E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
- The billionaire Ken Griffin bought a historic Miami property for about $107 million in September.
- The financier is said to be mulling moving an early-1900s home from the site to city-owned land.
- Local preservationists are pushing back against the idea, saying it is like “redacting history.”
A battle is brewing in Miami’s exclusive Coconut Grove community between the billionaire financier Ken Griffin and local preservationists.
The Citadel CEO, who relocated his $75 billion hedge fund from Chicago to the Sunshine State last year, is mulling moving the smaller of two homes off of a property that he purchased last year for $106.89 million, The Wall Street Journal reported.
But it isn’t just any old house: The roughly 5,000-square-foot home known as Villa Serena was originally designed and built in about 1913 for William Jennings Bryan, who served as secretary of state during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency.
The house is on the National Register of Historic Places, an honorific designation that’s meant to guide stewardship and preservation of significant properties. It also received designation from Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board in 2007 that requires the HEPB to sign off on any major plans for the property.
People close to Griffin told the Journal that he wanted to move the house — situated on the left side of the property when viewing it from Biscayne Bay — to city-owned land so it could be enjoyed by the public. If the HEPB rejects the plan, Griffin could appeal to the Miami City Commission.
No official paperwork has been filed yet, and the Journal reported that what’s known of Griffin’s plans has been leaked to the media. A Citadel representative, Zia Ahmed, told the Journal that if Griffin were to move the house, “the utmost care and every precaution” would be taken. “We will not undertake it unless we are sure it could be moved safely,” he said.
Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami said he would support the project, should it come to fruition.
“The idea that the public could visit this historic house for the first time and for generations to come is incredible,” Suarez told the Journal. “The citizens of Miami, South Florida, and visitors from all over the world would be able to appreciate firsthand its significance and beauty, so we hope this project moves forward.”
Despite the move being framed as for the public good, some local preservationists describe the idea as “disturbing” and are speaking out against it.
“I’m always for development and progress, but in this particular instance, I think the preservation of this home” in its original location is “essential,” Manny Angelo Varas, a local developer at MV Group USA, told the Journal. “I think it should be conserved for generations to come, so that our kids and grandkids will be able to understand our history.”
To Varas, the idea of moving the property to another piece of land was tantamount to “redacting history.” He compared visiting the relocated house to someone claiming they visited Paris because they saw the Eiffel Tower at Disney World’s Epcot theme park.
Richard Heisenbottle, one of the architects who wrote Villa Serena’s NRHP report, argued that moving the house was a waste of time if Griffin’s goal was to increase public access to the home. He said Griffin could instead simply open the property for tours a couple of times a year.
“He doesn’t have to come and open the door himself,” Heisenbottle added.
Coconut Grove, the neighborhood in Miami where Griffin purchased a $107 million estate.
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Daniel Ciraldo, the executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, told the Journal that he worried about the precedent that could be set if Griffin were allowed to move the home off of its original property.
“When do you say no?” Ciraldo said.
Preservationists told the Journal that the home was a testament to the grand-estate days of Miami’s early history when Coconut Grove experienced an economic boom.
Villa Serena is set on a large lot along Biscayne Bay and underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation after it was purchased by the philanthropist Adrienne Arsht in 2007, which included adding a life-size cutout of Bryan near the fireplace.
Arsht used the home primarily as a guest house.