Historic plaques dismantled at Coral Gables garden amid preservation fight

Developer promises to return them

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Amid a fight over whether a beloved garden in Coral Gables qualifies as a historic landmark, advocates for preserving the garden were upset to see historic plaques removed from the premises.

But the developer who now owns the property is promising to put them back.

Bonnie Bolton, who’s fought to save The Garden Of Our Lord, said she was “torn up” to see the plaques torn out.

“They were beautiful here and now you see the piece of coral rock on the ground and around the other missing plaque as well,” Bolton said. “I am very upset about it, very upset to see this.”

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

In a 7 to 2 vote last week, Coral Gables’ Historic Preservation Board denied an application to make the garden a historic landmark.

“It is rare that we see this many people and I honestly wish I could say it fit the criteria, but in my mind it doesn’t,” board member Dona Spain said during last week’s meeting.

Garden supporters and their attorney, David Winker, plan to file an appeal on Monday.

“It’s a real stick in the eye to these residents,” Winker said, lamenting the “audacity” of the developers to “damage” the plaques.

In a statement, developer Century Homebuilders said the plaques are being “cleaned and restored” and the company intends to return them.

“The plaques are currently stored in the adjacent church, where they are being cleaned and restored. The plan is to put them back on the walls where they were originally located, by no later than Monday. We thought it would be a good idea to clean them up and do an inventory of what is there.

If the decision by the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Board is upheld, we will work with the community to safely store the plaques and have them either relocated to another site where they can be enjoyed by the public or integrated into the project in some form.”

Century Homebuilders statement

Supporters of a historic designation aren’t convinced.

“They are not going to restore this?” Winker said, as he pointed to a cross that remained on an exterior wall. “They are only going to restore the plaques? I call ‘BS’ on all of that.”

Supporters, like Bolton, believe the move to remove the plaques was done in “bad faith” and will affect the appeal process.

“Everything in this garden was essentially in original condition and that is an important factor in determining whether or not something can be determined as historic,” Bolton said. “To tamper with that is really incredibly frustrating.”

City officials said the removal of the plaques didn’t require approval from its building department.

“However, we were advised by the owner’s representative that the plaques were removed for cleaning to ensure their preservation,” a city spokesperson told Local 10 News.

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."