A charming third-story veranda with French doors and potted plants is perched above the porte-cochère at the administrative building of Pinecrest Gardens. An irresistible spot where employees could take a moment to relax or gaze upon guests arriving under the graceful palms below.
But the porch chairs sit empty and these doors are rarely opened by a busy staff inside whose sights instead are set on the non-stop demands of operating this popular 70-year-old tourist destination – and its promising future.
Tending to more than 1,000 varieties of exotic plants and trees alone would be a massive undertaking. But Pinecrest Gardens also features a year-round performing arts program, educational initiatives and major art installations, as well as rental venues, festivals, movie nights, a petting zoo, a playground, a splash-water feature – and the list goes on.
This lush oasis is a special place that requires special attention. So it is easy to understand why the Village Council voted in 2009 to make Pinecrest Gardens a separate department with its own separate Director, Alana S. Perez.
Appointed in 2010, Perez is the perfect fit for the job. She characterizes her role as “conductor” of this unique attraction, directing a talented team of players who truly work together in harmony.
Perez was born into a cultural arts family. Her mother a concert pianist, her father an artist, and a sister who performed with the opera before going on to Broadway. Similarly, Perez shares a love of the arts and music. With a Theater & Education degree from Northwestern University, she pursued a career in music and advertising that literally took her around the world. Fast forward to 2010, and Perez is now bringing her vast experience, skills, and passion to what she calls her “last favorite job” right here in the heart of the Village of Pinecrest.
“All good orchestras must have a conductor to perform the right music, to make it come together,” she says. “For me it was about returning to my home to live and to work in this very field – at the exact right time. And with the blessing and support of the entire Village Council, it is all coming together.”
Appeal of Pinecrest Gardens
Other botanical gardens may offer some kind of mix of educational, artistic, cultural, entertainment, and recreational initiatives, says Perez, “but few feature the breadth of activities in one facility as does Pinecrest Gardens – and none in a natural setting as beautiful and historically relevant as ours. It’s a performing arts venue on a botanical stage…truly unique.”
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and with roots deeply planted in family entertainment dating back to the Parrot Jungle days, Pinecrest Gardens is considered one of the top 10 sites to see in Miami.
Asked whether she minds when guests refer to the park as the former Parrot Jungle: “Absolutely not,” she proclaims. “This park is a place of family memories, a place where we can honor the past while becoming something new. This is equity that you simply can’t buy!”
Originally opened in 1936, Parrot Jungle was an attraction where birds would fly free in a natural flora setting that included a winding nature trail dug through the coral rock and hammock land. Over the years, it became a world-famous tourist attraction. In late 2002, the Village of Pinecrest completed the purchase of the property and began developing the site as Pinecrest Gardens.
Working in Harmony
Today, Perez leads a staff of 31 and has developed a culture where job titles mean little.
“It is more about what you bring to the team,” she says. “You could say that we’re all codependent – in a good way. We truly enjoy a synergy that allows us to meet the type of demands presented daily by this 70-year-old infrastructure.”
At her side are two of the most seasoned and able managers in the business, overseeing Facilities & Operations – the backbone of the entire park.
“Operations Manager Wayne Myers and Facility Manager Jerry Kinsey are both incredibly supportive,” she says. “We are so fortunate to have them on our team.”
Formerly with Parrot Jungle, Myers was among the first to be hired at Pinecrest Gardens. His pivotal function as ops manager touches on so many aspects of the park including public health, water treatment, food concessions, safety and liability, maintenance of equipment, and some horticulture functions as well.
“This is an historic site, and there is nothing else like it,” says Myers. “Because of its age, there is constant attention to maintain tile work, walkways, and water pumps. We need a well functioning infrastructure to be able to offer the beauty of this facility.”
Sean Daniels works closely with Myers, as assistant to the operations manager.
The second member of this dynamic duo is Facility Manager Jerry Kinsey, who brings to the Gardens years of experience from his days at the Guzman Theater as Production Director and later with the Adrienne Arsht Theater. Prior to joining Pinecrest Gardens, he was also tapped to oversee the launch of the Aventura Theater.
“Until you see a live performance here at Pinecrest Gardens, it is difficult to imagine the excitement, inspiration, and awe this venue instills,” says Perez. “To sit under the geodesic dome is truly magical, with its plush tropical backdrop – there is nothing like it. And Jerry is behind it all.”
Pinecrest Gardens is presently growing its popular jazz program, one of the premiere series of its kind, with title sponsor South Motors for the past three years. And now in their first year of a two-year $75,000 commitment by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Pinecrest Gardens is headlining national performing artists who also participate in a unique onsite mentorship program, called Gen-Next Jam.
“The Knight grant has allowed us to bring in the likes of Branford Marsalis, as well as Carmen Lundy, Vinisius Cantuaria, and Doc Severinson during the current 2015/2016 season and will continue on through the 2016/2017 season.”
In 2017, the curtain will rise on yet another Knight Foundation program, called “Stickwork,” an outdoor sculpture made of twigs and branches by internationally acclaimed artist Patrick Dougherty. He creates one unique piece a month in a different location around the world – and Pinecrest Gardens is set to be his “pallet” for a work coming in November 2017. This exhibit will include an educational component for local students as well, one of the hallmarks of a Knight Foundation Grant program.
Other sources of funding for the park are provided by the State of Florida. Cultural capital funding is important, as are grants funding historical sites, such a Pinecrest Gardens. But to succeed, it often takes a balanced measure of persistence, creativity, and right timing. Perez recently led a successful effort to bring much-needed repairs to the leaky corrugated-plastic shelters over the pathways throughout the park. Gardens staff recently made formal announcement of this exciting $1,000,000 renovation project.
Behind the Scenes
On the first floor of the administrative building is a seasoned staff that includes Julie Durstine, Assistant to the Department Director. Perez describes her as the backbone of the office, responsible for budgets, time sheets, grant management, box office, other finances, and so much more.
“Julie keeps me together in a profound way,” says Perez.
On the creative side of the office, Elis M. Miralles-Rodriguez has propelled through the ranks to become Program & Events Coordinator. She ensures all party and meeting functions are expertly booked and managed, and is the “design genius” behind all seven annual festivals at the Gardens.
Pinecrest Gardens offers an unparalleled range of educational activities, due to the commitment of Educational Programs Coordinator Lacey Bray. Previously with the Children’s Garden at the Naples Botanical Garden, Bray is responsible for enhancing the relationship between Pinecrest Gardens and local schools. She also oversees all the specials-needs components of the cultural arts programs at the park.
Providing programs for guests with autism and sensory processing disorders has been a long-time emphasis here and includes the ever-popular Sensory Garden, an all-inclusive area with a pond-less fountain, music station, and a wheelchair accessible planter and plants.
“To witness special-need kids expressing themselves for the very first time is like watching them grow wings,” says Perez. “It is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job.”
Sensory-friendly theater performances also are offered through Miami Children’s Theater presentations, such as Dr. Doolittle coming up May 6.
Just one look at the 2015-16 Performing Arts Calendar and it’s clear that Marketing Assistant Adam Pascale has an eye for crisp, smart design. His 16-page publication is, according to Perez, a prime example of how staff is successful transforming the entire image and appeal of the Pinecrest Gardens.
One of the most impactful positions is that of the horticulturist, a position that has been vacant since December, and is soon to be filled by a highly qualified and visionary professional.
Here are the other key members, of the park staff that guests will undoubtedly see during their memorable day exploring and enjoying Pinecrest Gardens.
Grounds & Maintenance Staff:
Glenn (Harold) Hilton
Part-time Park Service Aides: