Camila Ramirez is a senior in the Honors College at Florida International University. She is majoring in Philosophy as well as pursuing certificates in Law, Ethics & Society and in Pre-Law Skills and Professional Values. After graduating from FIU she hopes to begin attending law school in the Fall of 2021. She is passionate about animal rights and criminal reform and hopes to specialize in one of these areas during law school. She is currently enrolled in Professor Bailly’s Miami España, Ida y Vuelta Summer 2020 study abroad program.
As with much of Miami-Dade County, Coral Gables is a flat stretch of land in the southeast part of Florida bordered on the north by Tamiami Trail and on the south by the Charles Deering Estate. The southern half of Coral Gables is directly adjacent to the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, giving it more than 40 miles of inland waterways, bayfront parks, beaches, and marinas. It is neighbored by the cities of Coconut Grove and South Miami in the south and West Flagler in the north. The city has a total area of 37 square miles: 13 square miles of land and 24 square miles of water. It is mostly a residential city, but has a very well known downtown commercial district. Coral Gables has also maintained a generous amount of green spaces and has more than 20 parks. It is well known for its beautiful banyan tree lined streets, which is one of my favorite streets to drive down in all of Miami!
The Coral Gables that we see today can be mostly attributed to the work done by George Merrick who came to Miami with his family in 1899. His father, Reverend Solomon Merrick, had purchased 160 acres of undeveloped land which he left to George Merrick once he passed away. Only 10 years after his father’s death, however, Merrick had accumulated nearly 3,000 acres of land and set forth on a massive real estate development project, unlike any that had taken place in Florida before.
This was right around the time when the City Beautiful Movement was sweeping across America which emphasized the use of green space, wide tree-lined avenues, winding roadways, and ornate buildings, plazas, and fountains; all of which can be easily identified in Coral Gables. Aided by a team of several artists and architects including Denman Fink, H. George Fink, and Phineas Paist, Merrick designed a unique suburb of Miami constructed in the Mediterranean Revival style. They blended elements commonly used in Spanish, Italian, and Moorish architecture. Merrick wanted this city to build on and emphasize Florida’s Spanish history.
The city was meticulously planned with specific areas set aside as residential and country club areas, others for businesses and industries, and others as recreational areas. The city continues to maintain the strict zoning and usage specifications, which is the main reason the city resembles its original design to this day. Phineas Paist established the Board of Architect’s Review Panel which oversees architectural details for new properties, and is still active today.
By 1925, Coral Gables was up and running and incorporated into Miami. It was dubbed the City Beautiful. Merrick’s next big dream for the city was the creation of various ‘villages’ throughout to showcase architectural styles from across the globe. Unfortunately, the project was never finished due to the Hurricane of 1926 and the subsequent economic depression which halted all development. Less than 80 of these residences were built, but of those that were many still remain standing.
Eventually Merrick was unable to continue developing Coral Gables as he fell heavily into debt and was asked to step down from the Coral Gables Commission in 1928. Merrick left the city for a period of time but returned in 1940 and became the postmaster for Dade County. He passed away in his dream city in 1942.
During World War II thousands of soldiers occupied Coral Gables and many of the city’s unused buildings served as army hospitals. It wasn’t until the 1950s, with the creation of Miracle Mile, that the city ushered in a new era of development. The 1960s was a period of commercial development for the city, and it was during this time that many of the strict zoning and architectural laws were waived. This gave rise to taller buildings and markedly different aesthetic choices. It was not until 1986 that the city adopted a Mediterranean Architectural Ordinance, which provides incentives to builders who
conform to the Mediterranean Revival style, reintroducing the original vision for Coral Gables.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Coral Gables has a population of 50,999 residents. The median age of people in Coral Gables is 40 years old, and the median household income is $100,000. The median property value is over $795,000, and the homeownership rate is 64%. The ethnic composition of Coral Gables is 58.9% Hispanic or Latino, 34.4% White, and 3.4% Black or African American. The education levels in Coral Gables are also higher than the state average, with 34% of residents having a Master’s degree or higher and 31% having a Bachelor’s degree.
Interview with resident: ruben Sanchez
How long have you lived in Coral Gables?
I moved here with my wife in 2001, so going on 19 years now.
What do you consider the best part about living in Coral Gables?
Definitely the location! When there’s no traffic you’re pretty much close to everything. You’re never too far from an entrance to the 826 if you want to head north or the 836 if you’re trying to go west. I also live maybe 15 minutes from Key Biscayne, again that’s with no traffic, but living that close to the beach is a huge plus. My kids’ school is also very close to our house so that’s really convenient.
What would you consider the biggest downside of living in Coral Gables?
Well this may contradict my previous answer a little but it would have to be the traffic. It’s not only the fact that there are so many cars on the road, but there seems to always be construction going on so they close down lanes making the traffic even worse. As long as I don’t have to be anywhere early in the morning or around 5ish then I usually don’t mind driving here.
Do you know the history of the City of Coral Gables?
I know that it does have a lot of history, but no I’d have to say that I don’t know too much about how the city came to be. Now that you mention it though, that would be something interesting to look into.
If you had to recommend one place for someone to visit when they come to Coral Gables what would it be?
It’d probably have to be getting brunch at the Biltmore. Not only is the food great, but the hotel itself is beautiful so you get a really nice experience and view.
Coral Gables Congressional Church
Designed by the architectural firm of Kiehnel and Elliot, Coral Gables Congressional Church was the first church ever built in the city. George Merrick, the architect and developer of Coral Gables, donated the land and dedicated the building to his father who was a Congregational minister. Unlike most other parts of historic Coral Gables, which blend elements of Spanish and Italian architecture, this church was actually patterned after a Mexican cathedral. The interior of the church, however, contains Spanish style sconces, which where donated by Merrick and remain in the church today, along with many of its other original features. The church was founded in 1923, and almost 100 years later it remains a significant force in the community. In order to accomodate to as many residents as possible, the church has services in English, Spanish, and German. They also have an esteemed Community Arts Program which brings prestigious classical and jazz artists from around the world each year, and offers those in the community a unique and affordable musical learning experience.
The Biltmore Hotel is the centerpiece of George Merrick’s vision of Coral Gables as an elegant and stately suburb. In keeping with many other 1920s Coral Gables buildings, the Biltmore’s architecture is classic Mediterranean Revival. Merrick contracted the architectural firm of Shultz and Weaver, who also designed the Miami Freedom Tower. Similar to the Freedom Tower, the Biltmore’s bell tower is is a replica of the Giralda Bell Tower of the Cathedral of Sevilla, Spain. Since its debut in January 1926, the Biltmore has undergone many renovations and has even been repurposed. From 1926 to 1942 it hosted celebrities and royalty from across the globe. In 1942, with the onset of World War II, the hotel was converted into a large hospital and remained a Veteran’s Administration hospital until 1968. It was not until 1973, after ardent lobbying from city officials, that the City of Coral Gables was again granted ownership of the hotel through the Historic Monuments Act and Legacy of Parks program. Despite the acquisition the hotel remained vacant for another 10 years before undergoing a full restoration and reopening in 1987. Despite its luxurious appearance and well marked location, the hotel was not immune to the economic downturn of the 1990s and was only open for three years before again closing its doors. The hotel underwent yet another renovation in 1992 and was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Register in 1996.
The interior of the Biltmore Hotel may not be what was originally planned by George Merrick but the structure itself has stood the test of time. The building has seen a lot of history and served an admirable purpose during one of the hardest times in our country’s history. The Biltmore is still a hot spot today, and remains a very lavish historical hotel. Despite its various highs and lows, the hotel remains true to its founders vision and continues to serve as a center of sports and fashion.
The Venetian Pool has, what I consider to be, one of the most interesting histories from that of the Grand Plan of George Merrick. The oolitic limestone that was used in many of Coral Gables earliest buildings, giving the city its unique look, was mined from a rock quarry pit in Coral Gables. That quarry pit is what eventually became Venetian Pool through Merrick’s vision and with the help of artist Denman Fink and architect Phineas Paist. It opened in 1924 and was originally named the “Venetian Casino.” Actors used to put on shows there, and they would even empty the pool to allow orchestras to put on concerts on the pool floor.
Though Venetian Pool underwent a historical renovation in 1989, it maintains many of the original architectural aspects which were intended to make it resemble a Venetian lagoon. It has a tall limerock outcropping, a waterfall, Venetian posts, and a small island connected to the ‘Casino’ by a Venetian bridge. Visitors can get a glimpse of the original Venetian Pool while they walk through the entrance and see the historical photos on display. The pool has such a rich history that I doubt many visitors would know about, but with the history on display everyone gets the opportunity to read about how Venetian Pool came to be. Whether they know it or not, visitors get to swim in the exact location where the majority of the building materials for the City of Coral Gables came from!
fAIRCHILD tROPICAL bOTANIC gARDEN
A visit to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is another very unique pastime in Coral Gables. This 83-acre paradise houses over 1,000 different plant species! Fairchild gets its name from one the most famous plant explorers in history, David Fairchild, who dedicated his life to searching for plants which could be of use to the American people. His journey took him to all but 1 of the 7 continents, before he eventually retired in Miami in 1935. He then joined a group of plant enthusiasts, which included two other well recognized names in Miami: environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas and former County Commissioner Charles Cranston. This group worked together to bring to life this one of a kind tropical garden, which opened its doors in 1938.
Throughout the years the Garden has continued to grow and various different collections and exhibits have been added. Many of the plants still growing there, however, were actually collected by Dr. Fairchild himself and are over 80 years old. Strolling through Fairchild is truly an experience like no other! Simply with the 450 plant species contained in the Rare Plant House alone, visitors get the opportunity to see and learn about plants that they most likely will never get the chance to see in any other setting. In 1984, the Garden became a member of the Center for Plant Conservation, meaning that it is involved in preserving endangered U.S. flora. Because Fairchild is so expansive, it is likely that you will not be able to take in all that it has to offer in one visit, but it is definitely worth it to return. Having only been there once myself, I know that there is so much left for me to discover inside of this one of a kind botanic experience. If you’re looking for an escape from the chaotic style of Miami living, you should add a visit to Fairchild to your to do list and enjoy a peaceful stroll through the breathtaking exhibits.
R. Hardy Matheson County Preserve
R. Hardy Matheson Preserve is located east of Old Cutler Road and in the southern part of the City of Coral Gables. To the the east of the Preserve is the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, and to the north is Matheson Hammock Park. As with many parts of Coral Gables, the Preserve dates back to the inception of the city and was actually the first public park to be established in Dade County. It opened in 1930 after William J. Matheson donated the first 85 acres with the intention of it being preserved and maintained as a botanic garden. Through subsequent land purchases and further donations, the Preserve now totals 813 acres, 630 of which are the Mangrove forests known as Matheson Hammock Park. The Preserve has five distinct botanic communities, all of which serve to provide various different habitats for over 300 plant species and several animal species. Today the park has extensive swimming and picnic areas and historic coral stone buildings typical of early Coral Gables.
The Preserve’s history, however, isn’t entirely pleasant. According to Miami-Dade County, the Preserve contains the remains of a prehistoric village dating to 500 BC. The area is known to have been occupied by the Tequesta Indians, and the Preserve is believed to have been the location of a village and possibly even a cemetery. Excavations have unearthed artifacts from the village such axe heads made from conch shells, tools made from bones, and pieces of broken pottery. Though the County’s website doesn’t mention it, the Tequesta Indians were largely wiped out by the 1800s due to settlement battles, enslavement, and diseases brought by European colonizers. This may not necessarily be pertinent to the history of the founders of what is now the City of Coral Gables, but that area was the home of the Tequesta, and if not for the horrific actions of early European colonizers Coral Gables could not be what it is today.
Biltmore Golf Course
A summary of Coral Gables green spaces would not be complete without mentioning at least one of the city’s many golf courses, particularly the most historic and well known of them all: the Biltmore Golf Course. As with the hotel, the golf course debuted in 1926 and was designed by legendary golf course architect Donald Ross. When the hotel was repurposed during WWII, the golf course was leased to the Riviera Country Club. In 2007 the course underwent a restoration by architect Brian Silva who used the original plans and Donal Ross’s notes from 1925 to restore the course to its original glory. To this day the Biltmore Golf Course remains one of the most renowned courses and headquarters the #1 Golf School in the world. Countless celebrities and famed athletes have played this course, making membership at the golf club very pricey. It’s no surprise that one of the richest neighborhoods in Miami-Dade would be known for such a luxurious leisurely pastime. With access to the courses having such a high price tag, even the recreational activities of the city seem to give off a similar elitist feeling.
According to Data USA, the most common method of travel in Coral Gables is driving, with 75.6% of people driving to work alone and 5.95% carpooling. Only 4.07% of people use public transportation, which does not necessarily reflect negatively on the city’s public transportation system seeing as the average car ownership per household is 2 cars. This is not surprising given the fact that the average income and property value in Coral Gables are significantly higher than many other areas of Miami-Dade County. Public transportation usage may be low because there is not as much of a need for it in Coral Gables.
One successful piece of public transportation is the Coral Gables Trolley! The trolley began operating in 2003 and has exceeded initial predictions of its success. It was estimated that the trolleys would most likely service around 1,000 people each day, but today approximately 5,000 commuters enjoy the convenience of the Coral Gables Trolleys. They are totally free to use and run every 10 to 12 minutes from Monday-Friday: 6:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. The success of the trolleys doesn’t only have benefits for those who use them, but for anyone who visits downtown Coral Gables; because ridership is high, it’s helped to relieve local traffic congestion and reduce parking demand. I’m actually surprised to find out that the current state of traffic is with the help of the trolleys because downtown Coral Gables always seems to have bad traffic whenever I visit. My job is located less than ten minutes away from Miracle Mile (without traffic) but during lunch rush hour it would take at least double that to get there and that’s if I’m lucky enough to find parking.
Another mode of public transportation accessible to residents of Coral Gables is the Metrorail. The University station is located in the center of Coral Gables and offers riders a convenient, traffic-free way of getting to other parts of Miami. When my family first moved to Miami we lived in Coral Gables almost directly in front of this station and my father realized that using the Metrorail was by far the best way to get to his job located in Brickell. He saved incredible amounts of time and money by taking advantage of this resource, and I would highly recommend it to all Coral Gables residents who commute long distances for work!
Uncle tom’s barbeque
Opening nearly 70 years ago, Uncle Tom’s Barbecue is one of the oldest running restaurants in Coral Gables! Thomas Fantis moved to Miami after World War II and decided he wanted to serve the public with authentic BBQ. “Tommy,” as his customers were used to calling him, created a unique sauce that sets Uncle Tom’s apart from just any barbecue spot. Since its inception, Uncle Tom’s has always received rave reviews and been hailed as the best barbecue in Miami. Due to an unfortunate fire in 2013, the restaurant was forced to close and renovate but was able to reopen in 2014 while preserving the integrity of the original structure. Since its reopening, the historic spot remains a popular favorite amongst locals and has become known for its busy sports viewing nights! Though unfortunately I was not able to try this place out for myself, I’ll definitely be adding it to my bucket list!
Threefold Cafe is a must any time you find yourself in the gables, as long as it’s before 4:00 PM! The owners moved to Miami from Melbourne and decided to grace us with an Australian-inspired cafe. The restaurant serves all-day breakfast with some classic staples and some very unique offerings. Their first location is situated in front of the University of Miami and across from the Shops at Sunset Place. Almost everything, from the drinks to the food, is locally sourced and always organic. Since the South Miami location is less than five minutes walking from my job I’m a regular customer, whether it be for breakfast or lunch, and I’m never disappointed! If you’re in the mood for something savory, the bruschetta is amazing and the stracciatella is so fresh! If you have more of a sweet tooth then you can’t go wrong with the Mornin’ Monkey! I’ve also found that this is a great place to get some work done and could be a nice change of scenery from your usual Starbucks. They have covered outdoor seating, and the foot traffic isn’t too heavy so it’s usually a quiet and peaceful environment.
Once you’ve finished lunch at Threefold Cafe, you can cross the street and enjoy some of the best cupcakes in all of Miami! Misha’s Cupcakes, which is also located in front of the Shops at Sunset Place, is a favorite among Coral Gables residents. Misha, the owner and founder of this hot spot, started baking in 2005 and after perfecting her craft was able to open her first ever retail store in Coral Gables. Because her product is so far above that of other cupcake shops, she has since been able to open several other locations throughout Miami-Dade. This is just one the many successful small businesses that has come out of Coral Gables, and today Misha’s makes over 10,000 cupcakes a day! Though I’ve never been disappointed by any of there cupcakes, I highly recommend the dulce de leche and cookie dough flavors!
The Miracle theater
The Miracle Theatre opened its doors in December 1948. It was a local movie theatre with 1,600 seats and ran successfully as a full time cinema until 1995. The City of Coral Gables had purchased the building in 1990 and begun a $6.5 million dollar renovation so that it could become the new home of the Actor’s Playhouse. The renovation divided the space into three distinct auditoriums, seating 600, 300, and 100 guests. This beautiful performing arts center is a great way to honor the history of the theatre and has been incredibly successful! Actor’s Playhouse had produced hundreds of productions including Broadway and Off-Broadway style musicals. But it doesn’t just serve to entertain the community, it offers classes to people of all ages and helps develop local talent. This gem is located in the middle of beautiful Miracle Mile and always has great discounts on tickets to ensure that as many people as possible have access to their great productions!
Books & Books
Yet another small business success story from Coral Gables is that of Books & Books. After having just dropped out of law school at the age of 25, Mitchell Kaplan opened the first Books & Books in 1982. The store was located in Coral Gables in a 500 square foot space. Because the store had such a large and unique collection of books on art, photography, architecture, etc., the store gathered a large following in Miami and surpassed what Kaplan had imagined would be possible. The store’s success confirmed Kaplan’s belief that people in Miami were looking for an environment like this where they could spend hours browsing shelves, learning, and discussing with others like themselves. In 2001 the store was able to relocate to a historic, 1927 building on Miracle Mile. The store continues to grow and now hosts over 60 author events each month. This is one of my favorite businesses on Miracle Mile and time seems to fly while you’re looking over all the options for a new book to start. They also introduced an adorable cafe who’s soup of the day has never disappointed me! If you’re lucky enough to be there on a day when they’re serving minestrone, seize the opportunity and order it.
NIKKI’S BEACHHOUSE BOUTIQUE
Nikki’s Beachhouse Boutique is very typical of Coral Gables style shopping. They have two locations in Coral Gables, both small, cozy boutiques with great customer service. The two main shopping areas in the city, Miracle Mile and Villages of Merrick Park, are home to many similar boutique stores which offer specific styles and are usually one of a kind. Nikki’s is no different. It has anything you would need for occasions ranging from a day out on the boat to a nice date night. And of course it has bathing suits year round, something that is essential in sunny Miami. This is always the place I make sure to go to when the retail chains disappoint and I won’t something that not everyone will be wearing.
Coral Gables is most definitely a unique suburb of Miami. You can always tell when you’re entering into the city, whether it’s driving under the banyan trees or through one of its many planned entrances like La Puerta del Sol. With its distinct Mediterranean revival look, Coral Gables has immense aesthetic value and lives up to Merrick‘s vision as the City Beautiful. Another distinctive aspect of Coral Gables is its various green spaces throughout the city. Not only does it have an abundant amount of parks but it is home to America’s largest botanical garden, which is a big tourist attraction and brings a lot of visitors. One of my favorite aspects of working in Coral Gables is that there is a park located right in front of my office building where I can walk around or sit and enjoy the beautiful Miami climate, something that’s not at easily done in every neighborhood.
One major downside of Coral Gables, however, is the vast amount of traffic during peak hours. The city has made a commendable effort to reduce this by implementing the free trolley service, but I don’t know that any amount of increased public transportation would be able to fix the traffic situation since so many people work within Coral Gables. Many of those employed in Coral Gables work office jobs and have similar schedules, which makes driving through the city during lunch time or 5:00 o’clock dreadful.
Besides the more trivial complaints, like the traffic problem, the biggest downside of Coral Gables is that it is rooted in a sort of classism. Merrick was not subtle about the fact that he intended Coral Gables to be a section of Miami specifically for the wealthy and those of high status. In the context of the time when Merrick was developing the city, most wealthy people in the United States were white men. In contrast, black people remained poor and had limited access to better opportunities due to Jim Crowe laws and deep-seated societal racism. At the time it was still common for places to have land deeds which prohibited black people from living in the same neighborhood as white people. Given the fact that Merrick envisioned Coral Gables as a community for the affluent, it’s not hard to draw the conclusion that he envisioned it as a community meant for white or hispanic people. This continues to be the reality in a sense, seeing as Coral Gables has an ethnic composition of only 3.8% black or African-American where as Miami-Dade County as a whole has an ethnic composition of over 15% black or African-American. Today Coral Gables remains a city of predominately white and hispanic people. The city has also successfully maintained its status as one of the wealthier sections of Miami, which is clearly shown by the fact that the median household income is close to double that of Miami-Dade County and the average property value is over double that of the County. One possible reason why the property household value could be so high may be that there are more luxury households in Coral Gables, but I find this an unlikely cause because even houses that are relatively small are much higher in value than they would be if they were located in other sections of Miami. Though Coral Gables is well situated and has easy access to a lot of other neighborhoods, that simple fact doesn’t account for why property value is so high which leads me to believe that all houses are intentionally sold at high prices to maintain a distinct type of community within Coral Gables.
Though the city’s founders may not have had the greatest of intentions, the city’s history is undeniably impressive. Many of its original buildings are Nationally Recognized Historical Landmarks, even the Venetian Pool was included on that list and is the only swimming pool to have such a designation. As someone who appreciates when a building has character and has survived for some time, I really enjoyed learning about the many buildings in Coral Gables that have been there since the city’s inception. Since it is home to so many popular restaurants and businesses, it is unlikely that anyone who lives in Miami does not find the opportunity to make a visit to Coral Gables, but with all that it has to offer I would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t been recently to go and enjoy its beauty!
“A History of Coral Gables” Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, https://coralgableschamber.org/a-history-of-coral-gables/
“About Coral Gables Trolley” City of Coral Gables, http://legacy.coralgables.com/index.aspx?page=325
“Actor’s Playhouse at Miracle Mile” Cinema Treasures, http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/293
“Biltmore Golf Course” Florida Historic Golf Trail, http://floridahistoricgolftrail.com/courses/biltmore-golf-course/
“Biltmore Hotel History” The Biltmore, https://www.biltmorehotel.com/resort/history/
“Books & Books in Coral Gables” Books & Books, https://booksandbooks.com/venue/the-store-at-coral-gables/
“Coral Gables, FL.” Data USA, https://datausa.io/profile/geo/coral-gables-fl/#demographics
“Discover Our History” Original Uncle Tom’s Barbecue, https://originaluncletomsbbq.com
“Mission & History” Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, https://www.fairchildgarden.org/About-Fairchild/Mission-History
“Nationally Recognized Historical Landmarks” Coral Gables | The City Beautiful, https://www.coralgables.com/departments/HistoricalResourcesCulturalArts/nationally-recognized-historical-landmarks
“Our History” Coral Gables United Church of Christ, https://gablesucc.org/about-us/our-history/
“Production History” Actor’s Playhouse at The Miracle Mile Theatre, https://www.actorsplayhouse.org/history-2/
“R. Hardy Matheson Preserve” Miami-Dade County, https://www.miamidade.gov/parks/library/r-hardy-management-plan.pdf
“Quick Facts: Coral Gables city, Florida.” United States Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/coralgablescityflorida