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Miami Herald - May 17, 2007

Last Scott-Carver building named a historic landmark

After housing administrators destroyed all but one building of the Scott-Carver Homes over a decade, former residents find hope in a historic designation.

By Carol Marbin Miller

They weren't much to look at, these cement block barracks-style homes with aluminum windows, shingle roofs and once-empty yards. When county housing administrators decided to begin razing them nearly a decade ago, the Scott-Carver Homes were called blighted and ``distressed.''

Today, only one of the buildings that comprised Scott-Carver remains. And with a unanimous vote Wednesday by the Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Board, that abandoned two-story complex gained a new designation: historic landmark.

Wednesday's vote means the structure, 7265 NW 22nd Ave., cannot be torn down or altered without the approval of the preservation board.

The decision delighted scores of former residents and community activists who had pushed for years to protect the last remnant of the once-thriving complex.

''That one building represents the life of the Scott homes,'' said Enid C. Pinkney, a historian and preservationist who sits on the county preservation board.

''For so many years, folks said black people didn't have anything in the community worth preserving. This wakes us up to the fact that we do have things in our community that are worth preserving,'' Pinkney added.

With the designation, some community leaders say they now can ponder what to do with the building. One idea: house a gallery of photographs of former Scott-Carver residents, said Dorothy Fields, founder of The Black Archives of South Florida. The organization maintains a collection of photos and documents of Miami's African-American community starting in 1896.

The remaining building, Fields said, ``is a very important part of our history.''

''So many families passed through there,'' Fields added. ``It will be good to be able to showcase their lives and work.''

The James E. Scott Homes, named after a prominent Miami resident who served as the first administrator of Miami's first public housing project, called Liberty Square -- or the Pork 'n Beans to residents -- were completed in 1955, in what is called the second wave of widespread public housing construction.

The complex included 76 row-house buildings of simple, utilitarian construction.

The Carver Homes, which held 30 buildings, were built between 1968 and 1969. Carver homes also were built with concrete block and stucco, with little to distinguish them.

Though public housing originally was conceived as a short-term strategy for low-income families, many such complexes eventually housed several generations of the same families, Fields said.

''The James E. Scott Homes defined the public housing policy of Miami-Dade County in the 1950s. They stood as symbols of dramatic change in one of the poorest inner-city neighborhoods . . . during this era,'' wrote Carlos J. Dunn, a county preservationist, in a report recommending designation approval.

''The safeguard of this building,'' Dunn wrote, ``will constitute a tribute and commemoration to Scott Homes, its residents, its history, as well as the struggle and the contribution of the black community to Miami-Dade County.''

The county had torn down the 856 units with plans to build about half in return as part of the ambitious Hope VI project, but those plans never came to fruition.

One of the most passionate community activists who lobbied to protect what little was left of Scott-Carver was Mary Nesbitt, a former resident who had said she was ''heartbroken'' by the decision of housing administrators to destroy the complex.

Nesbitt was not there to celebrate Wednesday's designation. She died earlier this month.

''It is good for the community that at least one of the buildings was saved,'' Fields said, ``so that the story of the people who lived there can be told.