Don’s Rambles: A Walk About Town

A Monthly Series in Which a Former Mayor Seeks the Soul of the City

Recently, Mitch Kaplan (the proprietor of Books & Books) introduced me to a captivating book entitled “American Ramble – A Walk of Memory and Renewal,” describing Neil King’s cross-country hike from Washington, D.C. to New York City. In it, he describes the places and people that made this experience a unique look at a slice of America as it emerges into the mid-21st century (a modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville).

Not being a fan of cross-country backpacking, I found myself inspired to take a relaxed sojourn through our community to glean from our landmarks, culture, and citizens what makes Coral Gables “tick.” All journeys begin with the first step, and what better place to begin than on the front steps of my home, “Gumbo Grove” on North Greenway Drive, which has been the Slesnick family homestead for the past 35 years since purchasing it from the son of former Mayor Bob Searle.

The property contains a historic 1938 house (designed by the most prolific member of Merrick’s team of architects, George Fink) surrounded by fourteen Caribbean Gumbo Limbo trees planted by my wife Jeannett (obviously a devoted member of the Garden Club). And as many of our neighbors know, “historic” can be interpreted as “old, requiring constant upkeep and restoration!”

The environment in this sector of the city is akin to that of Central Park, full of golfers, cyclists, joggers, skaters, walkers, baby carriage pushers, dog walkers, and scooters — oh, let’s not forget motor vehicles. The backdrop features that embrace all this activity are the graceful palms and towering banyans along the fairways of Granada Golf Course, the oldest nine-hole links in Florida.

During almost any hour of any day, diverse elements of our South Florida population pass by our residence. No wonder — where else would they rather be but immersed in the welcoming environment of our City Beautiful. However, the complicated combination of so many different forms of leisure activity and transportation can prove to be dangerous, such as the time my daughter, Kathleen, was seriously injured by an errant hook shot off the first tee and the fatal accident when a cyclist and a jogger collided.

Jeannett and I were sitting in our front yard enjoying a magnum of “Red Schooner Voyage 10” purchased at the last Community Foundation charity wine auction, in order to entice passers-by to stop and talk. In no time at all, we’d attracted some neighbors to mingle with us for some good wine, cheese, and conversation.

Walk About Town by Don Slesnick
Left to right: Susi Davis (president of the Gables Good Government Committee), Gay Bondurant (docent coordinator at the Merrick House), Don Slesnick, Isa Borden, Aldo Busot (chair of the John T. Macdonald Foundation), Russ Borden (third generation president of his family’s business, Tri-City Electric), Pat Morris (director of Civic & Philanthropic Partnerships for the county mayor), and Ramona Busot (member of the city’s Landmarks Advisory Board).

Joining our casual get-together were Gables citizens who, while dedicated to and active in the community, are people whose voices are not often heard above the roar of the crowd. The group swelled to include Gay Bondurant, docent coordinator at the Merrick House; Susi Davis, president of the Gables Good Government Committee; Pat Morris, director of Civic & Philanthropic Partnerships for the county mayor; Ramona Busot, member of the City’s Landmarks Advisory Board; Ginger Jochem, member of the Coral Gables Garden Club; and Russ Borden, third-generation president of his family’s business Tri-City Electric Company (founded locally as World War II ended). Another participant was Alexa, who graciously provided a background soundtrack of ‘70s soft rock.

Unsurprisingly, talk turned to our hometown and its future. Everyone agreed that we live in an unmatched South Florida garden spot. At the same time, however, there was unanimous concern expressed that the “charm” of Coral Gables is significantly challenged by the proliferation of taller and bulkier commercial buildings accompanied by the intrusion of traffic and congestion into residential neighborhoods. Finally, as the sun set over the Everglades, the table and chairs were folded and stored, ending a memorable moment amongst friends. 

The magazine editors have declared that the allowable word count for this article has been exceeded, so hopefully you’ll join me next month as I “meander” to one of our public spaces to unearth some historical tidbits and visit some of our fellow residents.

Don Slesnick served as mayor of Coral Gables from 2001 to 2011.