Miami’s Picturesque Grove Park: The Million Dollar Subdivision
By Paul S. George
The City of Miami’s development proceeded in different directions as this sub-tropical Eden saw large swaths of hammock and piney woods areas yield to new residential subdivisions following its incorporation in 1896. The area along the Miami River represented a particularly picturesque portion of that Edenic wilderness. Especially striking were the vast holdings of General Samuel Lawrence, a wealthy New Englander and onetime Union general in the Civil War who, as a newly-arrived Miamian, purchased, in 1897, more than 700 acres of land.
General Lawrence’s holdings stretched from the south bank of the Miami River between today’s NW 19th Avenue east to NW 12th Avenue and deep into the area south of the stream. The City of Miami’s Sewell Park was originally the venue for General Lawrence’s beloved gardens, his Riverside Dairy, and a guest house. Traces of structures attributed to General Lawrence, including partial foundations of the guest house on the ridge toward the park’s south end, and a boat house near the water’s edge, are still visible. Towering palms, once a part of the General’s gardens, are also found in the park.
General Lawrence left Miami in the early 1900s and returned to his Massachusetts home. Upon his death in 1911, the Tatum Brothers, four of early Miami’s most prominent developers, bought the Lawrence holdings and began carving subdivisions from them. Perhaps their most picturesque subdivision was Grove Park, which stands on the south bank of the Miami River stretching south to today’s NW 7th Street. Its east-west dimensions reach from NW 14th Avenue to the west side of NW 17th Avenue.
After converting the area immediately south of Grove Park into the picturesque Riverside Heights neighborhood, with its distinctive Belvedere Bungalow homes, the Tatums turned their attention to Grove Park, which they marketed, beginning in 1921, as the “Million Dollar Subdivision.” They chose the name “Grove Park” because the land comprising the future subdivision was covered with grapefruit, orange, and other subtropical fruit trees.
The Tatums took great care to prepare their new subdivision, dredging and bulkheading the riverfront with an ornamental seawall, creating paved and oiled streets, and providing boat landings for every riverfront lot. Two parks represented additional amenities. Four ornate stone pillars marked its entranceway at the confluence of NW 17th Avenue and NW 7th Street. Just inside the subdivision stood long rows of grapefruit trees. Lots ranged from $9,000 for waterfront properties to $2,400 for those farther inland. Every lot was required to host “Nothing less than a $5,000 residence.” An additional stricture warned, “No crowing hens or cackling roosters allowed, neither cattle or horses.”
Miami was in the early stages of a great real estate boom at the time the subdivision was placed on the market, and lots sold quickly. Soon beautiful homes, many in the Mediterranean style, rose in the former fruit orchard. By the 1940s, the neighborhood was almost fully developed. An especially intriguing facet of the neighborhood were those vessels moored in the dark waters of the Miami River and hosting liveaboards.
As the decades unfolded, many of Miami’s most prominent citizens called the subdivision home. Their ranks included Harry Tuttle, the son of Julia Tuttle, Miami’s “Mother;”
John and Pauline Burdine of merchandising fame; Senator Frederick Hudson, president of the Florida State Senate; Hoke Maroon, prominent banker and financier; Jackie Ott, the fabled “aqua tot;” Judge Tom Ferguson; and Dr. Thomas Hutson, the grandson of Dr. James M. Jackson, and a leading figure in medical and civic circles; Dr. B. F. Stebbins, a noted optometrist; and even B.B. Tatum, one of its developers. Later, Howard Gary, the City of Miami’s lone Black manager, called Grove Park home.
While the neighborhood remained insulated from the quickening pace of life in Miami, its location across from the storied Orange Bowl stadium for 75 years brought an element of excitement, with the rich array of sporting and other events hosted there. An ill-advised decision in the 1960s to build the right of way of the Florida State Road 836 Expressway through the neighborhood led to the demolition of many homes in the northern portions of Grove Park, and effectively bifurcated the community. Surprisingly, few homes other than those in the path of the expressway have been razed. While the subdivision experienced a malaise after droves of residents moved to the new suburbs ringing the county in the expansive decades following World War II, today’s Grove Park is again a coveted neighborhood owing to its central location, its elegant homes, a surfeit of foliage, and quiet streets.