Coconut Grove residents trying to save a 1920 Mediterranean villa from demolition won a big round Tuesday.
Miami’s historic preservation board unanimously voted to consider granting landmark status to 3529 St. Gaudens Road, an early Grove house by the leading architect of the day which a developer is seeking to tear down and replace with two new homes.
The 7-0 vote extends a freeze on demolition until city planners prepare an in-depth report and the board makes a final decision on whether the house merits historic designation. One board member abstained because of a business relationship with the developer, Eduardo Goudie of Coral Gables.
The villa has become a cause célèbre among Grove residents, many of whom filled the commission chambers at Miami City Hall for the hearing and who say they’re tired of teardowns of old homes and their replacement with McMansions in the neighborhood, the city’s oldest.
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Neighbors’ campaign to save the house may lead to further action to preserve the architectural heritage on St. Gaudens, which boasts several well preserved, distinctive homes from the early days of the Grove.
City preservation officer Megan Schmitt said during the hearing that she is looking to nominate other homes on St. Gaudens for historic designation, either individually or as part of a small historic district.
“We are absolutely of the opinion there is more to be designated on this block,” Schmitt said.
The two-story house, with a picturesque wooden balcony overlooking the front yard, was designed by Richard Kiehnel of the firm Kiehnel and Elliott, credited with introducing the Mediterranean style of architecture to Miami and designing numerous local buildings now on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was built by Albert William Frantz, who along with a St. Gaudens neighbor, Harold deBussy Justison, headed the Sunshine Fruit Company, an early and important Grove developer.
A preliminary city report concluded the house met several of the legal criteria for designation, including the quality of its architecture and workmanship.
“Kiehnel was a genius, and I think this is as good as anything he’s done,” historian Paul George told the board.
Richard Heisenbottle, an architect specializing in historic architecture who examined the house for neighbors at the instruction of the preservation board, said the house is in near-pristine condition inside and out. A garage addition at the rear, however, is inappropriate and could be torn down, he said.
“Most things in the house are original and they are in really good shape,” Heisenbottle said.
Those conclusions were sharply disputed by Goudie and his attorney, Felix Lasarte, and architect Jose Puentes, who said the house is not among Kiehnel’s best.
“It’s old, it’s beautiful, but historic is a little more than that,” Puentes said. “It’s not that important.”
Goudie, who said he has renovated numerous historic homes in the Gables, said it would be unfair to declare the house historic after he spent nearly $1.6 million on the property to demolish and redevelop it. He said it would require $400,000 to bring it to current standards.
But neighbors noted that two 1920s homes on smaller lots on the block, which ends at Biscayne Bay, recently sold for well over $2 million. They said Goudie could renovate and expand the house and still make a tidy profit.