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Monday, March 11, 2019

Stop the county from destroying history

So many experts claim that the Coconut Grove Playhouse should be restored and not demolished. Why is there only one plan? At the HEP board meeting last Tuesday night, one of the only people with sense was vice chair Lynn Lewis and the county tried to stifle her from the start because they know she is onto them. I understand that the county wants a new chrome and glass building. But why? Why not even try to duplicate the existing building if that has to go, why such a drastic change?

Experts like Zev Buffman, who operated the playhouse in the 1960s and is not only a producer, but some would say an expert in the field says that large theaters are coming back. So why limit the site to a small 300-seat chrome and glass structure?

Why make the theater an afterthought in a row of chrome and glass structures? Is it all about money? What else could it be?

Once the building is destroyed, that's it. It's gone. Old buildings are the key to transforming a city. An interesting article about Tucson, AZ shows how their alternative approach to growth has changed the city for the better, an alternative to over-development.

Jorge Hernandez, the historic architect for the county keeps pushing his less than smart idea that there were so many changes over the years that it is not historic. How can a 100 year old building not be historic? He makes no sense. None.

The building has elements of the original architect from the 1920s Richard Kiehnel, it also has elements of Alfred Browning Parker who renovated it in the 1950s after oilman George Engle bought it, and that's when major plays were performed there including Waiting for Godot, which was the first during its 1956 reopening. That was the time period, 1963 actually, when the Coconut Grove Arts Festival was born - due to the playhouse and a promotional idea. 

Zef Buffman ran the theater at that time. 

Two award-winning architects of the 20th century had their hand in the playhouse - Kiehnel and Parker. People seek out their work today. Why are we destroying it so that some high end developers can add to their coffers?

The selling point is that the new theater will be state-of-the-art and be able to accommodate modern techniques. But theaters all over the country in small towns all over, have renovated their 100 year old theaters just fine. They are usually the centerpiece of the town. I see them in New England, Long Island and places in between.

I'm not quite sure why some HEP board members were speaking about acoustics and which plays would be put on and the interesting part is that the county's only defense was how great Joe Adler is as a director/producer and he will put on great plays, which I am sure he will, but this wasn't about the upcoming summer theater program, it was about the building itself, not about Joe Adler. It wasn't a job interview for Joe Adler, but you would think that was what the meeting was about.

In the end, it was declared by experts that the auditorium as well as the front "wings area" are in good shape and not in danger of falling down, and the whole structure can be renovated. Why not do that? If the building is knocked down, then so is all the history and the work of Kihenel and Parker is gone for good and so is another part of Coconut Grove history, which is happening all around us these days.

Miami's Olympia Theater
7 Stunning Historic Florida Theaters
League of Historic American Theaters
14 Historic American Theaters
Walnut Street Theatre - the oldest theater in America
33 of America's Most Charming Theater Marquees 

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Blogger Unknown said...

We are losing too many old, beautiful buildings. They are part of our history. Restoration, not just razing, is the answer.

March 12, 2019 2:09 PM  
Blogger Nadine Johnson said...

Preservation over demolition!

March 12, 2019 10:05 PM  
Anonymous John said...

100% the Playhouse should be preserved. The only problem is, where will the money come from to do significantly more than what is proposed? The county is arrogant, but they control the land and the budget. The city can weigh in on the plan to a point, but unless they or a collection of millionaires raise another $10 to 20 million, the only card they can play is to say no...and then what?

March 12, 2019 11:07 PM  

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