His Own Private Paradise

Bruce Matheson doesn't need you or anyone else to tell him what's wrong with his family's legacy, Crandon Park. So just step aside, thank you.

Matheson says his current negotiations with the county allow for the refurbishment of as many as three old animal cages, but he doesn't budge from his overall demands. "Think of it this way," he counsels. "There was never any art in that park. Never. It's one of these things where we go back to: 'Why is there a Crandon Park?' And there is a Crandon Park because a gentleman named Charles Crandon felt that the resource was the beach, which has in the past been voted one of the top ten beaches in the United States A not one of the best artist display sites in the United States. And to save a 48-year-old bear cage that is deteriorating just doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense."

To the artists and planners who considered the zoo's old animal cages, their preservation made perfect sense. Aside from their attractive potential as exhibition and performance spaces, they served as stark reminders of the primitive conditions in which humans once kept exotic creatures.

But it is the attitude expressed by Matheson -- only he can make sense of Crandon Park -- that has prompted others much closer to the planning process to raise their own objections. A stream of memos sent to Charles Pezoldt, former director of Metro-Dade's Park and Recreation Department, provides insight into the frustration Matheson has engendered.

Charlie Sanz, a county landscape architect, penned a memorandum to Pezoldt commenting on Matheson's 69 objections. Although she acquiesced in most of Matheson's proposed changes, her June 28, 1994, missive noted that two objections called for definitions that were much too specific and which implied the "incompetence of park professionals."

On August 12, 1994, Sanz wrote another memo to Pezoldt in response to a requested review of Matheson's modifications. She found them inappropriate: "His intent is to explicitly and irrevocably define for all time any present and future development within the park's lands. Mr. Matheson's request, if granted, would defeat the purpose of the Crandon Park master plan, which proposes a responsive, ideal environment, and as such, may be continually in flux, reviewed, and refined in light of those ideals, as time progresses, conditions change, and development occurs."

Artemas Richardson, Olmsted's president, chided Matheson in a January 2, 1995, letter for modifying his master plan without his consent. "I am surprised, disappointed, and angered that you would give any paper which purports to have been written by me to anyone else without first giving it to me and obtaining my permission," he wrote. "The fact that you assured me it was 'only a draft' does not excuse your issuing it, nor would it have done so had it been clearly marked DRAFT (which it wasn't). Anyone who read that it was prepared by Artemas P. Richardson would assume that I had written it (which I had not). And while much of the text clearly reflects our discussions, there are parts with which I don't agree and parts which I consider conspicuous by their absence."

One of those conspicuous absences was Richardson's idea for a vehicular overpass, slightly elevated, that would allow bicyclists and hikers easy access to either side of busy Crandon Boulevard. Matheson maintains that there is simply no demand for its construction. "Members of a family that go to the beach don't go to the tennis center and they don't go to the golf course," he claims. "If you go and see the type of cars that are parked at the golf course, they are not the type of cars that are parked on the beach. The beach is a blue-collar 'country club' for the guy who is an average worker. I've walked the beach so many times and talked to the people there. They want to see the zoo brought back, so we are going to bring some animals back. They want more shade. They want more picnic tables. They like it the way it is. The people who play golf would not even step on the beach. They are the type of people that have pools in their back yard or a pool at their condominium or a country club membership or something else."

A January 31, 1995, memo to Charles Pezoldt from parks department official Howard Gregg picked apart the latest draft of the Crandon plan incorporating Matheson's objections. The original Olmsted document, wrote Gregg, was being "compromised to mediocrity." In particular, Gregg strongly disagreed with Matheson's insistence that the vehicular overpass and the traffic circles be deleted from the master plan.

Those omissions and other changes continued to anger Olmsted's Artemas Richardson. On December 17, 1995, he wrote to county parks officials: "I felt that if the treatment of the traffic circles was not to be included and if there was substantial change from the treatment of the Gardens that I would not want my name as endorsing the plan. It's been roughly three months and I have heard nothing. That's where it stands."

Matheson defends his proposed changes to the Crandon Park master plan by noting that they have not been conceived in a vacuum. On the family's payroll is the firm of Wallace Roberts and Todd, landscape architects who have worked on projects at Fairchild Tropical Garden. "So this is not just Bruce Matheson and some harebrained idea he has," he insists. "We have hired the best consultant to help make Crandon Park the best possible park we can.

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