Anderson’s Corner doesn’t look like it will last much longer. It’s depressing to drive by there and see it all ramshackle and rickety, instead of restored and vibrant. I doubt if the current owners, who are struggling with upkeep, will be able to hold on much longer if they are going to get fined $500 a day. This might be the tipping point. Anybody out there with deep pockets who would like to help save this property?
The word was that the new bed and breakfast ordinance, which was drafted this summer with input from area growers, has gone to the county commission for a vote — but it has been pushed back and pushed back on the calendar. No telling when it will come up for a vote. It was supposed to in October, then in November. A yes from the commission will allow growers to add commercial kitchens and farm stands, and to legally to make and sell value-added agricultural products — jams, cheese, dried fruit, pickles and the like — in addition to the bed and breakfast provision. This new ordinance will essentially promote agritourism, which will allow the farmers to stay in business.
The Anderson’s Corner general store, a modest, two-story wood-frame building on a corner in the rural Redland, doesn’t look like much. The white paint is peeling, porches sag, shattered windows are boarded up, and the Dade County pine siding is badly splintered where a hit-and-run motorist took out a chunk of wall last month.Yet the long-vacant country store, built around 1911 by a Redland pioneer, is one of Miami-Dade’s oldest and most resonant buildings — and also one of its most endangered.
And now it’s a test case in a county effort to boost enforcement of an ordinance meant to save historically designated buildings from what is happening to Anderson’s Corner, a phenomenon commonly described by preservationists as “demolition by neglect.”
“It’s sad to see these things happening, especially to a building that important,” said Kathleen Kauffman, Miami-Dade’s historic preservation officer. “And we don’t have that many wood-frame buildings left, period.”
Kauffman has cited the property’s longtime owners, Brian Simmons and his wife, Jessica Olsen, for failure to maintain a designated historic building. If the owners don’t make repairs sufficient to halt its deterioration, they will be fined $500 a day until the deficiencies are corrected.
Recently, the owners organized a cleanup, removing accumulated trash from the property and resealing boarded-up windows that had been forced open.
But Simmons said that he and his wife, small local farmers, lack the resources to do extensive repairs. They had planned a full renovation when they purchased it in 1997 but were unable to secure financing, he said. They have since had constant trouble keeping up with maintenance because vandals or homeless people regularly break in and damage the old building, Simmons said.
“It’s a money pit,” he said. “If I had the money, that place would be shining. It’s a piece of history, I know that. It makes us sick to know the condition it’s in. But my resources are tight.”
Subrata Basu, Miami-Dade’s assistant planning and zoning director, said he sympathizes with the owners’ difficulties but noted that they knew they were purchasing a protected building 12 years ago.
“It’s the owners’ responsibility to maintain the property — not just a historic property, but any property,” Basu said. “But it becomes a different issue when it’s a historic building.”
County ordinances bar demolition or exterior alterations of buildings designated as historic. To address cases where owners allow historic buildings to slide into ruin — either deliberately or because of inability to properly maintain them — the ordinance gives the preservation officer the power to levy the $500-a-day fine.
But the ordinance had not been enforced, in part because the small office of three people lacked the resources to do so, Kauffman and Basu said. When the planning and zoning department last year absorbed the office, formerly housed at the county’s cultural affairs department, Basu had zoning inspectors undergo training to enforce the rules.
Complaints from neighbors over the worsening condition of Anderson’s Corner triggered the citation, the first under the new policy.
“I really resent that place falling apart,” said Peter Hoffman, one of the complainants, who lives catty-cornered from the old country store in an even older wood-frame building — the area’s original two-story 1904 schoolhouse, which is immaculately maintained.
“Locals and tourists knock the windows out,” he said. “They just kick those things out and they go in the building. It’s falling apart. The front porch is going to be in the street before the summer. And I’m worried about someone starting a fire.”
ABOUT ITS HISTORY
The store was the center of a settlement built by the first pioneers to claim homesteads in what was then, at the turn of the last century, a hardscrabble wilderness. Built by William Anderson, who worked for railroad magnate Henry Flagler, it provided living quarters for his family and served as a general store for what became a thriving farming community.
Editor and historian Howard Kleinberg called it “South Dade’s historic centerpiece.”
Designated a historic building by the county in 1981, Anderson’s Corner is part of a larger district made up of other surviving structures from the period, including the old schoolhouse. Anderson’s Corner is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the early 1990s, tropical fruit grower Joan Green and chef Mario Martinez transformed the old general store into a well-reviewed gourmet restaurant that used local produce in its dishes. It was just starting to gain popularity when Hurricane Andrew in 1992 took the building’s roof off and knocked the second story askew, putting an end to Anderson’s Corner’s brief-lived second incarnation.
The building has been vacant ever since.
Armed with $750,000 in grants, Green and Martinez gutted the building and began what was meant to be a complete restoration. Steel columns were installed to support the structure and a new roof put on. But the two had a falling-out amid what Green says were endless bureaucratic obstacles and financial disagreements.
The county pulled a $250,000 grant and, after lengthy litigation, the partners ended their involvement by selling to Simmons and Olsen, Green said, calling it “one of the greatest disappointments I have had in my life.”
“They had some idea about what they wanted to do there, but quite frankly it didn’t make any sense, economic or otherwise,” Green said in an e-mail from the Caribbean, where she now lives aboard a catamaran. “I have felt like crying every time I drive by the property because I have observed it deteriorating. I feel sad about all of the public money that went into the project that came to nothing.”
Dade Heritage Trust, a preservation group that loaned Green and Martinez money for the renovation, “never got a penny back,” said executive director Becky Roper Matkov.
“So much effort went into that, it’s such a shame,” Matkov said.
Simmons said he and his wife still dream about reopening Anderson’s Corner, but they were never able to secure financing for what he estimates would be a $500,000 restoration job. The couple, who live on a farm down the road, also had triplets since buying the historic property, limiting their time to focus on restoration or maintenance of the building.
Simmons said he would sell the property, but his wife, who grew up in South Miami-Dade, won’t hear of it.
“I had some great offers, but my wife said no,” Simmons said. “I would sell it today.”
BEHIND THE NEGLECT
Meanwhile, the building continues to deteriorate. Customers from a cantina next door litter the property with beer cans and bottles, Simmons complains. He believes cantina customers are responsible for some of the vandalism.
The cantina owner, for his part, says he believes the historic building is an eyesore and would like to see it gone.
“It has no value,” said the owner, Edelmiro Iglesias. “It has no floor and holes everywhere. It’s just going to fall down by itself.”
At least one neighbor thinks the vandalism may be deliberate, noting the historic property is one of a fewin the Redland with commercial zoning — thus potentially a target for someone hoping to cash in by building new retail.
“Piece by piece, it has been disappearing. Every day a piece goes missing. Almost as if it was being dismantled,” said John Green (no relation to the former owner), who has a small farm nearby. “It’s almost a sin to see this old edifice taken apart.”
Basu, the county planning official, said he believes there’s hope for saving Anderson’s Corner, which he believes would make a “wonderful” bed and breakfast. His agency is now drafting an ordinance to permit such lodging in the Redland.
But he concedes that the case underscores the difficulty in enforcing preservation laws. He hopes enforcement will stave off the building’s deterioration by ensuring that it is secured and, if necessary, shored up. But forcing actual renovation is well beyond the scope of the ordinance, and he acknowledges that the fine amount is “weak.”
“If someone is not cooperating, it can become a nightmare,” Basu said. “You can force them to do something immediate, but if they’re not into it, you eventually go back to where you started.”