Ineffable Miami: Coral Gables by Sofia Aviles

Biography

Photo by Amanda Guerra (CC by 4.0)

Hi! My name name is Sofi Aviles and I’m currently a Junior at Florida International University. I’m a part of the Honors College and am pursuing a Bachelors in Finance with a certificate in International Trade and Investment.

Geography

Map retrieved from Google Maps

Coral Gables is a city located in Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States. It’s neighbored by Little Havana, Coconut Grove, Pinecrest, and South Miami. It lies about 13 miles West of Miami. The city of Coral Gables is known for its beauty as a city and its rich history. It is home to the University of Miami which has been there almost since the city’s inception.

The Prado Entrance of Coral Gables. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

The city is known for its strict regulations that help maintain its beauty. The Board of Architects Review Panel was created during the city’s creation and is responsible for the city’s upkeep of its original beauty. When going through Coral Gables, the streets are lined with trees and beautiful architecture. The city is opulent with expensive stores lining Miracle Mile and lavish Mediterreanean Revival style buildings and homes all over the city.

History

There has been evidence uncovered that the Tequesta were early inhabitants of the neighboring city of Coconut Grove, which lies only about 4 miles away from Coral Gables. It is likely that the Tequesta also lived on or used part of the land that is now Coral Gables. However, there is no published evidence of Tequesta in Coral Gables.

George Merrick. Photo from Florida Photographic collection

The city of Coral Gables was developed by its founder George Merrick in the 1920s. Merrick and his family moved from Massachusetts to Miami in an effort to partake in the citrus industry. After his father’s death, Merrick was left with 3,000 acres of land that he planned on using to create a city. With the help of his cousin George Fink, and landscape architect, Frank Button, they produced the original city plans of Coral Gables. During the execution of the city’s construction, artist, Denman Fink, and architect, Phineas Paist, were brought onto the team. Most of the city’s iconic architecture and original buildings can be traced back to this original team. 

Photos by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

When developing the city, Merrick was largely influenced by the City Beautiful Movement of the 1890s-1920s. Started by architects and landscapers, the City Beautiful Movement encouraged the incorporation of civic pride and engagement in the planning of a city. Coral Gables’ infrastructure is thoughtfully zoned in sections according to residential, business, industrial, and recreational areas. Coral Gables was one of the first planned communities in the United States.

The city’s architecture is largely Mediterranean Revival Style and has draws of inspiration from Spanish Renaissance Style. Merrick’s vision was a beautiful city with lush green to surrounding it. The supervising architect, Paist, was responsible for a lot of the details that are true to the Mediterrenean Style like the vibrant color scheme, the rounded arches, and the use of coral and limestone. 

By 1925, the City of Coral Gables was officially established. In 1926, Merrick planned a major home development project consisting of the construction of fourteen villages from various international regions. However, this dream never came to its full fruition, as the Hurricane of 1926 stopped the development of the project. Only a handful of the planned residences were built and are still there today on Santa Maria Street. The Great Depression hit Merrick hard financially and he was taken off the Coral Gables Commission Board. He eventually returned to Coral Gables and became postmaster in 1940, passing away only two years later.

Street view of Miracle Mile from Ponce de Leon Blvd looking west in the 1950s. Image courtesy of History Miami Museum. Photo from the Coral Gables Museum Website

Post World War II, the city saw a resurgence of growth with soldiers taking residence all over the city. In 1950, Miracle Mile was born and with it, a new age of commercial growth. This new era saw the construction of taller than usual buildings, which stand out from the original Mediterranean Style of the city. Although since then, the city has largely stuck to its original style. 

Coral Gables City Hall. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

Currently, the city of Coral Gables is an affluent city with a population of about 50,000. The commercial district has taken off since the 1950’s and is evident in the various businesses throughout the city.

Demographics

According to the United States Census Bureau: There are 50,999 residents in Coral Gables. The population in Coral Gables is 59% Latino or Hispanic, 34% White, 3% African American, and 3% Asian. In regards to gender, 52% of the population is female and 48% of the population is male. The median age in Coral Gables is 41 years old. The median household income is $100,000 and the annual per capita income is $61,668. Also, 60% of the households with persons 5+ years old in Coral Gables speak another language other than English.

Biography of Mercy (a Coral Gables Resident)

Mercy Perez. Photo courtesy of Mercy Perez

Mercy Perez was born on February 21, 1998 in Miami, FL. She moved to Coral Gables when she began attending the University of Miami in 2016. She is currently a senior at the University of Miami studying Nursing and currently works at Jackson Hospital.

Mercy’s thoughts on Coral Gables

Sofi: What is your favorite part of living in Coral Gables?

Mercy: I think my favorite part about living in Coral Gables is that it is a really convenient location. We’re not too far from the city, South Beach, or Key Biscayne, but we’re far enough that the neighborhoods are quiet and beautiful. 

Sofi: What is your least favorite part of living in Coral Gables

Mercy: Definitely the traffic everywhere anytime after 3pm!

Sofi: If there was one thing you could change about Coral Gables, what would it be?

Mercy: I guess I wish that places and restaurants weren’t so expensive.

Sofi: What is your favorite thing to do/place to visit?

Mercy: I usually like to visit the Biltmore and the Venetian Pool whenever I have any free time.

Landmarks

The Biltmore Hotel

Old Biltmore Hotel. Photo from Nationally Recognized Landmarks Coral Gables

In 1924, Merrick partnered with John Bowman, Biltmore Hotel magnate, to construct a Biltmore Hotel in his city. Merrick wanted a hotel that emphasized the importance of fashion and sports. Designer, Leonard Schultze, and contractor, S. Fullerton Weaver, together designed the now historically famous landmark. The building consisted of 400 rooms, a country club, a service building, a championship golf course, polo fields, tennis courts and an enormous swimming pool. The building is not strictly Mediterranean style, but is still true to Merrick’s vision of beauty and elegance. The building’s tower is inspired by the Giralda in Spain. The building is lavishly decorated with marble columns, intricate glass fixtures, and high vaulted ceilings. 

Between 1926-1942, the hotel hosted various celebrities and royalty and as Merrick intended, was the center of fashion. Notable guests during the era included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Judy Garland, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Al Capone. During this period of time, the hotel hosted fashion shows, gala balls, and aquatic shows. The years between 1942-1968 saw a shift in the usage of the hotel’s use. The War Department converted the hotel into a massive hospital sealing some of the windows and covering the original flooring with linoleum. It remained a Veteran’s Administration hospital until 1968. In 1992, Seaway Hotels Corporation began a 10 year renovation of the building, restoring it to its original glamour.

The Biltmore Hotel. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

Currently, the Biltmore operates as a lavish historical hotel. It contains 273 rooms and offers guests a luxurious experience with its multiple amenities like its Spa, World Famous Pool, massive Golf Course, and Fitness Center. The Biltmore also offers a Culinary Academy for aspiring chefs and other hotel events throughout the year.

The Biltmore Miami is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Venetian Pool

Old Venetian Pool. Photo from Nationally Recognized Landmarks Coral Gables

Part of Merrick’s vision for the city of Coral Gables was a massive pool for the public. In 1924, the Venetian Pool opened as one of the first public pools in South Florida. It was designed by none other than the city’s original designers, Fink and Paist. During its opening period, the pool hosted orchestra concerts by emptying the pool and performing at the bottom of the pool.

The Venetian Pool. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

It was created from the coral rock quarry surrounding it. The water is spring water from an underground aquifer and fills the 820,000 gallon pool. The pool models Merrick’s Mediterranean vision for the city with the coral surrounding it, the terracotta roofing, and its signature bridge. The large palm trees decorating throughout match the rest of the city’s decorative lush green trees. If you want a nice place to cool off, the Venetian Pool is perfect!

Admission to the pool for children (3-12) is $10 and adults (13 and above) is $15. 

The Venetian Pool is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Merrick House

Old Merrick House. Photo from Nationally Recognized Landmarks Coral Gables

The Merrick House is the original house of George Merrick. The home was purchased by Merrick’s father in 1899 and designed by Merrick’s mother. When working on constructing his city, Merrick sold off his inherited land piece by piece, but always made sure to keep the Merrick House for his mother and sister. Inside, tours offered allow insight into the life of the city’s founder and his vision for the city.

Merrick House. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

The home is preserved with its original furnishings and architectural details. It also features family artwork and personal treasures. Tours of the home consist of viewings of 14 rooms and the grounds outside with a lily pond and heritage garden. 

Admission is $5 cash with discounts offered for children, students, military, and seniors.

The Merrick House is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Green

Matheson Hammock Park

Matheson Hammock Park. Photo from Matheson Hammock Park

Matheson Hammock Park was gifted by William J. Matheson. It is 630 acres and was intended to preserve the natural beauty of the wild. It was thoughtfully designed by William Lyman Phillips to showcase South Florida’s beauty in a friendly park for the public to enjoy. It’s main feature is the man made atoll pool which is naturally flushed by the neighboring Biscayne Bay. The park is known for kite-surfing and is a great location for photoshoots! 

Entrance fees to the park for cars are $5 on weekdays and $7 on weekends and holidays.

Fairchild Tropical and Botanical Garden

Lake at Fairchild Tropical Garden. Photo by Adriana Aviles (CC by 4.0)

Fairchild was also designed by William Lyman Phillips. It opened in 1938 to the public. It is a massive botanical garden unique to South Florida. The plant types vary throughout the garden. The park features a lake, butterfly garden, and lush greenery.

Admission to the park is $25 for adults, $12 for students (ID needed), $18 seniors (65 and above), $12 for children (6-17), and free for children (5 and below).

Transportation

According to Data USA, 76% of residents drive alone, 6% carpool, and about 3% use public transit. 

The average household actually has 2 cars so most drive alone when going to work outside the city. Most residents average a 22.3 minute commute which is shorter than the average US commute of 25.1 minutes. However, the commute back can tend to be longer due to the buildup of traffic. Getting stuck in Coral Gables during rush hour traffic can definitely cost you almost an hour or more!

Photos by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

Coral Gables offers public transportation for free with their Trolley System. The transportation system was created in 2003, and has become an accessible and convenient option for the city. The trolley offers two routes: the North/South Ponce De Leon Route and the Grand Avenue Loop Route. The North/South Route runs along Ponce De Leon Blvd. from the Douglas Metro Station. The Grand Avenue Loop Route forms a circle starting and ending at Douglas Metro with Douglas Road, Grand Avenue, LeJeune Road, and Grandello. Additionally, the Coral Gables has two different metrorail stops, University and Douglas Road. 

Besides the trolley and the metro, most of Coral Gables is fairly accessible by foot, like Miracle Mile. Another more recent option besides walking is using Bird or Lyft Scooters scattered throughout the city. There is a cost to the service, but for a couple of hours is fairly affordable. It is a great option to quickly and easily explore the city and is also fun! Any time I’ve ridden it around the city I’ve had an awesome time.

Food

Havana Harry’s

Havana Harry’s. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

The restaurant opened in 1995 as Miami’s premier Cuban & American fusion restaurant. Their food takes on inspiration from Cuban and Latin American Cuisine while putting on American twists to some of their dishes. This is best exemplified in one of their famous dishes and my absolute favorite, the pollo vaca frita. The dish takes a twist on the traditional Cuban dish, vaca frita. The pollo vaca frita is pulled or shredded chicken with added mojo seasoning. The meals are served in large portions, perfect for sharing with family and friends and at an affordable price point!

Caffe Abracci

Caffe Abbracci. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

Caffe Abbracci was opened in 1989 by Nino Pernetti. An interesting fact about Caffe Abbracci is they have 16 employees that have been with the restaurant since its inception. It has a well established reputation of making anyone that walks in feel like family. While the food can be on the pricier side, Pernetti’s basic rule remains constant, “A restaurant can be the trendiest place with the splashiest fare, but if the food fails, it won’t survive.” Caffe Abbracci is a staple in Coral Gables, hence why it has stood for so long among other new trending restaurants.

Christy’s

Christy’s. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

Christy’s is another local landmark restaurant of Coral Gables. Christy’s has been in the heart of Coral Gables for over 40 years. They offer some of the best steak in South Florida and an intimate dining experience. It is also on the pricier side, but the food is worth the hype. I recommend their famous Caesar salad as well as the Braised Short Rib.

Businesses

Hotel St. Michel

Hotel St. Michel. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

The Hotel St. Michel is one of the most world renowned boutique hotels. Originally, the building consisted of retail shops on the first floor and offices on the second and third floors. In 1979, Stuart Bornstein and Alan Potamkin bought the property and transformed it into the Hotel St. Michel that it is today. The restaurant on the first floor is now the internationally acclaimed Zucca Ristorante. 

The building was built in 1926 and was designed by Anthony Zink and is largely European inspired. Although the building was restored when Bornstein and Potamkin bought it, the building maintains its antique decor, stained glass windows and tall ceilings.

The Actor’s Playhouse

Actor’s Playhouse. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

The Actor’s Playhouse was established in 1988 by Dr. Lawrence E. Stein. It originally was a movie theatre, but after partnering with the City of Coral Gables was transformed into the Playhouse. It has produced 160 Mainstage productions including Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals, comedies, and mysteries/thrillers. The company is the largest-self producer of critically acclaimed dramatic and musical theatre for all ages in South Florida. The Miracle Theatre was constructed in Art Deco styling contrasting the Mediterranean Style of the rest of the City, but offers its own historical uniqueness. The Playhouse is located on Miracle Mile and offers productions year-round. While the only show that I’ve watched in the theatre was a Hansel & Gretel production as a counselor on a children’s field trip, it was still fantastic!

Daisy Tarsi

Daisy Tarsi. Photo from Daisy Tarsi

Daisy Tarsi has been located in the heart of Coral Gables for more than 43 years. It is known for its largest selection of bridesmaid dresses. The owner Maryellen Fonte, designed the globally renowned Digna Yero label. The experience of buying a wedding dress and bridesmaids dresses can be a long, tedious, and emotional process. At Daisy Tarsi, they are there to make each bride’s vision come to life exactly the way they want. Bridal Boutiques are something that are common to Coral Gables. This is likely related to the copious amounts of wedding venues also located in the city and the luxuriousness of wedding dresses reflects the city’s own opulence.

Summary

Coral Gables is definitely a city unique to South Florida. Since its inception, the city’s historical and natural beauty have made it a popular tourist destination for many coming through Miami. The city proves that Miami as a whole cannot be categorized into a single label, encouraging diversity and variety in all aspects. 

Photos by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

Coral Gables can even make Miami locals feel like they are tourists in their own city. I think it is definitely in part due to its preservation of history, architecture, and beauty. Parts of the city look like they did in the 1920s. I think that its ability to maintain its original Mediterreanean styling is admirable. It is definitely a common complaint among residents that they have to follow such strict codes and regulations, but I guess that is the cost of maintaining the authenticity of the city. The view of driving down residential neighborhoods with the trees lining the sides and the green canopy covering you is absolutely beautiful. The architecture throughout the city is integral to the city and also adds to Coral Gables’ name of the City Beautiful.

Despite its positives, the city isn’t perfect. I think one of the biggest downfalls for the city can be its expensiveness. The cost of living is definitely higher than other places in Miami and is evident in the giant mansions, luxury cars, and expensive boutiques throughout the city. Residents are typically affluent and can make people that do not meet the same standard of living feel out of place. Even within the city limits, the small area encompassed by 8th St., Flagler, Douglas, and LeJeune doesn’t match the rest of the city’s grandeur, with its smaller apartment complexes. The city can sometimes definitely have an elitist feel to it, which can be a turnoff for certain visitors or even residents within the city. Another major issue with the city is its congestion. Despite all of Merrick’s planning, the expansion that the city has experienced throughout the years has made it somewhat congested. As previously mentioned, traffic in the city can be standstill for hours, but also parking can even be an issue with the limited parking lots and garages offered. Another small, and possibly nitpicky critique, are the city’s street signs and names. I have always found it makes it harder for anyone that isn’t a local to navigate the city. Unlike the rest of Miami’s numbered grid system, the city’s streets are almost all named, which at least for me, makes it harder to orient myself. The street signs are also typically on the ground on white concrete blocks with street names etched into them. It lends to the city’s gravitation to natural beauty but is harder to see, especially at night.

Coral Gables Entrance Park. Photo by Sofia Aviles (CC by 4.0)

Obviously since the city was planned, one of the best things about the city is its zoning. The business district is separated from the residential district, which is separated from the recreational district and so on and so forth. It offers organization to a city, which adds to the city’s feel of cleanliness and properness. During the city’s planning, Merrick knew and hoped that the city would have a connection to Latin America. Today, there are various international flags that line Ponce de Leon Blvd. displaying its connection internationally. Additionally, Coral Gables is somewhat of a hub for different international consulates located throughout the city. 

Overall, the city is well established in the history of Miami and its mark on the region is evident. Having grown up in Miami, I was somewhat familiar with Coral Gables. However, after learning about the history of the city, my appreciation for its beauty has definitely grown. It shows me that part of appreciating a city is definitely knowing its roots and learning what makes it unique.

WORKS CITED

“City Beautiful Movement.” Encyclopedia Brittanica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Jan. 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/City-Beautiful-movement

“A History of Coral Gables.” Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, www.coralgableschamber.org/a-history-of-coral-gables/

“About Coral Gables.” City of Coral Gables – About Coral Gables, www.coralgables.com/about-coral-gables

“Coral Gables, FL.” Data USA  https://datausa.io/profile/geo/coral-gables-fl/#housing

“Biltmore Hotel History.” The Biltmore Miami History, www.biltmorehotel.com/resort/history/

“Venetian Pool Added to National Register in 1981.” Miami History Home, www.miami-history.com/news/venetian-pool-added-to-national-register-in-1981/

City of Coral Gables – Coral Gables Merrick House, www.coralgables.com/coral-gables-merrick-house

“Coral Gables Trolley.” City of Coral Gables – Coral Gables Trolley, www.coralgables.com/trolley-services

“Caffe Abbracci Owner Nino Pernetti Has Been Its Driving Force for 30 Years.” Miami New Times, 4, 22 July 2019, www.miaminewtimes.com/restaurants/caffe-abbracci-in-coral-gables-turns-30-11216474

“Hotel St. Michel Historic.” Hotel ST. Michel Tel. 1-800-848-4683, www.hotelstmichel.com/hotel-historic

Daisy Tarsi, http://daisytarsi.com/about-us/

“Actors’ Playhouse at The Miracle Theatre.” Actors Playhouse at The Miracle Theatre, www.actorsplayhouse.org/about-us/

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