When you are stuck in traffic because of the Coconut Grove Art Show on February 16-18, you can blame it on Irma La Douce. Yes, the year was 1963 and the sexy Broadway musical about the Left Bank Parisian Prostitute, later made famous in film by Shirley MacLaine, was scheduled to open at the Coconut Grove Playhouse. The idea for the original Coconut Grove Art Show was a publicity stunt to advertise the the play and turn the already artsy streets of Coconut Grove into a “Left Bank” filled with local art to publicize the new show at the Playhouse. I seriously doubt that fifty years ago when Charlie Cinnamon, the advertising representative for the Playhouse, came up with the idea for the Art Show he ever dreamed it would become an Annual Event with over 150,000 visitors a year, over 500 artists and vendors attractingvisitors from all over the world.
Today the Art Show is an event more than an art show. With music, special park and rides, last year;’s addition of Culinary Delights as well as…oh yah, art, of course.
Back in the mid-1960s the art show was just a folksy, local event, something to do on a beautiful day in the middle of a Miami winter day. It was an excuse to go over to the Grove, park the car at any parking space you could find and walk around enjoying the local stores, a sweet snack at the drug store on the corner. If you were really good while your mother slowly, painfully looked at every piece of art that some local artist had stuck to a clothes line with old fashioned clothes pins, she would let you run around and play under the Banyan Trees in the park or watch the sailboats bob about in Biscayne Bay. It was an excuse to go to the Grove and be part of something fun, different and local
Now, fifty years later, Miamians debate how to get there or how to navigate the traffic. Even the locals book rooms at Grove hotels months in advance for a chance to see Coconut Grove as a native on foot and not have to deal with the traffic… the best way to see the Grove. It’s an excuse for Miami kids who live out of town in wintry places to come home and visit the family in the middle of February and enjoy the Grove Art Show while in town. Every native Miamian has always known what Charlie Cinnamon knew back in 1963… the eclectic architectural history mixed with the eccentric, creative flavor of the Grove always pulls on our heart strings. There is nothing like a ride down Tigertail Avenue or driving on South Bayshore Drive into the Grove turning right at the park and continuing up McFarland Drive to Grand Avenue and Maine Highway to soothe our restless souls. While sitting and sipping a drink upstairs in Cocowalk and looking down on one of South Florida’s most beautiful intersections you, like most Miami natives as well as many a tourist, ponder on what it must be like to live in this perfect paradise all year round.
The ghosts of the Grove’s early settlers like Ralph Munroe and Kirk Munroe, bother writers but not related and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas smile down on the Grove Arts show. They knew what many an artist knew and what Charlie Cinnamon knew…. location, location, location is everything and Coconut Grove has it all… always did and always will. Remember that while sampling some of Miami’s finest art, food and weather at this year’s fiftieth anniversary celebration. And, the next time you wonder what it might be like to travel to France and see the Left Bank, remember that in 1963 Coconut Grove was the Left Bank under the Palm Trees and take a trip to Coconut Grove and have dinner at Le Bouchon du Grove. You can sit, enjoy a roasted rack of lamb with Herbs of Provence served with white beans and Basil Pesto. Rather than worrying on the Left Bank weather you can take a walk under the coconut palms in the Miami moonlight. Maybe one day you can live there all year, who knows? It’s only a shame you can’t take in a deep drama or a funny comedy at the Coconut Grove Playhouse which has been shuttered up the last few years, the original impetus for the idea of the Art Show that has out lived the Playhouse that was once the heart of Coconut Grove. Maybe one day it will be open again, who knows?
Levi Meyer is a South Florida Real Estate agent at Fortune International Realty. He is a third generation Miami native with a passion for all things in South Florida and can be contacted via his website at www.levimeyer.com. Bobbi Schwartz, Levi’s mother, is a native Miamian, freelance writer, and historian. She co-authors this column and blogs regularly at www.hurricaneharbor.blogspot.com