Like Coral Castle and Tobacco Road, the ex-shrimper hideaway known as Jimbo's Place (Duck Lake Rd., Virginia Key) is one of those odd outcroppings of the subtropical landscape that provides an increasingly necessary contrast to Miami's million condos and strip malls.
For more than a half-century, James "Jimbo" Luznar has held his place on the northeast edge of Virginia Key, a strip of City of Miami land he's been allowed to occupy according to a long-standing verbal deal. Yet right now it's uncertain whether the place will survive much longer. A few months ago, the city enacted a $5 entry fee and issued warnings about the dilapidated Bahama shacks and other junk cluttering Jimbo's yard. Then things got worse: A few trailers caught fire and the electricity was cut, leaving Jimbo's powered by generators for the past 100 days.
Last week, New Times spoke with unofficial Jimbo's spokesman Robert Burr. For one, he confirmed Luznar's 84th birthday party would still go off this Sunday at 11 a.m. as previously planned. For another, Burr updated us on the ongoing conflict with the City of Miami, outlined a few possible solutions, and discussed Friends of Jimbo, his community activist group that's always existed to protect Jimbo's Place from outside attack.
New Times: What's the situation out at Jimbo's?
Robert Burr: It's getting interesting. At Jimbo's, they're still running on a generator. You know, there's ice-cold beer, smoked fish, the usual. But the good news with the City of Miami is that there's a new guy in charge of film and television [Harry Emilio Gottlieb]. And they're working on a plan now to fix up the shacks at Jimbo's to be able to use them once again for TV, film, and photo production.
So, is fixing those broken-down shacks the first step to normalizing things again?
Actually, if you go back another step, the real first step is the city realizing how it's all supposed to work.
It's all been accidental. Back in 1980, a film called Island Claws built those shacks. You know, like any props, they weren't supposed to last. Yet they were sort of a curiosity, and it would have cost Jimbo's money to tear them down, so they didn't. Then, along the way, other people came around and said, "Oh, we'd like to use those for a shoot." And they'd repaint the shacks and whatnot.
Here's what should have happened in the beginning: The City of Miami should have taken control of the shacks, rebuilt them, and charged money to use them. But the whole accidental thing is what we got instead. And then you've got all these misunderstandings: Did Jimbo build all these shacks? Does he own the shacks? Is he supposed to fix up the shacks?
Yeah, these Bahama shacks are one of the central disputes here. But if Jimbo doesn't own them, who does?
In fact, no one owns the shacks. But Jimbo, being the nice guy he is, would go out when a hurricane or something was coming and strap the shacks down so they'd still be there because they're very lightweight. Some people were critical of Jimbo, saying, "How can you let them shacks go to hell like that?" And he's like, "They're not my shacks! What am I supposed to do? Take my beer money and fix 'em up? 'Cause when someone rents 'em, I don't get any money."
Earlier you mentioned the city should take control of the shacks. What are some of the possible solutions?
What we need to do, and the city is just beginning to realize this, is go back to square one and think, What should be the role of the shacks? And who should own them? And how should it work? So the possibilities are: Either a production company owns them or a prop company owns them or the city owns them. And whoever owns them should maintain the shacks and get a fee when people use them. That's as far as we've gotten so far. But that's progress because, remember, it was all just accidental.
After so many months of conflict, you seem pretty optimistic that things will get sorted out.
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Well, if things go well, the shacks will be rebuilt. It's a fact that production companies will happily pay some kind of fee to use and modify them. I was at a meeting with Mayor Tomás Regalado and Harry Emilio Gottlieb that was attended by about 100 people from the film industry. One of the comments about how they can all work together better was: "Something's gotta be done about Jimbo's." Obviously, the film community is interested in getting this location back. So maybe there could be some cooperation between set designers and carpenters and our volunteers.
There's just so much you can do with the place. Throw a couple of gas pumps out there and it's a gas station. Hang a big fish and it's a taxidermist. Put a "Rooms for Rent" sign out there and it's a place to stay. There's a need among film producers for that little fishing village thing.
And Friends of Jimbo -- what's its role?
Honestly, what I did was build an email list of over 2,000 names so that when the bulldozers showed up, we could all go, "The hell you say!" Usually, the Friends of Jimbo list is only used once a year for Jimbo's birthday party. But we always had it sort of cocked and ready to shoot if we needed. And this Sunday's party will be a chance for people who really care to come together, have fun, and begin to organize.