Coconut Grove Playhouse Restoration Stuck in Act I
A photo showing the original Coconut Grove Theater façade from the 1920s.
Courtesy of Arva Moore Parks
It must have been a grand celebration when the Coconut Grove Theater first opened. In 1927, most buildings in the area didn't have electricity, let alone air conditioning. The three-story baby-blue building, with its Mediterranean columns and lush proscenium archway, was a shining example of architect Richard
For 79 years, the Coconut Grove
Today its doors are closed, its interior vandalized and falling into disrepair. It hasn't been operational since
“This may be one of the projects that
It has been no quick feat. In 2004, $15 million in public funds were set aside for the job, as well as an additional $5 million soon after. More funds have been set for the construction of parking in the area, and in February 2015, architecture firm Arquitectonica won the bid to spearhead designs. It seemed progress was being made, but more than a year later, people are still scratching their heads.
A recent photo inside the Coconut Grove Playhouse shows that most of the original design and embellishments remain intact and would be relatively easy to restore.
Courtesy of Arva Moore Parks
“We want it to be an asset instead of a liability,” says Olga Granda-Scott, executive director of the Coconut Grove Playhouse Foundation. “Really, our position is to be a watchdog and speak for the community in saying, 'We want this to be is a nucleus of activity, a
If you're wondering the project's status, all fingers point to Spring. Every day, he wakes up and gets to work on securing the future of the Playhouse. Like many locals, it was a fixture of his adolescence. It's where he saw his first stage production, so naturally, he doesn't take the job lightly.
“There are a lot of people who care passionately about the Coconut Grove Playhouse,” he says. “It's
The original timeline called for Arquitectonica to present design plans by the end of this month, but complications in the inspection and assessment phase pushed things back. For one,
It's important to Spring and his colleagues that the design
“The activity in it is just as important as the building,” Granda-Scott says. “It's not a mausoleum. It's not just some pretty little thing. It needs to be what it was. It needs to be a beacon of artistry and hope for the community, a place for
It's settled that Arquitectonica must present two design plans, but
GableStage sees comfortable growth opportunity with a plan for a 300-seat theater, but the Playhouse Foundation argues that's not enough to establish the international renown of old. Instead, foundation members argue for a return to the theater's original 1927 setup, with one 150-seat theater and one 700-seater.
“Miami is a place where ideas are built, and I really believe that with every grain. At the same time, I think we shortchange ourselves," says the foundation director. “[The performing arts community] still has the starving-artist or beggar mentality, and I think that's a shame. We need to erase that. Artists need to value themselves more, and we need to rise up just like every other industry has.”
If the issue is money, the foundation is dedicated to delivering a check for 110 percent of the necessary funds to finish both theaters before a shovel enters the ground. Regarding who would run programs in the larger theater, outgoing president of the Arsht Center, Mike Eidson, has suggested award-winning actor Kevin Spacey for the job. Spacey has expressed interest and recently stepped down from a ten-year position at
Granda-Scott thinks it would be great if a local company found the courage to step up and take on the task of a grander stage, whether it be GableStage or Miami Theater Center or whoever. She's not too worried about that. She figures what's most important is restoring the theaters, and in the three to five years the county has for construction on its timeline, finding an operator would be the easy part.
“Miami right now is a really exciting place where great artists want to be and want to perform,” she says. “There are a lot of [small to midrange theaters] in the community, so it's not really adding, and then it doesn't give us a centralizing force of 'This is the most important stage in Miami-Dade County.' We feel like, to have that status again, you need to be a certain size.”
The Playhouse Foundation is working hard to keep the subject on the county's mind. It's working toward garnering the Coconut Grove Playhouse recognition as a historical site on a national level, and in July, when the City of Miami celebrates its 120th anniversary, it plans to throw a big party around the unveiling of the playhouse's official historical site marker. Granda-Scott is working to implement interim programming in the foundation's name, whether it be performances or educational programs, which she hopes could continue once the playhouse is reopened.
Still, one thing at a time.
“Admittedly, it's going to be a difficult project, but I think our hearts are in the right place,” Spring adds. “We're absolutely committed to making sure that it happens in the best possible way and that, at the same time, we respect people's sense of the history of the place — and the history of their memories of the place too.”
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