Words of wisdom from the past

| 07/10/2021 | 62 Comments

Chris Johnson writes: Much has been said in recent months about the West Bay Beach (Seven Mile) due to the erosion problems and the blame game. I have been lucky to have lived on the beach at the north end for over 40 years and had the privilege for many years of living next door to the famous American bandleader, Mitch Miller.

Round about 1964, Mitch and his wife and her sisters and their husbands acquired 500 feet of beachfront property. Subsequently, the families built three homes and two guest cottages. One such family member was Lear Grimmer, a veterinarian who treated everyone’s pets for free. He also made gold jewelry which he sold, donating proceeds to charity.

It was a time when people gave back to the community because they wanted to. It was a quiet place to be, with no other buildings on the beach for miles. Traffic was at a minimum and a dirt road prevailed from West Bay to George Town. Those were untroubled and tranquil days.

Mitch would come for various periods of time to relax with the families. He always cared about Cayman and where it was headed. This is illustrated in his interview with the Northwester in March 1972, almost 50 years ago. Remember, at that time there were only a few hotels and one condominium complex, Harbour Heights, none of which exceeded three storeys. What Mitch had to say was prophetic. 

He was concerned that sound planning for the future would not accompany the rapid growth taking place then, and he expressed misgivings about the danger of not passing the enabling legislation to protect Seven Mile Beach from the possibilities of pollution, etc. He stated that if that stretch of peerless beach is lost, then the Cayman Islands would have little to offer the vacationer, and he was concerned about the direction the island was moving.

So, almost 50 years later, have we actually learnt anything? It took just two storms to cap the damage already done to the beach over the years. Consecutive governments are to blame, not just one.

The speaker of the House certainly changed the look of WBB. While his forefathers determined it should not look like Miami Beach, he hoicked the build heights up to seven storeys and then to ten. Perhaps that is required to maintain the unabated growth demanded by the politicians, where we are heading for a population of 100,000. So it be. We are no longer the island where time stands still.

WBB is a problem and will continue to be so. I doubt it can be fixed but there is a message to the Central Planning Authority: do not willy-nilly pass everything as before. Review carefully the older condos being demolished and their setbacks. For those in the know, the CPA has a huge discretion on setbacks, which in the past they have used unwisely.

In conclusion, we are fortunate to have had such a person like Mitch amongst us and I do suggest you read the article in full. It is unfortunate his words of wisdom fell on stony ground.

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Comments (62)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    As I recall seeing one day walking past Mitch’s house the Beatles were staying there. I believe many places on the island use their houses for many kinds of vacations. Royal Palms had a famous band leader that owned that property also. Moxie Whitney Reginald Holland? A long time ago. Remember the pond in the middle of the parking lot? How times have changed? I agree about the beach, make it Government property and charge to use the beach.

  2. Yeah but.. says:

    Since we are using a Sepia lens to view an article from years ago perhaps take a look at this pieces from the NY Times in 1992.


    Some of the quotes from this 1992 NY Times piece are incredibly damning from today’s point of view:

    “An offshore center is suspect from the word go,” says Thomas Jefferson, the colony’s financial secretary, “and there could have been a lot of drug money lodged in the Cayman Islands in the early 1980’s. But those days are gone. Yes, we’re offshore, but we’re not here to collect dirty money.”

    In the old days, when business was scarce, banking practices were more relaxed, admits Peter A. Tomkins, chairman of the Cayman National Bank. “But there’s so much legitimate business out there now,” says Tomkins, a graying, craggy-featured 61-year-old who has been a banker on the islands since 1969. “To get involved in the shady stuff, running that risk, just doesn’t make sense anymore.”

    Many of the old time expats (mostly baby boomers) who helped with the “Cayman” Miracle” need to be a little more honest about where the money was coming from in the wild west days of the 70’s, 80’s and into the 90’s before the enactment of the PCCL (although even that was hardly enforced).

    Living a good life in the idyllic Cayman of the past while never questioning where funds were coming from. One might even ask how some of the people involved sleep at night or maybe they don’t bother to think about the death and destruction they facilitated the world over.

    So don’t mind me if I have little time for stories and more so the comments about how much better things were and how people gave back to the community.

    • HJacques says:

      As I read the article without rose colored glasses Mr Johnson’s article paid homage to Mr Mitch Miller and his foresight. Often the problem with the readers of CNS is that they diverge from the issues at large and enter into just plain irrelevant ramblings.

    • Anonymous says:

      So you reckon dirty money on the Island back then was down to the early arriving ex-pats?

      I think you would need to look a little closer to home than that.

      • Anonymous says:

        Like Honestly, who else did you think it came from? Maybe you’re a newcomer. Stop trying to infer that only locals had a part to play in the early days of illicit activities. People will come on here and start name-dropping and some wouldn’t want that… There is enough stress to deal with currently and the islands have really moved on from that era. But don’t push it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m a tourist, so may have no business writing. I’ve been coming to GC since 1990. Fell in love with the island immediately. Loved taking sunset and sunrise drives on the old road to West Bay from the 7MB strip, open my car windows, smell the salt air, see the sea and just feel at peace with the world. I loved driving thru West Bay with the chickens, the people walking all about, THE Shop (seems so Caribbean in my mind) , the pretty flowers all about. Royal Palms,Calicos, Treasure Island pool bar( the name escapes me at the moment). Lazy days lounging on 7MB with the thousand colors of blue.
    Now, (and I haven’t been down in almost 2 years), the traffic, the cement buildings everywhere, the TUNNEL, the roads looking like interstate highways, just have taken away the peaceful vibe that I used to feel for the island. The closure of the local hangouts like Royal Palms, Calicos, etc.
    Cayman is starting to lose that special island feel, imo, and as a tourist becoming not that special spot to escape to, but just a place to travel to, if that makes sense. Very sad when the loss is due to construction/overdevelopment.

    • Lynn Drew says:

      Your comment is only one of many describing how over development has trashed Grand Cayman. Unfortunately, it is too late to save that beautiful island. It has been sold out by greed and corruption and now a vulture controls the show!!! Those ladies who fought so hard to stop the changes were not listened to. Like I said before, looking at Cayman is like watching a loved one die of a terminal disease. I am so glad I have memories of all those years from 1984, when it truly was a paradise.

  4. Debbie does Dullards says:

    Hello Mr. Johnson,
    How refreshing to read comments from you. You should always have an article on here. We and others would pay to read your comments.
    How are your sea grape trees coming along since they got a slash and cut trim some time ago? Hope you are enjoying the shade and beauty of the new leaves once again.
    You be well and it is good that Cayman can retain caring people like you.
    You are most respected.
    Debbie does Dullards

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Hi Debbie

      Thank you for the kind comments although the article was really about Mitch, one of the pioneers who contributed much to our community.

      Thank you for enquiring about my grape tree which has prospered since the vitriolic attack. It is doing well after some loving attention.

      ‘In the garden growth has its seasons. First comes Spring and Summer but then we have Fall. And then we get Spring and Summer again’.

  5. Roger Davies says:

    There’s a related article in the Compass dated 28/2/16 written by George Novak (Barefoot Man), entitled “George Town’s Hotel Scene in 1968” which mentions La Fontaine, Galleon Beach and Beach Club Colony, that was about it on the WBB. I recall walking along the beach when I arrived in 1969 and was staying at La Fontaine.The beach was deserted and not a condo block in sight from one end to the other, we were truly the Islands Time forgot (but the mosquitoes did not forget!). George also mentions the opening in 1967 of the beloved Comart that sold almost everything under the sun and competed with Byrite Supermarket and Kirks.In those days Grand Cayman was like one big village with a population of around 10,000 and crime was almost non existent.I won’t get into politics but would just like to say how fond are my memories of those days long ago.

    • Anonymous says:

      The early days you speak of were indeed wonderful, Mr Davies. Fortunate were those who came here as trust officers, lawyers, accountants, auditors and the like and stayed (many didn’t). They are the ones now living in the most expensive, out of reach for Caymanians places on the island.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Time to allow non generational Caymanians to run for office.

    • Anonymous says:

      Turkeys don’t vote for Xmas. And we have a lot of turkeys in charge!

    • Anonymous says:

      Many of us who chose to become caymanians seem to love this place in a way very different to our current leaders.

      • Anonymous says:

        The path and ideals that led to cayman islands to its current self destructive state did not start with the current leaders or in the 2000’s for that matter. This is truly a hypocrisy and most of you know it. When the cries of over development and the disruption to the peaceful way of life belted out from the simple living inhabitants of these islands before the development/tourism boom in the 1970’s, they were met with fierce opposition. They were told that they were illiterate, behind time people and it was going to happen whether resisted or not. Now we are all affected and crying for it to stop. Our own people assisted by and sometimes directed by foreigners sold out to people like Benson Greenall with no thought of the future. And nothing to show for it today. Andrew Morris Gerrard (a white English commissioner) warned Caymanians from the 1950’s to tread carefully with the influx of foreign capital and all that it comes with it. Selling your birthright for quick gains (spoils of pottage) will bring more harm to your generations than good.

        Ironically, the first confirmed realtor in the Cayman Islands, selling land for profit he did not own, was an American named G.H. Smith. Ask your great or grand parents. Turns out history tends to repeat itself after all.

    • Anonymous says:

      If that is your view, perhaps you should leave Cayman.

    • Anonymous says:

      And residents present for 2 years or longer to vote.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Progress often clouds the past vision of the past newcomers who long for a sterling silver future.

  8. Well Chris and other Friends, this was one of the key reasons for the electorate changing the government in April.

    But even up to now the signs are sadly that the new government either did not understand this or that it has already been forgotten.

    The question may be, By what process will the people now remind the new government about why they were supported?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Please write another article about solutions?

    Hard to accept that nothing can be done…

  10. Anonymous says:

    Honorable Bush and Honorable Alden know what is needed and that is more development. CPA keep up the good work! We need 30 story buildings not 10.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Planning and building is influenced on what’s in it for the select few Caymanians at the expense of the majority of Caymanians, whilst sowing discourse and blaming the expats for the demise of Cayman.
    The fact that one can drive from George Town to West Bay and not catch a glimpse of the sea due to the wall of high rise concrete is criminal.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Water under the drawbridge now. And yet the speaker remains in post. Sadly, Mr Johnson it seems the electorate couldn’t care less if your pool is shaded by a tower block!

    • Chris Johnson says:

      For your edification I swim in the morning whilst my pool is in shadow. A ten storey condo on the south will block the sun out in my pool around eleven. Thank you for your contructive remark.

      • Anonymous says:

        6:09 makes a good point. I don’t know where you live but it sounds like you and your friends built on what was a pristine, largely undeveloped beach and enjoyed it for decades. Arguably developing something unspoiled is worse than replacing tired old places like Lacovia. You and your friends set this ball rolling… can’t blame people for wanting a little piece of “your” beach to call their own.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          I do not think 6.09 or you that do not have the balls to put your names to your blogs make any sense at all. You know nothing of the facts. I merely purchased a home and cottages from people who built them. Is that a crime or what.
          It is always important to seek out facts before putting ones foot in ones mouth.
          Moreover why not address the subject matter rather than making personal attacks.

          • Sunny says:

            Well said Chris.
            The previous write would rather try to tear down others than to address the points raised.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Tough to take advice from someone who bought up beach as you say. Sort of like the water colors owners complaining about Lacovia isn’t it? They take what they want but don’t want others to have….

    • Anonymous says:

      426 you make absolutely no sense at all

      • Anonymous says:

        I think they are saying mr miller got his beach land and he didn’t want anyone to spoil it, like how the owners at watercolours got theirs, but now are complaining about the plans for the new building next door. same same

        • Chris Johnson says:

          This is highly disrespectful to Mr Miller and his family . Anyone who knew them were acutely aware of their thoughts on the island’s wellbeing.
          Please concentrate on the subject matter.

          • SJames says:

            Wow you certainly wound a few up but you of course are dead right. On cns many bloggers lose sight of the subject. They love criticizing people but are unable to string a sensible sentence together or give their names. They need grow up.

          • Anonymous says:

            And what is the subject matter? Someone who lives on the beach doesn’t want more development? It all comes from poor planning. Forward thinking would have had no buildings on beachside like many other countries have done.

  14. Derek Haines says:

    Sage stuff Chris and well said. It is vital that folks on boards or in leadership roles have integrity and maintain it. No matter what pressure from alleged friends, family or perhaps monetary come into the frame.
    We are all here fleetingly so selling what we have for a mess of pottage will not work
    Derek Haines

  15. Anonymous says:

    The southern could be sinking as there are plenty of sink holes statting at Valivo jacks then Westin parking lot, Under Ritz residence, Watercolours, Lacovia
    Roal palms parking lot and Laguna delmar so wait for Port Royal 2.

    • Chris Johson says:

      I am not sure of that but I do recall the filling in of the Royal Palms hotel pond. Also a lot of demucking when various condos were build, on SMB but less so on the north end of the beach.

      Gerry Willcocks a well known diving expert once told me that waters from the north sound was coming underneath the island onto SMB. I have no reason to doubt him.

      No one mentions the old Northwesters which obviously made a difference to the beach profile.

  16. Sandra Dailey says:

    “The Mitch Miller Compound”! The Millers and Lear were all unique and lovely people. Special memories of that era.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Time to rerun Life After People (TV Series 2009–2010). One of my all time favourite documentary.

  18. J.A.Roy Bodden says:

    Chris Johnson , you have as usual offered us a sobering view of the past laced with some stark realities of what the end will be should we fail to mend our ways.

    The thought of 100,000 people on a seventy six square mile island whose ideal is to maintain the balance of nature and a harmonious populace is an incompatibility of gargantuan proportions . May wiser heads prevail.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well said.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you ever been to Singapore? It’s 280 mi.² but has a population of 5.5 million. It’s also the greenest city in the world. It has beautiful and public areas.

      It’s not the people that’s the issue it’s the poor planning, poor infrastructure, poor governance, lack of vision, corruption et cetera

      • Anonymous says:

        Singapore had a visionary leader. Cayman has had inept and clueless politicians who pander to who ever cuts a cheque with absolutely no long term vision. As they say, you reap what you sow.

        • Anonymous says:

          Singapore had a benevolent dictator. The problem is, most aren’t.

          • Anonymous says:

            They do have free elections, but people have returned Lee Kuan Yew’s party to power for decades.

            It is bit like how we have certain politicians on recycle here, but not quite the same outcome.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s years of piss poor leadership. Dating back at least as far as the 1990’s.

        • Anonymous says:

          That would be decades of piss poor leadership, or worse and the current crew sadly appears to be just as bad.

    • Anonymous says:

      Who cares as we need the money. You guys already have it so let us all get some of it.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Too late buddy. WBB and SMB are goners. Once a condo is up, it’s up. Even in the relatively short time I’ve been here (4 years), the change and development is eye-watering. Greed has consumed this tiny island and we won’t go back. The south end of SMB, after Dart’s cabana, is an eyesore with Royal Palms in particular a disgrace. Forgot any objectivity by CPA. The development, realtors and construction are in a cabal that can’t be broken. The almighty dollar says so. When I eventually leave, I won’t be back. I can get garish condos in Miami a lot cheaper. So, so sad.

    • Anonymous says:

      Facts. In a short space of time it’s been wrecked. Have you seen the eyesore that was Calicos? It’s heartbreaking.

      • Anonymous says:

        True that. One of my favorite spots on the planet. Deliberately allowed to fester and for what? So some soulless corporate hotel bar up the beach has no competition and guess what, it’s still empty.

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s almost like a massive middle finger to the residents / locals with it sitting rotting like that. Surely they could have kept it running until such time as they were going to redevelop it.

          Instead we have a reminder of how fun Cayman used to be.

  20. Where is the article? How do we find it?

  21. Orrie Merren says:

    Very insightful words of wisdom, Chris. Thank you for your contribution.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Finally some really important issues to talk about. Thank you.

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