A Course of Course!

Which patch of green grass has Miami Beach bluebloods brandishing machetes and clubs?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Real Estate 101. My name is Carl Fisher. Just so you know, I've been dead for the past 66 years. Yes, I am an apparition, a figment of your morose imagination. I was one of the legendary hucksters who bamboozled hundreds of hopeful snowbirds out of gazillions of dollars to buy my beachfront swampland. Today I'm going to take you on a tour of one of my most prized developments, where a modern-day feudal class war is taking place between a group of upper-class homeowners and their much richer and much snobbier neighbor, La Gorce Country Club.

But first allow me to give you a little history behind this fabulous neighborhood I created, beating my West Coast counterpart William Randolph Hearst to the San Simeon punch. The year was 1927. Despite my penchant for binge-boozing, I had made Miami Beach into the new West Palm Beach: a tropical garden of winter homes where the wealthiest people in America could relax in complete and utter leisure, refinement, and luxury, or LR&L, as I like to call it. I had the hokey idea of building an affluent enclave anchored by a spectacular world-class golf course.

So I dredged up about one million cubic yards of Biscayne Bay muck and used it to build La Gorce golf course, named for my dear friend John Oliver La Gorce, who went on to edit National Geographic Magazine. I also hired famed architect August Geiger to design this magnificent U-shape, two-story Mediterranean Revival-style clubhouse. It had twin staircases on the north and south sides of the interior courtyard that led up to a grand balcony on the second floor of the building. It was a scene straight out of a Mary Pickford film.

David Hollenbach
David Hollenbach

Location Info

Map

La Gorce Country Club

5685 Alton Road
Miami Beach, FL 33140

Category: Sports and Recreation

Region: Mid/North Beach

The golf course and the clubhouse were a hit. For the grand opening in March 1928, I organized the first Miami Beach La Gorce Open Golf Tournament. I named the holes after some of the greatest athletes, entertainers, and moguls of my era -- grand chaps such as Harvey Firestone, William Kissam Vanderbilt, Will Rogers, and Eddie Rickenbacker.

We had white folks lining up from all over the country, buying up the breathtaking single-family homes I built on the east side of Alton Road and on the west side of La Gorce Drive, from 51st Street to 62nd Street. What made the homes so beautiful was the lot configuration. The houses were set back at least twenty feet from Alton Road and La Gorce Drive so the property owners would have unobstructed back-yard views of the 138-acre golf course. This allows the properties to maintain their outrageous values, even during the worst of recessions. In fact it is a key factor in their marketability.

Of course, my real estate companies were very selective of the clientele they allowed to purchase on La Gorce. Only members of the Caucasian race could buy into my rolling green fantasyland. However, I did grant buyers permission to keep their non-Caucasian personal servants on their property.

Still, rich snots can be ungrateful at times. I remember receiving a letter July 2, 1930, from one of my agents, Paul Kunschik, about some homeowners raising a stink about their property taxes being out of proportion to the taxes I paid on my golf course and my polo fields. That year City of Miami Beach officials reassessed my golf course at $1000 an acre -- $140,000 to be exact. Nevertheless, I took the city for chumps at the craps table, considering $1000 an acre represented only fifteen percent of the golf course's true value.

Alas, before a gastric hemorrhage snuffed me out in 1939, I had to sell my interest in La Gorce Country Club, as well as most of my prized assets, to pay off debt. La Gorce Country Club and the surrounding neighborhood have changed a great deal since the days I was hawking lots at eight grand a pop and Negroes had to leave Miami Beach by sundown.

Thanks to the civil rights movement, people of all creeds and colors now own sumptuous La Gorce houses, including -- gasp! -- interracial and homosexual couples. Even the country club eased up on the discriminatory practices I put in place by opening membership to some mighty affluent Jews and Cubans from all over Miami-Dade. In my day, it took a little more than amassing a few million dollars' net worth to get through the door. Now they let all the nouveau riche riffraff have run of the place.

Over the years, my grand vision of seamlessly connecting the golf course to the back yards of these wonderful homes has been torn asunder by the cheeky monkeys who now run La Gorce. I'm talking about the club's board of governors, a group of deep-pocketed fiends led by their hot-tempered president, Roberto Sanchez -- a man who doesn't even have the gentlemanly courtesy to return phone calls.

Four years ago, La Gorce's board, despite protests by neighboring property owners and historic preservationists, demolished my clubhouse to make way for a hideous cookie-cutter building with the jejune ambiance of a Hyatt. Knowing that the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board was considering designating the building a historic structure, the La Gorce board pulled the audacious stunt of tearing the clubhouse down in the dead of night. The chicanery continued in 2002 when the homeowners learned the country club's governing board was planning to erect a fence along the perimeter of the golf course -- an obvious first step in blocking the back-yard views of the links.

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