The Biscayne Times

Wednesday
Dec 13th
Our Hometown Gems PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
December 2017

Take a break, take a walk, look at what’s around us

TPix_JohnIse_12-17he Cub Scouts have an activity called Backyard Jungle in which the Scouts takes a one-foot hike. That’s right, a one-foot hike. They venture into their backyards with a magnifying glass in hand and plop down on a square-foot plot of grass. They then inventory all the wildlife they find, which can be surprisingly bountiful.

Similarly, taking a deeper dive into our own Greater Miami Shores “backyard,” there’s a plethora of hidden (and not-so-hidden) gems that locals might want to further explore and experience this holiday season.

Sherwood Forest: The most eclectic and, by my count, coolest neighborhood in the entire area is El Portal’s Sherwood Forest. Jutting directly southwest from Village Hall to NE 2nd Avenue; the neighborhood’s great moss-laden tree canopy of oaks provides a relaxing, almost ethereal experience.

The serene sensation probably emanates from the spiritual residue given off by a Tequesta Indian burial mound, off NE 87th Street, that was dedicated in the 1920s as Miami-Dade’s first archaeological site. The mound, constructed circa 600 A.D., was preceded by a prehistoric Tequesta village dating circa 200 A.D. Think about that for a minute: a chronology of more than 1800 years of Indian habitation is preserved in that mound.

What only the most attentive history buff might know is that the mound was probably twice its current size and up to six feet taller. Tragically, the gods of suburban development used much of the original mound as infill for the development of neighboring housing before it was preserved.

El Portal’s environs may also have been one of the very earliest sites of European settlement of the New World. Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established what’s considered the oldest continuous European settlement in the continental U.S. when he founded St. Augustine in 1565. What’s less well known is that a short five to ten years later, he arrived in El Portal with the intention of converting the Tequestas (unsuccessful) to Christianity, with the assistance of the missionaries Francisco de Villareal and Juan Rogel. In essence, this El Portal-based mission may have served as one of the earliest non-permanent European settlements in the New World, ripe for El Portal’s Visitor and Tourism Bureau to promote.

One last nugget of historic intrigue is a mysterious cave that lies directly south of the burial mound, on private property today. The cave, carved out of limestone, is about eight feet high and ten feet in length and width. While there’s no authoritative history of the cave, the owner has heard it may have started as a Bahamian oven that was later deepened and converted as a hideout for a rum runners’ hooch during Prohibition. Fact or fiction, it’s a good story.

Open Awareness Buddhist Center: In October I wrote a column cataloguing the spiritual lay of the land in the Greater Miami Shores area. Afterward a friend pointed out I’d missed the Buddhist temple in El Portal. Wondering if my cerebral synapses were not firing, I blankly stared back.

But lo and behold! Directly west of the burial mound and past the part-time residence of Iggy Pop, the godfather to punk rock (yes, Iggy is a part-time resident of El Portal, bonus points to the Village), sits a nondescript house at 60 NE 86th St., which is home to the Open Awareness Buddhist Center (miamibuddhism.com).

Hosted by the affable resident teacher Lama Karma Chotso, the interior and rear exterior of the house are adorned with jaw-dropping, beautiful statues, sculptures, paintings, and prayer symbols. The center hosts yoga practices, meditation sessions, orientation on Buddhism, as well as chants, prayers, and butter lamp offerings.

Lama Chotso strikes a very impressive figure as she goes from blessing manatees at the Seaquarium to mentoring the terminal ill in hospice to teaching Buddhist meditation practices to prisoners. In a city filled with every type of oddball attraction under the Florida sun, Chotso’s Open Awareness Buddhist Center stands as something of a real treasure.

Oakland Grove Neighborhood (Little Haiti): Directly south of El Portal’s Sherwood Forest, hopping the Little River, lies the Oakland Grove neighborhood of Little Haiti. Bordered by NE 2nd Avenue on the west and the railroad tracks on the east, and north of NE 82nd Street, this horseshoe-shaped community may just be the area’s best-kept-secret.

Named after a decrepit and usually vacant mini-park that abuts the river and is wedged between two residences, Oakland Grove may be Little Haiti’s proverbial phoenix. The Little Farm House at 281 NE 84th St. is, as its website states, “an eclectic one-acre oasis consisting of a 1200-square-foot farmhouse, two-story boathouse, and six colorful cottages featuring rustic furnishings.” Mainly used for events, the Farm House also serves as a bed and breakfast for those seeking a unique and edgy getaway. Throw in the new hipster Sherwood’s Bistro & Bar restaurant and the Citadel complex, and Oakland Grove is Miami’s diamond in the rough.

Biscayne Park’s Most Notable: While no burial grounds or Buddhist temples exist in Biscayne Park, the Village is most currently notable for a mound of hurricane debris (thankfully, being converted to mulch) that towers over the iconic log cabin. Yet Biscayne Park was recently home to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt and talk show giant Larry King.

After spending 33 months in prison as a result of the Watergate scandal, Hunt settled in Biscayne Park to spend the remainder of his days as a semi-successful spy novelist. Shortly after his death in 2007, I visited his house on NE 8th Court when it was up for sale and wondering if I shoveled holes in the backyard whether I’d discover a trove of missing Nixon tapes. (For more, see the BT’s “Nixon’s Man in Biscayne Park,” November 2010.)

Larry King’s former canal-front haunt lies on Griffing Boulevard and NE 119th Street with views of Miami Shores Country Club. Alas, no visible suspenders in the front yard.

Miami Shores Farmers Market: I know, this is no hidden gem, but it’s the biggest, best addition to the area. On its maiden opening October 30, more than 1000 visited the market at Miami Shores Optimist Park. With more than 30 vendors, residents can purchase soaps and scents, flowers and fauna, produce and pasta, jellies and jams, guacamole and grains, breads and brownies, jewelry and gems, sandwiches and shish kebabs, and on and on. The market takes place every Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is definitely worth checking out, particularly as the hapless Dolphins continue to sputter.

So hop on one of those numerous LimeBikes, and take a Sunday ride through the area to discover the gems in our backyard.

 

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