carter CC by 4.0

The chain of lakes, pictured above, is another main attraction in the city. With 8,692 acres of water, families and friends often enjoy the lakes by spending a day boating, fishing, or doing water sports. Clermont is named “Wake-boarding capital of the world” according to the water-skiing community (“Clermont Chain of Lakes”). Although it doesn’t look very clean, the lake’s coffee colored water is filtered by the tall cypress trees that inhabit the lake, making it some of the cleanest water in Florida.

The development of the small city has drastically increased over the past decade. More people are choosing to move here which is constantly causing growth. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve seen the two-lane highways turn into eight lanes, forest area developed into neighborhoods and major plazas, many new restaurants pop up, and even the first movie theatre built. There are still no skyscrapers or malls like there are in Downtown Orlando, but the rural area has definitely grown into a decently developed area.

History

Photographer unknown, retrieved from: https://www.southlakechamber-fl.com/live-and-work/history-south-lake/

Clermont was founded in 1884 by A.F. Wrotnoski and incorporated in 1916 (“Clermont Florida”). Residential life thrived in this area after the Homestead Act of 1862 motivated families to hop on trains in search of new land and life (“History of South Lake”). Clermont quickly prospered and was named “Tomato Capital of Florida” after its rich landscape was used to farm tomatoes, citrus, and cattle (“History of South Lake”). The prosperity quickly came to an end when The Great Freeze hit Florida 10 years later in the winter of 1894. Temperatures dropped to a whopping 18° F and destroyed the agriculture not only in Clermont, but all across the state. The freeze caused Florida’s fruit production to drop from six million boxes to 100,000 boxes per year (Mimna 2017).

Orange groves of Clermont, FL. Photo by Charles Lee Barron, 1962

The economy and agriculture took years to recover, and many residents lost hope in the area and decided to leave. It wasn’t until the 1920’s when Clermont boomed again. Businessmen and developers began to promote the area for its beautiful climate and land which attracted numerous new residents. Business boomed and Clermont was back on its feet once again. In 1922, a man named Edward Denslow bought 1,000 acres of land in Clermont, planted citrus groves, and founded the Postal Colony Company (“Clermont Florida”). The citrus business quickly grew, and Clermont became one of the fastest growing citrus towns in the USA. For miles and miles, all you could see was rolling hills of green citrus plants and just a couple of two-lane roads.

Clermont’s citrus was essential to the small town and thrived all the way from the 1940’s through the 1970’s. In the early 1980’s, more serious freezes hit and wiped out the citrus once again. This time, not many farmers chose to replant their groves and the land was sold to developers. During this time, Clermont began its development towards what it looks like today.

Demographics

According to Data USA, in 2017 Clermont had a population of 32,217 people although today (2020) the population is estimated to be closer to 40,000. The Census states that 51.7% of the population is female and 48.3% is male. The City of Clermont reports that the population is 70.9% White, 22.5% Hispanic or Latino, 13.8% Black or African American, 6.0% Two or More Races, and 4.4% Asian (Solodev). The median household income is $57,804 as of 2017 (“Clermont, Fl.”).

Biography of Brittany Adams- A Clermont resident

Brittany Adams was born on April 25, 2000 in Raleigh, North Carolina. She moved to Clermont when she was six years old and has lived there ever since. She attends the University of Central Florida and is majoring in Natural and Applied Sciences. Her career goal is to attend medical school to one day become a physician’s assistant.


Some of Brittany’s thoughts about Clermont:

Natalie: What is your favorite part about living in Clermont?

Brittany: I like how calm it is here. There is beautiful scenery and I like how I’m not too far away from Orlando.

Natalie: What is one thing you wish you could change about Clermont?

Brittany: I wish I could change the population. Most people that live here are old.

Natalie: If somebody you knew was visiting Clermont, what would you recommend for them to do or see?

Brittany: If somebody was visiting, I’d recommend going for a bike ride around Waterfront Park because that’s about all there is to do here.

Landmarks

Photo by Matt Chilcote CC by-NC-SA 2.0

Citrus Tower

Location:
The Citrus Tower
141 North Hwy 27
Clermont, FL 34711

Phone: 352-394-4061

The Citrus Tower, pictured above, was built in 1956 as a tribute to Florida’s citrus groves and the tremendous success the citrus industry has brought. It is visible from almost every point in Clermont as it stands 226 feet high, although the initial plans to build the tower only said it would be 75 feet tall (“Citrus Tower”). It was one of Florida’s greatest attractions at the time because Disney World had not been built yet. Tourists came from all over to ride the elevator up to the observation deck so they could admire the beautiful view of the orange groves.

The Citrus Tower is still open today and visitors can pay a small fee ($10 for adults, $6 for children) to enjoy the views from the top deck. The views you get now, however, are a tad different compared to when it was first built. Now, most of the orange groves have been developed into businesses and homes but there are still some iconic sites to see. From the deck, you can see the skyline of Downtown Orlando, Disney World’s Space Mountain, the Contemporary Resort Hotel, and EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth (Ugc 2009)!


Townsend House, Photo by Ebyabe CC by 3.0

Townsend House 

Location:
480 West Ave.
Clermont, FL 34711

Phone: (352) 394-6611

The Townsend house was built around 1895. It is an important landmark for Clermont because its residents, James and Sally Townsend, were the first black people to live in Clermont. James and Sally founded the St. Marks African Methodist Episcopal Church and the area’s first black school (“The Townsend house in Clermont, FL”).

The Townsend house was moved from its original location in 2002. Since then, it has resided in Clermont’s Historic Village and has served as a museum for guests to tour. Admission to see the house is free, although guided tours recommend leaving a tip!


Train Depot, Photo by Jared CC by 2.0

Train depot

Location:
490 West ave
Clermont, FL 34711

Phone: 352-593-8496

The train depot sits in Clermont’s Historic Village and has been there since the village was first purchased in 1996. It was originally built around the time of 1925 and was used as a train station on the old railroads that used to run through Clermont. The railroad lines connected Clermont with the surrounding cities such as Tavares, Minneola, Oakland, Sanford, and even St. Petersburg.

In 2011, the train depot was renovated and refurbished. It now is used as a kind of meeting area that can hold up to 40 people. The new renovations also added restrooms and a shaded picnic area so people can relax by the lake. The city will even allow you to hold special events there upon request!

Green

Clermont is a great place to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. The rural town has many quiet parks, trails, and green areas that offer beautiful views of the lakes and are great spots to bring your friends and family to enjoy the sunshine. If you are looking for a nice place to have a relaxing picnic by the lake, somewhere to ride horses, or a long trail to take a run, Clermont is the place to be! The ones described below are my two personal favorites.

Photos by KellyV CC by-ND 2.0

Waterfront park

Location:
100 3rd St.
Clermont, FL 34711

Waterfront Park is located on Lake Minneola between East Avenue and Eighth Street. It is a popular lakeside site with a calm sandy beach, a pier, a paved 30 mile trail, and grassy green fields. People of all ages enjoy waterfront park as it is a great spot for children, taking your dog for a walk, exercising, swimming, bicycling, or just getting some fresh air.

The park is also a hotspot for many events and festivities held by the city. One popular event is Pig on the Pond, a festival full of carnival rides, pig races, and local partnerships that takes place every March. Another event held at the park every March is Clermont Waterfront Festival, which features dragon boat races, a 5k run, and canoe races. The festival also has entertainment, local vendors, and kid areas which makes it a great time to spend with family or friends.


Lake Louisa State Park, Photos by Ebyabe CC by-SA 2.5

lake louisa state park

Location:
7305 U.S. Hwy 27
Clermont FL 34714

Phone: 352-394-3969

Lake Louisa State Park is one of Florida’s 175 state parks. It is truly an outdoor theme park, as it offers several kinds of experiences such as bicycling, boating, camping, equestrian, canoeing, fishing, hiking, and even more! It is the perfect place to get away and dive into a day of nature. Many people enjoy visiting the park from Orlando and other surrounding areas because it is a perfect escape from the city and just a short 30 minute drive. It is nestled off of Highway 27 and stretches all the way to the sandy shores of Lake Louisa. Entrance is just a small fee of $5 per vehicle.

In 1823, the area that is now Lake Louisa State Park was designated to the Seminole Indians as part of their reservation on behalf of the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, however it was never used by the Indians (“History”). The land was then used for settlement in 1910, and then in 1943 it was passed onto the Bronson family who used it for orange groves and a cattle ranch (“History”). Finally, the state purchased the land in 1973 and spent one year turning it into a park. Three years later in 1977 the park opened to the public (“History”).

Transportation

Data taken from Data USA (originally collected by US Census Bureau) https://datausa.io/profile/geo/clermont-fl#housing

As of 2017, the most common method of commuting to work in Clermont is driving. It was reported by the US Census that 82% of people drove alone, 9.32% carpooled, and 7.68% worked at home (“Clermont, FL”). The chart above shows other less common forms of transportation used in households such as bicycling, motorcycling, public transit, walking, and taxiing. The average commute for people in Clermont is 30 minutes, which is slightly higher than the average US worker with an average commute time of 25 minutes (“Clermont, FL”). It was also reported that 3.62% of people have a commute longer than 90 minutes. (“Clermont, FL”).

Driving is the most common way to commute in Clermont because of how spread out most things are. Neighborhoods are located in more secluded places away from commercial areas which are located on the main highway. It would be far too long of a walk from most homes to work. Also, Clermont is located in an area dense with hills. Walking over the hills would give you a great workout that most people aren’t up for daily. Biking over the hills is only something professional cyclists do!

Lake County Connection is another public transportation service offered by the county. They offer local trips for work, school, medical appointments, and other various trips a person may need or want to take for as low at $1. To schedule a trip, all you need to do is call Lake County Connection.

Food

Photos from https://gururestaurantclermont.com/

Guru restaurant 

Location:
2400 South US 27
Suite 101
Clermont, FL 34711

Phone: (352) 241-9884

Guru Restaurant is an authentic, family owned Northern Indian restaurant in Clermont. It was opened in 1990 and since then has served as one of the most popular Indian restaurants in Central Florida, and the only Indian restaurant in Clermont! The restaurant is perched on top of a tall hill which gives guests a unique view of Clermont while they dine either indoors or outdoors. The restaurant is mostly on the casual side, but you could get away with dressing a little nicer than usual if you desired. Guru is available for takeout, catering, and will even host a private event for you.

The menu consists of lamb, chicken, beef, and seafood dishes that can be cooked in various creamy sauces either made mild, medium, or hot. Each dish comes with jasmine rice, but I also highly recommend pairing it with some naan bread as well. There is also a variety of vegetarian dishes offered if you have specific dietary restrictions. To top off your meal, there are many desserts offered- some including kulfi, carrot halva, ras malai, and gulab jamun. The food is truly delicious, and definitely one of my favorite spots to eat when I’m back home.


Photos from https://www.troyscubanfood.com/

Troy’s Cuban deli

Location:
1200 Oakley Seaver Drive
Suite 113
Clermont, FL 34711

Phone: 352-805-4352

Troy’s Cuban Deli serves traditional Cuban food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 7:30am-8:00pm. It is the only Cuban restaurant in Clermont and has proudly been serving delicious food for eight years. It is extremely casual, as it is a deli, and is relatively small with limited seating. Troy’s is not a spot to have a nice, sit-down meal but instead somewhere to go just to appreciate some authentic Cuban food. Most people take their food to-go.

“Troy’s Cuban Deli is famous for its one-of-a-kind authentic taste and culture. We are dedicated to giving our clients the best breads, meats, and fresh vegetables.”

Troy’s Cuban Deli

The menu offers items ranging from small snacks to full meals, so whether you just want some cafecito with Cuban bread or a big serving of arroz con pollo, Troy’s has you covered. You can order things from the kitchen, such as a Cuban sandwich, or you can build your own plate from the hot bar. Building your own plate allows you to choose from different menu items starting with a base of rice (white or yellow) and beans (black or pinto), adding plantains or yuca, and finishing off with your choice of meat. Plates are priced at around $9 and can last you 2-3 days depending on how big your appetite is!


Photos from https://www.facebook.com/clermontfishhouse/

Clermont Fish house 

Location:
110 W Highway 50
Clermont, FL 34711

Phone: (352) 708-5563

The Clermont Fish House is family owned and operated by Laura and Steve Green and Hannah and Pete Harrigan. It opened on March 12, 2015, so it is quite new to the Clermont scene. Although it’s new, it’s built up quite a good reputation over the past five years. It is located off of Highway 50-one of the two major highways in Clermont- and invites guests in for some casual dining.

The fish house is famous for its-who would’ve guessed- fish n’ chips! Other featured menu items include meat pies, chip butty, salads, sides, desserts, and lots of fish! The fish house is also stocked with tons of beer, so it’s a great place to grab some fresh fried fish and kick back with your friends or family.

Business

All images on the left retrieved via Instagram account of Southern Hill Farms – https://www.instagram.com/southernhillfarms/
Image on the right by Max Friederich

Southern hill farm

Location:
16651 Schofield Road
Clermont, FL 34714

Phone: 1 (407) 986-5806

Southern Hill Farms is a local farm that sits on 120 acres of land off of Hwy 27. In order to get to the farm, you must drive down a gorgeous five mile dirt road that takes you away from the city and into the land. The farm is much more than your average farm. It offers several activities to enjoy during the day such as U-Pick blueberries, peaches, zinnias, and sunflowers during the springtime, summer camp for kids, and weddings and private events. While visiting the farm to pick some fresh fruit, you can also stop to enjoy some food and desserts under the pavilion from the local food trucks and bakery while listening to live music. The farm’s bakery produces absolutely delicious blueberry muffins, donuts, and slushies that everybody loves! Other products available for purchase in the gift shop include homemade fruit scrubs, lotions, soaps, hand poured wax candles, fruit jams and spreads, mugs, t-shirts, and glassware.

Farming, agriculture, it’s in our blood. We strive to provide our community, and people all over the world, with the freshest, highest quality fruit available. We believe time on the farm is time well spent, and we want Southern Hill Farms to be a place for our community to make memories that will last a lifetime.

Southern Hill Farm Family

The farm is one of my favorite places to be on a sunny day. The homemade food and desserts truly hit the spot, and picking your own fruit is so much fun. The farm is very kid friendly, so it’s a great place to bring your family. It’s also a great place to have a date!


Photos by Natalie Carter CC by 4.0

clermont farmers market

Location:
685 W Montrose
Clermont, FL 34711

Clermont’s Farmers Market is located in Historic Downtown Clermont and is open every Sunday from 9am-2pm. The market features more than 60 vendors that sell various products such as fresh produce, organic foods, seafood, bakery items, plants, breads, coffee, soaps, and much more. Along with that, there is also live entertainment, cooking demonstrations, and other specialty vendors. You might even see some cute animals like I did (pictured above)! The market is a great place to support and give back to the local businesses and farmers of Clermont. It is worth a visit because the food is great, the produce is fresh, and you will definitely find some pretty unique items being sold there. Not only that, but it is also a refreshing and relaxing way to start off your Sunday!


Photo on left by Mark Sweep, photo on right by Julius Schorzman CC BY-SA 2.0

The Outpouring

Location:
2560 E Hwy 50
Suite 107
Clermont, FL 34711

Phone: (352) 989 4406

The Outpouring is a coffee shop located off the main highway in Clermont. Two of the three co-founders attended the University of Central Florida. The menu offers a selection of different coffee and espresso drinks. Inside they have a large dining area made up of several tables, chairs, and couches. The dining area offers a comfortable and unique feel because the furniture is furniture that you would find in your own home instead of boring, uncomfortable furniture you find in a place like Starbucks.

The unique characteristic about this coffee shop is that it is a non-profit business. The organization started in 2017 when they first began forming relationships with groups in East Africa. The team decided to focus their work in Malawi, a country in Africa. Since then, they’ve opened two children’s homes, worked with refugee camps and hospitals in Africa, and opened this coffee shop. They also do local work with low-income families and help people transition out of homelessness by providing them with basic needs.

This coffee shop offers a great experience. It offers tasty drinks, a comfy environment to socialize or work in, and helps others in a meaningful way while providing to its customers. I recommend paying it a visit, especially if you are a coffee fanatic like I am.

Summary

Lake Minneola, Photo by PIO Clermont CC by 4.0

Overall, Clermont is a great place to live. Being that I grew up here, I personally can say that the small town is very family oriented, safe, and not too busy. Clermont offers many outdoor activities that I myself have really appreciated throughout my childhood. I love spending days on the lakes with my friends and family, as do many others that live here too. I’ve seen the city transform in front of my eyes. It has grown so much since I was a kid and is on its way to developing into a hot spot. The people that live here are friendly and I’ve definitely made a lot of my life-long friends here.

Although I do enjoy the peaceful outdoors and quiet streets, sometimes I do wish that Clermont had more things to do for teenagers and young adults. There still is no mall or leisure shopping plazas, so whenever I go shopping, I have to make a 30 minute drive to Orlando. There are quite a few local businesses and restaurants, but most of the development still consists of basic chain fast-food places and shops. There is also no entertainment industry developed yet, so if you are looking to enjoy a night out somewhere you have to drive out to Orlando. But you can look at this in a positive aspect too. Clermont is not far from Orlando, so taking a drive every now and then to enjoy the city isn’t too bad. It prevents Clermont from becoming too crowded, loud, and dangerous.

In conclusion, I would say Clermont is a wonderful little city to live if you like a more laid-back lifestyle. There is definitely many aspects of the city that you can appreciate such as the delicious local restaurants I described, the beautiful hills that you can’t find anywhere else in Florida, the chain of lakes, and the humbleness of the people. It is a great place for families or older people to live, but teenagers and young adults may get a little bored with not much to do. It is not necessarily a place I’d recommend going out of the way to visit, but if you are in the area feel free to check out some of what it has to offer.

Sources

“Citrus Tower: Clermont, FL.” The Citrus Tower, citrustower.com/.

“Clermont Chain of Lakes – South Lake County’s Pride – Outside of Orlando.” Florida Lakefront, www.floridalakefront.com/popular-lake-communities/orlando/clermont-chain-of-lakes/.

“Clermont Florida. Citrus Capital of Old Florida.” Florida Back Roads Travel, www.florida-backroads-travel.com/clermont-florida.html.

“Clermont, FL.” Data USA, datausa.io/profile/geo/clermont-fl#about.

Clermont Fl Population. (2019-08-28). Retrieved 2020-04-16, from http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/clermont-fl/

“Hills in Florida: Which Areas/Counties Have the Most Hills? (Orlando: House, Camp).” City, www.city-data.com/forum/florida/1076878-hills-florida-areas-counties-have-most.html.

“History.” Florida State Parks, www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/lake-louisa-state-park/history.

“History of South Lake – South Lake Chamber of Commerce: Clermont, FL.” South Lake Chamber, www.southlakechamber-fl.com/live-and-work/history-south-lake/.

Mimna, Robin. “The Great Freezes and the Collapse of the Florida Citrus Industry.” Medium, Florida History, 22 Oct. 2017, medium.com/florida-history/the-great-freezes-1894-95-and-the-collapse-of-the-florida-orange-industry-7442e5d75337.

Solodev. “Demographics: The Official Site of the City of Clermont, Florida.” Www.clermontfl.gov, www.clermontfl.gov/business/economic-development/demographics.stml.

“The Townsend House in Clermont, FL.” Visit Florida, www.visitflorida.com/en-us/listing.a0t40000007qvpMAAQ.html.

“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Clermont City, Florida.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, www.census.gov/quickfacts/clermontcityflorida.

Ugc. “The Citrus Tower.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 5 Nov. 2009, www.atlasobscura.com/places/citrus-tower.

Lis Delvalle: Homestead 2020

Biography

pic of me
Picture of author CC by 4.0

My name is Lis Delvalle. Miami is my home and refuge – literally. I met Miami at 5 years old, when my family and I emigrated from Cuba. I’ve been in love with Miami ever since I could remember. The United States meant the land of freedom and opportunity, but this city was more than that. It is the place that allowed me to be an American, without giving up any of the Cuban in me. Miami is a fusion of diverse cultures and people and offers all kinds of lifestyles. Homestead offers the rural lifestyle with spacious property and fresh air.

Geography

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Map from Google Maps

Homestead is a city located in South Miami-Dade County in the state of Florida, laying between Biscayne National Park to the east and Everglades National Park to the west. It is known for being a major agricultural area near the popular city of Miami and a gateway to the Florida Keys. Homestead has an elevation of about 7 feet and is often prone to flooding and damage from hurricanes. In Homestead, you can expect acres of open land and low-lying buildings. Some areas, such as downtown Homestead, are visibly old and others, such as the Redland residential area, can be impressive with an abundance of land and lavish homes. From my personal experience, the most valuable aspect of Homestead is all of the farms and local eateries along Krome Avenue.

History

Homestead History
An Older Homestead  Photo by the City of Homestead

The region of Homestead was inhabited by the Tequesta and Calusa Indians before their extinction. The land then belonged to the government, until it was opened for homesteading in the late 1890’s. By settlers living a life through self-sufficiency, Homestead became well known for its farming and agriculture. In 1904, the City of Homestead flourished as Henry Flagler decided to expand the railroad from Miami to Key West. This railroad allowed homestead residents or ‘homesteaders’ to transport and sell the vegetables and fruits they grew on the land. Homestead became a shipping center for fresh produce and the Keys gateway. It only had one path to get in or out called the ‘Homesteaders Trail’ which is similar to today’s Krome Avenue. Homestead was further expanded when the Homestead Air Base was built. After Hurricane Andrew, the base was so damaged that it was deemed inactive. It was later restored and became the Air Force Reserve Facility Homestead has today. The Homestead we have today is still known for its prominent agricultural land and as a gateway to the Keys, but now it is also home to many Central American immigrants looking for a better life in the United States.

Demographics

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Latinos Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Homestead, like much of Miami, has a heavy immigrant population. According to the Census Bureau, 70,477 people reside in Homestead.  An estimated 66% of the population is Hispanic, 20% is African American, and 12% is white alone.  The genders female and male are distributed evenly. The median household income is $43,568 and about 25% live in poverty.

Interview with a Homestead resident, Cori

Cori has resided in Homestead for about three years; she is an FIU student. Her family owns the multifaceted and beautiful event venue, Mon Petit Garden, located in Homestead, FL. The following is our dialogue on the City of Homestead. 

Lis: Why did you or your parents choose to live in Homestead?

Cori: My parents wanted to start a event venue business and they got a good deal for the land.

Lis: What’s your favorite part about the city?

Cori: Driving by and seeing all the agriculture, as well as people driving in ATVs everywhere and the horses.

Lis: What’s your least favorite aspect?

Cori: All of the snakes and spiders, how far away Homestead is. It’s isolated and sometimes there’s not much to do.

Lis: What would you recommend a tourist or visitor to visit in Homestead?

Cori: Monkey Jungle, a zoo, get some cinnamon rolls and drive by some farms.

Transportation

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Photo of Homestead’s Trolley by the City of Homestead

Homestead has public Miami-Dade County transit buses and a Homestead trolley that serve as transportation. The trolley runs from Monday through Friday, 6 am – 6 pm and Saturday and Sunday, 10 am – 2 pm. The trolley has a limited route within Homestead, and public buses can take a long time. Metro transit is extremely inconvenient for Homestead residents, since the closest metro station is Dadeland South, which is about 20 miles away. The median commute time to work is 38.7 minutes. This is indicative that Homestead is a Miami suburb which means work opportunities are often outside of Homestead.  According to the U.S. Census bureau the median commute time to work for a Homestead resident is 38.7 minutes. This is indicative that Homestead is a Miami suburb which means work opportunities are often outside of Homestead. Due to a lack of efficient public transportation and job opportunities outside of the Homestead area, most residents commute in their personal cars.

For tourists and visitors, the city offers a free guided trolley ride from Historic Downtown Homestead every weekend from January 4 to April 12, 2020.  The trolley can be taken from Losner Park located at 104 N. Krome Ave., Homestead, FL 33030. This ride can take you to Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park; the parks have agreed to grant free admission to National Parks Trolley riders.

The National Parks are currently closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic, beginning March 24, 2020 the trolley is offering free rides to senior residents from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. to guarantee them priority access at their neighborhood Publix.

National Parks

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Everglades National Park Photo by Wendy Wei on Pexels.com

Everglades National Park

South Florida is well known for the Everglades National Park. The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is one place to see the Everglades in Homestead. This center is open 365 days a year from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (except in the case of a pandemic.) At the Everglades, you can expect a lot of heat and naturally grown mangrove areas. There are plenty of animals like alligators, crocodiles, egrets, snakes, spiders, white-tailed deer, bobcats and many more. All the animals residing in the Everglades National Park are protected by federal law. It is imperative that visitors respect the animals in their natural habitat. Give the wildlife space, respect nesting grounds, do not feed the animals, and keep your own pets at home as they are not allowed on most trails. Please remember that in the Everglades we are merely guests, some would even consider us the invasive species among the animals.

Biscayne National Park

One of the big issues with Biscayne National Park is the access to the water. Homestead has access to the water through the Homestead Bayfront Park located at 9698 SW 328 Street, Homestead, FL 33033 operating from sunrise to sunset. At the park, you can find La Playa Grill Seafood Bar and an atoll pool and beach. The entrance fee is five dollars on weekdays and seven dollars on weekends. This can be a great place to visit a small beach, or picnic by the water.

Eateries

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Strawberry Sundae Photo by Monserrat Garcia CC by 4.0

Homestead has many locally owned businesses. As you stroll through Krome Avenue this will be evident. There is a food truck with a ‘PIZZA CUBANA’ sign and many places that are branded with local last names.  Homestead has a variety of marketplaces, small cafes, and farms to shop in. These gems offer organic, locally grown produce. The smoothies and shakes are some of the best I’ve had. Aside from selling produce and food, a lot of these places have gotten creative. They have pony rides, bounce houses, and petting zoos for the family to enjoy.

Knausberry Farm

Known for their mouth-watering cinammon rolls, this family owned farm has become a popular spot for visitors. Stay up to date on their Instagram to avoid the 2- and 3-hour lines of cinnamon roll fanatics during peak season. Knaus Berry Farm is open every year in November through mid-April. Although they are well known for their cinammon rolls, Knausberry Farm also offers a variety of honey, jams, and u-pick strawberries and tomatoes on site, when available.

Robert is Here Fruit Stand and Farm

Robert is Here started out from being a roadside fruit stand and has gained so much popularity, it is now a fruit and food establishment with a petting zoo. It is family-owned and sells local fruits and veggies, as well as smoothies and shakes made from the local produce. Robert is Here is a popular stop for visitors on their way to the Keys.

Note: The establishments mentioned are well-known local Homestead eateries, but it is recommended to just drive through Krome Avenue and stop wherever you please. There are plenty of local businesses right off Krome Avenue that are welcoming to visitors and each have something unique to offer.

Landmarks

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CC BY-SA 4.0/ Photo credit to Ebyabe

Old Town Hall Museum

This museum building has a long history.  Built in 1917, this was the original Town Hall of Homestead. The building has housed firetrucks and held inmates in jail cells. It has served as a Senior Citizens Center and a State of Florida Department of Corrections Parole office. In 1980, the building was threatened to be demolished in order to create more parking space for the expanding city. Ruth Campbell, who was a city councilperson and vice-mayor, fought tirelessly to prohibit the demolition and instead restore the building as a museum. In 1994, the Old Town Hall Museum was founded by Ruth and today holds many historical artifacts and photographs of early life in Homestead.

Coral Castle

Even Homestead’s Coral Castle Museum was built by a hard-working foreigner! Edward Leedskalnin, born in Latvia, stood just over 5 feet and weighed about 100 pounds when he single-handedly built the Coral Castle using only hand tools. Ed claimed that he was able to construct this on his own because he knew the secret of the pyramids, but no one really knows how he was able to accomplish this construction. He was thought to build this monument, where everything is made of coral rock, after a life-long heartbreak. As the story goes, his love, Agnes, cancelled their wedding the day before the ceremony and from then on Ed set out to build her a monument in case she ever returned. Back when Ed would run the museum himself, you could expect a 10 cents admissions charge. With today’s inflation the cost of admission is 18 dollars for adults and eight dollars for children.

Pioneer Museum

The Florida Pioneer Museum was founded in 1962 thanks to a donation of Indian artifacts by Dr. Herbert S. Zim. The museum was founded through pro-bono attorney Irving Peskoe, who ended up paying most of the museum’s incorporation fee since they had few donations. It is open and free to the public from November through April. The museum shows many local historical artifacts and has a depot that is separated from the Museum which can be rented out for events.

More Sights to See

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Sunflowers in Homestead Photo by Monserrat Garcia CC by 4.0

Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery

Homestead’s winery serves tropical tastings of a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as food. This is a classy setting recommended for adult birthdays or simply to get a sample of many different wines and beers.

Homestead Miami Speedway

The Homestead Speedway is great for car enthusiasts. The speedway is open to the public for Fast-Lane Fridays where anyone 18 and older with a valid license can race each other in their own street-legal cars. Aside from this opportunity, the speedway also hosts many racing events such as the Homestead-Miami Speedway Cup Series Race.

Monkey Jungle

Cori, the interviewed Homestead resident, recommended Monkey Jungle, a 30-acre wildlife park that houses over 300 primates. The park is meant to get as close as possible to a monkey’s natural habitat. They offer encounters and interactions with the animals but focus on promoting the animal’s freedom with their slogan “where humans are caged and monkeys run wild.”

Fruit & Spice Park

Fruit and Spice Park is a 37-acre botanical garden featuring fruits and vegetables. The garden offers many educational opportunities with guided tours that anyone can enjoy. This park is recommended for photographers who are interested in taking photos of the garden as they stroll through.

Safari Edventure

Safari Edventure
Lis & Wolfe Rescues CC by 4.0

Safari Edventure is one of my personal favorites to visit. They are an animal sanctuary where you can get up close and personal with wolves! They take in rescues and house them until they pass away. Their pricing is fair ($18 for adults, $15 for children) compared to their infamous competitor zoological wildlife foundation, who will upcharge 1000 dollars for tiger cub encounters. Safari Edventure does not offer cub encounters because they do not breed cubs. Their animals vary as it depends on the rescues they receive, but at my visit they had a crocodile, a kangaroo, a sloth, piglets, wolves and many other small animals.

Places of Worship

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

According to Best Places, the predominant religion in Homestead is Catholicism. Homestead has many different churches that its residents can attend; Yelp shows a selection of more than 30 churches. Aside from being pillars of faith, these churches help the community with donations and services that many low-income families need. Also, as many Homestead residents are immigrants, their religion may help them fit in and find comfort in a new place. Church can be the haven for many residents where they can meet people with similar stories or reconnect with their faith after their journey to the United States.

Criminality

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Crime Scene Photo by kat wilcox on Pexels.com

Homestead is not a considerably safe city. According to Neighborhood Scout, 1 in 85 people in Homestead are expected to be victims of violent crime. Florida city is adjacent to Homestead and known to be a dangerous neighborhood. Naranja and Princeton, both areas within Homestead, also have increased crime rates. Tourist sites and landmarks are usually safe to visit, but if you’re one who likes to roam, I suggest staying on Krome Avenue in the Redland area. This is the north-west section of Homestead and is known to be safe.

Immigration

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Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom in the U.S. Photo by Sean Valentine on Pexels.com

Immigrants make up a significant section of the Homestead population. A lot of the work that the average American would reject, an immigrant would accept, unfortunately, even for half of the pay. A lot of the farm and local business in Homestead are a product of arduous work from immigrants. Looking for a new opportunity, and a better future for their children, many immigrants tend to fields, cook and serve food, and sell tirelessly to make a profit. It is inspiring to hear their stories and imperative to support the local farms, food trucks, and businesses in the area.

Works Cited

“Best 30 Churches in Homestead, FL with Reviews.” Best 30 Churches in Homestead, FL with Reviews – Yellowpages.com, http://www.yellowpages.com/homestead-fl/churches.

“Coral Castle Museum.” Coral Castle Museum, coralcastle.com/.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Homestead.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 14 Sept. 2011, http://www.britannica.com/place/Homestead-Florida.

“Everglades National Park (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, http://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm.

Florida Pioneer Museum, floridapioneermuseum.org/about/.

Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum, townhallmuseum.org/.

“Homestead, FL – Official Website: Official Website.” Homestead, FL – Official Website | Official Website, http://www.cityofhomestead.com/.

Homestead, Florida Religion, http://www.bestplaces.net/religion/city/florida/homestead.

Knaus Berry Farm – Homestead Bakery & U-Pick Strawberries, http://www.knausberryfarm.com/index.html.

Services, Miami-Dade County Online. “Homestead Bayfront Park.” Miami, http://www.miamidade.gov/parks/homestead-bayfront.asp.

Tavss, Jeff. “3 South Florida Cities Ranked among Most Dangerous in U.S.” WPLG, WPLG Local 10, 27 Feb. 2018, http://www.local10.com/news/2018/03/02/3-south-florida-cities-ranked-among-most-dangerous-in-us/.

“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Homestead City, Florida.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/homesteadcityflorida#.

Vanessa Lopez: ASC Who Art Miami 2020

“I believe the artwork of contemporary artists should be a mirror through which society can see its reality re-interpreted and, in the best case, by which it can right itself.”

Rhea Leonard
“The Herald (2019)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

STUDENT BIO

Photo by Vanessa Lopez/CC BY 4.0.

Vanessa Lopez is a sophomore majoring in English Education at Florida International University. Having a passion for literature and academia, she hopes to be an English professor. She is currently a Desk Assistant for FIU Housing. As a part of Art Society Conflict, she is looking forward to being exposed to unfamiliar areas of history and art.

BIOGRAPHY

Portrait of Rhea Leonard. Photo by Melanie Metz.

Rhea Leonard (b. 1991) is an African American artist born and raised in Miami, Florida. While she specializes in drawing, Leonard also utilizes sculpture and printmaking in her work. Through her work, she places an emphasis on the black body and addressing social injustices.

Leonard went to Design and Architecture Senior High (D.A.S.H.), a magnet high school located in Miami’s Design District. In 2010, she studied a semester at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Here, she learned intaglio printmaking. In 2014, she finished her BFA at New World of School of Arts in Downtown Miami. Afterwards, she went on to earn her MFA at Florida International University (FIU) in 2018.

Leonard’s pieces have been on display at Bridge Red Studios, The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, Art Africa Miami, as well as RAW Popup. In 2018, she became a Betty Laird Perry Award recipient. In the same year, she began her residency at The Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood.

PERSONAL IDENTITY

“Skinfolk (2019)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

When asked about any personal experiences that helped shape her work, Leonard talked about her experience transitioning from undergraduate to graduate school. “I had gone through a rather discouraging time during my undergraduate days in regard to my artwork,” she said. “I had just begun exploring my identity and what impact that had on me and it started showing up in my artwork.”Because of the lack of resources and experience, Leonard couldn’t challenge these opinions. 

Despite the discoragement towards exploring her identity, Leonard pursued her MFA at FIU. Here, she met her professor, William Burke, who she cited as one of the many key figures during her academic career. She had conversations with him regarding her undergraduate experience, to which he gave her encouragement. “From there, I created my drawing Tituba (2016), and it set me on the path I’m on today,” she wrote.

“Tituba (2016)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

The critiques that Leonard received ended up shaping her current work, such as “lack of color” and “blatant representation of black features.” Leonard told me her experience made her more persistent in delivering her message. “I endured numerous, bad faith questioning about my artwork during my developmental phase,” she said. “This made me explicit, to a degree, about what my work is about so others would not be comfortable twisting, imposing or erasing the meaning behind my work due to it being on display in each and every one of my works in some way.”

CULTURAL IDENTITY

“The Machinations of Self Love in the Age of Racial Violence (2019)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

As an African American, cultural identity is something important to Leonard as an artist. In fact, it’s the centerpiece of her artwork. “I keep my ancestors in my thoughts at all times as I make my artwork because without determination to survive despite the inhumane treatment and torture that visited upon them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today,” she says. There’s a clear influence of her culture weaved into her pieces. 

“Community (2018)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

For instance, there’s her sculpture, “Community (2018),” which is a way of honoring her ancestral ties. Through this piece, Leonard addresses the African Diaspora, a term to describe the separation of African people during the Transatlantic Slave Trades. In this piece, everything is connected and unbroken, and each jaw represents a life lost to cruelty. Such a work is meant to honor all those lives. 

Furthermore, all of the subjects in her work are black bodies. Some appear gruesome, depicting scars and injuries, telling stories of the trauma that African Americans experience. However, Leonard has directed some of her artwork towards upliftment and celebration instead. “…I’ve made a few artworks that celebrate the large chain that I am a part of because without them I really don’t think I’d have the strength to face some of the situations I have found myself in throughout my life.”

“In Morbid Fashion (2018)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

In addition, Leonard explains her emphasis on respecting the black body. “While there are dozens of reasons for this in my practice, respecting my own image, and theirs, is how I honor them. So I am careful about how I present the black body to a wider audience.”

SUBJECT OF ARTWORK

“Never Asunder (2019)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

Through drawing, printmaking, and sculpture, Leonard explores the psychological experience of being black in current society. Through her gruesome imagery, Leonard presents stories of the effects of dealing with racism and anti-blackness. She explained to me that her art is her way of speaking up over these injustices, which led to me asking this question: what role do you think an artist has in a society?

“I believe an artist has the duty to be a vector of their time. To observe, document, discuss and critique the time in which they live,” she says. “I believe the artwork of contemporary artists should be a mirror through which society can see it’s reality re-interpreted and in the best case, by which it can right itself.” Leonard’s art is relevant and fitting in today’s conversations regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and growing up as an African American. Therefore, her pieces are extremely contemporary  and needed in the art world. 

Her artwork is gruesome and gritty for a reason. In social media and in the news, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to speak out and grab people’s attention. Some of these bodies have missing body parts, lack facial features, or just seem to be floating and fading. When asked about this in an interview with Rocking Chair Sessions, Leonard explained that she wanted to emphasize the loss of identity and sense of self that you can experience as a black person.

“It’s the Forces You Don’t See (Sisters) (2016)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

At the same time, the “missing pieces” in her work allow for multiple people to put themselves within that figure. The missing features clears away the idea that these people aren’t modeled after any specific person, making it easier for people to see themselves within her work. 

Leonard’s passion and desire to bring this discussion of race in America extends to the point she wants to teach someday. While she is greatly focused on her art right now, she hopes to do it someday. “Making and showing work is also a concern but I would also like to teach eventually,” she says.

FORMAL ELEMENTS OF ARTWORK

Detail of “Their Eyes Watch (2019)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

Back when I visited her studio in January, I noticed that some of her pieces had similar copies and sketches plastered all over her wall. Leonard explained that she likes to have a clear idea of what she’s doing before making the final piece. When I asked more about her creative process during our interview, she further expanded on this. “I work with my images for 1 to 3 weeks before they are even thought of in terms of becoming a drawing, sculpture or print,” she says. To avoid confusion, Leonard likes to create test sheets and small sketches to guide her throughout the process.

“The Three States of Becoming (2018)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

Especially in her drawing pieces, I could clearly see an emphasis on line and value. The bodies in her pieces are well-defined and enhanced by the shadows. The result is beautiful, floating figures. “I’m a drawing artist first and foremost so line, value and shape are most important to me,” she says. “I get to know the images as a whole, the lines and shadows that will make them up before I commit to working on them in their destined forms.” Leonard also places an emphasis on time. “Things don’t happen overnight,” Leonard explains in her interview with Rocking Chair Sessions. She explained that you can’t rush through your pieces or skip steps, or else you will end up with a product you won’t be satisfied with.

“A Personal Question (2017)” by Rhea Leonard. Photo courtesy of Rhea Leonard.

Despite specializing in drawing, Leonard has begun venturing into other forms of art. Through printmaking is where Leonard experiments the most. She sees printmaking as a challenge and a way for her to push herself and learn new techniques. In terms of her sculptures, she utilizes different materials, such as random gathered materials and metal castings. 

In addition, Leonard has recently begun to show her process on Instagram. Her posts consist of glimpses of her studio and various works in progress. Leonard also utilizes the “Story” feature to show current projects and bring a closer look at her daily life. 

EXHIBITION AND PROJECT HISTORY

Leonard’s pieces have been a part of a variety of shows. In 2017, her art has been on display at Bridge Red Studios in North Miami, and she was a participating artist in “CAPS Lab: Overload” at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. In 2018, she was a part of RAW Popup X Art Basel, as well as the Art Africa Miami Art Fair. In the same year, her art became a part of The Betty Laird Perry Emerging Artist Collection at FIU’s Patricia & Philip Frost Art Museum. In 2019, she was a part of “Restructuring Identity,” presented by The Miami Museum of Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora. She was also a part of Miami Urban Contemporary Experience’s (M.U.C.E.) “Who Owns Black Art: Questions of Cultural Ownership” show in Little Haiti. Most recently, it has been announced that Leonard is leading Local Views at Perez Art Museum Miami in April.

However, when asked which of these experiences were most important to her, Leonard brought up the show she did at the African Heritage Cultural Center while she was in graduate school. According to her, it was the first time a curator contacted her directly and offered a spot in the show. “That show was also special because I got to show alongside an artist friend of mine and we’d wanted to show together for a while before then,” she wrote in her email to me. 

With each show, Leonard has gained more confidence through going outside of her comfort zone. “Since graduating with my Masters I’ve done a few talks and each one is nerve-racking,” she says, “but I find I’m getting better with each one I do.”

STUDENT PERSPECTIVE

Overall, I had a pleasant experience talking to Rhea Leonard. Ever since I had the chance to visit her studio back in January through the Art Society Conflict class, I was captured by her work. I could also relate to her on her struggles with public speaking, as I’m more comfortable expressing my feelings through my writing. It is a bit unfortunate that I did not have the chance to visit her in her studio at the Bakehouse, but we still made things work through email. Leonard was generous enough to take time out of her day to answer all of my questions. It was also fun to see her creative process on her Instagram page (@rhea.leonard_art). I also admire Leonard’s persistence in getting her message across, ensuring it reaches the viewer successfully. 

Through Leonard’s art and her words, I learned more about the contemporary art world. Her pieces are extremely detailed and gritty, its memory glued onto my brain. What’s more unforgettable is the messages and themes that drive her work. I still think about what she said back in January, where she expressed her recent desires to “celebrate the black body.” It was my first instance of an open conversation of the black experience, and now I feel that there should be more such conversations in the art world.

RHEA LEONARD’S CONTACT INFORMATION

Website: cargocollective.com/rlart

Email: rhealeonardart@gmail.com

Instagram: @rhea.leonard_art

CITATIONS

“African Diaspora Cultures | Oldways.” Oldways, 2020, oldwayspt.org/traditional-diets/african-heritage-diet/african-diaspora-cultures.

“Art & Life with Rhea Leonard – Voyage MIA Magazine | Miami City Guide.” Voyagemia.Com, 23 Aug. 2018, voyagemia.com/interview/art-life-rhea-leonard/.

Eligon, John. “‘Who Owns Black Art?’: A Question Resounds at Art Basel Miami.” The New York Times, 3 Dec. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/03/arts/design/art-basel-miami-black-art.html.

“RCS Vol. 143 | Rhea Leonard.” SoundCloud, SoundCloud, 2020, soundcloud.com/rockingchairsessions/rcs-vol-143-rhea-leonard.

“Rhea Leonard.” Cargocollective.Com, 2020, cargocollective.com/rlart.

“Rhea Leonard – Oolite Arts.” Oolite Arts, 2018, oolitearts.org/resident/rhea-leonard/.

Lauren Farina: Miami Service Project 2021

STUDENT BIO
Hi, my name is Lauren Farina and I am a senior at Florida International University’s Honors College, majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry and a Certificate in Women’s Studies. My goal is to use my undergraduate knowledge and experience towards becoming a Physician Assistant with a specialty in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

WHO
I volunteered with Professor Bailly of the Honors College at Florida International University in partnership with the Deering Estate. Along with my classmates, we all canoed out to Chicken Key.

WHY
Due to the restrictive nature of the pandemic, it is difficult to find places that are able to accept volunteers. However, Professor Bailly was able to secure a volunteer opportunity for all of us. Most people would question how this particular opportunity relates to my career path, but I think it is more related than it seems. I’m certainly not the most inclined individual when it comes to the outdoors; I’m sure Bailly can attest to that. This class as a whole was completely out of my comfort zone, and Chicken Key was no different. Throughout the cleanup, I thought a lot about how much community service matters in all forms. I am a strong believer that everything in this world is connected; that helping the endangered species and trying to remedy the mess that humans have made of our planet is something that contributes to the betterment of us all. As I continue on the path to my profession, I find that work like this is what matters most in an aspiring health professional. It is important that we care about others, even if we are not the same. I think it is important to have experiences like this that ground you and bring you back to what is truly important in this world.

HOW
This experience was humbling in many ways. Canoeing is not as easy as it may look and it was especially interesting when you add 50+ pounds of trash. Once my partner and I got the hang of the paddling, it was satisfying and freeing to be going through the water by the work of our own bodies. I had so much fun on Chicken Key finding all kinds of different crabs and sharing these exciting moments with my peers. I think it is important to use experiences in your life that are special, like this one, to grow as an individual and reflect on how it makes you feel. This experience provided me with simultaneous uneasiness and comfort, and for all of it, I feel grateful.

WHERE & WHAT

Photo of me taken by John Bailly/ CC by 4.0
Photo of lunch at Chicken Key taken by John Bailly/ CC by 4.0
Photo of me with a canoe of trash taken by John Bailly/ CC by 4.0

This day of service was rewarding in more ways than one. When I arrived at the Deering Estate, I was first confronted with a canoe. Sounds funny, but I have only ever kayaked and the huge canoe was intimidating. I finally got in the canoe and my partner and I struggled to get going, but eventually we figured it out and were the first to land on Chicken Key. When we arrived, we had our final exam which was to run as far as you could into the water until you fell. It was so much fun and was a moment that all of the students could take to step away from “real life” and the responsibilities on our shoulders, and just enjoy with one another. We spent some time in the water talking about COVID vaccines, study abroad programs, and summer plans. We then got back on Chicken Key to begin the real work. All of us set out on the island to begin picking up trash. It was such a cool experience because we got to be with our peers in a new environment and help clean up the island. We also were able to see a lot of animals that we don’t typically see including lemon sharks, horseshoe crabs, blue crabs, and hermit crabs. The experience allowed us to build and further friendships, which was definitely hard to do this year. After a few hours of cleanup we took a break in the ocean to cool off. It was the perfect day. I frequently lost track of time just floating in the water, either staring at the sky or closing my eyes. I appreciate moments like these where I can let go of stress, anxiety, and deadlines. After the break, we cleaned up some more. We found a rat’s nest within a boat mattress, a toilet seat, crates, beer bottles, helmets, soccer balls, and so many more items that you wonder how people could be so careless. When we packed our canoes up to go back, the amount of trash was upsetting to be completely honest. It’s hard to know that no matter how dire the circumstances of climate change are becoming, people still just leave their trash to drift into our water and harm animals. While it was a tough moment of realization, it was also a moment of pride for the work we all did together to clean up Chicken Key. We then canoed back to the Deering Estate, through some very strong winds that blew against us, which was challenging. We unloaded the trash and helped the staff bring it to the dumpsters. It was a long day and I think all of us took long naps after we got home, but it was so worth it. I felt more connected with my peers, nature, and myself from this experience.

WHEN

SUMMARY
Overall, this experience was one of the highlights of my year. It has been a tough one, to say the least, but this experience allowed me to be free of the last year. To be able to be out with a group of my peers learning and doing service for the betterment of our environment was something I haven’t been able to do for over a year that was previously a huge part of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my classmates and having such an enjoyable experience together. I would love to participate in this experience again and I know that I can because of the program started by another Honors College student. It was the perfect mix of work and play to end the semester and get some service hours!

CITATIONS

https://johnwbailly.com/2019/10/29/miami-chicken-key-clean-up-2/

Haven Blackmon: France as Text 2019

Welcome to the manifestation of my journey studying abroad in France! My name is Haven Blackmon, and I am originally from Orlando, Florida, and moved to Miami to earn my B.A. in psychology, minoring in biology at FIU. I am interested in studying molecular biology and genetics, focusing on the genetic factors of neurological cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. However, having an interdisciplinary education which explores the relationship between different subjects is my utmost priority.

Paris as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon The United States and France share many commonalities; however, there are stark differences between the two. The American Revolution and French Revolution occurred closely together, and aimed to achieve the same principles of democracy and universal human rights. In these centuries following the revolutions, the implementation of these principles into the fabric of society have manifested in different ways and at different speeds. One principle emerging in the last century throughout the developed world, environmental protection and conservation, has been approached quite differently in the U.S. and in France. In the U.S., commodities such as fast food and single-use plastics have been readily embraced. Interestingly, the long-standing tradition of fresh, market-bought food has largely prevented the proliferation of these products. In the markets of Paris, paper bags are standard, plastic utensils are provided sparingly or at cost, and straws are rarely used. With the Western world focused on faster food, faster deliveries, and faster results, old habits seen in the heart of Paris have largely protected it from the modern problem of plastic pollution, seen overwhelmingly in the U.S. In addition, sodas are almost exclusively sold in cans, and water is more sparingly used in toilets and water fountains. Outside of Paris, wind turbines are generating renewable energy in large fields. While modernization has provided for increased productivity and wealth, the carelessness with which society has approached it is quickly creating new and urgent problems to solve. In cases like the markets of Paris, adherence to old habits and traditions has lessened the burden of plastic pollution in this corner of the world.

Versailles as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon The Palace of Versailles, the largest palace on earth, has solidified Louis XIV one of the most significant spots in European history. While being a king of France ensures your name being documented in some history books, greater achievements are necessary to secure such a prevalent place in world history. Of course, this achievement did not come without the suffering and death of many, but a king must not be so concerned as to relinquish such a coveted place in the minds of people for generations, centuries, and millennia to come. To be remembered for a few decades after your death is much easier than to guarantee that you will be remembered 2,000 years after your death. What better way is there to be remembered for a thousand years than to create the most extravagant palace in history and repeatedly plaster your face onto the god of the sun? Will maintaining peace and feeding your people for a few decades be enough? Surely writing a book or a symphony will not guarantee your long-standing spot in history like creating an extravagant palace that stands for centuries or founding a new nation (like the founding fathers of the United States). Acts such as maintaining peace or writing books are undoubtedly too much of a gamble, and the large risk is simply not worth the uncertain reward.

Lyon as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon After visiting Montluc prison, hearing Claude Bloch tell his story of surviving the Holocaust, and seeing World War II artifacts in the Resistance and Deportation History Centre, I realized that my education in the United States had never really taught me what it felt like to live in a time and place where your leaders and your government saw you as nothing more than a pest to be exterminated. I learned that approximately six million Jews were murdered over a time span of six years, and that many of these people were gassed and their bodies burned- but I never learned what it felt like to be imprisoned in a cell of only a few square meters with seven other people for weeks at a time. I never truly understood the details of how every step of the deportation and internment process was intentionally designed to rob all humanity from humans who were the victims of this genocide. It is one thing to be taught and another to truly understand. It is one thing to teach the number of people targeted and murdered, and another to demonstrate to students the reality of being packed into a prison cell. As the memory of the Holocaust fades away with time, I feel it becomes even more necessary to educate youth in a more tangible way than history books. While American students may not be able to visit concentration camps, Holocaust history can still be taught in more tangible ways, including Holocaust museums and classroom demonstrations of food portions in concentration camps and weight loss of those who survived. Ultimately, future generations will prevent this from happening again not by regurgitating textbook facts, but by seeing and understanding that this terrorization of people resulted in the few adult survivors that were rescued weighing nothing more than that of an eleven year old child, and that people are only capable of this magnitude of terror with the complacency and inaction of many.

Izieu as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon During World War II, while Jews were being forcefully deported to concentration camps to be murdered, many families made the difficult decision to send their children away to Maison D’Izieu to be cared for and protected from the Nazi regime. When, on April 6, 1944, 44 children were found in the home by the Gestapo and deported to concentration camps, the only reason was for their Jewish heritage. Before the raid, children in this home received education and ample time to express their emotions through art. Those with living parents or other relatives that could be contacted sent letters of longing, affection, and gratitude. This was a temporary home meant to shelter children for no longer than two months while other arrangements were made for their care and protection. While visiting this refuge and learning the history of this home, I was reminded of the U.S.  immigration crisis and children being sheltered in detention facilities. It is certainly not my intention to compare the Holocaust to immigration practices in the U.S.; however, I noticed several similarities and differences between the two. First, none of these children have committed a crime- the only reason for their separation was the circumstances in their lives. Also, most of these children were and are unable to contact their parents, and may not know what has happened to them. The major difference between the two is that the children at Izieu were intentionally sent by parents or other surviving relatives with confidence that they would remain safe from roundups and deportation, meanwhile children in the U.S. have been and are being taken away from their parents unwillingly. In addition, Maison d’Izieu, which was partially aided by the local government, supplied all children with their basic needs- education, food, and hygiene. The U.S., by contrast, has neglected to give basic hygiene products and beds in some cases to children in detention facilities. This begs us to ask one question: If political refugee children in France during WWII had all of their basic needs met in a transition home, what is the justification for the U.S. neglecting to give migrant refugee children soap and toothpaste?

Normandy as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon Dear Sgt. John Ray,

I know you cannot read this, but I visited your grave today. I learned all I could about your short but heroic life, and I stood in the very place you were when you saved the lives of your comrades, and death got its first grip on you.

I know that you were born August 15, 1922, and that growing up, you shared a home with three siblings and your parents in Gretna, Louisiana. I know that you played football in high school, and joined the Army on January 9, 1941, before the United States was involved in the war in Europe. 

I know it was devastating for you to leave your family in service of your country and miss your mother’s passing. I’m sure you would have given almost anything to comfort your family in a time of grief. I also know you would have liked to spend more time with your new sister. What an emotional time it must have been to bury your mother, meet your sister, and meet your future wife all in the same weekend.

I know you wished you could have more time to take Paula on a first date, but your letters to her and her mother showed them what a great man you were. Without these letters, much of your memory might be gone today. I want you to know how much Paula cherished those letters. She loved them so much, she kept all 333 letters for over 54 years before she published them. For the many hours it took writing those letters, I know you would have rather spent them with her.

I know you wished you had stayed in school longer, but the world might be much different today if you had. By the time you landed in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, you were a well-seasoned paratrooper. However, I doubt that all the experience in the world could eliminate the fear you must have felt landing in this German-occupied town. At the age of 21, in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, your landing was almost immediately met with gunfire. Even after a bullet ripped through your abdomen, you acted swiftly and mustered the strength to shoot the German soldier aiming at your comrades above on the roof of the church. Both men on the roof survived the Normandy invasion because of you. A split moment passed, and you became a hero. I am left to wonder what your last days were like, with infection from battle wounds spreading throughout your body. 

When you passed on June 13, 1944, you had made a greater contribution to this world than most ever will. Paula was devastated when she received that impending telegram. Your death, although heroic, was not easy to process. At 21, you lost all possibility of building a career and starting a family. Your young wife became a widow. I cannot help but to theoretically apply the events of your life to mine. Although I plan on entering the military once I finish my education, I most likely will never face an end like yours. However, it is not a probability, but it is a possibility that any one of us could be thrust into a situation in which we choose to become a hero and sacrifice our life for another. I cannot say which I would choose; I’ve never imagined that my greatest contribution to the world would be giving up my life. I have every expectation of creating something or discovering something to leave behind, and the possibility of contributing my life to a cause is unsettling. Regardless of my fate, yours has shown me how meaningful your contribution was, although you left little behind. You, Sgt. Ray, are the reason freedom lives on in this world. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice. There is no way I could possibly repay you for what you’ve given me, but I’ll die trying.

Père Lachaise as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon Rene Lalique was born April 6, 1860 in Ay, France, but moved to Paris with his family at the age of two. Growing up, he was known to be a great drawer. His father passed away in 1876 when Rene was 16, and following his death he started an apprenticeship under Louis Aucoc, a renowned jewelry maker at the time. This is where Rene found his craft, learning how to create jewelry with a range of different materials. It was at this time that Rene also began studying at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris. He subsequently traveled to England to study for two years. Upon his return, he began designing jewelry independently. Despite the jewelry style at the time, which was elaborate with precious gems, Rene quickly became popular with his use of unconventional materials, such as enamel and ivory. His jewelry brought a creativity and originality to the industry that became highly coveted, and at the World Exposition of Paris in 1900, his jewelry brought him world fame. But following this event, Rene started experimenting with glassmaking. For several years, he practiced and perfected his craft in glassmaking, and in 1907 met perfumer Francois Coty. Because of Lalique, the perfume industry was changed forever. He began making elaborate glass bottles for perfumes, which had previously been held in plain flasks. Still today, you may observe that almost all perfumes are sold in glass with attractive designs. During his glassmaking career, Lalique also created many other glass products, including vases, ashtrays, car mascots, and brooches, among other things. Many of these original pieces are now sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, if in good condition. While these original masterpieces are very valuable today, Rene’s success also enabled him to mass-produce glass items when he opened glassmaking factories. During World War I, his factories benefited the war effort by producing many plain glass bottles for storage, typically of medicine and other necessities. Over the course of his glassmaking career, Lalique reportedly created over 1,500 glass designs. He passed away on May 1, 1945 at the age of 85. In his last years, rheumatism unfortunately hindered his ability to work due to chronic pain in his hands. What drew me to study the life of Rene Lalique is my fascination with glass design. I have always particularly enjoyed seeing the creation process and finished products of glass art. What connected me to him personally was the fact that he created not one, but two careers for himself. His creativity and interests provided great variability in his work. I absolutely strive to create a career for myself in which I have variability in my work, and can only hope to be successful in such varied areas as Rene did. While my passion does not lie in art and jewelry-making, I am a science enthusiast who is also very actively involved in social justice issues. While glassmaking band jewelry are much more easily incorporated into each other, I aspire to teach others that science is indeed intimately tied to social justice. Statistics inform us of inequalities present in our society, and all of our revolutionary scientific theories would not come about without diversity and inclusion in the scientific community. Our diversity of background and experiences informs our views, and a multitude of these backgrounds is necessary for the advancement of knowledge.

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