Friday, May 22, 2009

St. Stephen's Church-Another one bites the dust!


Once again, the rich and greedy of Miami, ignoring all pleas of preservationists and lovers of our community, have torn down an important historic building and a big part of my Miami memories. On May 5th of this year, in a stealthy and secretive move, the church elders called in the wrecking ball. Going back on their word to preservationist Arva Parks Moore and community leaders, they summarily tore down the 1912 church, the oldest in Miami. Their argument? Not good enough for the students, has a few leaks, blah blah blah...you get the picture. The real story? A deal with Jorge Perez and the Related Companies to build commercial space on the coveted MacFarlane location to line their greedy little pockets. Hardly news in Miami but still shocking that the religious leaders and community church members would do such a dastardly deed.

In 1958, now so many years ago, I attended St. Stephen's Episcopal Day School on it's inauguration. I have wonderful memories of that little school on the edge of Peacock Park where me and my buddies would run around playing our games and trying (unsuccessfully!) to stay out of mischief. I remember our headmaster Father Densmore herding all our classes to make the procession into the chapel every morning. The church was an anomaly in its day, a spacious airy structure that felt warm and filled with light all day long. It was in the Mission style and unique in a city of traditional stuffy churches of classical style. It would mark special events like when we went there to pray for the safety of the new Mercury astronauts. I actually liked to go to church every day! Not many 9 year olds could make that claim today!

When one gets older and begins to lose their immediate family, these pentimentos are what keeps us anchored to this world and feeling we are part of a greater family, a community of people tied by our common past and the physical spots that remind us of them. Preservation, therefore, is not just about keeping beautiful old buildings and monuments in place. Rather, it is about preserving our common memories and experiences and passing on a small piece of them to generations here and yet to come. To me the church was not just a wonderful old building meriting salvation but also a repository of all my memories of those early days of my youth, of Father Densmore and Mrs. Agnes Johnston, my fourth grade teacher. Of my buddies Vose Babcock, Nat Heiner, Brian Bowman, Malcolm McNaughton and Jesse Merritt. Of whatever surrounded that beautiful old church that was the Coconut Grove of my memories. Now it's gone. Shame on you Pastor Wilifred Allen Faiella! You may become a successful entrepreneur with your new venture but you have destroyed a beautiful thing.

10 comments:

Karen McCammon said...

Dave--would love to know if you knew my brother Chip Corlett, who was friends w Vose, etc--I went to St Stephens-when it had a Jr High School-Fr Densomre, Fr Martin, Fr Monroe, etc--Did you graduate from Gables or Miami High? When
Karen McCammon

Dave said...

Was he in our 4th grade class? My family moved to Europe for a few years after 4th grade and when I came back I attended and graduated from LaSalle High School class of 1967. I skipped a year since I was ahead in my studies. I would have been a 1968 graduate otherwise.

ShaNaNa said...

Dave - This is Nat Heiner. I just stumbled on your note about wrecking St Stephens. How? I occasionally troll through Google images to see who has popped up from my past. For some strange reason, I thought of Vose Babcock, and that led me to your entry. Did you know Charlie Cousins? I think we were all together in 4th grade at St Stephens. Charlie died last year, under very sad circumstances. Remember Melissa Sieber and Cathy Schaefer? I just heard they're around and about. Thanks for reminding me of root beer floats & cherry bombs at the corner store, catching seagulls in the park, our little corner of the universe in the Grove. Seems like another galaxy now. Anyhow, good to know some of us are still around to haunt the old places... - Nat

Dave said...

Hey Nat! great to hear you are alive and well. I'm afraid I don't really remember Charlie, Melissa or Cathy, but my memory seems to be slipping these days. It certainly does seem an eternity since we ran around the Grove performing our mischief! Are you still living in Miami? Did you stay in St. Stephen's through elementary school? I left Miami to go to graduate school in New York in 1973 and didn't return to Miami until 1991, just in time for Hrricane Andrew!. Hope to hear from you again soon. All my best!

Mother Earth Healing Herbs | Oils said...

Dave,
Thanks so much, Its great going down memory lane! I remember all these sites and places! What a great journey!

Liz Nat said...

Well, Dave, this is Nat again, back after a 6-year leave from this blog. I just saw your note and questions. Y stayed in St Stephens until 6th grade, when I went to Miami Country Day. Then I was off with family to the Washington DC area through the end of high school. Shortly after that, we were both in the same place: New York City. I was there 1968-1978. Then Europe, then Brazil, then back to DC in 1984. Been there ever since. But I remember our times perfectly, including Father Densmore...

Dave said...

Well Nat, looks like I missed you again for a 2 year hiatus! If you ever get back to Miami let me know.

Philip said...

Uh, I'm kind of confused by the "secretive" comment. I was informed 4 years ago that the elders intended to tear down the church. They also tore down the building that once housed my kindergaden classroom (later to become the original "Twice Around Shop" that sold second hand stuff to fund the church and school). The building has memories for all of us. That doesn't mean it hasn't out lived it's day. I'm sure there are a lot of tears and anger about this, so I won't comment further. However I was informed sometime around 2014, I think, on the St. S. listserv, of the intent 2014 to rebuild. Philip. St. S: 59 to 61.

Philip said...

Ammendment: I meant 2004 about the intent to tear the church down. Note: as of last December, it was still standing. -Philip

Karen McCammon said...

St Stephens still stands. It does not have "owners" per se, except the Diocese of SE Florida . The old Main Hwy first church was torn down. Rebuilt by Dioceze into more useable space. Many were unhappy at loss of historic building but main church still front and center, as is school.