Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Minor in Religious Studies at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to become a professor and administer therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In exploring the community of Coral Gables, she hopes to do just that.
The city of Coral Gables is located at 25°43′42″N 80°16′16″W. It is now approximately 9,620 hectares built from the original 65 hectares (160 acres) of citrus farms owned by the Merrick family. It is found on the southeast part of Florida, and the southern part of Coral Gables is bordered by the Biscayne Bay Aquatic reserve, the main contributor to Miami’s water supply. It is also bordered by the communities of Coconut Grove, South Miami, and West Flagler. It is relatively flat (much like the rest of Miami), and is known for its frequent incorporation of greenery and Mediterranean Revival design aesthetic.
The incredibly George E. Merrick moved to Miami in 1899 from Duxbury, Massachusetts. In 1921, he began construction of Coral Gables, keeping a very strict Mediterranean Revival architectural aesthetic. He did this because it was the only aesthetic he saw most fitting to Miami’s landscape. He was inspired by his trips to Mexico and Cuba, where the Spanish architectural style was adapted to fit a tropical location. The city was finally incorporated in 1925, but Merrick fell into debt and was removed from the Commission in 1928. He passed away in 1942 and did not see many of his projects completed.
Nicknamed the “City Beautiful”, Coral Gables was always meant to symbolize wealth and exclusivity. Merrick wanted his guests to feel like royalty, hence buildings that resemble castles, the strict architectural limits, and intense segregation. The very Bahamians that built the majority of the town were not allowed to live there.
DEMOGRAPHICS & INTERVIEW
From a population of approximately 49,248 people, approximately 81.6% identify as white, 3.5% identify as black, and 58.4% identify as Hispanic or Latino (it is clear that not much has changed from the town’s original establishment). The median value of owner-occupied home units is $856,6000, and the average household income is $103,999. An interview with Coral Gables native, Lucas Picciano, provides an inside perspective on what this data suggests.
Me: How old are you, and how long have you lived in Coral Gables?
Lucas: I am 20 years old, and I have lived in Coral Gables all my life.
What part of Coral Gables do you live in?
I live in the south side, so the side with more moderate income.
What is your favorite part about living in Coral Gables?
It’s a very pretty place to live. There is lots of greenery, and the architectural style is nice to look at. There’s also some really great parks and a rich history behind the city.
What is your least favorite part?
The harsh regulations for homeowners are very difficult to navigate. For example, you need to ask the county for permission to own a truck, paint your house, or change it very much at all. They give you very little personal freedom.
What would you change about Coral Gables?
It is very hard to drive in coral Gables because the streets are not numbered. I would put numbers on all the streets.
Would you recommend Coral Gables as a place to live?
Not really. It’s very expensive, there are a lot of regulations, the infrastructure is very old. Older people would like it, though, because of the rich history and great healthcare (we have really good doctors).
What is your favorite thing to do in Coral Gables?
I like going kayaking in the canals with my friends. Sometimes, you’ll see manatees.
What is your favorite place to hang out?
Any local park. The bigger, the better.
Coral Gables City Hall
Coral Gables City Hall is the embodiment of George Merrick’s vision for Coral Gables. Designed by Phineas Paist and Denman Fink, it is Miami’s rendition of William Strickland’s Merchant exchange in Philadelphia. In keeping with the Mediterranean revival fantasy, it exists in harmony with the aesthetics of the city. It was constructed from 1927 to 1928, as South Florida was recovering from a terrible hurricane in 1926.
Coral Gables Museum
The Old Coral Gables Police and Fire Station was built in 1939, during the Great Depression. Also designed by Paist with the help of Harold Steward, the building is an example of Depression architecture and contains symbolism of protection and sacrifice. The outside walls contain carvings of typical families in need of protection, pelicans which were said to sacrifice their own blood for their offspring, and firemen ready to protect the citizens of Coral Gables.
Coral Gables Congregational Church
The Coral Gables Congregational Church was built in 1923 and dedicated in 1925. It was the first to be built in the city on land donated by George Merrick. In keeping with tradition, the firm Kiehnel & Elliot used Spanish-style architecture for the outside and inside layout of the building. Facing the Biltmore Hotel, the Church is listed on the National Register for Historic Places.
Matheson Hammock Park
Matheson Hammock Park is located at 9610 Old Cutler Road Miami, FL. One of Coral Gables’ larger parks, it also contains a beach and marina. Guests can enjoy birdwatching, fishing, kiteboarding, and take classes at their boating school. Guests can also rent a picnic shelter for private events. It is also home to Coral Gables’ only water front restaurant: Red Fish Grill Restaurant.
Fairchild Tropical Museum and Gardens
Fairchild Tropical Museum and Gardens was names after David Fairchild (1869-1954), an educator, scientist, and plant explorer. He worked together with big names in Miami’s history like Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Charles Crandon, and Robert Montgomery to create a botanic garden that would be one of the tourist hotspots of Florida. They host all kinds of events for members and guests t enjoy food, music, educational programs, and fundraising events.
Coral Gables Wayside Park
Coral Gables Wayside Park is one of the many beautiful green spaces and a favorite of both tourists and locals. The park contains eight (8!!!) Mediterranean Revival style towers that are reminiscent of Disney castles. Guests will see the Coral Gables Waterway flowing through the park, and they will see local ducks and wading birds enjoying the water. Featured on the National Register of Historic Places, this park is a must-see when visiting Coral Gables.
Coral Gables does not lack in methods of transportation. There is one metro stop in Coral Gables, called “University Station”, located within the University of Miami. Students tend to take this route to reach neighboring hotspots like Brickell or Coconut Grove. There are also 2 metro stations in Coral Way that can help visitors navigate to and from the Miami International Airport: Coconut Grove and Douglas Road. Many residents also ride car to get to their destinations. Cars are easily the preferred mode of transportation in Miami. The City of Coral Gables website also includes information for bicycle rentals, safety regulations, and recommendations. Aside from walking, the most charming and enjoyable method of transportation is the free Coral Gables Trolley, which has been around since 2003. It is available Monday-Saturday, and has stops at the Miracle Mile and Downtown Coral Gables Shopping District, Shops at Merrick Mark, Coral Gables Museum, and hotels like the Hyatt Regency and Hotel Colonnade.
Redfish Grill Restaurant
The Red Fish Grill Restaurant is located within Matheson Hammocks Park. It was originally open since 1996 and was a forgettable, but popular place to eat. After being closed and renovated in 2019, the Barreto Group partnered with Adrienne Calvo to deliver “Maximum Flavor” food. They have since celebrated their re-opening in 2020 (in the midst of a pandemic) offering a new look, new flavors, and extended outside seating. They have dine-in, takeout, and delivery options on their website.
Mamey Miami is very representative of Coral Gables dining. It is formal, extensive, and aesthetically pleasing. Located in THesis Hotel, guests and non-guests can enjoy everything they have to offer. With a full bar and live music, this restaurant is well-known for its enjoyable atmosphere. Chef Niven Patel was named one of the Food & Wine Magazine’s “Best New Chefs” in 2020. The truly special part of this restaurant is that the fruits and vegetables are sourced locally from Patel’s farm in homestead. Their rooftop options give the impression of utmost exclusivity, in keeping with the Coral Gables style.
The Biltmore Brunch
If you want to go full-Miami royalty on a visit to Coral Gables, it is impossible not to mention the Biltmore Hotel’s famous brunch. The Biltmore has been offering Sunday Champagne brunch for many years. Families would attend yearly to experience the full buffet. After the COVID-19 virus, the brunch is now a la carte. However, reviews are still glowing for the Biltmore’s five-star brunch. The luxurious hotel offers courtyard and poolside seating for this international success.
George Merrick suggested the Biltmore Hotel be built in 1926 to put a cherry on top of his luxurious, exclusive city. When it opened, The Biltmore Hotel and Country Club contained 350 rooms, a golf course, and the largest hotel pool in the United States. Like other parts of Coral Gables, the design aesthetic for the Biltmore was inspired by Spanish design, specifically the Giralda Tower in Sevilla. In November of 1942, the hotel was turned into an Army General hospital adopted by the Veterans Administration in July of 1947. After the hospital was closed in 1968, ownership was given back to the city, and restoration of the hotel began. It was not until 1987 that the hotel was reopened. It was closed and reopened again in 1992, and earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Books & Books
Mitchell Kaplan opened the first Books & Books in 1982 in Coral Gables, Florida. The original shop was one of many independent bookstores of the time, but Books & Books was one of the only that persisted. The original location since moved across the street to a 1927 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Coral Gables Medical Center. Books & Books has since opened other locations across Miami, and they remain a bookstore of choice for readers of all ages. The original location also houses a café where guests can enjoy live music. With bookings for entertainment have become quite competitive, Books & Books likes to showcase young artists from University of Miami, the founder’s alma mater.
The Miracle Theatre
Miracle Theatre was built between 1947 and 1948 as a full-time cinema. In 1990, the City of Coral Gables purchased the building and renovated it to become the home of Actors’ Playhouse. In 1995, it closed as a movie theatre and became a performing arts center. Today, many schools take field trips to see the Children’s Matinee shoes, and adults enjoy performances as well. They also offer workshops, a summer camp, and facility rentals. The building itself is significant because it showcases the Art Moderne Design Style of the industrial age.
Coral Gables is an area that has always (and likely will always) represent all that is glamorous, wealthy, and high-end. However, it is much more than that. Being such a historically significant city, it is an interestingly reflective of the rest of Miami. Through the Spanish design aesthetics adapted for the tropical landscape, the Mediterranean Revival aesthetic makes many Latin Americans feel at home.
Coral Gables always has something to do. Visitors can enjoy the parks, restaurants, food, and shopping; or they can visit historic places that will teach them a bit about Miami’s complicated history. Like any other city, Coral Gables has its positives and negatives. There is a lot of de-constructing Coral Gables has to do in acknowledging the troubling parts of their founder, George Merrick. More and more conversations are being had about what exactly went on at the time, making sure to acknowledge all perspectives.
When examining the history of any city in the United States, it is important to note that our country was built on stealing land from Indigenous peoples and eradicating their existence. Coral Gables, like other cities in Miami, was built upon Seminole, Miccosukee, and Tequesta land. The land was also home to Bahamian people before Coral Gables was “developed”. They were the ones who actually built most of the city, and their descendants only make up 3.5% of the population. They deserve to be acknowledged.