The Hialeah Gardens Building Story
If only a building could talk
Written 2010 and re-written 4/2013 unedited
Whenever I drive by any small building, I often wonder if the building has any type of an interesting story that it could tell. Most buildings do have an interesting stories to tell, and this particular story is all about a small 30 x 60 foot building that I had built in 1968 in the town of Hialeah Gardens Florida.
When I built it in 1968 it was the only building that you could see in Hialeah Gardens while driving down the Palmetto expressway. It was on the left side of the Expressway in a vast expanse of empty acreage just before the 103rd Street exit. Today there are so many big buildings built there that the little building is just lost.
In 1968, I had some money saved and I needed to find a small building that I could rent. The building needed to be away from the general city population as I intended to use chemicals that were corrosive and smelled very bad. I was going to use the building to clean and process used aircraft platinum tip sparkplugs.
I searched the ads in the newspapers for several months but couldn’t find anything suitable. I even went to see a new industrial park they were planning on building on the Tamiami Trail, but they laughed at me when I told them the small size of the building I needed. It turned out good that they didn’t want me, because that industrial park never got started, but their concrete entrance archway still stands there on Tamiami trail.
It was in 1968 when my friend Lou Gladstein came to Florida. I was living in Hialeah at the time and Lou said he had some business to discuss with the Police Chief of a small town nearby called Hialeah Gardens. Now I already knew that Lou was always involved with lots of funny stuff involving cars. I knew that because back in 1963 he had lent me a 1959 Plymouth and the Miami Police had confiscated it saying it was a stolen car. So when Lou said he had business to talk about with the Hialeah Gardens Police Chief, I didn’t ask him too many questions.
Next evening, we arrived at the Hialeah Gardens, town hall and police station where I met the Chief, he was a nice enough fellow, kind of small and about my age, and he spoke with a heavy Alabama accent. The chief was all dressed up just like a police chief should be, gun and all, and he gave us a tour of his town hall and jailhouse. After the tour, I waited in the town hall while Lou met with the chief in his office. It appears that Lou had told the chief what I was looking for because he came out with a big map of Hialeah gardens. And spread it out on the town hall stage and he pointed out that about 90% of the town was still just vacant land. He was just as nice as can be to me and suggested I speak to the only real estate agent in town, named Mort Bernstein. He said I could find Mort during the day, working out of a house trailer on Okeechobee road which was the town’s main drag.
Next day, I went to visit Mort and he said he had a perfect building lot for me. It was 50 feet wide by 180 feet long, and he said that the lot was on solid ground. He said that was important because a lot of the land in Hialeah Gardens was filled in over a dump and subject to settling. He said the original owner, who was named Mr. Pfeffer, had sold tons of land fill to the state of Florida which they used to build the Palmetto Expressway. Then to fill the huge holes, Mr. Pfeffer had dug in the ground, he opened up a dump. So he made money off the fill and then made money off the dump. Then once the dump was full, he sold the land to the Lowell Dunn company who leveled it all out and planned on putting in streets and selling building lots. Mort also said there was another 50 foot deep Florida Power and Light easement at the rear of the property that I could eventually buy for parking or storage. Mort said there were no other buildings in the area, the address was 9750 NW 79 Avenue and I would be the first customer. He said the lot would cost me .67 cents a square foot or about $6,000.00. It scared the hell out of me because it was almost all the money I had. We drove there and he showed me the lot, it was like we were standing in the middle of a desert.
Back in Mort’s office, he asked me what kind of building I wanted to put up, as he personally wanted to build it for me. He suggested that I go home and draw up a sketch of the building that I wanted. So I went home and drew up a 30 foot wide by 60 foot long building with a small office and laboratory in the front. After about a week, Mort said he would be able to put up a cement block building, with a pre-stressed concrete roof for me for $10,000.00.
I called up my grandfather, who was living on Miami Beach, and I discussed it with him. He knew what I was doing with the sparkplugs and he liked it. He said as long as I paid the same interest as the bank, he would lend me the $10,000.00 for the building. So the next day I bought the lot, and gave Mort a deposit to build the building.
Before I knew it, Lowell Dunn was putting in roads, and there was electricity and water extended to my lot, and within two weeks there were workers on my lot pouring a concrete floor. I don’t believe the town of Hialeah Gardens had a building department or any inspectors at the time.
For me, it was all very exciting, every night I purposely drove home on the Palmetto Expressway and as I got to the 103rd Street exit for Hialeah, I looked to my left and there was my building going up. It was the only building going up in that vast empty acreage. I think there was perhaps 2 or 3 hundred acres of cleared land there, it was all smooth and clean, and so level that it looked like a desert with the wind creating dust devils, here and there. Right in the middle of it all, they were really pouring the floor for my little building. So every evening I drove home the same way, I was watching the four cement block walls going up, and by Friday of the second week the walls were up.
I was so excited that I went for a ride on the Palmetto on Saturday, just to see how much they had completed. But as I got to the 103 Street exit, I looked to the left, and my building was no longer there. No walls, no nothing, I was in a panic, and I quickly exited and drove to the building sight. The four walls were all laying on the ground broken in small pieces.
I composed myself, and drove to Mort’s office. He was just sitting there with his head in his hands.
Mort said, I told that dumb bastard to pour the concrete in the corners, but a wind storm came and blew the walls down before it was done. So I fired him, and now I will lose any profit I was going to make.
Then Mort consoled me, he said, don’t worry, I will get someone to finish the job.
Mort was a man of his word, and he did finish putting up the building, but the toilet was in the wrong place and there was no drain for the sink in the laboratory. I wanted to complain, but I felt so bad for Mort I couldn’t bring myself to do it, anyway who would I complain to, the police chief. So I did the best I could with what we had and we started using the building.
I only had one employee, my good friend Miguel Marquez, he came every evening to work with me. The building had a large roll up door that we kept open to let cool air in. But it was always scary because every evening we would hear loud screeching like there were tigers outside. Turns out they were wild peacocks screaming. We were always on edge working there in the evenings as dealing in precious metals is a dangerous business and we knew that sooner or later someone would try and break into the building or try to rob us. I didn’t have a vault, or alarm system with cameras, my only defense was how we did our metal refining, I used chemicals, and I felt that anyone breaking in wouldn’t be able to steal anything in liquid form. But sure enough we did have someone break in, and it was very strange, the only bathroom had what was called an awning window with two panes of glass about 18 inches wide and 10 inches tall. One pane had been broken out and someone very small had crawled in the window. There was only one person that small that I knew in Hialeah Gardens. I reported the break in to the police by phone, but no one from the police ever came.
After a few years, Mort Bernstein came by and asked why I didn’t buy the 50 foot wide by 50 foot
long easement at the rear of the property. Mort said I could buy it for only $1800.00.
I gave Mort the money and he gave me a receipt. I applied to Florida Power and light to fence in the area. I submitted to them a drawing and it was accepted, providing we gave Florida Power and light a key to the gate so that they could enter in an emergency.
By 1979 the platinum sparkplug business had just about stopped. Commercial and military aviation was becoming all jet engine now and planes using reciprocation engines were rapidly disappearing, and the jets didn’t use sparkplugs, so I decided to let my friend Miguel use half of the building to run an automotive solenoid rebuilding business and I used the other half of the building to manufacture some parts for my other automotive business.
My friend Miguel had been a good friend and employee working for me in my automotive company and also in the refinery when we were processing the sparkplugs. So when another friend of mine decided to sell his business I helped Miguel to buy it and I let him use the Hialeah Gardens building rent free to get his business going.
As I still had taxes to pay, and a light and water bill to pay, So, I rented the yard behind the building to a junk man named Freddy Stein. I charged Freddy a nominal $250.00 per month rent to cover the taxes on the building. Freddy was a lousy tenant, he filled the yard with junk, and I always had to chase him down to pay his rent. Freddy was a regular pain in the ass, and the final straw came when Freddy brought in 2 big electric winches off of a cargo ship. Freddy said he got the winches for free for removing them. I knew that the winches were worth a lot of money, so I asked Freddy not to scrap them. I asked him to give me some time to try and sell them, and Freddy agreed. So I went to see an old friend named Plato Cox, he was the biggest marine surplus dealer located on the Miami River at the time. After about a month, Plato called me to tell me he sold the winches, and would pay us $3,700.00 for each one. I went to the yard and found that Freddy had already taken the winches apart and sold the brass gears. He had possibly made about a hundred dollars but he had absolutely ruined the winches. When I asked Freddy why he did it, after promising me he wouldn't, he got indignant and abandoned the yard without paying any back rent, and Freddy left me with a big mess to clean up.
When tax time rolled around in 1982, I received a bill for $2,400.00 and I had no income coming in from the building. So I had a get together with Miguel, who by this time had a pretty good business going, but he was still not paying me any rent. I said that I thought that after three years of free rent he should start paying something. Miguel became really disturbed by my asking him for rent, and he finally reluctantly agreed to pay $400.00 a month.
About three months later Miguel asked me and my wife to come by his house, which was located in an industrial area of East Hialeah, he said he wanted to show me something. We were very surprised, without Miguel ever having said a word, he had built a brand new two story building behind his house. He had built the building up on stilts, with parking below it, but and as soon as he had an inspection and an official occupancy permit he had illegally enclosed the down stairs in, and had already started moving his business into it. He had done all of this to avoid paying me the $400.00 rent. My feelings were a little hurt but Miguel’s moving out of my Hialeah Gardens building actually proved to be a blessing in disguise. He was out of the building in a week or two leaving me with the task of cleaning up the property that Miguel and Freddy Stein had left. My wife Katherine and my good friend Bob Martinez came every evening to help me clean the place up. While we were cleaning up I had put a small “For Rent” sign in a front window. The very first customer to stop by was “Jerry's Welding Service”, and they rented the building, lot and easement from me for $1250.00 a month.
In October of 1998 I received a call from Ed White, at Jerry's Welding, and he said that a bulldozer was about to push the fence down that we had around the FL&P Easement. I knew that I had bought and paid Mort Bernstein $1800.00 for the FPL easement. And I told Ed that. So upon hearing it, Ed White, said his father, Jerry, was ready to take a rifle down and shoot the driver of the Bulldozer.
Now, Jerry's Welding Service was a trailer hitch installation company, and they used the FP&L easement at the back of the property to store their excess materials and truck camper tops.
Next, Jerry's Son, Ed, called me again and said the driver of the tractor told him that I didn't own the property, and that’s when I frantically started looking for the papers that I had signed with Mort Bernstein. I immediately thought about contacting Mort but found that he had moved from Hialeah Gardens, to the Dupont Plaza building in down town Miami, and then I was told Mort had passed away. I couldn't, find any papers anywhere that showed that I had bought the easement property. So I contacted an attorney named Stanley Haves. Stanley had done some work for my company in the past, so I explained the situation to him. Stanley reported back to me that the company that wanted to bulldoze my fence down was a bunch of well connected “Wise Guys”. They were part of a group that had studied the Hialeah Gardens property maps, and the tax records. They found all the properties that had not paid taxes, and they were now legally claiming all the properties by paying the property taxes.
Then they were intimidating any of the landowners, by threatening to foreclose on the property. In my case they sent a bulldozer to threaten pushing my fence down.
I knew that I had paid Mort for the property and I remembered signing all the papers, I also had the fence drawings that I made for FP&L, but I couldn’t find any bill of sale. It appears Mort had taken my
Money, but never recorded the sale. So I was stuck, Mort had apparently pocketed the money.
The bull dozer’s appearance at the property was a smart form of intimidation by the Real Estate Group, they had discovered that my purchase had never been recorded by Mort. My Attorney, Stanley Haves said that he knew the attorney for the “Real Estate Group”, and he would try to negotiate with them. ” He then called to tell me they wanted $15,000.00 to go away.
I asked Stanley, what I could do, and he suggested that I just pay them”. I smelled a rat, and I think my attorney was too friendly with their attorney, so I just paid the money, and the bulldozer went away and Jerry's Welding calmed down.
In 2005, as fuel prices increased, and the economy slowed down, Jerry’s Welding informed us they were going to close down. They said that their market was dealing with people that needed boat trailers and hitches and camper toppers, and that type of market was all but disappearing.
As Jerry's Welding Company closed down, I again put up the “For Rent Sign”, and we were immediately approached by a company that worked on emergency vehicles. They wanted to rent the building, so we rented it to them. We thought that anyone involved with fixing emergency vehicles would be a good customer for us. But it wasn't long before they fell behind in the rent, and we had another problem on our hands. After many calls, we found that the company was owned by a family from Venezuela and they were indignant when we asked for the rent. And the mother took offense that we should even ask for the money. Thus, after a lot of back and forth between our attorneys, they eventually moved out of the building. Then as we were cleaning out the building we were approached by a very jovial Puerto Rican fellow who said he was Mr. Torres and in the “Repossession business,” Mr. Torres wanted to rent the building. So we now rented the building to Torres “The Repo Man.” We
Checked him out and Torres did own a repossession company that claimed to have offices in Orlando Florida as well as Key West. Torres was a jovial guy that we enjoyed talking to. He once told us, “I employ only drug addicts as my employees, because they know where people hide their cars that we have to repossess.” We always thought Mr. Torres, was a pretty humorous guy, but for some reason he just stopped paying rent in October of 2010.
We got our attorney Steven Tunstall involved, and after the 3rd court appearance, Mr. Torres’s attorney stopped showing up and the “Repo Man” was finally evicted. When he finally left the building, he left behind tons of trash. It appeared to us that whenever they repossessed a car they removed and kept everything that was in it. It required a 40 foot dumpster to hold the junk he left behind. So as we were in the process of cleaning and renovating the mess that Torres had made, we put in the window a small “For Rent” sign, and a lots of people started coming by, inquiring about the building. By 2010 all the land in Hialeah Gardens had been sold and my little 30 foot by 60 foot building, was now lost in a jungle of monster warehouses.
The “Repo Man” had left us with a real big mess, and I suspected that they had cleaned out every car that they repossessed looking for drugs. And that accounted for the tons of trash.
In February of 2011 we rented the building to a fellow named Pastor Iva.
Pastor has an automotive fleet maintenance company, and he has fixed up and painted the building beautifully, to suit his business.
I think you will agree that the little 30 foot by 60 foot building has had quite a history in only a few years. And to think that once upon a time it was the only building that you could see in Hialeah Gardens, try finding it now.