Du Pont Mansion in Coconut Grove Is Buried in Poison
At the end of a leafy, dead-end street in Coconut Grove, past actor Christian Slater's new digs and the sprawling grounds of Hollywood director David Frankel's home, sit mounds of rubble. Just a few days ago, this was one of Miami's grandest, most envied private homes: the five-acre, 26,000-square-foot du Pont estate.
Illustration by Pat Kinsella
But the house was bulldozed to make way for minimansions. On the property's north side, St. Gaudens Road slopes gradually down to Biscayne Bay. At the road's end, beneath a mangrove-shaded guardrail, are coarse, glittering bits of melted glass, tiny clumps of metal, and other telltale toxic detritus of Miami's long-closed municipal incinerators.
The du Pont estate was built atop an ash dump.
See also: Miami's Toxic Parks
"It came from the incinerator over in the [West] Grove," says Dr. John C. Nordt III, an orthopedic surgeon and a lifelong Coconut Grove resident. "That's certainly no secret."
Like the Grove's Blanche Park, which recently became a national scandal when inspectors found that tons of dangerous ash from the "Old Smokey" incinerator had been dumped and left for decades where children play, the former du Pont estate is poisoned. The property was recently sold at a monstrous discount after a survey showed arsenic, barium, lead, copper, and other toxic contaminants at levels far above what's considered safe. In all, environmental engineers estimated the site contains as much as 100,000 tons of tainted soil buried as deep as 18 feet.
Nordt grew up a stone's throw away, in the two-story Mediterranean Revival recently purchased by Christian Slater. As a boy, the surgeon recalls trucks rumbling down the street, perhaps two or three times a week. They backed up to a low ridge overlooking the property and dumped their loads. "We kids collected the melted glass to play hopscotch," he says.
Back then, few people understood the threat to human health: "They dumped in the low-end neighborhoods, and they dumped in the high-end neighborhoods," he says. "They really didn't discriminate against anyone."
Nordt's family lived on the street for decades. He says the dumping -continued throughout the 1950s and stopped shortly before the du Ponts acquired the land and built their mansion in 1964.
The road is named after its first notable resident, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, an acclaimed sculptor of the Beaux-Arts generation once honored with his likeness on a 3-cent stamp. Saint-Gaudens -- who also designed the rarest coin in U.S. history, the $20 "double gold eagle" -- acquired the swampy, mangrove-covered lot in the early 1900s, passing it to heirs upon his death in 1907.
The property was later acquired by Dr. Tracy Haverfield, a well-known Miami neurosurgeon who, according to Nordt, welcomed the city's unwanted incinerator ash as fill that eventually transformed the acres of wetland into dry, buildable land.