Monthly Archives: January 2015

theOr, Our Life As a House.

With grateful acknowledgment to the University of Miami Digital Initiative, an amazing historic and visual resource.

MIAMI is my hometown, as it was my father’s before me, and I am interested in its history. Yet history is an extremely fleeting thing in this city, incorporated only in 1896. The dreamers, schemers, and builders relentlessly driving the city forward have been primarily obsessed with visions of “progress” and the shimmering horizon of the always-great future, and rarely paused to look back even for a moment. Consequently, much of its rich, various, and abundant architectural heritage has been carelessly discarded and often ground to dust.


The demolition of this particular building proved a “flash point,” as the cutting-edge historic preservation effort was then well underway, and the owner apparently nervous.  The movement suddenly burst into flame, and the die was cast.  History seems to be judging the results kindly: as it turns out, honoring and protecting those old buildings was visionary wisdom, and an absolute triumph.

 THE house we have come to call “the Mission” is old by Miami standards, built in 1927. The city was then only thirty years old. That time and place is now long gone and nearly forgotten, even hard to imagine.

Mouth of Miami River, ca. 1906. Below, today.
(Courtesy of Google maps.)

It was a time when people had time to visit, as those from the South say, and kept always on hand some iced tea, soda pop, or what have you, for neighbors “just passing by.”




 “Royal Oak Arch Tree, Miami”

Mission POST color



Mangroves, Sunny Isles.


Ocean Drive, South of Lincoln Road. (1912)



Even well into the late ’20’s, the Eastern edge of the “Great River of Grass” known as the Everglades lay just along where 27th Avenue now runs North/ South. Ten blocks west of where the Mission sits.

Micco_A_Seminole_Indian_Boy []

SO I love to listen for clues. The Mission is just a house, a simple one, really, and offers no pretension of being anything else. But it has been well-loved, and much lived in. The fact that it still remains, even retaining its stubborn dignity, in a place where history is so very disposable, means something.




And old houses talk. Always, to those who take the time to listen and are willing to pay attention. They tell stories, louder than words and often more honestly. Like people, they are conceived with great hope, and embody a portion of some greater dream. They too have their seasons, endure the wear and tear of experience, and witness their days of glory and decline. The idea of “home” could not be more integral to the great “American dream,” nor to any of our notions of society or community. And the ends of their stories, as ours, are as of yet still unwritten.

There is something about vintage homes, to me, that is special. The world is ever changing, and I suppose always has been. Yet I cannot imagine that the felt velocity of those changes has ever seemed greater, and nowhere might their impact be felt more intensely or keenly than in this sprawling, multicultural, chaotic, “happening” of a place that is Metropolitan Miami. So I find myself grounded in the architecture of the past.


The American homestead of great-grandparents Johann & Mathilde Petersen & their two daughters, Kathe and Annelise, ca. 1920, following the family’s immigration from their ancestral home of Flensburg, Germany.  Within fairly short order my Great-Grandfather had carved out of the true wilderness of the Redlands, about thirty miles south of Miami, a producing citrus grove/ working horticultural science laboratory / expansive garden of exotic tropical fruit /tourist attraction called “Bonita Groves.”

Mathilde & Johann.  Annelise was my paternal grandmother and a fifth-grade teacher at nearby Coral Way Elementary for decades.  Older sister Kathe was also a lifetime schoolteacher (known as Mrs. Wilson) and much-beloved, teaching German to generations of students at Coral Gables High School.

A wonderful riff on the Great Florida Dream, helping “sell” the Dream of Bonita Groves. Witness my great-grandfather sipping a pina colada while his wife toils away the creation of one of the many citrus-based products churned out by the Grove.

Annelise now lays at rest with her “one and only,” my grandfather, Howard Bruce Crockett, under the oak-shaded lawn of the historic Miami City Cemetery.  They are both loved, and well earned their rest.  May they share an unending dream of joy together.

Newlyweds, 1925



WE cannot do other than move forward, but as the days seem to fly by ever more quickly I find in older homes an excellent “starting point” for living my life, one that helps soothe me and enriches my experience. Something about them quietly whispers “Breathe, Paul.” “There is always time. Just breathe.” And they would know. So something within me responds, simply and gratefully, “Yes!”


The Mission is two bedrooms, one bath, and one huge vision. Its thorough renovation, from top to bottom, side to side, can be understood only as a labor of love, if indeed it is to be understood at all. That’s really the only way to describe it: the time, energy, and resources that have been invested in its renovation (or really, rebirth!) over the last couple of years defy logic or reason.


Mater Bedroom

Its name seemed to come to us naturally, inspired by its Old Spanish/ “mission” style of architecture, simple and classic, and the long and winding journey on which it has led us. Its original features have been maintained whenever possible; its lighting fixtures, hardwood floors, working casement windows hand-built of Florida cypress wood, numerous inset panel and French doors throughout, all gleam as if installed maybe last Tuesday.


Original cypress wooden windows freed at last from decades-long slumber under layers of paint. Open (ahhh!), to garden View

And the home is enhanced by the best and brand new: central air/heat, under-the-counter washer & dryer, stainless steel kitchen appliances, and much much more. It is furnished in a very comfortable yet truly eclectic style, and ready for immediate enjoyment. Here is truly a “home away from home,” and you are the one for whom its many features and comforts have been prepared.

It’s simple, really: Miami is my hometown, and I am at home here. And though the city may not turn out to be at all your “cup of tea,” which would most certainly be understandable, I am nevertheless willing to go “the extra mile,” or maybe even further, so that once you’d returned home you’d be able to say, at least, that you’d had a really great place to stay while you were here, and were perhaps surprised at just how comfortable it had been!


A sitting area in your private garden, awaiting your pleasure.

In a city where real estate has been “hyped” to the extent of collective numbness, here is an experience of rare quality: a window into a simpler, more peaceful, and less pressured time, yet situated close to center of the inspired insanity and excitement that is today’s metropolis.


From Miami: an Introduction, a tourist booklet, 1919

The home sits in the heart of the city’s historic Shenandoah neighborhood, a once prominent area established years before the first cornerstone was laid in that brash “planned development” so audaciously envisioned by a young George Merrick on land that had been his father’s citrus plantation, now known as Coral Gables.

Yet that was long, long ago.

For some years the neighborhood slipped gently into a state of general decline as the fascination and restless fancy of the growing public attached to the newer and more “uniform” communities being built ever further to the West, where for millennia untold there had before been only the savage majesty of the wild Everglades, and to the South, down into the great pine forests of Cutler Ridge and Kendall, and always to the North.

Only the closely bounded shoreline and the salted blue waters of Biscayne Bay and boundless Ocean to the East, it may be safe to say, had prevented further development in that direction as well.

“Drive to Cocoanut Grove, Miami, Fla.”

WITH the arrival of the first wave of Cuban exiles in the early 1960’s, and the multitudes that thereafter followed from that and a number of other Spanish-speaking countries, the area became known generally as part of “Little Habana.” That the neighborhood had once readily and proudly identified itself as “Shenandoah” seemed destined to become quaint fact, a cultural oddity now only hinted at only by names inscribed upon its branch Post Office, its middle and elementary schools, and so forth. The word had lost all context, and thus any meaning. Nobody cared.


The corner store here pictured in the 1930’s is still open for business, but now serving an excellent café con leche.

But the only constant is change. As the pendulum currently swings, in the Shenandoah neighborhood of Miami as in other historic neighborhoods in urban areas across the Nation, there has been a resurging groundswell of interest in the idea of “neighborhood.” The collective experience of neighborhood has taken on new life, and the idea again become relevant, immediately so, in new and vital ways. Amidst the cacophonous chaos of modern life a deep hunger has taken hold for a sense of “rootedness,” or a personal “history of place.” People seek first to understand what their neighborhood is, I suppose, in part so they might better understand where they now find themselves, and what that might mean.

Quite often the path of that inquiry leads to an exploration of what once was.


The unique dreams of a place often speak most directly of its heart.

Personally, I find my rear-view mirror to be of great and practical value as I navigate forward.

In my passion for history, particularly as it relates to my home and my hometown, I am not alone.

The Shenandoah neighborhood has not only reclaimed its identity, but steadily improved its standing as a desirable and safe place to live. Demand for the homes has remained fairly steady even in the economic free fall in which this city, along with the rest of the country, now finds itself. The area is increasingly prized for its historic architecture and central location, as traffic congestion continues (impossibly) to worsen on Miami’s roadways. Odds are, from where the Mission sits you are only minutes away from many of the places you want to be, or to see while you are here.

All of which leads us right back to the present, and to the future potential of your visit. Your comfort, enjoyment, and well-being are our driving goals. We have been waiting for you!