Jane Caporelli recalled idyllic days sailing on the bay, the neighborhood parks and playgrounds and wandering in the woods while growing up in Providence, Rhode Island.
“We did what kids do, I guess,” she said in a 1999 interview with the University of Miami for its Institute for Public History Oral History Collection. At the time, Caporelli was general manager of the historic Miami River Inn. “Growing up in an area where there were no boundaries as far as our yards went — we had huge woods in the backyard — that was like having your own private park.”
She yearned for the same amenities in her adopted South Florida. Caporelli, who died at 59 on July 30 in Providence after returning recently, became a prominent preservationist in Miami. She moved to the area in 1982, partly to escape the cold. “It was going to be an adventure and it just turned into more than an adventure,” she said in the UM interview.
Once established in Miami, Caporelli quickly enmeshed herself in the community. She was struck by the architecture and natural surroundings.
For more than a decade, she served on the Miami Historic and Environmental Board. In the early ’80s, she turned her attention to Miami Beach's Art Deco preservation movement, working with the Miami Design Preservation League. She also was involved with the Villagers and the Dade Heritage Trust.
Additionally, she served on numerous boards, including the Miami River Commission, the Miami Woman’s Club and the Miami-Dade County Community Action Agency.
“Jane was a force in Miami’s historic preservation movement,” said John Kramel, director of Tigertail Productions, who frequently booked rooms for out-of-town performers. “Jane endeared herself to so many of our artists when they stayed at the Inn,” he said in an email to the Herald.
For nearly 20 years, until 2013, Caporelli ran the Miami River Inn in East Little Havana with its former owner, preservationist Sallye Jude. The two renovated the 1906 place, turning it into a bed-and-breakfast and helped to revitalize Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.
“People don't think bed-and-breakfast when they come to Florida,” said Caporelli in a 2001 Miami Herald story. “They think Art Deco, they think high-rise glass, so we had a little educating to do.”
Soon, word spread. Authors who were in town for the Miami Book Fair International and artists from the Coconut Grove Art Festival called the Miami River Inn home for their stay.
The two, Caporelli and Jude, also became fast friends.
“She didn’t just work for me, she was as personal a friend as friends get,” Jude said. Caporelli bonded with the Jude family, which included Dr. James Jude, the pioneering doctor who helped develop cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Jude died at 87 five days earlier on July 25.
Sallye Jude recalled a trip to Montana in which a squirrel found its way into Caporelli’s bed. Caporelli and Dr. Jude were amused.
“She and my husband exchanged squirrels at birthdays ever since,” Jude said. “She was a lovely, lovely person.”
In 2001, Caporelli, along with her colleagues, took a look at the rundown lot under Miami's West Flagler Street Bridge and added native plants, benches and art, turning it into the East Little Havana Riverside Garden. The beautification she envisioned gave the community green space.
“We live in South Florida, it’s always warm, it’s always sunny,” she said during the 1999 UM interview. “Why would you want to be inside? So you have to go to parks to do that, to get out of your condo canyons and your high-rises. We don’t always have that luxury of having a yard like I did growing up.”
Caporelli is survived by her mother, Mary Caporelli; her brothers Michael, Joseph, and John; sisters Mary, Trisha, Angela, and Liz-z. A Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Saint Patrick Church in Providence.
Donations, in her memory, can be made to Saint Patrick Church, 244 Smith St., Providence, RI, 02908.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.