Miami native Benjamin Bistrong, a descendant on his mother’s side to a pioneering group of home-builders who emigrated from the Bahamas to Key West in the 1830s, worked to bring South Florida into a modern Stone Age.
But not in a primitive Flintstones fashion. Rather, in grand, lavish landscaping and stonescaping that turned his start-up company, Jungle B’s Landscaping, into a showpiece of what made-in-Miami ingenuity can accomplish.
Bistrong, 44, died July 23 of pancreatic cancer.
He started Jungle B’s in 1995 out of the trunk of his car, a 1980 Cadillac, with a wheelbarrow, picks and shovels. There were no business loans. He went door to door, taking one job at a time, brother Jared Bistrong said.
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Soon, Bistrong purchased a five-acre parcel of land in Redland for $100,000. Here, he built his landmark compound out of coral rock, festooned with waterfalls that spilled into crystalline, natural pools that he pumped and filtered from the underground aquifer.
As clients tapped Bistrong for hundreds of similar landscaping jobs at homes throughout South Florida, he added to his Redland compound, purchasing a surrounding 10 acres and building more coral rock structures and waterfalls by arranging three- to four-ton boulders.
He added a tree farm, as well as a 30-foot deep grotto for a koi pond that he dug out with a backhoe and excavator.
He repaired a 1939 stone house that sat unassumingly on the property and enlivened it with more water features, a tiki hut and bar crafted by hand. He named it the Coral Rock Waterfall Jungle B Compound.
Film, television and print productions often shot on the property off 248th Street in Redland, using the coral rock waterfalls as a backdrop. The site also would be rented for weddings and parties. Before he died, Bistrong sold the 10 acres for $2.5 million.
“When people see it, they can’t believe it’s here in Miami, that somebody would build that stuff. He was way over-the-top in everything he did,” said his brother, a director of instructional design at Brown Mackie College.
In a 2004 Miami Herald article on the resurgence of stonescaping in South Florida, he said, “I'm creating along the way. I can excavate my own painting. I'm an artist.”
Indeed, said Jared.
“He basically picked up a couple guys from Home Depot who were standing out front, and the same two guys were with him for 20 years.”
He had about 10 to 15 more workers who stayed with him, raising families, working for him.
“ He was a force,” his brother said.
Not bad for a guy whose large family teasingly called him the “goofball” since he wasn’t a particularly good student at Miami Palmetto Senior High. His late mother, Cecelia, was a member of the school’s first graduating class.
Originally an aspiring musician, breakdancer, rapper and singer-songwriter, Bistrong graduated from Full Sail University in Orlando, a school that specializes in audio recording, production and media.
After graduation, he released a couple of local albums in the early 1990s, but Hurricane Andrew’s arrival in August 1992 altered the Palmetto Bay neighborhood where he grew up — along with his future.
Bistrong went to work for brother Bryan’s tree-trimming company in South Miami-Dade after the storm. Business was lucrative. Andrew had decimated the area.
“Half the community was working for my brother because everything was shut down. My brother [Ben] was in that business a couple years, and he basically cleared half the community through Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay,” Jared said.
Bistrong left Bryan’s company to work alongside his mother and stepfather in landscaping shortly before founding Jungle B’s Landscaping.
Along with his coral rock waterfalls, he left his family with the lesson that “anything is possible,” Jared said.
“He was an inspiration. When you think there is a barrier in the way, think of my brother. You are going to overcome it. Nothing could stop him. He was the type of person that, before he died, somebody asked him, ‘Do you have a bucket list?’ He didn’t. Anything he wanted to do, he did it, and he did it big and did it over-the-top. It’s humbling.”
Bistrong is survived by his wife, Andrea, and their daughters Annick Kennedy, Angelia and Breanna and son Beau; his father, Martin, and sisters Sylvia, Allison and Jana; and brothers Scott, Bryan and Jared.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to whipplewarriors.org. A memorial mass will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary-St. Richard’s Catholic Church, 7500 SW 152nd St., Palmetto Bay.