FRA Ineffable Miami: Coral Gables by Maia Duschatzky

Biography

Photo by Lourdes Arteaga (CC by 4.0)

Maia Duschatzky is a Junior in the Honors College at Florida International University. She is pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science and is expected to graduate in Spring 2021. Being a part of the Computer Science Honor Society and loving what she studies, she is also very passionate about the arts. She has been dancing most of her life and currently works at a dance studio, teaching and creating choreographies (her favorite activity). She loves being able to live in the great city of Miami, full of different cultural aspects that allow her to further develop her passions.

Geography

The City of Coral Gables is located in the southeastern region of Miami-Dade County in Florida. What started off as a residential area quickly became one of Miami’s top cities, with a total land area of 13.1 miles and 24 miles of water. With beautiful trees lining the streets, Coral Gables spans primarily from Red Road to Douglas Road, from Tamiami Trail down to the Charles Deering Estate. Neighboring West Miami, South Miami, Pinecrest, and Coconut Grove, this city is close to countless destinations while being home to great attractions.

History

George Edgar Merrick. Photo from Florida Photographic Collection.

During the early twentieth century, there was a philosophy in place called the City Beautiful Movement – and that is exactly what Coral Gables is known as. Nicknamed “The City Beautiful’, this city stands out from the rest with its thought-out setup and composition of details and architecture. George E. Merrick envisioned a site based on his own home, which contained coral rock walls and gables, and decided to develop this project right on his family’s land.

Merrick’s family moved from Massachusetts to Miami when he was 13 to try to recuperate from the loss of his sister. When doing so, the family purchased 160 acres of land filled with citrus trees, as well as a warm home that stands today as the Merrick House.

Merrick House. Photo from Coral Gables Digital Collection

In 1911, Merrick’s father passed away, causing him to return from his studies in New York to his land in Miami. With all the land left in his name, he started planning what would become one of Miami’s most affluent and distinct suburbs. In 1915, he became the county commissioner in District 1 and was able to develop roads which he envisioned passing through his future city. Throughout his years as commissioner he was able to boost the level of the land. Having more than 3,000 acres of estate at his disposal, Merrick turned to George Fink, Phineas Paist and Frank Button, a group of artists and architects, to help him turn his plans into a reality.

Taking the notion of coral rock walls and gables from his home and resembling ideas from Mediterranean Revival architecture, the team of creators put their ideas to work and started working on the Gables. The making of Coral Gables started in around 1922, incorporating these designs, as well as great details of Spanish-style architecture, tree-lined roads, impressive buildings, great fountains and expansive golf courses. While sticking true to his designs, he branched out and created small communities with different international inspirations to influence his villages.

University of Miami in the 1920s. Photo from Coral Gables Digital Collection

Three years into the making of this city and over $20 million had been spent to build houses that were meticulously laid out, all to comply with the City Beautiful Movement that was taking over North America. Merrick was all about the aesthetics of his project, which explains why Coral Gables is one of the most pleasing cities in Florida. In 1925, with over $100 million spent into its development, the City of Coral Gables was incorporated.

After its incorporation, the University of Miami was well on its way to be set up on 600 acres. Everything seemed to be going great until the Hurricane of 1926 put a stop to Merrick’s desires of further expanding his city. The Great Depression struck shortly after, leaving him unable to financially deal with what was on his late, leading him to be removed from the Coral Gables Commission Board. He eventually came back to his city as postmaster for the county in 1940. After Merrick’s death in 1942, Coral Gables still stayed strong to its original plans for architecture and continued expanding to become the prosperous city it is today, filled with life and diversity.

Demographics

According to the US Census Bureau, there were a total of 50,999 residents counted for in Coral Gables in 2019. There are 19.1% of residents below the age of 18, 18.1% over the age of 65, and 62.8% in between those ages. 51% of these residents are females, 49% being males. Almost 59% of all residents identify as Hispanic/Latino, 34.5% as White, 3.4% as Black/African American, and 2.6% as Asian. Of the 17,820 households, each average to 2.59 people. The median household income is $100,000 and the average owner-occupied value of housing unites is $795,500, showing the affluence of this city.

Interview of Aurora Hermida, a Coral Gables Resident

Photo by Maia Duschatzky (CC by 4.0)

Aurora Hermida was born on July 27th, 1999, right in the city of Coral Gables. She has been here her whole life, except for the past couple of years as she is studying at New York University, where she plans to graduate from next year.

Aurora reflecting on her home city

Maia: “How long have you been living in Coral Gables?”
Aurora: “I’ve been here my whole life. I used to live in another house until I was 7, when I moved to my current home.”

Maia: “Do you like living here? Why?”
Aurora: “I like living here, I love it! It’s so fun, it really is one of the best places to live in here in Miami, it’s close to everything. I love how it’s close to Coconut Grove, Brickell, Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, yet it’s still its own thing.”

Maia: “What’s your favorite thing about the Gables?”
Aurora: “I love the nature, all the trees you see, so beautiful. Also, how I said everything is so close to here. I like going to the DownStairs shop that’s close to my house to get a sandwich too.”

Maia: “What’s your least favorite thing about it?”
Aurora: “Honestly, I wouldn’t really change anything about it. I love Coral Gables; I wouldn’t see myself living anywhere else down here.”

Landmarks

The Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel standing tall. Photo by Marco Diez (CC by 4.0)

The Biltmore Hotel is a National Historic Landmark that was designed by Schultze and Weaver in 1926. Schultze and Weaver had also designed Miami’s Ingraham Building and Miami News Tower before working with Merrick and George Bowman to bring about this masterpiece.
In 1924, Bowman and Merrick announced the production of a $10-million hotel with 400 rooms, a country club, golf course, tennis courts, polo fields, and a 150-by-225-foot pool. After two years of production, the Biltmore Hotel was presented to over 1000 VIPS from New York, with the 26-story tower resembling the Giralda Bell Tower of Spain shining its lights for years to come.
During the 1940s, the hotel was used as an Army Hospital by the War Department, with operations lasting until 1968, belong to the city again in 1972. In 1987, the Biltmore’s doors opened up again as a luxury hotel, drawing in visitors from all over.

The Merrick House

The Merrick House symbolizes the start of Coral Gables. When the Merricks moved to Miami and bought their land, they made their home with the supply of coral rock, thus naming it “Coral Gables” and its surroundings “Coral Gables Plantation”. It was built in 1899 by Reverend Solomon Merrick for his family and it was completed in 1910, just one year before his death. The house symbolizes the period’s architectural style of northeastern influences to the south, while adding regional details. Upon his death, George Merrick received control of the estate and was influenced by his home to design similar features in the city of Coral Gables. The Merrick House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and operates as a museum, giving visitors a glance into the past by showing the family’s original furniture, artwork, books and living style.

The Venetian Pool

The only public pool listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Venetian Pool is a massive pool in the heart of Coral Gables. With a capacity of 820,000 gallons, it is fed water from the Biscayne aquifer. It originally served as a rock quarry pit from which limestone was mined for the first buildings of the city, but quickly transformed into “the world’s most beautiful swimming hole” in 1924, with two waterfalls, a grotto, and diving platforms. George Merrick would use the pool as his sales center and invited William Jennings Bryan to entice customers to Coral Gables; he even had musicians perform here. The Venetian Pool is refilled every night during the busy season and uses the least amount of chlorine allowed by regulations. In order to keep it in its historic state, historic reviewers must approve any repair. This is what keeps that magic feeling of the Venetian Pool alive to this day.

Greens

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden was coined after one of the most famous plan explorers, David Fairchild. He would travel the world looking for useful plants while being an educator and a scientist. When he was just 22, he started the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the United States Department of Agriculture and made it his task for the following 37 years to find plants that could be of use to the people. When he retired in 1935 in Miami, he became part of a group that worked to bring a botanic garden to life, working alongside Robert Montgomery, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Charles Crandon and William Lyman Phillips. This led to the creating of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in 1938. With 83 acres of land filled with over 3,400 species of plants, this garden has a lake, butterfly garden, and is filled with green! In 1984, the Garden became a member of the Center for Plant Conservation, preserving endangered U.S. flora. Since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the Garden has intensified its collection efforts in order to restore and save plants of the tropics. Since its opening until now, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden serves as a home and attraction.

Transportation

CORAL GABLES TROLLEY

Coral Gables Trolley is a free trolley system provided by the City of Coral Gables. Starting in November 2003, the Trolley has two main routes. The North/South Ponce de Leon Boulevard route goes all the way from the Douglas Metrorail Station to Flagler Street, and the Grand Avenue Loop Route runs from the Douglas Metrorail Station heading Southbound on Douglas, Westbound on Grand Avenue, North on LeJeune Road and then East on Granello back to Douglas Station. Since the trolley started making its way through the streets of Coral Gables in 2003, it has shown how useful and available it is for the residents and visitors. Primarily designed to decongest the busy traffic and alleviate parking and provide easy transportation, the trolley has been doing a great job in being an accessible, green option.

Food

Caffe Vialetto

Caffe Vialetto. Photo from Caffe Vialetto Gallery

Near the corner of Bird Road and LeJeuene, there lies quaint and cozy restaurant: Caffe Vialetto. Dominantly Italian but adding a Latin twist to some dishes, this delicious spot opened its doors about 20 years ago and has set the bar for traditional plates. Their most popular plate is their traditional champagne risotto, but they like to mix it up and keep things interesting with their exciting touches. It’s a great choice for any type of meal, as anything you eat is delicious!

Fratellino ristorante

On Miracle Mile filled with the hustle and bustle of the busy street, there is a small Italian Restaurant called Fratellino. With a homey feel yet strong traditional plates, Fratellino provides excellent Italian cuisine in the Gables. It’s quite small, with tables lined up extremely close to each other – but that just makes it more exciting. With waiters speaking in Italian, the smell of the delicious food, family pictures on the walls, this is one of my favorite restaurants.

Lotus Garden

Photo from Lotus Garden

If you like Thai food, then Lotus Garden is the place to go to. With large plates of real Thai cuisine in a soothing setting, this customary spot makes you feel at home with their helpful staff and warm ambience. From simple soups to great assorted seafood platters, anything is great – don’t forget Thai donuts for dessert!

Businesses

Miami Royal Ballet Dance Studio

Miami Royal Ballet Students performing in Coral Gables Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Photo by Maia Duschatzky (CC by 4.0)

Miami Royal Ballet is a dance studio located right by the Village of Merrick Park, on Salzedo Street. Under the direction of my mother Lourdes Arteaga, they strive to instill a classical ballet foundation in order to grow not just as dancers but as people. Arteaga used to be a Professional Ballerina in the Colon Theatre of Buenos Aires, Argentina and uses her great experience to prepare the next generation of dancers. They teach not just ballet, but jazz, lyrical, acrobatics, tap, and hip hop, primarily among other types of dance. They really care about the technique and about maintaining a safe and healthy environment for the students and their families.

Actors’ Playhouse

Photo from Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre

The Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre is a pinnacle spot on Miracle Mile. No matter where you are on the Mile, you can see the Actor’s Playhouse shining bright with the lineup of events occurring. With a 600-seat auditorium hosting events for performances, children’s productions, educational shows, it’s a historic landmark that has been around for 32 years that is one of the major cultural institutions in Miami-Dade County. The Company working it aims to provide cultural liveliness of the top level to children and adults alike, and provide a healthy environment for which theatre professionals of all ages can create and work.

Casa Maria

Photo by Maria Villar (CC by 4.0)

            Casa Maria is holds beautiful gifts for the beautiful people of Coral Gables. Maria Villar, owner of Casa Maria, displays a grand selection of baubles and accessories that make the perfect gift for anyone. Jewelry, stones, candles, chocolates, she has the basic gifts set up, but on the walls, there are drawers filled with different trinkets that you couldn’t even imagine she had! Located right by the Village of Merrick Park, Casa Maria is the perfect place for a different, beautiful gift.

Summary

Photo by Maia Duschatzky (CC by 4.0)

The city of Coral Gables is one of the most affluent ones in South Florida. Its planned-out schema made it one of the best cities back in the City Beautiful movement and it has kept its legacy by staying that way. I have been working in Coral Gables for a couple of years now, at Miami Royal Ballet, and it’s always been beautiful. The people in charge of this city are always working on it and keep the strict zoning signs in place, which is one of the reasons why the city has stayed so expensive.

Yes, the Gables is expensive, but you get what you pay for. Its location is prime, close to top spots in Miami, it’s quite safe and there are a ton of features that allow one to explore and get lost within one’s own city. While being an advantage, it’s also a drawback! The affluence of the city makes it unreachable to many individuals and families. I didn’t know that Coral Gables was meant to keep only the rich and white at the top, setting up its own racial stigma which is still seen a bit today.

Although it has its setbacks The City Beautiful is full of wonders and is a great city for families and businesses. A small paradise within the hustle and bustle of South Florida, Coral Gables is worth a trip down its tree-lined lanes.

Photo by Maia Duschatzky (CC by 4.0)

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