In Which a Former Mayor Continues to Seek the Soul of the City
My plans of venturing to the southern regions of our City Beautiful were interrupted by climatic circumstances. As Marilyn Monroe once sang in the 1954 movie “There’s No Business Like Show Business”: “We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave, the temperature’s rising….” Thus, fearful of sun stroke, I sought out the sea breezes blowing across the silvery sands of Venetian Pool (yes, Virginia, there is a beach!).
To avoid the mass of humanity gathered in what was once a limestone rock pit, which provided building material for some of Merrick’s original housing stock, I took refuge across the street in a most pleasant new public park. This pristine place for rest, relaxation, and contemplation was dedicated last year to honor one of our city’s most interesting citizens: Lamar Louise Curry.
“Miss Curry” (the appellation by which she was known), whose death occurred in 2012 just short of her 106th birthday, was an early resident of the area we know as “Gables Estates.” She was best known to the broader community as an educator — a social studies public school teacher for 32 years at Miami Senior High School where she mentored more than 6,000 students. These included such great public servants as Senator/Governor Bob Graham and Florida Attorney General Robert Shevin, not to mention a bevy of judges and a future mayor of Coral Gables (this roving rambler).
In August 2000, the Miami-Dade School Board named a middle school in her honor. Upon her death, as a parting gift to her beloved community, she bequeathed a sum of money for use by the Coral Gables Garden Club to create a flowering tree park — a lovely space for reverie and reflection. The park, which consumed 10 years in planning and construction, features captivating vegetation (including Hong Kong orchid trees, dwarf ylang-ylang trees, red frangipani, white geiger, queen’s wreath flowering vine, and pink jatropha), a pond, paved walking paths, benches, and a mini-lending library.
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Joining me for my visit to this beautiful addition to our urban landscape were four leaders of the Garden Club who played significant roles in the creation of this delightful place. (This 98-years old club has partnered with the city government in support of many private-public projects besides parks, such as several of the city’s formal entrance features and the George Merrick statue at City Hall).
Noted residential real estate broker Audrey Ross was Lamar’s best friend, neighbor, and confidant. She referred to Miss Curry as her “adopted grandmother.” They shared careers in education, a love of gardening, and the First Methodist Church of Coral Gables. It was Audrey who advised Lamar on establishing a fund to leave something beautiful for her fellow citizens.
Past President Sharon Trbovich, whose administration started the strategic planning process for the park, found Lamar to be a delightful lady who was a wonderful source of historical knowledge — starting with her family’s relationship to Henry Flagler. These two ladies shared a love of orchids.
Past President Betsy Tilghman noted that bringing the concept of the park to reality involved five Garden Club presidents, three Gables mayors, numerous city employees (especially members of the city manager’s staff, the Community Recreation Department, and the Public Works Department), and three landscape architects. She mentioned other Garden Club contributors, including past Presidents Jana White, Judy Mangasarian, and Nita Norman.
Current President Susan Rodriguez is pleased to have been at the Club’s helm for the grand opening and ribbon cutting with Mayor Vince Lago. She is proud to have located and procured the classic specimen of the rare Yellow Poinciana (Miss Curry’s favorite tree) which is the park’s vegetation centerpiece. Together, we looked around us in awe of the quiet beauty which sits in stark contrast to the hectic vibrancy of Venetian Pool just 100 feet to the south.
This magazine’s editor has indicated that I am “seeking the soul of our city.” While my rambles will continue, it is already clear to me that the soul of our community is its people.
This column appears monthly by Don Slesnick, who served as mayor of Coral Gables from 2001 to 2011.