05/12/2015 06:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Did They Ever Tour the Playhouse's Interior?

R.J. Heisenbottle Architects, has successfully restored Miami Freedom Tower, Miami City Hall, Miami Woman's Club, Gusman Center for the Performing Arts and Vizcaya Village. They wish to be a big part of the Coconut Grove Playhouse renovation. Many fear that the façade will be saved and the rest of the building demolished, others fear that the whole building will be demolished. Last we heard that GableStage is going to manage the property and the theater will be reduced to 300 seats. 

Richard J. Heisenbottle's plans for the Playhouse,(shown here) presented in March 2013, make the current structure into an elegant structure with retail on the first floor, facing Main Highway and Charles Avenue. Awnings give it an urban feel, the cool, beige color makes it look majestic.
He is quite sure the grandeur can be returned to the playhouse without hurting the current structure. The seating capacity would be reduced to 700. Most of the interior would of course be redone including the stage area, but this is good in that it would allow larger productions and allow for larger sets. The basic plan calls for restoration and not demolition.

Following is a letter from Mr. Heisenbottle:

From the outset of discussion on the re-birth of the abandoned Coconut Grove Playhouse it has been assumed by the Miami-Dade County that only the front façade of the building is contributing to its historic designation.  This assumption was made because the authors of the approved City of Miami Historic Designation Report, placed one sentence to that effect in the designation report.  This one sentence probably went unnoticed by many HP Board members as they voted for its designation, but years later that one flawed sentence has shaped the assumptions on which Miami-Dade County's cultural facilities building program was based.  That assumption is that except for the main façade Miami-Dade County can tear down the remainder of the Richard Kiehnel designed theater and build a new 300 seat theater in its place.

It is questionable whether those who authored this report ever toured the theater's interior.   For if they had, they would not have missed the remarkable original proscenium arch, low relief plaster ceiling, cornice moldings and twisted columns all of which are still intact and contribute to its historic character and its historic designation.

This flawed assumption has resulted in the County Commission voting to go forward with cultural facilities building program for a new 300 seat theater that is seriously flawed from cultural, economic and historic preservation perspectives.  There are literally thousands of successful restored historic theaters throughout the country from Broadway to Main Street and the Coconut Grove Playhouse deserves to be one of them.

Richard J. Heisenbottle, FAIA


R. J. Heisenbottle Architects, P.A.

1926 image of the Playhouse