A few months later, a black pastor, H.H. Higgs, was kidnapped by a carful of white men and beaten for preaching racial equality in his church, Dunn said.
Neighbors raised money to send him back to the Bahamas for his safety.
Segregation also fueled the will that built the community’s pillars. For many, the neighborhood’s centerpiece was Carver High, the segregated school just across the street from Cooper’s house. Carver produced a stellar cast of alumni: doctors, teachers, musicians. When it was desegregated, many talented students and teachers went elsewhere.
But the long-timers didn’t give up. Frustrated by bars operating on the four corners of Grand and Douglas, 20 residents pooled their money in the 1980s and bought land on the northeast corner, said Henry Givens, president of Grovites United To Survive.
The group tried to build a plaza with an outdoor market, but couldn’t secure financing.
“We certainly have not been encouraging strip joints,” Givens said. “We have not been encouraging check-cashing stores. But when it comes to affordable housing and any type of development that lends pride to … the entire Grove, we’re 100 percent behind it.”
Fits and starts
For many years, the east end of Grand Avenue was owned by the Blumenthal family. Patriarch Max Blumenthal began buying land and buildings in the 1930s, great-grandson David Blumenthal told the New Times in a 2005 story.
But in 2001, a tenant sued, saying her son suffered lead poisoning from old paint. Rather than fight, David Blumenthal settled the lawsuit and sold his apartment buildings to the Greater St. Paul AME Church. The church sold the buildings to developers, led by Phillip Muskat and Julio Marrero.
The group began assembling properties that now include nearly every lot fronting Grand Avenue between Plaza and Margaret Streets, property records show.
“It was a shock to us,” said Range, who had been in talks with his landlord to buy the funeral home’s land on Grand. “We had heard rumblings they were looking at property, but we were taken aback. We just received a letter in the mail one day saying hello, we are your new landlords and you should send payment to X address.”
Residents say the buildings are increasingly dilapidated; Miami Police Commander Richard Gentry said they are the center of the neighborhood’s drug trade.
Muskat, however, said the buildings are maintained. And no major improvements were done, he said, because for much of the time the land was under contract with the Pointe Group.
“If they were horrible, they wouldn’t be rented, and the fact is, you can’t put a $25,000 kitchen in an apartment that rents for $650 a month,” he said. “We don’t knowingly rent to a drug dealer. Nobody does.”
The group had planned to build 12-story condos, but the plan met opposition so fierce the city limited building heights to 60 feet. That move, Muskat argues, was the street’s undoing.
“If we were back to building 12 stories, people would be banging on our doors now and we could probably provide a whole ton of affordable housing,” he said.
But even assuming brisk demand, building affordable housing has not been easy, Parrish said.
His first buyer was Sheryl Ogletree, a postal carrier who’d grown up in different houses around the neighborhood. She bought the house in 1995, she said, because she never stopped loving the Grove.