Not far from Coconut Grove is the other spot that every Miami transplant will ask if you visited: Coral Gables.
Though surrounded by Miami, Coral Gables is a separate municipality, like Beverly Hills in Los Angeles or Brookline in Boston. These places were developed in the early years of the automobile era, and reflect the suburban desire for exclusion (they would say “exclusivity”). Above all, they wished to remain administratively separate from the bigger city of which they were satellites.
Like Beverly Hills, Coral Gables is an enclave of high style suburban prosperity with a glitzy shopping district that has urban characteristics. It was planned by a developer named George Merrick in the 1920’s. His architectural notions came from Addison Mizner.
Downtown Coral Gables. It may remind some of Beverly Hills, others of Kansas City’s Country Club District or Cleveland’s Shaker Heights, or yet others of Chestnut Hill (both the one in Philadelphia and the one in Boston). All owe their essential character to the roaring twenties and the curious blend of suburban urbanism that emerged from this early flirtation with the car. All are characterized by a strong underlayment of local businesses mixed with a few chain stores. The center of Coral Gables is called the Miracle Mile:
In the last decade, Coral Gables has experienced a second spurt of expansion. Behind the largely one- and two-story main street, vast apartment and office buildings have sprung up along with parking structures. They have that bland but competent revivalist look that many associate with such mainstream commercial architects as Robert Stern and Elkus-Manfredi. Don’t know who actually designed the blockbuster; the smaller, foreground buildings are from the Twenties:
It all looks mighty good.
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Now, let me digress for a moment and deliver the mandatory rant about prosperous, mostly white communities (Coral Gables is actually 46.54% Hispanic, 28.72% Cuban, but most of these prosperous Hispanics list themselves as white, and look it). After the rant is delivered, we can get on to issues of design, history and aesthetics. Rant:
Who the hell do these people think they are, living so comfortably, when a few miles away others are wondering where their rent payment will come from, and when Junior will come home with clear eyes? The government should tax all the bastards in Coral Gables to a reasonable level of income and redistribute their ill-gotten gains to the deserving poor. The most blatant plutocrats (who can easily afford to move) should be evicted from their homes, which should be given to large families of the poor. The oil companies should get out of Iraq, and we should stop supporting the fascist regime in Israel. The president should be impeached, both political parties disbanded, and Ralph Nader elected president—if he promises independence to Puerto Rico, advocacy of Quebec secession, and revokes the passport of the many Coral Gables Cubans who will attempt to travel to their homeland upon Fidel’s death and roll back 45 years of progress in health care and literacy. Other things that must be accomplished before any further investment in Coral Gables include the eradication of AIDS, racism and genocide, the repeal of NAFTA, and the global equality of women. Additionally, we need to stop everything until we achieve justice for the oppressed, an end to domestic violence, legalize pot and same-sex marriage, outlaw handguns, sweat-shop labor, Wal-mart, chain shops, and rebuild the north of England…There is probably a Starbuck’s in Coral Gables and other signs of middle class depravity, including bridal shops, clean sidewalks and boring-looking people, many of them old, fundamentalist and probably bigoted, and there is no graffiti. Life here is phony, boring, materialistic and pretentious, and the people live empty lives of white-knuckle desperation and angst…
I could go on…but so could you. Back to Coral Gables.
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“George Merrick had two very special abilities. He could dream in great detail of the perfect environment in which to live and he had a talent for making his dreams come true.
George Merrick, a confident man, the son of a Massachusetts preacher.
The city of Coral Gables is his legacy. He envisioned the Biltmore Hotel, a great university [the University of Miami], Venetian Pool, a grand City Hall, magnificent country clubs and golf courses, 40 miles of waterways, parks and fountains, notable entranceways and majestic streets.”
The Biltmore Hotel, world-class luxury, renowned for its golf.
Majestic streets. Mature tropical landscape.
Like most other buildings in the residential districts of Coral Gables, the churches have a Spanish cast. Some are pink and some are yellow, and all are stucco.
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George Edgar Merrick grew up loving poetry and romanticizing about "castles in Spain."
Those inspirations became the driving force behind his efforts to build the first, the best and the most famous suburb in Florida: Coral Gables.
Born in 1886 in Springdale, Pa., Merrick moved to Miami with his family in 1898.
He studied at Rollins College in Winter Park. From those studies and trips to Mexico and Central America, Merrick conceived the idea of turning "castles in Spain" into a living community.
By 1922, Merrick began carving out what he would call a "City Beautiful" on the 3,000 acres of citrus groves and pineland his father, a minister, left him.
Put simply, Merrick was a real-estate salesman. But he elevated that profession to an art form through the creation of Coral Gables. The town was designed with wide, tree-lined boulevards, expansive swimming pools, glorious arch-ways, delicate bridges and sedate urban golf courses. Merrick's secret was his passionate devotion to aesthetics. He insisted that if the right kind of Spanish red tile could not be found in America, he would import it directly. And he did.
By 1924, Coral Gables was being called "America's Finest Suburb." Its reputation grew in three years to a national enterprise valued at $100 million.
The Depression threw the brakes on Merrick's dream town, which never reached the peak of his vision. Merrick continued in real estate until 1940, when he became postmaster of Miami, a position he held until his death at age 55 in 1942.
To this day, Merrick's home in Coral Gables is maintained as a living museum to the man who dreamed of castles in Spain.
--- Logan D. Mabe
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From the National Geographic Guide to Miami and the Keys:
“Merrick called his creation the City Beautiful, and it was: with broad streets connecting broad plazas, public amenities such as the gorgeous Venetian Pool…and a fantasy of pools and grottoes…It was a vision of Utopia, it was real, and it lasted, surviving the collapse of the Florida land boom right up to the present day.
The houses are the true glory of Coral Gables. Built in different variations of the Spanish style, their consistent architectural excellence bespeaks a savvy architectural review board that can distinguish an accomplished design from junk. Obviously they rely on aesthetic judgment, rather than formulas and guidelines; the quality of the architecture testifies to that.
Merrick would be proud. The trees he planted now arch over his boulevards like great arbors, shading downtown sidewalks in sun-dappled coolness. The turret-topped [downtown] Colonnade building, site of Merrick’s offices, still stands, now part of a stately hotel. The Venetian Pool is as grand as it was the day it opened, and Coral Gables’ houses are still every bit as desirable as then, sought after by buyers who make up the affluent core of the city’s 45,000 residents.
A Spanish fantasia, extravagant as flamenco. In addition to the over-the-top wooden balcony, there are no fewer than four surface treatments in a small area: crisp, white stucco, ancient weathered stucco from the back alleys of Granada, the ubiquitous Miami coral stone and…ivy! Notice also how these transition into each other in different ways, and the oh-so suave way the coral bench oozes out of the wall. Finally, the tropical climate peppers the whole composition with little patches of green moss. What do you suppose is the curb appeal coefficient plugged into the appraisal for such visual delights?
Coral Gables’ corporate residents include over 140 of the biggest and most important businesses and financial institutions in South Florida. The 260-acre University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus counts nearly 14,000 students and a facuty of 1500, and has an unusually rich repository of fine art and antiquities at its Lowe Art Museum.
A fairly modest house, reflecting Merrick’s belief in planning for a broad cross section of the population. Note how close this house is to the garage of its brand new neighbor. Even so, it would fetch an astronomical price by the standards of most communities. Who says design doesn’t make money?
Mediterranean Revival architecture dominates Coral Gables, but other exotics bloomed here, too. Sloped tile roofs distinguish the Chinese Village on Riviera Drive…The rural residences of 17th-century Dutch South African colonials are re-created at Maya Street…and the tastes of Normandy dress up Le Jeune Road…Italian village life is the theme on Altara Avenue…and on Santa Maria Street, houses in the Colonial Village celebrate our Yankee heritage." (Sorry I don’t have any of this to show you; the sun was goind down all through this photo shoot, and eventually I just ran out of light.)
A hacienda on a large lot.
The air conditioner is an unfortunate upgrade.
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Coral Gables Statistics and Demographics (US Census 2000)
Population: 42,249 100.00%
Area: 12.5 square miles
Density: 3380 per square mile (about the same as Carmel, California)
Male 19,734 46.71%
Female 22,515 53.29%
Under 5 years 2089 4.94%
5 to 9 years 2086 4.94%
10 to 14 years 2018 4.78%
15 to 19 years 3464 8.2%
20 to 24 years 3565 8.44%
25 to 34 years 5799 13.73%
35 to 44 years 6467 15.31%
45 to 54 years 5859 13.87%
55 to 59 years 2449 5.8%
60 to 64 years 1783 4.22%
65 to 74 years 3183 7.53%
75 to 84 years 2544 6.02%
85 years + 943 2.23%
Median age (years) 38.1
18 years and over 34,897 82.6%
Male 16,093 38.09%
Female 18,804 44.51%
21 years and over 31,495 74.55%
62 years and over 7691 18.2%
65 years and over 6670 15.79%
Male 2716 6.43%
Female 3954 9.36%
If this house is old, it has been much redone in recent times. It still manages to look good.
One race 41,599 98.46%
White 38,798 91.83% (includes most Hispanics)
Black 1394 3.3%
American Indian 55 0.13%
Asian 708 1.68%
Asian Indian 270 0.64%
Chinese 194 0.46%
Filipino 63 0.15%
Japanese 61 0.14%
Korean 42 0.1%
Vietnamese 18 0.04%
Other Asian 60 0.14%
Native Hawaiian 15 0.04%
Guamanian 1 0%
Samoan 1 0%
Other Pacific 4 0.01%
Some other race 629 1.49%
Two or more race650 3.0 %
Hispanic (of any race) 19,703 46.64%
Mexican 482 1.14%
Puerto Rican 887 2.1%
Cuban 12,136 28.72%
Other Hispanic 6198 14.67%
Not Hispanic 22,546 53.36%
White alone 20,168 47.74%
Crisp modern detailing with a slight accent.
Total Population 42,249 100.00%
In households 38,739 91.69%
Householder 16,793 39.75%
Spouse 8261 19.55%
Child 9607 22.74%
Own child under 18 6998 16.56%
Other relatives 1863 4.41%
Under 18 272 0.64%
Nonrelatives 2215 5.24%
Unmarried partner 685 1.62%
In group quarters 3510 8. 1%
Instituntionalized 97 0.23%3
Noninstitutionalized 3413 8.08%
Households by Type
Total Households 16,793 100.0 %
Family households (families) 10,251 61.04%
With own children under 18 years 4056 24.15%
Married-couple family 8261 49.19%
With own children under 18 years 3311 19.72%
Female householder, no husband present 1529 9.1%
With own children under 18 years 615 3.66%
Non Family households 6542 38.96%
Householder living alone 5288 31.49%
Householder 65 years and over 1642 9.78%
Households with individuals under 18 years 4264 25.39%
Households with individuals 65 years and over 4809 28.64%
Average Household size 2.31
Average family size 2.92
Seriously pink, this post-modern mish-mash still manages to look good pretty good on its tiny lot, though a bit new money…
Total housing units 17,849 100.00%
Occupied housing units 16,793 94.08%
Vacant housing units 1056 5.92%
For seasonal or occasional use 303 1.7%
Homeowner vacancy rate (percent) 1.5
Rental vacancy rate (percent) 4.2
Occupied housing units 16793 100.00%
Owner-occupied housing units. 11056 65.84%
Renter-occupied housing units. 5737 34.16%
Average household size of owner-occupied units 2.56
Average household size of renter-occupied units 1.83
…and old money.
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Some might say the fools who live here are unaware of their own folly, and have driven real estate values through the roof by the law of supply and demand. The fools?: why, they just thank their lucky stars that they can afford to live in such a nice place (it even reminds some of them of home). And you know what: when the bubble finally bursts, Coral Gables might be one of the few places with its real estate values left standing. Even in the Great Depression there was a market for nice things.
Though the gridded streets of Coral Gables are continuous with those of Miami, you can tell immediately when you pass out of Coral Gables. The zoning becomes the usual idiotic drivel, and in march the parking lots, the raunch and the junk. Just like the places where almost all of us live. Eighty years after Coral Gables, the Masters of Suburbia have not learned its lessons.