|A Harmonious Place|
|Written by Jim W. Harper|
Maurice Gibb Memorial Park is a fitting tribute to the late Bee Gee, and an idyllic respite from the buzz of city life
The term “super group” is thrown around much too freely in the annals of rock and pop, but if the list were whittled down to only the most deserving of the title, the Bee Gees would still make the cut. From their first hits in the late 1960s -- “To Love Somebody,” “Massachusetts,” “New York Mining Disaster 1941” -- through the disco landslide of the 1970s, to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, the Bee Gees were never far from public consciousness.
The group, which consisted of big brother Barry and twins Maurice and Robin Gibb, spent a lot of that time in South Florida, recording at Criteria Studios (now the Hit Factory) in North Miami and just plain living here.
So it only makes sense that, more than four decades after their rise to stardom, the Bee Gees are stayin’ alive as a result of recent references on Saturday Night Live, while new and true fans must eventually make their way to South Florida to pay tribute. A good place to start would be Maurice Gibb Memorial Park in Miami Beach, named in honor of the only member of the group who is no longer with us.
Maurice Gibb was known to frequent the formerly named Island View Park to enjoy its lovely bayfront. (The Gibb brothers owned their own studio just a block from the park.) After his tragic death in 2003, the City of Miami Beach approved the park’s name change. Seventy-five thousand dollars in improvements later, the park was rededicated in March 2007, at a ceremony attended by the Gibb family, including surviving brothers Barry and Robin.
You might just miss Maurice’s tribute if you blink, but it’s worth finding. The three-acre park shares its green space with the two-story office of the city’s marine patrol, a parking lot, and a boat ramp. The ramp is free, and it’s also the only open-access kayak launch in this section of Biscayne Bay.
The best part of the park is the view. The south side shows a Venetian Causeway bridge that leads to Belle Isle, but the northwest view offers an expansive look at the bay. A handful of yachts near the shore make it even more picturesque. You can actually sit on the seawall and watch fish swim by. There are very few spots anywhere on the bay where you can do this -- without trespassing, that is.
The most touching part of the park’s commemorative aspect is hidden behind hedges near the seawall. At first I walked right past without even seeing it, because the memorial sits flat on the ground. The mosaic made out of glamour glass has three circles in primary colors representing Peace (yellow), Love (red), and Tranquility (blue). Inside the blue circle is a bronze plaque with an inscription from the wife and two children of Maurice Gibb.
This mosaic, installed by Mariel Hautoux, is the second one in this location. The original, bumpier mosaic was hacked and hammered by fans wanting to take home a memento. The redesign was flattened to make it harder for thieves to snatch pieces of the tiles. The artwork (along with other commemorative works in the park) was designed by landscape architect Dale Bryant.
The name “Gibb” cannot be found near the mosaic, but it does appear in two other places. In the southeast corner, where most people drive by, stands a pale-gray granite carving about four feet high, inscribed with the park’s new name. It appears to be a wave with a porthole, and it was also designed to mimic “Mo,” Maurice’s nickname. Look at the entire carving to see the “M” in cursive and add the “O” from the porthole.
The other spot with the Gibb name is the plaque outside the playground. The ample play area is surrounded by an attractive fence with decorative columns, and nearby are some interesting Art Deco lampposts. An overhead tarp covers most of the playground’s equipment, and my favorite parts are the plastic, life-size bongos for kids who feel like making music.
Around the curved pathway are entrances to a boardwalk and mangrove restoration area. Fishing must be popular here. Maintained by Miami-Dade County, this boardwalk is shaded by some of the few remaining mangrove trees that used to dominate the natural shoreline. Strangely, the trees here are fenced in by chicken wire. Are they keeping the trees in or the birds out? Is there some kind of problem with chickens going fishin’?
As you saunter from the boardwalk to the seawall, be sure to look down at the rocks in the bay, as bright sponges are in evidence. Fish appreciate the hiding places here in addition to under the mangrove roots.
This park seems to be popular with bench sitters and sleepers, and there are a few picnic spots in the shade as well as some in full sun by the bay. The restrooms are another nice feature, especially for a park this size. They are in the marine patrol building.
The Barry Kutun Boat Ramp, which is free, offers daytime parking for boat trailers. Everybody appreciates a freebie, and this place gets crowded on weekends. The ramp bears the name of a former state legislator who, in 2006, was laid low by a sex scandal (when will these pols ever learn?) and it has an ugly sign to match the ignominy. A strip of wood with the ramp’s name stands behind a huge green drainage pipe and on top of a utility box. Not pretty.
Although they share a parking lot, the ramp is not officially part of Maurice Gibb Memorial Park. And it’s not operated by the city’s parks and recreation department or by the marine patrol. In fact no one I called at the City of Miami Beach could tell me who is responsible for it. It’s just there.
The best way to enjoy Maurice’s park is to follow in his footsteps. Leaving behind the recording studio and his worries, he would come here to meditate and to soak in the beauty of South Florida. One can see why. Words don’t do it justice. (But, then, words are all I have…) The park is too much heaven. And that ain’t just jive talkin’.
Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2017
Miami’s YoungArts Week features masters as mentors
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