Historic Preservation Board denies granting Coral Gables garden as historical landmark

Bolton considering an appeal after board’s decision

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The future of a precious piece of Coral Gables is in jeopardy as the city’s preservation board weighs whether or not it qualifies as a historical landmark.

Bonnie Bolton stands at the precipice of the preservation fight, an attempt to save The Garden Of Our Lord.

“It’s very frustrating to have to go fight the city of this,” Bolton said. “I remember going to this garden as like a four (or) five-year-old.

“It would be horrifying to have this demolished.”

The garden was originally designed by famed architect Robert Fitch Smith.

Robert Fitch Smith with group of architects including Alfred Browning Parker, 1950. (Miami News Photograph Collection, 1995-277-17329)

“There is a statue in there, there’s a grotto,” Bolton said.

It’s no longer open to the public after a private developer purchased it two years ago.

Nestled behind the foliage of plants mentioned in the bible, rooted there decades ago, earning it, Boston says, the designation of a biblical garden.

“All along the interior are plaques,” she said.

They are tributes to war heroes. One plaque on its exterior wall describes the garden as a “hallowed spot.”

The city arborist, however, says there is no proof of there being biblical plants in the garden, with most being common South Florida varieties that can be found at area nurseries.

The Garden Of Our Lord in Coral Gables (Bonnie Bolton)

Coral Gables’ Historic Preservation Officer Warren Adams told historic preservation board members he doesn’t think the lot meets, “minimum eligibility criteria for designation as a local historic landmark.”

Adams told board members Wednesday, sure Robert Fitch Smith was a known architect, but he wasn’t a landscape architect.

Plus, while Fitch Smith’s name is listed as the architect on a 1951 Wall/Walk Permit, Adams inquired as to how we really know Fitch Smith designed the garden.

“There are questions who designed the property,” Adams said. “The intent, a biblical garden, is no longer there. The Integrity is not there so doesn’t meet the criteria.”

“A biblical garden does not exemplify the historical, cultural, political, economic, or social trends of the community,” he said. “All of these questions stack up, the original intent is not there, the integrity is not there.”

He also warned them that if designated historic, that it is not just the garden, but the entire lot which currently also includes a special needs school.

Bolton thinks the city should purchase the lot for its residents in order to safeguard the green space and a community’s generations-long history in the garden.

“Unfortunately there is much too much development going on in Coral Gables and it is really threatening the character of the city,” said Bolton.

Coral Gables is known as the City Beautiful and Bolton argues its mature trees, like the ones in the garden that help earn it that moniker.

“It is the trees that make the City Beautiful,” she said. “(The garden) should be open to the public and part of the city’s park department.”

Ultimately, the majority of the board voted that the garden does not meet the criteria for designation as a historical landmark.

Bolton expressed her disappointment with the board’s decision, which you can read in the tweet below:

@CBoomerVazquez (WPLG)
The Garden of our Lord in Coral Gables (Bonnie Bolton)

View the individual breakdown of Tuesday’s board vote(s) on “The Garden of the Lord” motion(s) below:

First vote of individual board members to approve the designation. (WPLG)

The motion failed: ( 7-yes, 2- no)

Second vote of board members to deny the designation. (WPLG)

The motion failed: (7-yes, 2-no)

View the Historic Designation request below:

ADDITIONAL LINK

City of Coral Gables code re: criteria for historical preservation (the designation criteria can be found in Article 8. Section 8-103)


About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."