By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Sixty-year-old Louise Blair has heart trouble, asthma, and ulcers, and she hasn't got a single tooth left in her head. Her 64-year-old husband Frank isn't doing any better. He's diabetic, choked with emphysema, fragile after two heart attacks, and he doesn't trust his numb legs to take him beyond the end of the block. They live with four frenetic mutts in a two-bedroom house the color of old pea soup, on NW 100th Street where it dead-ends at I-95. A cigarette butt's flick away from passing cars on the expressway, it's the only house left on the block. The Blair house, which Frank's father built with his own hands 30 years ago, is not exactly a picture of domestic tranquility and health. But the couple has lived there for twenty years. It's home. "We've both about had it, I guess," Louise Blair mutters in a gravelly drawl reminiscent of her native Alabama. "But I figure we still got a few years left and I don't want to move. I guess I'll just die here."
And the Blairs have made it clear they are not about to just die quietly. Mustering all their remaining energy, they are waging a pitched battle against the forces of industry and commerce that have almost completely gobbled up their block -- their neighbors include a janitorial service, a fence company, a used car lot, and a print shop. But the specific target of their wrath is Dade Lumber Inc., a remodeling-supply business that opened five years ago and has gradually consumed the 100-yard-long stretch between NW Seventh Avenue and the highway.
The Blairs' principal complaint is that company employees obstruct the street with lumber, trucks, and forklifts as they transfer materials between storage lots on either side of the street. "I have to wait for hours to get down to my home," Louise Blair grumbles. "Sometimes I have to wait for hours to get out of my home. And we used to have a nice, clean, pretty little street. We had trees in the yards. It was quiet and peaceful," she says, recalling the days when five other houses stood on the block "and everyone got along."
Louise Blair also says the lumber company has hired night watchmen who "just stand on the other side of the road spying on us. I guess they think we're going to put some of that lumber in our pockets or something." Two weeks ago, the Blairs say, a Dade Lumber worker antagonized their dogs by throwing car parts and pieces of lumber into their front yard.
That day four of their dogs turned on a fifth comrade and mauled it to death. The Blairs blame the lumber company employees. (Dr. Marat Dubrovsky of the Humane Society of Greater Miami confirms the death of the Blairs' dog, which arrived at the animal hospital with "a deep cut in its neck and three dozen holes on the side of its body made by big dogs.")
"Oh, yes, I'm very familiar with Mrs. Blair," says Metro-Dade Police Capt. Charles Miller. "She calls five, six, seven times a week for police assistance." While Captain Miller concedes he has never actually seen the entire street obstructed by Dade Lumber machinery and goods, he says he "empathizes" with the Blairs. "Essentially, they're isolated back there. They're like the Last of the Mohicans. But this is something that needs to be hashed out in court. Until then we're just trying to keep the peace."
Peter Lamadrid, owner of Dade Lumber, admits the configuration of his properties has made it difficult to keep the street clear at all times. But he says that as soon as the employees spot the Blairs, "we drop what we're doing and get out of the way." Lamadrid, who is Cuban, also claims that Louise Blair shouts racial slurs at him and his employees, many of whom are black. "She's entertaining herself," Lamadrid says. "She sits on her car hood and waits until a truck pulls into the street, and then she calls the cops." (Lamadrid refused to comment further about any allegations concerning the company.)
But the Blairs aren't the only tenants in the neighborhood annoyed by the growth of Dade Lumber. David Rivero of M & D Auto Sales, located at the corner of NW Seventh Avenue and 100th Street, also says the lumber company has virtually turned that stretch of 100th Street into a private storage area during the day. Lorne Campbell, whose architectural drafting service opened on the block in 1957, says Dade Lumber trucks have repeatedly damaged a wall behind his shop. Each time, he says, he has repaired the wall himself.
Dade Lumber's neighbors voiced their opposition to Dade Lumber at a Dade County Commission hearing in June, when the company was granted zoning variances to permit it to expand its lumberyard operation. However, according to Assistant Dade County Attorney Thomas Robertson, the company has failed to correct several code violations and hasn't complied with permit deadlines. A court date is scheduled on the matter for December 16.
Meanwhile the Blairs are ignoring suggestions that they move elsewhere. Some time ago, they say, a lawyer representing Dade Lumber offered to buy their house for $20,000. "I said, `Not for no $20,000,'" Louise Blair remarks. "And not for no $15 million, after all the heartache they given me.