Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Marjory Stoneman Douglas' House in Coconut Grove

Sunday Nov. 26, the Miami Herald reported that the Florida Division of State Lands plans to move Marjory Stoneman Douglas' Miami house three miles north to Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden. The state would then auction the vacant lot, and the money would go towards maintenance of the 1926 structure.

The proposal to move the house is in response to conflict between the South Grove neighborhood and preservation and environmental groups interested in using the property as an educational center. While people on both sides of the issue agree that questions of traffic and appropriate land use need to be addressed, preservationists are also concerned (in the words of reporter Curtis Morgan) that a land auction would "raise the likelihood that the historic home of a woman often described as the environmental conscience of Florida would be replaced by a McMansion."

Marjory Stoneman Douglas led an incredible life, 108 years of it. Her book The Everglades: River of Grass was published in 1947, and in 1969 she founded Friends of the Everglades. Her autobiography, Voice of the River, is a favorite of mine. On pages 171 - 173, Douglas describes her Coconut Grove house.

I didn't need much of a house, just a workshop, a place of my own. All I wanted was one big room with living quarters tacked on. I knew an architect, George Hyde, who drew up some plans. He mostly built factories, which was fortunate, because I hoped my little house would be as stout and as sparse as a factory with not much to worry about.

As a 34-year-old divorced woman living with her father, buying her own house represented her independence: "The house was a great influence on my life, and so important that I often think of it more than the other things I was doing during those years."

Author John Rothchild, who edited the autobiography, describes on p. 16 his first visit to her house:

To get there, I had to drive through the middle of the business district, once a haven for beatniks and peyote-takers, now a fashionable stretch of liberal commerce. Beyond the business district are the residential subtropical jungles, and then among the ranchettes, Alhambras, and displaced plazzos is her mushroom-roofed cottage.

The house had no driveway, as Marjory Stoneman Douglas never learned to drive, and the house had no air conditioning, designed to be "open to breezes."

That the state is committed to preserving the house is admirable. That the house never truly fit into its neighborhood also seems apparent. But can the house remain true to the philosophy of its builder if it is moved, and something else built in its place?


Update on Marjory Stoneman Douglas House


  1. Anonymous8:26 PM

    I think Marjory's house should remain in the original place and made into a museum but you should have to make reservations to come and only like 10 or 15 people at a time or in that day!

  2. Anonymous8:27 AM

    haven't we given up enough!

  3. Anonymous8:00 AM

    This charming little house fell into the hands of the Florida Park Service (FPS). They spent a lot of money on it - ruined the historic value (e.g. polyurethene on the floors). They also installed a dim-witted FPS person who installed modern lights on the outside. This person lived there to 'protect' it, but in fact did even more to destroy it. NEVER, EVER let a government entity take change of a historic site. The results are always between bad and horrible.


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