The nearly 3,000-square-foot home seems typical in Coconut Grove. With its stucco-like exterior and Spanish-tiled roof, the elegant house at 3529 Saint Gaudens Rd. looks like the kind of home that would grace the pages of a travel magazine, the kind of house that's familiar to nearly any Miamian who's appreciated the lush landscapes of the Grove. But the house at Saint Gaudens has recently be the source of some contentious fights.
The house was designed by Pittsburgh-based architectural firm, Kiehnel & Elliott, and built by Albert W. Frantz, one of Saint Gaudens Road's original developers. Some consider the house a landmark of Kiehnel's style; the architect is generally credited with introducing the popular Mediterranean aesthetic to Miami. The firm's other buildings, including the Carrollton School for the Sacred Heart, share familiar design elements.
The 1920s Mediterranean-style villa was recently purchased by real estate developer Eduardo Goudie for nearly $1.6 million. From the moment Goudie announced his intention to demolish the home and redevelop the half-acre on which it stands, he met with resistance from the community.
Grove residents mounted a campaign to preserve the house almost immediately after it was slated for demolition. Save the Grove, an organization founded by neighboring homeowners, moved to nominate the St. Gaudens' house to the Historic Designation with the City of Miami. A historic designation would prevent the home from being drastically altered or torn down.
On Tuesday night, preservationists won the first round and succeeded in temporarily halting Goudie's demolition plans. The city's historic preservation board voted 7-0 stop demolition until the city's planners can prepare a detailed report allowing the board to make a final decision as to whether or not the home merits historic status.
In what might signal an even greater victory for Save the Grove, city preservation officer Megan Schmitt indicated that she would like to nominate even more St. Gaudens' homes for historic designation. "We are absolutely of the opinion there is more to be designated on this block," she said.
Grove residents packed the boardroom many of whom aired their concerns about the neighborhood loosing its look to McMansions. "Neighboring property owners are looking to preserve the historic feel in an area where many historic homes have recently fallen to developers" Save the Grove said in a statement, "they are fighting back -- hoping to maintain the aesthetic of the neighborhood."
Goudie disputed the significance of the home. His architect, Jose Puentes, told the board that the house is "old, it's beautiful, but historic is a little more than that. It's not important."
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It's a familiar fight -- the Hochstein's (AKA the Real Housewife and the Boob God) recently earned their fair share of headlines when they razed a 1920s Star Island mansion -- and a seemingly constant struggle in Miami to weigh the balance between development and historic preservation. Weighing that balance can be tough, the preservationists knee-jerk reaction to saving versus the investment-driven desire to destroy often places historians, architects, and community members on opposing sides of emotionally-charged battles. And as architect and former Miami Art Museum director Terence Riley recently argued, the proliferation of historic districts can, problematically, lead to a shortage of affordable housing.
But as more and more homes are slated for demolition in favor of even more expensive real estate developments, it's likely a problem Miami will eventually have to deal with head-on.