Alfred Browning Parker, the revered modernist architect from Florida, once designed a gem known as the “Sea Aerie” in Coral Gables. Today, this iconic 11,000-square-foot waterfront property is under threat of demolition by a Texas business magnate, who acquired it for a staggering $36 million in August. Built-in 1963 in the Gables Estates sector, the “Sea Aerie” is a testament to Parker’s innovative and environmentally conscious design ethos. The house, offering breathtaking views of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic, remains a crucial representation of Parker’s pioneering work.
However, the changing landscape of Gables Estates, renowned for its luxury waterfront homes, sees old architectural marvels being replaced by contemporary mansions. The Sea Aerie, previously owned by the well-known philanthropist Mary Jean “Bunny” Bastian, was up for sale after she passed for an asking price of $45 million. The final transaction, however, saw a discount of $9 million.
The demolition application has alarmed many, including the Parker family, preservation advocates, and architectural enthusiasts. They are astonished that a buyer would spend such a significant sum on a landmark and then consider its destruction. Parker’s work predominantly graced South Florida and won international acclaim for breaking traditional architectural boundaries and seamlessly blending indoor and outdoor spaces.
The late architect’s son, Robin Parker, remarked, “It’s tragic to think of tearing down such a masterpiece. It’s heartrending.”
Despite the city’s commitment to preserving history, legal constraints may render it powerless against the “Sea Aerie” demolition. A law from July 2022 prohibits municipalities from classifying homes in designated flood zones as protected landmarks. Given its location, the “Sea Aerie” falls under this category, making its preservation improbable. This controversial law also recently facilitated the demolition of Al Capone’s Miami Beach estate.
Coral Gables officials criticized the law last August, fearing its adverse impact on the city’s rich historical identity. The city has long had a reputation for safeguarding historical and architectural assets. They had hoped the legislature would overturn the decision, but it remains unchanged. Rhonda Anderson, Coral Gables Vice Mayor, shared her concerns about the potential loss of more historic homes in the region.
Preservationists argue that demolishing architecturally significant properties is an environmentally unsound loss of history. Liz Waytkus, from Docomomo U.S., expressed concerns about the ramifications of such laws. “Destroying structures, particularly those of high-quality materials, exacerbates environmental problems,” she commented.
The new owner remains elusive, with public records only identifying the 140 Arvida Parkway Trust. However, sources indicate the buyer is Felix Sorkin, president of General Technologies. Sorkin is no stranger to luxury properties in Coral Gables, having purchased another waterfront mansion last year.
The broader community hopes that the new owner will realize the monumental cultural and architectural significance of Parker’s “Sea Aerie.” Karelia Martinez Carbonell of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables commented, “Owning a masterpiece entails an inherent responsibility. We hope they recognize that.”