Undercurrents

The Broward school board annoys artists, desecrates a philanthropist's memory, and betrays Sailboat Bend

The roots of this abomination are sunk deep in a 2.7-acre chunk of the West Side School site at SW 13th Avenue and Fourth Street. Back in the early 1920s, Harmon, who died in 1928, granted $2000 to the city for a kids' park, one of more than 100 similar gifts made by the New York City philanthropist. In return the city dubbed the place Harmon Field and, according to the Fort Lauderdale News at the time, pledged "to pay $300 annually to perpetuate and keep up the playground." Later city hall even named a stretch of 13th Avenue for Harmon. But in 1957 the school board constructed a building on part of the site, not realizing it didn't have the right.

Then in 1961 West Side School closed, and Harmon Field fell into disrepair -- despite the promise, still printed on a plaque, that the playground was "forever" and "eternal." It disappeared from public memory for decades.

Last year the Broward Cultural Affairs Council, aided by a Minnesota group called Artspace Projects, submitted a plan to revive Harmon's park and the surrounding 10.8 acres. They wanted the city to buy the site, build 66 artists' apartments, restore West Side School, and reopen the playground, among other things. Indeed 166 artists, more than half qualifying as low-income, have signed up to live in and to showcase their work at new facilities there. And judging from Artspace's history, it can be done with little or no cost to taxpayers. "There's no place like this in the Southeast," contends Mary Becht, director of the Cultural Affairs Council. "When I heard the school board's decision, I said, "Oh my God.'"

Until last week the school board had hemmed and hawed for what seemed an eternity. Although the property has been appraised three times in the past year, each time at around $4 million, school board members, led by tightwad Paul Eichner, voted to put the property out to bid. Just want to check what a developer might pay, they said.

Baloney, responds Paul Goodchild, president of the Sailboat Bend Civic Association. "The school board is screwing the hell out of the neighborhood," he says.

In an effort to help Mr. Goodchild and this metropolis' much-abused artists, as well as the neighborhood's tykes, Undercurrents on Monday tracked down the Harmon foundation's treasurer, Barnes McNevin, a descendant of Harmon who lives in Milford, Massachusetts. McNevin didn't have the paperwork on the Fort Lauderdale park but promised to dig for it. Most of Harmon's gifts stipulated land could be reclaimed if it became unavailable to the public, McNevin explained. Indeed it seems clear the city hasn't paid the promised $300-per-year upkeep, which adds up to tens of thousands of dollars after being adjusted for inflation and interest.

"If they... are planning on selling it, we have a problem with it," McNevin concluded. "The one consistent thing about all of these playgrounds was that they were for the benefit of everyone." What's astounding about the end of the Sun-Sentinel's Sunshine magazine, which ceases publication this weekend, is the lack of reaction. "I don't think anybody's angry," says one Sunshine employee who asked not to be named. "The thing has run longer than it might have run. We've all been damn lucky." Fact is, Sunshine was a snooze. No teeth, no attitude, light as a feather. Adios and good riddance, comments another staffer: "I won't miss it. You never really knew it was there."

Just a few weeks ago, the call came in to New Times. Scads of shady black olive trees were being illegally toppled at the Everglades Lake Mobile Home Park in Davie. So Undercurrents called the arboreal polizei. And the complaint was printed in our letters section. The result: Tree-hating owners, who couldn't be reached for comment, hurried over to town hall for permits. Unfortunately it was too late, says Casey Lee, the town's landscape inspector. The likely penalty for axing the 24 black olives: an order to plant between 70 and 100 shade trees and a penalty around $450.

 
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