By Michael E. Miller
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From a historic old home to a string of failed restaurants to an empty dirt lot A the saga of Grove Calloway's came to an ignoble end three weeks ago when bulldozers razed whatever memories were left of the historic Peacock House. By the time heavy equipment moved in, though, city officials and local preservationists say there was nothing left to save. The remnants A the half-century-old faaade, gabled roof, and some wood framework A had been altered so drastically by the property's owner, Richard Peacock, during his various "renovations" that any authentic semblance of the Grove landmark had long ago disappeared.
"This was probably what he wanted all along," grouses Tucker Gibbs, a local attorney and long-time Grove activist who has repeatedly decried Peacock's handling of the property, which is located on McFarlane Road in the heart of the Grove.
For Gibbs and others the barren lot stands as a bitter symbol of what happens when city officials accommodate developers whose vision of a community's heritage is obscured by the bottom line. And the result in this case couldn't be more striking -- the neighborhood is left with nothing but a patch of dirt.
"I think people should be pissed off that what was once an historic structure is now a vacant lot," Gibbs argues. "That piece of property had such potential for the community to gather around. Instead it died with a big thud.
"The nicest thing I can say about Mr. Peacock," Gibbs continues, "is that he has very little respect for the history of Coconut Grove, and that was typified by what he did with Grove Calloway's."
The demise of the property began a little more than five years ago, when Peacock, a descendant of Grove pioneer "Jolly Jack" Peacock, proposed tearing down the old Peacock House, which had been vacant for three years, and replacing it with an open-air theme restaurant and bar inspired by the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark A complete with lookout tower, gun turrets, and a wrecked military Jeep. But the plan was shot down by city officials after preservationists complained that the pine house was a legitimate landmark. And though the structure wasn't included on any any federal, state, or local preservation lists, Coconut Grove itself was (and remains) a "special interest district," which means construction projects receive heightened scrutiny by the city's planning department.
In response, Peacock, who did not return a call last week seeking comment for this article, modified his plans and received the necessary building permits. But city officials failed to adhere to procedures that would have required another review of Peacock's revised plans. When Grove Calloway's opened for business in June 1990, city inspectors discovered that the historic home had been virtually destroyed, not refurbished and incorporated into the new structure. Peacock's critics were outraged, but he was defiant. The old house, he said, was "the armpit of the Grove. Now it's beautiful."
Calloway's quickly became popular among yuppies and college students, and Peacock cashed in after only a year of operation, selling the business but not the land. After that the place declined rapidly, first as a Mexican restaurant called Tyrannosaurus Mex, and then as a barbecue joint named Buster's. Both ventures failed.
In 1992 Peacock foreclosed on his tenants and last year brought back the Grove Calloway's concept, reopening under the old name. But that business failed as well. In recent months, the building fell into serious disrepair. "It had become an unsafe structure," says Christina Abrams, administrator for the city's Neighborhood Enhancement Team in Coconut Grove, adding that there was no alternative but to tear it down.
Sarah Eaton, Miami's preservation officer, says no obstacles stood in the way of demolition. "After all the renovations," she explains, "there wasn't anything left of the original historic building anyway."
Richard Peacock didn't even have to pay for the coup de grƒce. That cost was picked up by his business neighbor, Haim Wiener, who owns the land adjacent to Calloway's. Wiener estimates he spent about $20,000 to level what was left of Calloway's. "You may ask, 'Why was I so gracious?'" Wiener says. "Well, I'll tell you. It looks better for my building next door if this piece of garbage was cleaned up. It's all clean now. Something needed to be done.