Real Estate

Fisher Family: Destroying Church Courtyard Shows "Lack of Respect for History and Culture"

Sometime this morning, the Miami Beach Historical Preservation Board will decide whether or not to grant a rehearing on the controversial plan to turn the Miami Beach Community Church courtyard into a clothing store. Church leaders claim the plan will save the struggling parish. Preservationists and some church members, meanwhile, say the plan will be a disaster.

One man who hasn't weighed in until now is Jerry Fisher, the last living relative of Carl Fisher, the man who founded the church and much of Miami Beach.

Destroying the courtyard would show "a lack of respect for history and culture," Fisher says. "Once it's been destroyed you can never go back. That's the problem."

See also: Miami Beach Community Church Controversy: Developer Donated $500,000 Before Key Vote

Jerry Fisher isn't just Carl's last living relative: he is also his famous forefather's biographer. In his book The Pacesetter, Jerry describes how Carl Fisher invented the automobile headlight, founded the Indianapolis 500 race, and created the first transcontinental highway.

Perhaps Carl Fisher's biggest legacy, however, was in creating Miami Beach out of a mangrove patch. In exchange for financing a bridge to the island, Fisher was given a huge chunk of land on Miami Beach. From that parcel he crafted Lincoln Road and much of South Beach.

Shortly after Christmas 1919, Carl Fisher's wife, Jane, convinced him to donate land on Lincoln Road and $50,000 to build the island's first church: the Miami Beach Congregational Church.

"That courtyard... has so much history," Jerry Fisher says. "This is the last green, grassy spot on Lincoln Road. And this is one of the last ties in history to Carl and Jane Fisher. Carl gave that property with the strict stipulation that it would be used for a church and not a commercial development."

Destroying the courtyard to build a clothing store would be an insult to Carl Fisher's legacy, his relative says.

"It will be a tragedy if this becomes just another commercial enterprise," Jerry Fisher says. "Four or five years from now, if that doesn't work out, they'll put something else there like a Starbucks. Where does it end?

"South Florida's Cultural heritage will be gone," he says. "Its ties to the past would be completely gone. That would be a shame in my opinion."

Fisher points out that next year is the centennial of Miami Beach's founding.

"The last icon of the true history of Miami Beach should be preserved so that future generations know about the little white church, as it was known," he says. "To have construction cranes in there when this all happening next year just doesn't make sense to me."