On the west side of historic South Miami Avenue was a large vacant lot that many locals found very intriguing. The property was part of the Holleman Park subdivision of the Brickell neighborhood. The address was 2100 South Miami Avenue until it was sub-divided into several smaller lots. The property spanned an entire block.
Generally, most people don’t find empty lots particularly interesting. This plot of land was different. It had been vacant for more than thirty years.
What made the empty lot so intriguing was the stone wall that still stood along the perimeter of the property. While foliage grew to hide many of the other remaining features, such as the two stone lions, casual observers knew that there was more to the property than met the eye. Hidden in the overgrown foliage was a story that dated back more than eighty years.
Although he spent a lot of time in his New York office, Vernon Gransden was an executive with the Southern Craft Paper Company of Panama City, Florida. Southern Craft was a subsidiary of International Paper. He also held stock in many other paper companies around the world. When Gransden and his family began visiting Miami in the 1920s, he was a man that was financially comfortable.
He and his family enjoyed the temperate winters and admired the tropical spirit of South Florida. They had traveled to Miami every winter for vacation beginning in the 1920s. After years of visiting, Gransden decided to establish roots in Miami by purchasing a lot in the Holleman Park subdivision of the Brickell neighborhood. The lot was quite large. It was so large that it spanned an entire block.
Although he was only in his mid-forties at the time, Vernon decided it was never too early to plan for life after a long and stressful career. Purchasing the lot on South Miami Avenue was Gransden’s first step toward preparing for retirement.
In 1935, Vernon was ready to build his dream home in Miami. One afternoon, he picked up the phone and called a fellow New Yorker, and noted Miami architect, E Dean Parmelee. After exchanging pleasantries, Gransden got right to the point. “Hello, Dean,” he said, “draw me plans for a home in Miami. One that fits in with all those things the Chamber of Commerce has to say about things there, especially the outdoor angle.”
Parmelee got to work and mailed his plans to Gransden within a couple of weeks after the original phone call. A couple of days later, Parmelee’s phone rang, and when he picked it up, he heard a man say: “Gransden talking. Your plans are okay. Make all the rooms a little larger, emphasize the sun and fresh air motif and let’s get started.”
Vernon left the rest of the details to his wife and architect.
A Show Place
The Gransden lot was located on the west side of South Miami Avenue, between twenty first and twenty second road. It was a long and spacious lot. Parmelee had plenty of room to design a remarkable plan for the property.
Construction on the property began in 1935. It took nearly two years, and a $100,000 investment, for the grounds and house to be completed. The family moved into the home in January of 1937.
The entire property was protected with an oolitic limestone wall with accents of wrought iron for aesthetics. At the front of the property, facing South Miami Avenue, were two stone lion statues to greet those walking by the property.
Landscaping was so lush as to create an additional wall of privacy while celebrating the natural environ of the sub-tropics. Both the driveway and property were lined with Royal Palm and Poinciana trees. The latter providing a colorful accent to the property when in bloom.
At one end of the well-manicured lawn was a rock garden with a fish pool containing an island in the middle. The pool had a cypress bridge to allow visitors access to the island. At the front of the yard, and opposite the screened in patio, was a rose garden. The garden was flanked by a reflection pool and an exquisite marble statue.
At the southern end of the lawn was a large swimming pool with a diving board. Vernon Jr. was a proficient diver and swimmer. There was an electric pump that could fill the pool with either salt or fresh water.
While the surrounding property was well landscaped, the house matched the grounds in grandiosity and style. The exterior was constructed with native stone and was designed to accentuate every advantage of South Florida’s sun and air.
There was a private paved roadway that began on the north side of the house and traversed the entire block from street to street. The entrance to the home was spacious and featured two distinct staircases. One was a more traditional stone staircase, while the other was a spiral stairway like those found in ancient castles.
The rest of the home was just as ornate. At the end of the first-floor hallway was a library lined with permanent cypress wood bookcases. The living room was huge with an exotic Spanish design.
The dining room was designed for entertaining large parties. It overlooked a small patio with a view of the swimming pool.
The floors on the first level were finished with imported Mexican tiles. The roof consisted of imported Cuban tiles.
However, the prominent room in the house was not a room, but a spacious two-story screened-in patio. It was situated in the center of the house. Each of the home’s other first-floor rooms were ordained with French doors that opened to the patio. Parmelee wanted the patio to serve as an “outdoor living lounge” where the family could enjoy the easterly breeze and a view of the beautifully landscaped property.
On the second floor were five large bedrooms and four bathrooms. The rooms were situated in two wings. The wings were separated by the second level of the patio, except for an open loggia which connected the two front bedrooms.
At the west end of the home was a servant’s yard and porch. Just beyond the porch was the service building which contained a three-car garage, laundry, heating plant, pump room, servant’s quarters and storage.
What is in a Name?
Many of the fine homes in Miami’s Gold Coast were given names to represent the significance of the property to the owner. Names such as ‘The Comfort Lodge’, ‘Homewood’, ‘Villa Regina’ and ‘Santa Maria’ were all names given to the mansions along Brickell Avenue when the area was referred to as Miami’s Millionaire Row.
Vernon Gransden wanted a succinct name to describe how he felt about his new home. He viewed his property as exotic and tropical. A place that represented privacy, tranquility and relaxation.
Based on these features, Gransden named his property ‘La Casa Reposada’. The name translated to English was ‘House of Repose’. The interpretation was that this was a house of rest and tranquility. Gransden purchased this home as he quietly planned for retirement. It was intended to be his escape to repose.
Ross Family Purchased Home in 1941
The Gransden family also had a summer home in Edenville, Michigan. By 1940, Vernon was officially retired from the Southern Craft Paper Company and enjoyed spending time with his family. However, on November 17, 1940, he died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only fifty-three years of age.
Vernon was survived by his wife, Nellie, and his two children. It was left to Nellie Gransden to settle the estate. She decided that she did not want to continue to own La Casa Reposada following the death of her husband.
As the estate was being settled, Nellie hired Hollopeter & Post Realtors to market and sell the home. The firm produced a professional brochure to market the home. The home was listed for $57,500 in January of 1941. The list price was considerably less than what it cost to build the home five years earlier. Mrs. Gransden was eager to sell and part ways with the property.
It took nearly nine months, but the home finally sold to Raymond A. Ross in October of 1941. Ross purchased the property for $50,000. The purchase price was exactly half of what is cost the Gransden family to build the house and landscape the property.
Ross was president of the Ross Independent Oil Company of Washington, Pennsylvania. He was quite a success story when he invested his World War I bonus check of $60 as a down payment for a Mack Truck. That investment began his career as an entrepreneur.
He used the truck to haul coal for commercial accounts in Washington, Pennsylvania, and later used his earnings to buy service stations. By 1943, his company owned hundreds of service stations in the Pennsylvania and Ohio area. The company later opened storage facilities in addition to service stations.
Ross became one of the largest independent owners of gas stations in the area. His company made him a wealthy man. Ross Independent Oil Company was sold to Marathon Oil in 1961.
More Than Staircases
Ray Ross Jr. was a boy when his family moved into La Casa Reposada in 1941. The family lived in the home for ten years during his youth. A part of the home that he always remembered were the staircases in the home’s entranceway. Not the design of the two staircases, but what was under each stairway.
The spiral stairway featured a hidden wine cellar beneath it. The area was cool and allowed for the accommodation of a relatively large wine collection. This was unusual to Ray Jr. because his parents never drank and, therefore, never made use of the wine cellar.
The other stairway was even more intriguing to him. He found another hidden room that possessed a listening device. Years later, he presumed that Vernon Gransden installed the listening device to eavesdrop on guests he hosted to gain an information advantage for future business dealings.
Ray also remembered that parts of the home was air conditioned, which was not very common in the early 1940s. Also, he remembered that the home had a deep freeze locker for meat.
Ray Jr. has a lot of fond memories of growing up in the house, and was surprised when his father sold the home. The property was not for sale when Ray Ross Sr. received an unsolicited offer to buy the home.
Cuban President Buys Home in 1951
Ray Ross Sr. developed a friendship and working relationship with Tildo Carrero during his time in Miami. Carrero was a travel agent, real estate broker or really anything that he needed to be to make money. He was known for being well connected to important Cuban dignitaries and knew how to get things done in Miami.
It was Carrero who approached Ray about a mystery dignitary that wanted to buy La Casa Reposada. At first, he didn’t share the identity of his friend, but said that his friend had driven by the home and liked the security wall and privacy of the property. Ray told Carerro that he was not interested in selling the home.
Apparently, Carrero’s friend made an offer that was attractive enough for Ross to reconsider his decision. Although it was not disclosed how much he accepted for La Casa Reposada, Ray Ross agreed to sell his home to the president of Cuba in 1951.
Carlos Prio Socarras was elected president of Cuba on July 1, 1948, as a member of the Partido Autentico. Prio was called “The Cordial President” because he was committed to rule by ‘civility’. He is known today as the last democratically elected president of Cuba.
Ray Jr. remembered the first time that Prio, his family, and security guards first visited the house. Three Cadillacs pulled up to the front of the home. The first and last car were occupied by armed guards. When President Prio and family went inside to look at the interior of the home, the two guard cars took position at the north and south driveway entrances.
On the day of the closing for the sale of the house, Prio’s men brought suitcases full of cash. The closing began first thing in the morning. Under the watchful eye of armed guards, it took until lunch time for the cash to be counted and verified by all parties.
After moving out of La Casa Reposada, the Ross family moved into the Fort Dallas Hotel in downtown Miami. Ray Sr. had a friend that ran the hotel and the penthouse was vacant at the time they needed a place to stay. They weren’t given a lot of time to look for a place to live after the sale.
After a year in the hotel, the family found and moved into a new home on Ponce De Leon in Coral Gables. Ray Ross Sr. lived in the Coral Gables home until his passing in 1973.
Exiled in Miami
Carlos Prio didn’t make too many changes to the property. However, he did have it fitted for spotlights at strategic points along the well landscaped exterior. He also added a sentry booth on the property. There was an armed guard on duty around the clock.
Within a year of purchasing La Casa Reposada, Fugencia Batista replaced Prio as president of Cuba as part of a coup. With elections scheduled for the middle of 1952, Batista seized control of the military and police to assume power in Cuba on March 10, 1952.
Carlos Prio Socarras and family escaped to Mexico, and eventually made his way back to Miami. He was officially exiled in South Florida as he tried to determine his response.
Following his return to Miami, there were many articles in the local papers where Prio criticized Batista and offered his version of the story that led to his exile. In December of 1953, he was arrested on grounds that he was planning to illegally export arms to Cuba.
After Batista seized control in Cuba, other exiled Cuban officials purchased homes in proximity of La Casa Reposada. Fabio Ruiz, the former chief of police of Havana during the Grau administration, moved into the home next door at 2050 South Miami Avenue. One of Carlos Prio’s brothers, Antonio, bought a home across the street at 2295 South Miami Avenue.
In early 1955, Batista offered amnesty to exiled Cuban officials to allow them a safe return to Cuba. At first, Prio was concerned that Batista’s announcement was a trap. However, he decided to sell his home in Miami and move back to Havana to influence political change in Cuba. He didn’t feel that any real change could occur if he remained in Miami.
Despite going back and forth on his decision, Prio eventually listed his home with Tildo Carrero in early August of 1955. He and his family departed for Cuba on August 11. The home was listed for sale at $80,000.
Despite guarantees by Batista, Carlos Prio was arrested at gunpoint in his home shortly after returning to Havana. After his release from prison, he and his family eventually returned to Miami. However, La Casa Reposada was under different ownership by the time the family returned to the United States. Carlos Prio Socarras lived in South Florida until his death in 1977.
Picard Family Buys Property
The next owner of La Casa Reposada also purchased the home as cash transaction. Michel Picard, the owner and president of the Vent Vue Window Corporation, bought the property for $70,000 in October of 1955. A Miami News article claimed that Prio broke even on the sale of the property based on what he paid for it in 1951.
Michel and his wife, Lois, enjoyed buying, decorating and selling their family homes as a hobby. The plan for La Casa Reposada was no different. Despite having two children, Mickey and Debbie, the family moved frequently given the nature of their hobby.
Lois was a talented interior decorator and had eclectic taste in colors and patterns. She redecorated the large living room into a combination of pink and purple colors. The Picards added $25,000 worth of carpeting and many other upgrades to increase its resale value.
In February of 1958, only three years after buying the home, the Picards sold it for $100,000. The Picard family moved to Hawaii after the sale of the property, but moved back to South Florida a few years later.
1958 Through 1979
There wasn’t a lot of information about the next owner of the home. He was a wealthy Venezuelan according to an article in the Miami News at the time of the sale. The City Directory had Alf Currier listed at the property during the years of 1958 and 1959, so it was likely he was the buyer of the property in February of 1958.
The early 1960s marked a time when the home was unoccupied. The City Directory listed 2100 South Miami Avenue as “vacant” from 1960 through 1965. That changed in 1966 when a doctor purchased the property.
Dr. Alberto de la Torre and his family lived in the home longer than any prior owner. The doctor, his wife and five children lived in the home from 1966 until 1979. The de la Torres appear to have been the last family to live in the home before it was razed.
Although it isn’t exactly clear when demolition took place, it was likely gone by the early 1980s. The only part of the property that remained intact were a few of the exterior features such as the wall and stone lions. The pool was eventually filled in with cement.
The Collection at Villa Leone
For the next three and half decades, the land remained vacant. During the early 2010s, there was a “Land for Sale” sign on the property listing it for four million dollars. Given the size of the lot and the fact that it had been mostly empty for so long, the property became a big mystery to those who lived in the neighborhood or walked by the property.
It wasn’t until June of 2017 that there was any activity on the land. Leones Pishar LLC purchased the property in the 2014 – 2015 timeframe, and divided it into five separate lots. The company plans to develop modern looking villas on each of the lots. The project is called ‘The Collection at Villa Leone’.
The architect of the villas is Reinaldo Borges. The architecture is modeled after mid-century modernism and adapted to the sub-tropics of South Florida. Despite touting the location as “historic” South Miami Avenue, many locals believe that the appearance of the villas are out of context with the rest of the historic corridor.
The wall surrounding the property was historically designated by the City of Miami Preservation Board. However, the developer requested to make cuts and changes to parts of the wall to accommodate the parsing of the land into five lots. It wasn’t clear if their request was granted by the preservation board. Time will tell.
Following the completion of the Villa Leone project, there will be very little to remind us of the home, landscaping and people that once called La Casa Reposada home. Given that the land was subdivided into five lots and the villas will be built very close to each other, it may no longer be appropriate to refer to the property as a place of repose.
Vernon Gransden’s intent was to build a home that represented beauty and tranquility. It was a place to reinvigorate the spirit. Like so many historic properties in Miami, progress has relinquished La Casa Reposada to nothing more than memories and old photographs.Click Here to Subscribe
Special thank you to Arva Moore Parks for the introductions to Ray Ross Jr. and Maria Prio!!
- Interview: “Ray Ross Jr.” on June 25, 2017.
- Interview: “Maria Prio” on June 25, 2017.
- Interview: “Leslie Rivera” on June 21, 2017.
- Poem: “La Casa Reposada” by J.H. Harry West, March of 1948.
- Miami News: “New Residence Captures Lure of Tropical Life”, January 24, 1937.
- Miami Herald: “Winter Visitor Dies in North”, November 20, 1940.
- Miami Herald: “$50,000 Paid By Pennsylvania Oil Executive For Palatial Home”, October 5, 1941.
- Miami Herald: “Ouster Was Plotted Year, Says Prio”, September 6, 1952.
- Miami News: “Prio May Go Back To Cuba By Aug 1”, July 8, 1955.
- Miami News: “Prio Calls Off Cuba Return”, August 6, 1955.
- Miami Herald: “$80,000 Buys Prio Estate”, August 24, 1955.
- Miami Herald: “Prio Sells Palatial Home”, October 9, 1955.
- Miami News: “Prio Back in Town To Sell Miami Home”, October 18, 1955.
- Miami Herald: “Prios Popular House”, February 23, 1958.
- Miami Herald: “Raymond A Ross Parlayed WWI Bonus Into An Oil Empire”, August 3, 1973.
- City of Miami Planning Dept Memo: “Staff & Report Recommendation”, February 6, 2015.
- Cover: La Casa Reposada in 1955. Courtesy of HistoryMiami.
- Figure 1: Southern Kraft Paper in Panama City, FL in 1936. Courtesy of Florida Memory.
- Figure 2: Front of La Casa Reposada in 1940. Courtesy of Ray Ross Jr.
- Figure 3: Pool of La Casa Reposada in 1940. Courtesy of Ray Ross Jr.
- Figure 4: Patio of La Casa Reposada in 1937. Courtesy of Miami News.
- Figure 5: Back Drive of La Casa Reposada in 1940. Courtesy of Ray Ross Jr.
- Figure 6: Entrance to La Casa Reposada in 1940. Courtesy of Ray Ross Jr.
- Figure 7: Carlos Prio and Wife in 1955. Courtesy of HistoryMiami.
- Figure 8: Carlos Prio Exiled in Miami in 1955. Courtesy of HistoryMiami.
- Figure 9: La Casa Reposada Pool in 1970s. Courtesy of Alberto de la Torre.
- Figure 10: The Collection at Villa Leone. Courtesy of Leones Pishar LLC.