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Other black-owned businesses bloomed, too, like Lee Brown's barber shop, the Ace Theater, and Willie Leonard's menswear store. "Man, he used to make beautiful things that would fit you to a T!" remembers Louis Mellison, a 66-year-old retired public school maintenance supervisor. "We sang the gospel and he used to tailor all our clothes. People would come in from Carol City and Liberty City; they'd come from everywhere." Also popular were the four bars at each corner of Grand and Douglas: the Tip-Top, Jack's, Seven to Eleven, and 77.
Former Miami city commissioner and retired nurse Thelma Gibson recalls sitting on a coral rock wall in front of her grandparents' house on Grand Avenue, selling ice cream and sandwiches during the Thirties and early Forties. There was no sidewalk back then.
White merchants set up shop on Grand beginning in the Twenties, says George. "There were Jewish retailers who owned businesses on the street," he recalls. Ironically the business community was somewhat integrated until the Sixties, when the walls of segregation started to fall in other areas. "I had friends who would go over there and buy clothes. There was sort of like a preppy men's store," George adds. He remembers schlepping to Jack's bar in the early Sixties because it was one of the only places where an underage kid could score a bottle of liquor.
Some residents disliked Grand Avenue, though. Grady Dinkins, who moved from the middle-class black community of Richmond Heights to the Grove in 1960, avoided driving down the strip for a reason familiar to many who speed through today. "So many people walked across the street all the time and I thought it was dangerous," she recalls. "You'd be driving your car and you'd have to look out for these people. You didn't have traffic lights. You didn't even have walk lights." So she took a less-traveled route to her job as a counselor at Tucker Elementary School on Douglas Road. Dinkins also disdained the bars. "The clubs that were there were bad," she says.
In the Seventies whites became scarce on Grand Avenue. Fear set in after racial disturbances such as a 1971 incident in which black Grove youths threw firebombs at white drivers on nearby South Dixie Highway. The mob was enraged over the police shooting of Joseph Veargis, a black teenager who was arrested while riding in a stolen vehicle. Officers alleged that Veargis pointed a gun at them, but many Grovites questioned that claim.
The McDuffie riots chased out others. Angry blacks rampaged across Dade County on May 17, 1980, after a Tampa jury acquitted four Miami policemen charged with murdering insurance salesman Arthur McDuffie. Most of the violence occurred in Overtown and Liberty City, but some Grand Avenue stores were damaged. Herbert Butler, a 67-year-old Grove resident and retired public school custodian, stayed home that night. "A lot of shooting was going on. People were stealing. Stores being burned," he remembers. Various business owners on Grand Avenue closed shop for good, including Willie Leonard, the menswear store owner; he became a minister.
In the riot's aftermath, the Miami commission organized the Coconut Grove Local Development Corporation (CGLDC) -- one of eleven such entities -- to revive depressed economies in poor areas. In 1984 a group of twenty blacks, including Walter Green and Gibson (the widow of civil rights activist Rev. Theodore Gibson), formed GUTS. Each member invested $5000 and the organization purchased two buildings and two vacant lots at two corners of the Grand and Douglas intersection. They enlisted the CGLDC to raise money and manage the ill-fated Goombay Plaza project.
Walter Green's life embodies the history of both GUTS and much of Grand Avenue. As a young man he earned money operating shoeshine stands at various places along that street. In the Sixties and Seventies he managed pool halls between Douglas Road and McDonald Street, including one owned by George Cash.
Green bought two small apartment buildings on Grand Avenue in 1976. After Cash's death he purchased his pool hall in 1979. In 1984 Green helped found GUTS and two years later he added a club called Crystal Lounge to his Grand Avenue holdings. He also owns three houses: two in Richmond Heights (he lives in one of them) and one in Port St. Lucie. To justify his significant real estate holdings he offers a story. When he was about fifteen years old his family, including his mother and three brothers, was evicted from a Coconut Grove house. "I tried to have it so my children would never have to go through that." he says. "It's a very hurtful thing."
These days he owns a laundry business on the site of the pool hall that he bought twenty years ago from Cash's widow. "I've been hustling all my life," the 75-year-old sighs, relaxing in a chair in a musty room with a plywood floor, a door down from the laundromat. He's wearing an orange-and-green cap bearing the words "Miami Service Corps." On one of his fingers gleams a large ring mounted with the golden headdress and face of an Indian. Seated next to Green is Henry Givens, whose mother was a GUTS founder. An old wooden desk faces the street. A television is on top of a refrigerator on one side of the room; empty dusty bookcases line the opposite wall. The sounds of cars rushing by can be heard through the open front door.