Postcards from the Edgewater

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Back then, Carriero says, Edgewater was enjoying the city's postwar boom. The anchor to the south was a four-story Jordan Marsh on Seventeenth Street (where the Omni shopping center awaits transformation), the most glamorous department store in Miami. She remembers the store's big picture windows filled with ornaments, dancing dolls, and elegant clothes. On the grounds were fish ponds surrounded by benches, where people could sit and enjoy the afternoons. “It was so beautiful,” she recalls, pausing to savor the memory. “You don't have department stores like that anymore.”

Carriero lived in three different houses in Edgewater, all within four blocks of one another. Her current residence backs up against the bay, and her husband loved to sit on the balcony for hours and watch the boats glide by. “I never thought my husband would die and that I would stay all by myself,” she says, shaking her head.

They loved the house and the waterfront location, but by 1982 they knew the neighborhood was turning rough around the edges. True, the Juan Pablo Segundo retreat for Jesuit priests stood just down the road, but she also remembers counting three drug rehab houses right across the street.

As she chats a family of ducks waddles down the sidewalk past her house. They belong to a neighbor whose menagerie also includes roosters and often spills out on to the street and stops traffic. Carriero pays them scant attention but does take note of the latest wave of immigrants in the neighborhood. Most, she explains, are from Central America, and they've brought a change to the area.

“Nobody threw papers or littered,” she remarks wistfully. “Now they don't care.”

Why did Edgewater begin to fall into decay? Many of its old-timers say the changes began when their own children grew up and moved away from the neighborhood, robbing it of continuity. Houses were sold rather than passed down within families, and over the years, absentee landlords filled the vacuum.

In the 1970s and 1980s, economics and politics dealt a one-two punch to the neighborhood. Speculators, many of them wealthy South Americans, bought millions of dollars' worth of property in the community but neglected their holdings as they waited for buyers and the next development boom. By 1983, hoping to ease the growing blight by encouraging developers to demolish old buildings and replace them with high-rises, the Miami City Commission rezoned the neighborhood from single-family homes to multifamily residences. But there was no boom, recalls James Stover, the former owner and president of Bay Realty of Florida, located in Edgewater. He began selling property in the community in 1973 and remembers that economic collapse in South America brought much of the investment to a halt.

There has been social as well as economic unrest: The 1980 Liberty City riots and the Mariel boatlift were the final straws for many Edgewater homeowners, who fled north to Broward. In their wake came a flood of newly arrived Cubans. The city commission rezoning lure backfired on the neighborhood as property owners exploited the high-density allowances to subdivide the old houses, duplexes, and buildings into tiny apartments to shelter the immigrants. Edgewater became a place to begin anew and then leave as soon as possible.

And as the community atmosphere evaporated, prostitutes, drug dealers, and vagrants also moved in. The city government, mired in corruption and inefficiency, did little to stem the tide. Neglected buildings fell into disrepair as they were abandoned or taken over by squatters.

Carriero and other residents of the neighborhood say they struggled over the years to try to reverse the decline. In 1987 she joined a homeowners organization that through the years harangued the city into razing dozens of derelict buildings that had become havens for crack addicts.

“We fought very hard, and that was good,” she says.

Stover, who is 88 years old and retired, sees slow signs of renewal. He sold his company to Arvida Realty but retains a financial interest and is hopeful that sales will increase. “It looks like we might not come out smelling like a rose,” he admits. “But maybe we can break even.”

Carriero, however, is tired. She's weathered all the neighborhood's ups and downs and has trouble getting around. She's not interested in waiting to see how Edgewater turns out. Her taxes are getting too high. She's had offers to sell that become more appealing as time passes.

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Jacob Bernstein
Contact: Jacob Bernstein