La Mirada Apartments

by Tim Gilmore, 9/22/2023

April cried when they tore down the belltower. Whatever happened afterward at La Mirada could not matter. She thought about naming her little girl Mirada. She thought about naming her Belle. She thought about naming her Mirada Bella, but instead she named her Grace Luna, which she thought “sounded kind of witchy, but also kinda Southern.”

“La Mirada is a neighborhood community of friendly people living in a countryside atmosphere of elegance,” promotional materials announced in 1970. Developers kept buying up that countryside atmosphere and filling it with large-scale apartment complexes side by side.

“Surrounded by grassy fields and grazing cows, La Mirada offers its residents the only apartment owned indoor heated pool in Jacksonville.”

William Papet says, “When I lived there, there were cows next door.” That was 1973 to ’75. “The railroad overpass on University Boulevard wasn’t built then and the wait for trains was terrible. Besides the cows, there were lots of friendly people around the pool.”

Linda Oliver lived here sometime in the 1980s, early or late, time flies, details blur, with her husband and two children, had cookouts every weekend with neighbors, played volleyball and wiffleball and swam with the kids in the pool.

Today, between sheets of rain, I take Bell Tower Drive to La Mirada Drive West, though the belltower is no more and La Mirada is now The Colony, the names on signs reduced to empty signifiers. Olive trees and oaks and potted palms shade dark green over French doors in the goldenrod stucco of porches and balconies beneath red clay roof tiles.

Dawn Permenter used to visit her grandmother at La Mirada in the early 1970s, spent weekends here. She recalls the “big in-door pool” and “walk-in kitchen” with “white Western-style saloon doors,” the “green carpet,” the “green oven,” the “beige refrigerator,” the “foyer closets” and “doorbell boxes on the front door.”

Dawn was 12 years old. She loved playing with her grandmother at the pool. “We were close. She took me to flea markets all around town.” The belltower marked Dawn’s grandmother in the landscape. “The belltower,” she says, “was magical.”

“This huge beautiful pool is adjacent to a posh, luxurious 10,000 sq. foot clubhouse,” said the 1970 Greater Jacksonville Apartment Guide.

Today I find a young father pushing his daughter on a swing set and kids studying with note cards on a bench. I count bicycles and houseplants on balconies. I befriend a green-eyed cat asleep in an old dry fountain.

“I’ve been here for 60 years,” Cynthia Conner says. “That land that was cow pastures became a major body dump. I remember more than 10 bodies dumped there throughout the years.”

Makia Coney

In 2010, someone found the body of 17 year old Makia Coney in those former cow pastures down the street on Powers Avenue. The empty frames of houses under construction stand there now. Coney was a student at University Christian School, the other side of Philips Highway and I-95.

Makia’s classmates, 17 year old Charles Roy Southern and 16 year old Connor Julian Pridgen, stole guns, lured her out to the open fields in these yesterday’s suburbs encircled by suburbs, and shot Makia in the head to see, they said, what it felt like.

Charles Roy Southern and Connor Julian Pridgen

I ask Cynthia what parts of the land across Powers Avenue from La Mirada qualify as “body dump.” I walk the tract of land. I find news stories for three other bodies found here and ask Cynthia if she knows specifics for others. “I’m just guessing,” she says. “I know back in the 1960s, a lot of hobos were back up in there.”

Dorothea Lange’s most famous photograph, Migrant Mother, 1936

She doesn’t just mean homeless people, but actual hobos, migratory workers who moved, especially during the Great Depression, with agricultural seasons. “They stayed in the woods and jumped the trains in the freight yard,” she says. “They didn’t stay long. They would come by and offer to rake or cut your grass for 50 cents. My mom told me they would boil and eat their shoes when they had no money.”

Meanwhile, at La Mirada, so many couples married or held a wedding reception here, but recall few details. What happens to life lived when it’s forgotten? Most of the estimated 117 billion people who’ve lived on earth have disappeared entirely and everything they knew and experienced has vanished with them. Where does their subjectivity go? Into the ground to grow up into the trees? Into the atmosphere with the breath molecules of everyone who’s ever breathed?

“My wife and I lived there for six months after we got married. July 15, 1978. Downstairs on Corrida Court,” says Mark Gibson. Nancy Castaing says, “We lived there when we first got married in 1978. Big balcony.” Patricia Johnson says, “We watched the moon every night. 1980. We were so new then.”

“It was posh.” / “It had a lot of roaches.” / “It was the premier apartment community in San Jose in its day.” / “A friend of mine lived there. We called it La MiRoacha.” Tom Langenbach says, “I lived there in the late ’70s. Nice place. Two bedrooms. $220 per month. I had to rake the green shag carpet.”

Now, in various courtyards, side gates hang open, ensconced in Bleeding Heart vines blooming red, islands of palms set adrift off balconies, red roof tiles cascading on eaves that harbor all the specifics everyone’s forgotten.

Therefore the Lord God sent them forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence they were taken. And God placed at the East of Eden Cherubim, the second lowest order of the angels, with a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the Tree of Life.

My new green-eyed friend yawns, stretches, hops down out of the concrete seashell of the fountain, then slowly slinks away into the palmetto fronds and Virginia creepers.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by the Renaissance artist Masaccio, circa 1425