A little boy lolls on a picnic table in Elizabeth Virrick Park in the West Grove. Barely shaded by fluttering oak leaves, he waits patiently to shrug off summer's high-noon heat, tantalized by the swimming pool's cool salve of shiny lapping blue liquid. The dusty air is a little sour as nearby construction crews dredge up the park's littered ground. United Way workers shuttle pipes back and forth and plot a map with sites for planting new oaks.
In this poor pocket blocks from the opulent shops of CocoWalk and Mayfair, the disheveled park, which opened in 1963, is getting a much-needed makeover. Responsible for the renovation: the park's original designer, Miami architect and sculptor Kenneth Treister; his Elizabeth Virrick Park Committee; architect Ivo Fernandez; hundreds of thousands of dollars granted to the City of Miami; neighborhood residents; United Way; and a swarm of volunteers.
United Way expects as many as 3000 concerned citizens to converge on the park Thursday for Groovin' Up the Grove, a massive community effort to complete the refurbishment. Service projects assigned to helpers will include landscaping, painting, mosaic tiling of benches, and installing playgrounds in the four-plus acres of open space. The centerpiece of the facelift is the park's snazzy new gymnasium/community center, erected but unfinished, which is ornamented with a tsunami of blue and green tiles.
Likely the park's namesake, who died in 1990, would be heartened by this grassroots renewal. In 1948 Coconut Grove resident Elizabeth Landsberg Virrick teamed with a leading figure in the largely Bahamian neighborhood, Rev. Theodore Gibson (a minister and civil-rights champion, who went on to serve as a Miami city commissioner) to form the Coconut Grove Slum Clearance Citizens Committee. The group achieved structural improvements, such as indoor plumbing, in the long neglected black residential area. That organization endures, with other concerns, under the snappier moniker Coconut Grove Cares.