From riches to rags

Brownsville’s historic Georgette’s Tea House crumbling

Erick Johnson | 4/3/2014, 9 a.m.
The once elegant rooms are now decorated with pigeon droppings. Termites infest the closets that held designer coats and shoes ...
Jazz singer Billie Holiday (standing far left) at Georgette’s Tea Room, a favorite gathering place for the black social elite in Miami. The Black Archives of South Florida

The Times spoke with Sargent who said her aunt’s house has been vacant since 1995 when her mother moved out to live with her sister for safety reasons.

“The house was in really bad condition and we kept putting thousands and thousands of dollars into it,” said Sargent who lives in Miami Gardens. “It was just too much. The roof is in really bad shape. That alone is going to cost least $40,000.”

There were no code violations on the house, according to a public search on Miami-Dade code enforcement website.

The house was a former stop during tours through Overtown and Brownsville given by the Black Archives of South Florida during Black history month, but neighbors say those visits stopped as the house grew unattractive. Bonner said he has not seen a tour since he arrived at the church four years ago.

The Black Archives did not returned messages seeking a comment on this story.


According to public records from the Miami-Dade property appraiser, the building is worth $83,128 in 2013, from $94,972 in 2011. A plaque in the front window at the house says the house is a Miami-Dade County historical site.

The house was designated as a historical site in 1990, said Kathleen Kauffman, chief of Miami-Dade historical and archaeological resource. The designation would make the tea house eligible for grants.

“It would be if we had preservation grants right now but we don’t have any,” Kauffman said. “Historical buildings that are damaged are eligible for funds if they are available.”

Kauffman, said preservation grants have dried up due to the county’s budget woes.

Sargent said she applied for grants when she still owned the house but the paperwork for the application was too complete.

“It was like a telephone book,” Sargent said. “It was must too much.”

Bonner said it will cost at least $450,000 to restore the house, which the church does not have. As the house continues to deteriorate, Bonner said the need to renovate is urgent. So far, Bonner has not applied for any grants and doesn’t know where to start. He recently received a tip from a member of his church to contact a grant writer who may can help.

Bonner said to spend nearly five times the amount of the building’s value on renovations is worth the effort.

“It’s a historical building and it will serve the community,” he said. “But if I don’t get any grants, I don’t know how it’s going to happen.”

He said the church plans to turn the building into a community center that will offer tutorial service for schools students, family counseling and blood pressure checks.