The student news site of Coral Gables Senior High School


The student news site of Coral Gables Senior High School


The student news site of Coral Gables Senior High School


Roots and Results of West Grove’s Gentrification

Barbara Teixeira
Residents have noticed a juxtaposition in their neighborhood of West Grove. A clear display of gentrification, traditional Bahamian houses and their next-door “Sugar Cube” townhouses.

Gentrification, throughout time, has seen poor urban areas changed as wealthier people have moved in, improving housing and attracting new businesses, but displacing native inhabitants in the process. This phenomenon is currently taking place in Coconut Grove, more specifically, West Grove, the community in the western edge of the neighborhood. Located in Miami, Fla., Coconut Grove is at the shoreline of Biscayne Bay, and can be described as a serene, leafy area with sidewalk cafes and stores, sailing clubs and marinas. Although adjacent, West Grove has always been different.

The Origins of Separation in Coconut Grove

West Grove was founded in the late 1800s by Bahamian and Black immigrants moving to Miami to start a new life, influenced by the Homestead Act. While the most of Florida was uninhabited at this time, Bahamian settlements flourished, recreating their original ways of life: fishing, planting, turtling and more.

In the late 1870’s, the isolated settlement underwent a transformation after an English man, Jack Peacock, abandoned England for southeast Florida. Once arrived, he united two prominent Bahamian families, the Pents and the Frows, who resided in nearby homesteads, or farm houses. This union established the secluded settlement, formerly known as “Jack’s Bright”.

It then received the name “Coconaut Grove” by Dr. Horace P. Porter, who applied for a U.S Post Office and named the town after viewing the nearby palm trees. To keep up with the amount of business and tourism generated by visitors from the north, Peacock traveled to the Keys to find Bahamians who were willing to work at the newly-established town. When many Bahamian families trailed up north, they joined with the white residents of the Grove. Here, the habitants, both black and white, worshipped and worked simultaneously.

In 1865, Florida enacted 19 “Jim Crow” segregation laws, a series that later created a demographical divide by segregating “Colored Grove”, or West Grove and “White Grove”. The two “Groves” juxtaposed each other, showing the significant economic and social differences. The “White Grove” had access to better housing, better sanitation and more advanced schools.

Students from the “White Grove” went to Ransom Everglades and those from “Colored Grove” went to Frances S. Tucker Elementary School. Ransom was closed off with a fence made of coral rock and a guard house, while F.S. Tucker was surrounded by a rusted broken down chain link fence and has bars on all its windows. “White Grove” residents enjoyed shopping at main stores, a different experience from those in “Colored Grove”, who had “mom and pop” stores. On this side of the neighborhood, the sanitary conditions were poor, as most houses did not have proper plumbing or electricity. Citizens in West Grove used “outside ‘privies'” and water pumps. 

As segregation worsened, citizens of “White Grove” started rallying for a wall to be put up, separating “Colored Grove” from their side. This wish was granted in the 1940’s, as a wall was built in spanning from Main Highway through the Grove to LeJeune Road. This wall was not high enough to physically separate the citizens yet, it was more of a symbol, to enforce the “Jim Crow” idea of being “separate but equal”.

On one side of the barrier, “White Grove” had more modern and vibrant accommodations and privileges like advanced schools, fashionable stores and refined houses. On the other, citizens of the “Colored Grove” had less developed houses, a higher crime rate and outmoded schools. In the eyes of many residents, the race-based housing inequalities contradicted the “Jim Crow’s” ideals, as those in the “Colored Sided” were ousted to extremely inferior housing. While citizens of “Colored Grove” were not allowed to buy land on the “White Side”, those of “White Grove” were allowed to purchase and build on the “Colored Side”, which was encouraged.

In 1925, Coconut Grove was annexed into the city of Miami. Election results revealed that citizens of Coconut Grove were against being a part of the city, yet vote of two-thirds of Miami cities, including Little River, Buena Vista and Allapattah allowed for the territory to be added.

Thanks to the annexation, the demand for more houses in West Grove became apparent as new residents moved in. In August 1944, city commissioners voted against plans for improving houses;  plans which entailed the construction of fifty duplexes in West Grove on a 20-acre plot of land. The commission claimed that zoning based on race was unconstitutional. After this decline, many citizens of West Grove turned to the federal housing office to fill out an application for emergency housing but were later informed that there were no houses available.

The “Coconut Grove Slum Committee for Slum Clearance” marked turning point for the housing disadvantages in West Grove. Created in 1948, the committee was founded by Elizabeth Virrick, a middle class white woman and Father Theodore Gibson, an influential role model in the Black community. Both Virrick and Gibson strove to improve living conditions and opportunities for citizens of “West Grove”. Together they went to the city commission to get decrees that would pass in order to get running water and electricity to all houses in West Grove. The wall eventually came down, still leaving segments as physical testaments to the neighborhood’s history.

Current Gentrification

In the 1970s and ’80s high-rise apartment buildings were built in Coconut Grove, as planners took advantage of its proximity to Biscayne Bay to transform it int0 a large popular residential neighborhood. Ocean-front and considered modern for their time, these buildings quickly became sought-after and attracted residents. The Yacht Harbour Condominium Association, built in 1975, gave rise to 136 residences that cost around $2.3 million each, while the Grove Tower, completed in 1982, was made with 99 news residences that cost around $2.2 million today. The buildings physically contrasted Coconut Grove from West Grove, where residents lived in Bahamian houses and had recently begun gaining electricity and plumbing.

As foreign habitants populated the sea-side area in new buildings, the West Grove habitants began to feel that they could no longer feel the sea breeze that they grew accustomed to. Most West Grove natives relied on the ocean breeze to cool themselves off, as their Bahamian houses lacked AC. Residents began to see physical changes in the landscape as more residences and amenities filled the area in response to its growing attraction. 

In 2018, the mall at the heart of Coconut Grove, CocoWalk underwent a renovation, modernized the mall and made it an epicenter for mainstream brands to establish popular stores and open restaurants. This gentrification of this area created a further increase in habitants, as population rose from 20,930 residents in 2015 to, 33,901 people in 2023.

The modernization of Coconut Grove seeped into West Grove due to their proximity, as more houses were needed to maintain the influx of habitants. As space in Coconut Grove depleted, real-estate developers turned to West Grove to create residences.

The residences being built are considered by many to deteriorate West Grove’s rich Bahamian culture, through their houses. The contemporary houses constructed opposed the Bahamian houses, best recognized by their colorful colors and their coral limestone or wood structures.

“I’ve lived in West Grove for the past 4 years, and I clearly see the gentrification happening. It feels like more and more townhouses are being built, and more and more people are moving in. I find it unfair, because the natives were here first,” sophomore Solal Benkemoun said.

“I think it’s really wrong and unfair that the natives are being pushed out. It’s their home, their community and their family. But, the gentrification isn’t personal or intentional also, I would understand why they want to renovate part of Coconut Grove,” junior Melissa Hernandez said.

The Grove’s current gentrification is chipping away at West Grove’s natives houses and displacing its habitants through property taxes. Bahamian houses without the Homestead Exemption, owned for generations, became surrounded by “trendier” residences and residences with more value, causing their property tax to increase. When these property taxes cannot be payed by their owners, the Bahamian houses undergo a “tax sale”, a forced sale of the property done by a governmental entity. This process creates a cycle of natives selling their homes away to contractors, who then replace them with white “sugar cube” townhouses, heightening the property taxes of other traditional Bahamian residences.

“I think the gentrification going on is unjustifiable, if I was being pushed out of my home and where I grew up just for a more modern townhouse to be built I would be really upset. This is a serious problem and a cycle that needs to be stopped,” sophomore Orly Schoolman-Wood said.

As native residents of Coconut Grove struggle to keep up with the aftermath of gentrification, debate for the loss of culture in the area has opened. With a sentimental attachment to their generational homes, citizens of West Grove continue to feel that they are being taken advantage of due to their losses profiting real-estate financial gains.

“…more new homes can result in an increase in local traffic. Affordability, a reduction in the number of smaller houses can result in the displacement of people that cannot afford newer larger home,” Assistant Professor in the Florida International University Department of Earth and Environment Dr. Paulo Olivas said.

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About the Contributor
Barbara Teixeira
Barbara Teixeira, CavsConnect Staff Writer
Barbara Teixeira or Barb, as most people call her, is a sophomore in the International Baccalaureate program. Barbara joined CavsConnect to further her love of writing and to be able to bring her perspective to the Cavaliers through writing. She loves talking, so much that she speaks four languages. What seems like an advantage often gets her in trouble in class for talking to her friends too much. Barbara loves traveling, surfing in her hometown Rio de Janeiro and listening to music. Some things on Barbara's bucket list are backpacking around the world, seeing Frank Ocean live and getting 300 community service hours before graduation.
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