Coral Gables Museum
My name is Patricia M. Menendez, and I am a junior at Florida International University pursuing a B.S. in Digital Communication and Media and a B.A. in Sustainability and the Environment. In the near future I hope to be working with an environmental-based company that educates and enlightens the public through a multimedia platform. Through this course, I hope to enhance my creative side and gain more knowledge not only about the world of art but its role in shaping and documenting societal progression. I believe that this course will help me decipher the environment (or society) my work will take me to, as well as help me capture its essence.
The Coral Gables Museum is located at 285 Aragon Avenue. Across from it, on Aragon Avenue, is the Coral Gables Art Cinema, a theater that plays American and international films, along with modern movies and classic ones. For parking, there is a Museum Garage located right next to the cinema as well as street parking along Aragon Avenue. A block away, the Downtown Coral Gables Shopping District and famous Miracle Mile can be found with its vast array of shops and restaurants for visitors to enjoy. Next to the museum there is also a Books & Books, a popular site for residents and tourists. Therefore, the museum lies in a central location of the City Beautiful.
Before being a civic art museum, the Coral Gables Museum housed the city’s police and fire department from 1939 to 1975.
During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was responding to many requests from local governments for assistance in job creation and city development. In 1937, the WPA responded to Coral Gables request for the construction of a new police and fire station due to the fact theirs was in need of serious replacement. In June 1938, Coral Gables city officials received notice from the WPA of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s final approval on the building.
The new police and fire station was to be built on the northwest corner of Salzedo and Aragon, where it currently stands. The west side (Salzedo) housed the fire department, while the east side (Aragon) was dedicated to the police department. Construction for the building began on March 30, 1938 and architectural design was led by Phineas Paist, one of the first registered architects in Miami. Paist had worked on previous projects like the Coral Gables City Hall and Venetian Pool, making him an ideal candidate for the design of the building. His early sketches of the building were the same as the final result – a Depression-Moderne and Mediterranean Revival style building made of primarily coral limestone from Wembley Key.
The fire department had two stories. On the first floor one could find the fire truck bay, the fire chief’s office, storage room for equipment, a fire alarm room, mess hall and kitchen. Rather than being erected for aesthetic purposes, the 50 foot tower served as the place where fire hoses were hung out to dry after use. Meanwhile, the second floor served as the living quarters of the firemen and also had some offices.
On the contrary, the police department was all on one floor. It consisted of a small courtroom, the judge’s chambers, the police chief’s office, administrative offices and jail cells. It is important to note that the cells did not detain felons, rather they served as short term detention cells for those who had a little too much to drink.
The municipal building was completed in 1939. However, due to the growing population of Coral Gables, the city decided to expand the building and in 1954 added a larger courtroom on the east side of the building. In 1975, the police and fire department moved to a new building further south on Salzedo Street where (ironically) the first station was built. After the move, the 1939 building was used for city offices and leased out to other organizations. It was not until 2003, when an initiative led by former City Commissioner Wayne “Chip” Withers set out to repurpose the 1939 building to a civic art museum. Evidently, on October 10, 2010 the initiative was made into a reality with the official opening of the Coral Gables Museum.
Today the museum still maintains and preserves the historic design of the municipal building from 80 years ago. The only new addition to the museum is the Carole A Fewell Gallery, which is now the museum’s largest gallery. When you enter the museum’s main entrance, the main lobby served as the connector between the city’s fire and police department, with the fire department being on your left and the police’s on the right. The museum’s permanent collection, “Creating the Dream: George E. Merrick and his Vision for Coral Gables,” is located where the police offices and jail cells used to be. The Abraham Gallery was the 1939 municipal building’s firetruck bay. In the gallery, you can still see the oil stains on the original terrazzo flooring of the building and grooves on the floor where blocks used to be to serve as stopping points for the firetrucks. What once used to be the office of the fire chief is now the museum’s education division, and instead of living quarters, the second floor now serves as the office of the city’s Historic Resources Department. The 1954 courtroom is now the Community Meeting Room and the smaller courtroom is now the museum’s gift shop. Lastly, directly outside of the building, you can still see the iconic sculptures of the “Keystone Firemen” by Joan Keller.
The Coral Gables Museum also serves as the city’s visitor center and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
From the Coral Gables Museum website:
“The Museum’s mission is to celebrate, investigate and explore the civic arts of architecture and urban and environmental design, including fostering an appreciation for the history, vision, and cultural landscape of Coral Gables; promoting beauty and planning as well as historic and environmental preservation for a broad audience, including children, families, and community members, as well as local, regional, national and international visitors.”
What this mission means is that the Coral Gables Museum is dedicated to fostering and highlighting the civic arts of Coral Gables and other communities alike. By civic arts it not only refers to the city’s architecture, public spaces, monuments, urban design, and landscape, but also art that embodies civic values of any community and that which defines certain cultures. This mission can be seen through the museum’s temporary exhibitions which tend to encompass civic art by international artists and its permanent collection that focuses on the city’s founder, George Merrick, his team, and how the City Beautiful came about.
The museum is open Sunday – Saturday. On Monday – Friday it is open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The following list demonstrates museum admission fees:
- Adults, Seniors, and Students – $15
- Children (6-12) – $8
- Children under 6 – FREE
- Military families – FREE
- Members – FREE
Aside from free admission for one year, museum members can enjoy a number of benefits depending on their level. The following list illustrates the different benefits different membership levels are eligible for:
Standard Membership Levels:
Individual (Adult- $50, Student- $30, Educator- $30, Senior- $30)
- Invitations to members-only exhibit preview receptions, events and tours
- Discounts on select museum tours and lectures
- 10% discount on facility rentals
- 10% discount at the museum’s gift shop,
- Coral Gables Museum e-news subscription
- Two free single-admission tickets for guests
- Individual membership benefits for two adults
- Individual membership benefits for two adults and their children
- Advance registration and discounts on all museum winter, spring, summer and one-day camps
- 10 % discounts on museum birthday parties
Senior Family ($60)
- Family membership benefits for two senior adults (age 65 and over) and their grandchildren (up to age 18)
Merrick Circle Membership Levels:
- Family membership benefits
- 15% discount at the museum’s gift shop
- Advance registration for museum tours and lectures
- Complimentary Coral Gable Museum gift
- Six complimentary single-use admission tickets
Ponce de Leon ($250)
- Granada benefits
- Recognition in the museum’s annual report
- Two complimentary tickets to one Lunch and Learn event
- One complimentary tour of the museum with the director for up to four guests, upon request
- Ponce de Leon benefits
- One complimentary tour of the museum with the director for up to eight guest and one private tour of a museum exhibition, upon request
- One time use of the museum’s Perrin International Hall for an event
- Venetian benefits
- A $150 Granada membership to give as a gift
- Invitation for to the museum’s annual Patron event
Creating the Dream: George E. Merrick and his Vision for Coral Gables
As the only permanent exhibit at the Coral Gables Museum, “Creating the Dream” offers history and insight through its exploration of the beginnings of what is now the City Beautiful. From Reverend Solomon Merrick’s purchase of his family’s plantation, which is now the Granada Golf Course, in 1899 to the visionaries of George Merrick (his son) for one of the few planned cities in the world, the exhibit encompasses the timeline of Coral Gables perfectly.
“Creating the Dream” begins with the city founder’s early life, from a snapshot of his home by brother Richard Merrick to portraits of his wedding. The exhibit then goes on to the origins of the city, why the design, who designed it and how it all came to be. George Merrick believed that South Florida was identical “with Spain, North Africa, and all that lies between them and the South Sea Islands.” He chose Spain as the inspiration to Coral Gables (as seen with the city’s street names, architecture and entrances) because of what he would imagine when he would pass the undeveloped land.
“[I] dreamed of some day seeing here a thousand homes which would make my ‘castles in Spain’ a reality,” he once said, as seen on one of the walls of the exhibit.
The exhibit then goes on to what happened after the city was planned in 1925, including the University of Miami, Merrick Villages and much more.
For Now: Contemporary Venezuelan Art of the Miami Diaspora
The “For Now” exhibition is divided into two galleries: the Carole A. Fewell Gallery and the Abraham Family Gallery. The exhibition features 41 Venezuelan artists that are based in Miami. In the Fewell Gallery, artists that use traditional mediums can be found, whereas in the Abraham Gallery artists use digital mediums, such as video and audio.
The exhibit’s name stems from the expression of similar phrases like “for the time being” or “given the circumstances.” This phrase has a historic significance to Venezuelans due to its use in the country’s past, such as Hugo Chavez’s speech on national TV in Caracas after the failed governmental attempts of his movement in the 1990s.
Besides its political meaning, the artworks in “For Now” encourage viewers to reflect on the present and what it means to them. From diaspora to the memory of the nation they left behind, “For Now’s’ featured artists use traditional media, new media, and geometric abstraction to portray their stories as immigrants.
This exhibition is dedicated to the showcase of a book-portfolio that contains artworks from 18 Latin American artists. Each piece is also accompanied by a poem from a Latin American writer. The artwork and poem coincide with one another in content and theme. Each poem reflects upon the journey that Sephardi Jews embarked on after being expelled from Spain. The book serves as recount of the struggles, hardships and strength of Sephardi Jews and a reminder to future generations of their ancestors and true origin.
The exhibit is located in Gallery 109.
Venezuela: Serious Humor
The exhibition focuses on the artwork of two Venezuelan cartoonists, Roberto Weil and EDO. The exhibit features over 15 caricatures that refer to Venezuela’s past and present politics in a humorous yet saddening way due to its reality.
The exhibit is located in the Frank Lynn Galleries.
The exhibition, which features the work of Venezuelan American artist Rafael Barrios, invites visitors to share moments of the artist’s own curiosity for the nature of being or ontological. The exhibit promotes curiosity, creativity, and questioning within the viewer. It showcases the artist’s exploration of being through his artwork and offers the viewer the chance to be the moving element in the piece by transforming the artwork by moving around it.
The exhibit is located in the Community Meeting Room.
The museum offers audio tours online on both the “Creating the Dream” exhibition and the historic past of the building. On location, the museum offers visitors a self-guided audio tour via your cellphone. All audio tours are available in English and Spanish.
Waterway Canoe Tours
On the last Sunday of every month at 9:30 a.m. the museum offers a two hour excursion led by museum staff and EcoAdventure on the man-made Coral Gables Waterway. The excursion costs $40 per person.
Gables Bike Tours
On the third Sunday of every month at 10 a.m. the Coral Gables Museum offers a two hour educational bike tour that explores a different aspect of the city on each tour date. The tour is in partnership with Bike Walk Coral Gables and is $10 for adults and $5 for members and children under the age of 12.
Creating the Dream Tour
Guided tour by a museum staff member every Saturday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. of the museum’s permanent exhibition, “Creating the Dream.”
Downtown Walking Tour
Offered every Saturday at 11 a.m., a museum staff member takes visitors through the city’s historic past, landmarks and how those sites are used and preserved today. The tour is supported by the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables and costs $5 for members and $10 for the general public
City Trekker Camp
The Coral Gables Museum offers kids from ages 5 to 12 an opportunity to explore the city, engage in artistic and educational activities, and have fun in its variety of City Trekker Camp programs. The program offers One Day Camps, a Winter Camp, Spring Camp and Summer Camp. One Day Camps are available on holidays and teacher planning days throughout the school year.
Coral Gables Museum School Tours
These tours are available for public, private and charter schools and include tours of the museum’s exhibitions and the city. The program also offers on-site activities for students.
Family Day on Aragon
On every second Saturday of the month the museum hosts Family Day, a day filled with family activities like arts and crafts, museum scavenger hunts, games and live performances. Family Day is open to the public for free and takes place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the museum.
This museum program is only available to teachers and features subject area experts and leaders in the STEAM field. The program aims to help teachers develop new teaching skills that deviate from traditional memorization lessons to critical thinking and personal development based courses.
Gallery Night Live!
This event takes places on the first day of every month and starts at 6 p.m. Free admission to the museum is offered to those who come. Live music by the University of Miami Frost School of Music is offered and drinks are provided for an extra cost.
Dayana Ibarra, Graphic Designer and Visitor Services Manager of the Coral Gables Museum
How long have you been working here?
I’ve been working here for almost two years now
How long have you been going to the museum?
So I volunteered here for like a month or so before I got hired and I was just here at the front doing the things I do now so talking to people about what’s in the city and helping them with what’s in the museum itself. At the time there was only the history of coral gables exhibit so it was not that difficult to learn what was going on, but afterwards they came with the African American cemetery exhibit and around that time was when I got hired just for the visitor services manager part and later on they figured I can do posters, brochures and stuff like that as well.
So why work here?
Well I really like history and at the time I thought well it’s going to be a really good learning experience in terms of learning about the history. I thought it was going to be more about the history of the United States rather than the city of Coral Gables and it ended up being more microhistory than I thought but that opened me up to that part of the history of Miami.
What are some changes you’ve seen while working here?
Well they change the exhibits every three months or so. In the future regarding more exhibits opening, they’re going to have more things related to performing arts pieces.
What is the museum’s significance to the community?
The history of Coral Gables is so important to the city itself. The thing is Coral Gables for as big and metropolitan as it seems to be, it’s a very small town. A lot of people who come here are natives of the city or have lived here for a while, or even if they’re new they just want to integrate themselves into the fabric of the city and that’s sort of our job. We’re the visitor center and we help with anything to do with the city itself.
Have you seen it grow in popularity overtime?
We have grown in popularity in comparison to last year we have probably 1.5 times more visitors than we used to have.
How many people visit on average?
On a weekly basis, on a typical week, like 300 people.
Do you get people from all over the world?
Absolutely, because we’re so close to the airport a lot of people come in here and they say “hey we have five hours to kill before our flight can we come in and see the museum?” I’ve talked to people from japan from Australia from England from India, and just from all sorts of parts of the world not just Latin America itself.
What has been your favorite exhibit?
Kinder spirits was fantastic! I think it’s my favorite one and I only say that because there is this one artist Ariel Acosta and his work is gorgeous, we’re talking the most gorgeous paintings and they’re all so impressionist. There is this one piece of this girl that is coming out of the painting and everybody around looks like they’re sleeping, it has a lot of people from movies and stuff like that, so it is it a lot like dreaming very imagination based.
What sets the museum apart from others?
In terms of that I would say it’s the Coral Gables connection that makes us different from other museums because we’re not as big as the other museums and we’re not as well known as PAMM but we’ve got pretty good exhibits going and we have great programming and a lot about the community itself so I think that that’s what sets us apart.
Holly Morganelli, Coral Gables Resident and FIU Professor
How many times have you been visited the museum?
I live less than a block away from the museum, so I’ve been here several times and I’ve brought family members visiting me to the museum and I’m at Book & Books all the time so it’s very convenient.
Why and what do you like about the museum exactly?
Well it’s a small space, first of all, so it’s not the kind of museum that you need to spend like two hours in, and I really like the space and the buildings here. They are really beautiful and it kind of creates a nice atmosphere to compliment the gallery.
What have been your favorite exhibits?
I think it was one with, I know it was historic photos, but it was a couple of years ago and I can’t remember which one it was.
Have you seen any of the current exhibits now?
No! I made a reminder that I want to go to the new Venezuelan-based ones that just opened up. They look really interesting to me.
What do you think about the permanent collection the creating the dream tour?
It is really nice because I think Coral Gables is a unique place in Miami Dade.
What have you learned from the museum?
I’ve learned a lot about the development of Coral Gables and I attend a lot of art and community events here.
What brought you here today to the museum?
I need to buy one more small gift for my mother. She absolutely loves the museum’s gift shop.
I have always enjoyed the distinct atmosphere and architecture of the City Beautiful. You can always find me in Coral Gables at least once every one or two weeks, hence why I was surprised that I had never known about the Coral Gables Museum prior to this project. The Coral Gables Museum is consistent with the city’s identity through its Mediterranean style building and ode to the city’s development and founder, George Merrick.
The museum differs from other art museums I have been to before due to its historic standing and connection to the community. It is almost as if the museum is proud to be that of Coral Gables.
What I enjoyed most about the museum was the preservation of its previous structure and consistent theme throughout its exhibits. The museum also remains true to its mission by offering exhibits that clearly define cultures and outline civic values of other communities besides Miami. Aside from this, the current exhibitions also seem to relate to particular rising communities in Miami, specifically the Venezuelan community.
Although small, the museum seems to take advantage of its space effectively. However, I did not like that for some of the exhibitions, their backgrounds were not clearly visible. For instance, I did not know the background of “For Now” until I went to the Fewell Gallery and there was no explanation to the “El Viaje…,” only what the content of the book was on. The museum also lacked certain direction as to where to begin, but the museum staff was very willing to help with that.
In my visits to the Coral Gables Museum, I not only learned about the development and origins of a city that I love dearly but I also learned of a new event hotspot, attraction, and destination for civic art. I look forward to visiting the museum again and seeing what other exhibitions it has in store.
History of Coral Gables Museum:
Museum Membership Benefits:
Museum pamphlet with membership information
Conversation with Museum Chief Curator, Yuni Villalonga