Coral Gables resident taking ‘Garden of Our Lord’ preservation fight to court

City argues in filing property is not “architecturally” or “aesthetically significant”

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Bonnie Bolton is taking her quest to preserve ‘The Garden of Our Lord,’ located across from the Coral Gables Woman’s Club at the intersection of Phoenetia Avenue and East Ponce de Leon Boulevard, to the appellate division of the 11th Judicial Circuit.

The respondents in the case are the City of Coral Gables and Century Crystal Group LLC, the property owner seeking to develop on what some community members argue is a historic and treasured area for reflection.

There are coral rock walkways, bench walls, a grotto, “and it is a war memorial,” said Bonnie in reference to the garden’s long history of showcasing memorial plaques that pay tribute to war heroes.

The petition hundreds signed to save the garden makes mention of the limited number of public gardens. Although on private land and while the current property owner has not allowed public access, Bolton says the prior owner did open the garden to community members.

You may remember in January, the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Board decided the garden did not meet the criteria for designation as a local historic landmark.

The City Commission upheld the board’s decision in March in a unanimous vote, with one abstention, “to deny the appeal and affirm the decision of the Historic Preservation Board, thereby upholding the decision to not designate the property a local historic landmark,” explained a city spokesperson.

Bolton tells Local 10 News after city leaders declined to protect the garden, “to recognize the significance of the garden and that it must be preserved for future generations,” she and her attorney David Winker, made the decision to take the matter to court.

They are asking the court to “quash the decision of city commission” and stay the “issuance of a Permit by the City of Coral Gables to demolish the Garden.”

Her filing outlines the reasons why she believes the garden does meet historical designation criteria. For one, it is designed they say “by the renowned architect Robert Fitch Smith.”

The city argues in its response to the Court that the garden’s architecture “is not outstanding” and that Smith’s design structures were “not maintained.” They also say while Smith may have been a famed architect, he was not specifically a “landscape architect.”

A plaque on the Garden’s exterior wall had described the garden as a “hallowed spot.” In court documents, the city describes it as a “landscape feature” that is not “architecturally” or “aesthetically significant”.

The property owner’s response to the Court advances similar arguments made by the city. The developer chose not to comment for this story today.

Winker said “under the city code they are not allowed to take any steps because it is under appeal. He said he will be filing their reply to the respondents’ response in short order, “we are probably looking at four months away from getting a decision.”

“It is worth fighting for,” added Bolton.

Read the city’s response to Bolton in the Petition for Writ of Certiorari listed in the document below.

Read Century Crystal Group’s response in the document listed below.

Related stories:

Jan. 30: Coral Gables resident to appeal denial of historical designation for Garden of Our Lord

Jan. 24: Historic plaques dismantled at Coral Gables garden amid preservation fight

Jan. 18 Historic Preservation Board denies granting Coral Gables garden as historical landmark

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."