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Ransom Everglades School is Buying La Brisa, the Spectacular Historic Mansion Next Door

June 16, 2016 by Sean McCaughan
La Brisa

La Brisa

One of South Florida’s most elite private schools, the 113 year old Ransom Everglades, is nearly doubling the size of its Upper School campus in Coconut Grove with the purchase of the gorgeous, fantastically historic, and rambling old house next door, La Brisa. The school announced the sale today, saying they would close on the deal June 21st, but not disclosing the final price. It had been listed, however, for a reduced but still whopping pricetag of $39,500,000.

The school released this statement, describing their intentions for the property:

Ransom Everglades School has reached an agreement to purchase the 6.9-acre La Brisa property adjoining its Main Highway campus with the goal of continuing to improve educational spaces for students while respecting the tradition-rich land and extensive hammock.

The pending purchase of the bayfront property has been made possible through generous donations and reflects the school’s longstanding ties to Coconut Grove and its history. The La Brisa land was originally deeded in 1886 to Kirk Munroe, a noted conservationist and founding member of the Florida Audubon Society.

“We can’t pass up the opportunity to buy this beautiful property,” said Ransom Everglades Head of School Penny Townsend. “The purchase will allow us to improve our facilities, add vital greenspace  and continue our long tradition of respecting, protecting and learning from the treasures of Old Florida and Miami’s precious coastal ecosystems.”

The purchase will allow Ransom Everglades to enhance educational experiences for students by providing additional access to the bay and a vast lawn shaded by lush tree canopies and dense mangroves. It will also enable the school to undertake a planned revitalization of the academic facilities on its original, century-old campus.

“Paul Ransom founded our school 113 years ago with a forward-thinking focus on taking care of the natural world,” said Eric Mendelson, chairman of the school’s board of trustees. “The current trustees are strongly committed to ensuring the vitality of the school for the next century, and the prudent addition of this neighboring property fits squarely into our long-term educational goals while also honoring Paul Ransom’s legacy.”

The school is scheduled to close on the purchase June 21.

The property’s old broker’s remarks lay out its extraordinary history. Note the original $65 million price tag:

William P.D. Pierce, a Property Specialist with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate’s Miami Beach Lincoln Building office, has listed La Brisa for $65 million, making it the most expensive residence currently on the market in Miami-Dade County. The historical Coconut Grove property offers a rare 6.9-acre tract of waterfront land that has not been subdivided since it was created in 1886, and a 1920s era estate home that has been lovingly restored.”This is an extremely rare opportunity to purchase not just part of Miami’s colorful history, but to own spectacular Hammock that rivals a private reserve in the heart of Miami’s famed Coconut Grove neighborhood, with 207 feet of waterfront on Biscayne Bay,” said Pierce. “As you pass through the front gates, it’s as if you are traveling back in time with a unique splendor unmatched by any property in South Florida, but yet, you’re still just steps from the restaurants and stylish boutiques of Coconut Grove.”

La Brisa is secluded behind a private gate in the heart of Coconut Grove, the “original Miami,” which has attracted business tycoons, artists, novelists and celebrities since the late 1800s. The oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood of Miami, today Coconut Grove is a laid-back enclave of sidewalk cafes, bars, boutiques, art galleries, lush parks and picturesque streets.

Amidst this hip and vibrant neighborhood, La Brisa is tucked away on 6.9 quiet acres and hidden from street view. The home features views of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean across an expanse of well-manicured lawn stretching toward the mangrove-lined waterfront, which is accessible by an elevated walkway leading to an octagonal viewing deck over the bay. A protected 536-foot long canal, borders the northern side of property, and leads to a comfortable private port constructed by the current owner that accommodates a 70-foot yacht and offers direct ocean access.

The meticulously landscaped property is dotted with mature trees including towering centenary Canarian Date Palms, royal palms, royal poincianas, mahogany, oak and gumbo limbo trees, some which are nearly as old as the house itself, some much older, as well as a stately banyan tree that straddles the property and a hidden cobblestone path. The property also has a unique spring-fed pond nestled among a beautiful assortment of palms, trees and foliage.

The expansive residence sits atop an ancient coral reef approximately 23 feet above sea level. The home features 13,803 square feet “under air” plus an additional 3,338 square feet of outdoor living space including several picturesque balconies and covered porches, for a total square footage of 17,141. With 9 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms and 3 half-baths, the Mediterranean-style home’s unique architectural details include original woodwork on the upper-floor galleries, intricate keystones above the entryways that have been carefully restored, arched doors and windows, and an assortment of wrought-iron and wood balconies providing vistas of both property and water.

The light-filled home is accented with original Dade County Pine beams set against crisp white ceilings and walls; natural wood floors of ipe, Brazilian teak and original pine; elegant arched windows and doorways; and floor-to-ceiling windows that open out onto the patio. Nearly every room flows into an outdoor space, whether it’s one of the many balconies or walkways, or through direct access to the pool patio. The four-car garage is a coach house with two bedrooms above.

The pool and sunken fire pit are surrounded by an expansive patio made from coral stone, which can easily accommodate a party of 250 for lavish outdoor entertaining. The property also includes a two-bedroom, Key West-style guest cottage with generous living spaces and a wrap-around porch.

La Brisa boasts a colorful history that dates back to the early settlers of Coconut Grove. The land was first deeded in 1886 to Kirk Munroe, a noted author of children’s adventure novels and books about Florida, and his wife Mary Barr Munroe. The Munroes included several well-known authors in their circle of friends, and were introduced to Florida by Munroe’s sister, who was married to the youngest son of Harriett Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Munroe played a pivotal role in the development and cultural establishment of Miami’s early days. He introduced the first legislation in Florida to protect an animal after an injured manatee washed onto the property, built South Florida’s first tennis court and hosted the first game of tennis in 1892, and founded the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club. During the Spanish-American War, Munroe supplied water from La Brisa’s spring—which still exists today and feeds a natural pool—was transported 120 miles south for the American troops anchored in Key West. Reportedly, a box of Florida orange blossoms from the Munroe property that was shipped to Henry Flagler convinced him to bring his railroad south to Miami.

The Munroes sold the land in 1920 to John B. Semple, a Pittsburgh lawyer, who tore down the existing wood-frame home and commissioned prolific architects Kiehnel and Elliott to build a “winter cottage,” which is now called La Brisa Kiehnel and Elliott were active in Miami from the early 1920s to the early ’40s and are known for their Mediterranean Revival style featuring pastel stucco walls, red-tile roofs, wrought iron details and elaborate accents along entryways, rooflines and windows. The firm was involved in the design some of Miami’s most notable period buildings, including El Jardin (now the Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart), the Coconut Grove Playhouse, the Bryan Memorial Methodist Church (now Bet-Ovadia Chabad of the Grove), and Miami Senior High School.

The property was later purchased by anthropologist Henry Field, a grand-nephew of the founder of the Marshall Field’s department store chain, and his wife Julia, who was a lion tamer and first curator of the Crandon Park Zoo.

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