Piano 'rescued' from Biscayne Bay

Biscayne Bay's famed ``piano bar'' is no more but -- befitting its curious run from teenage stunt to worldwide sensation -- things ended with strange twist.

A state wildlife officer showed up Thursday at the Miami Shores home of the family that had hauled the hefty instrument onto a small sand bar early this month with orders to remove it in 24 hours or risk a fine.

Somebody beat them to it. A crew from TowBoat US Miami had been hired earlier in the day by Carl Bentulan, a day trader and musician from Palmetto Bay, whose 10-year son, Liam, suggested that they ``rescue'' the beat-up and burned baby grand.

``Every morning, he'd get up and read the paper to see if it was still there,'' said Bentulan, a bass player in a Police tribute band called Synchronicity. ``I finally said, `OK, let's give it a try.' ''

Lynn Mitchell, a TowBoat employee, said she thought the call was a joke at first but assured Bentulan that salvors could easily handle a baby grand.

``He said, `do you have boats that can move things?' '' she said. ``I told him we have a crane that can put a 50-foot boat on a barge. We can move anything.''

When Nicholas Harrington, the 16-year-old MAST Academy student who came up with idea of plunking the piano down on the small sand bar, arrived with family and friends Thursday afternoon to comply with state orders, the piano bar was already closed. The instrument, legs and pedals removed by salvors, was already resting in the cockpit of a TowBoat U.S. boat.

Thus ensued a brief flurry of phone calls between the Harringtons and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and then between the FWC and the salvors. As the sun set, the folks who had burned the piano -- an old movie prop -- at a New Year's party, then plunked it down on the sand bar, headed back home.

The salvors headed to a storage yard with their prize: an unplayable, gutted, fleetingly famous piano that after several weeks on the water also has developed some really wicked warps, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said maritime law is clear that someone who pays to salvage something abandoned at sea becomes the lawful owner.

``We're in the salvage business. This is what we do,'' she said. ``It's abandoned property, just like if somebody put out a piano in a swale somewhere in Coral Gables. Somebody could grab it and take it home.''

Annabel Delgado Harrington, Nicholas' mother, did not return calls Thursday evening. Family friend Jordan Barrocas, who was among the crew intending to remove the piano, said the family is discussing whether to pursue the instrument or let it go. Bentulan said he is hoping there won't be any dispute.

Earlier in the day, Annabel Harrington said she was grateful that FWC was willing to cut the family some slack. An officer showed up around noon to tell them they wouldn't face a ticket or fine if they removed the piano within 24 hours.

``I can see where they're coming from,'' she said. ``We don't want it to become a trigger for something else.''

For instance, the FWC officer told her that someone had placed a candelabra atop what remains of the piano. A photographer had also hauled out fashion models for a photo shoot.

Dumping something so big in the bay is technically a felony, said FWC Officer Jorge Pino, but ``the intent of these kids was certainly not to go out there and litter, per se. It was to create some sort of an art project.''

Harrington said she hopes it will be ``a really positive experience'' for her son. ``It's been a whirlwind, and now it will be a good memory.

``I think what was so remarkable about the piano was that it became a Miami myth,'' she said. ``It had a really positive energy, and while the whole world was wondering how it got there it took on an almost story-book quality, it was almost magical.''

Now Bentulan hopes his son, a fifth-grader at Coral Reef Elementary, will get a similar charge out of his role in an only-in-Miami yarn. He plans to pick up the piano on Friday morning, clean it up and then put it in the living room.

``He's excited,'' said Bentulan, who goes by the name Joe B in the band. `He can't wait to see it.''

Neither he nor TowBoat would discuss what the salvage cost but he stressed that he wasn't in it for the money -- though his son had pitched the idea of taking the world-famous piano on tour. If so, it's too damaged to be anything but a prop again.

``I was hoping it would cost $1,'' Bentulan laughed. ``It didn't.''

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