Italia Spring 2020 Ineffable Miami: Coral Gables by Nicolas Tomaselli

My name is Nicolas Tomaselli, I am pursing a degree of Business Administration in Information Systems. I am currently the FIU campus intern for CDW, hoping to learn as much as I can about the technology industry. I am also looking to blend my future career with as much cross-country travel as I can as traveling is one of my many passions.

Geography

Coral Gables City limits, photo retrieved from floridahometownlocator.com

The city of Coral Gables is located southwest of Downtown Miami while still on the east side of Miami-Dade County. It is bordered on the west by 57th Avenue Red Road, on the north by 8th Street Tamiami Trail, on the south by the Deering Estate, as well as on the east around 37th Avenue Douglas Road. The City of Coral Gables is filled with beautiful scenery surrounding its residents’ homes as well as contains some of the most gorgeous parks and beaches Miami has to offer. Coral Gables continues to be a spot for tourists and locals alike to enjoy what Miami truly has to offer.

Miracle Mile, Photo retrieved from commons.wikimedia.org

History

George Merrick, Photo retrieved from Florida Photographic Collection

The City of Coral Gables was initially created and meticulously planned out by George Merrick, a real estate developer, during the Florida land boom of the early 1920s. In 1911 Merrick was studying law in New York City until the death of his father prompted him to move back to Miami. By 1915 he was appointed as the County Commissioner in District 1 by the governor. Merrick then spearheaded the construction of countless roads across Miami including Tamiami trail, County Causeway, and South Dixie Highway. The improvements to the roads enabled Miami to triple in population from 1915 to 1921 transforming an emerging city into a metropolitan paradise.

Beginning in 1922 Merrick began planning out his design for Coral Gables along the lines of the City Beautiful Movement inside of the 3,000 acres of land his father left him. The movement’s intent was to introduce grand obelisks, fountains and monuments into the feel and look of the city by placing them in parks, buildings and all throughout the city. Merrick also took heavy inspiration from Mediterranean Revival Architecture and believed it was the best way to design a city in Miami. In a New York Times Article in 1925 Merrick said, “Just how I came to utilize the Spanish type of architecture in Coral Gables… it always seemed to me to be the only way houses should be built down there in those tropical surroundings.”

Street View of Miracle Mile, Photo retrieved from coralgablesmuseum.org

Another one of the most important details Merrick paid attention to was zoning divisions. This meant Merrick wanted specific residential and commercial locations with clear divisions between the two. This is apparent in the four block wide and two mile long commercial district, which Merrick intentionally designed this way in order to be able to say every business in Coral Gables is just two blocks away.

Merrick is also credited with the establishment of the University of Miami with a 600 acre and 5 million dollar donation. Then just a few weeks before the opening of the first school year the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane devastates Coral Gables and Miami, followed by the Great Depression. These two events shut the door on Merrick for any future expansion of Coral Gables, but the work he had done up until that point was outstanding.

Demographics

According to the most recent United States Census estimates, Coral Gables has a population of 50,999 making it the 59th largest city in Florida. 51.52% of Coral Gables’ population is female while the remaining 48.48% is male. 58.9% of the entire 50,999 residents as well as 62.3% of the 46,505 white residents identify as hispanic. This large hispanic population is the main reason as to why 53.68% of the population speaks spanish. Another showcase of the hispanic presence in Coral Gables is the 39.30% foreign born population with 67.5% of that population being from Latin America. Median and mean household income for Coral Gables is $100,000 and $168,659 respectively. This above average income rate has plenty to do with 65.53% of residents having graduated with at least a bachelors degree.

Interview of Sylvia Planas

Sylvia Planas and her Husband Juan Planas, Photo provided by Sylvia Planas

Nick: When did you first move to Coral Gables and what initially attracted you to the city?

Sylvia: My husband, five children and I first moved to Coral Gables in December of 1987. One of the most important reasons we first moved to the city was the close proximity to my job at the University of Miami. Another reason that attracted us was the beautiful tree lined streets that covered our entire neighborhood. The ability to look out our window and see countless big trees is by far my favorite part of living in Coral Gables.

Nick: What are some of your favorite aspects of living Coral Gables?

Sylvia: The city’s strict rules on the upkeep of the homes for example not allowing trash to be on the side of the street and not being able to paint your home an ugly color like orange or purple keeps the neighborhoods looking consistently beautiful. This allows us to be able to have the ability to go for walks or bike rides in our neighborhood while admiring the beautiful homes and nature around our house and throughout the city.

Nick: What have you noticed that has changed since moving to Coral Gables?

Sylvia: We’ve noticed that recently a younger generation of residents moving into the city. As well as renovations of older buildings that have been transformed into places for new homeowners.

Nick: If you could change one thing about Coral Gables what would it be?

Sylvia: One thing that I wish would change about Coral Gables would be an increase in the tree trimming of the trees that line the streets. The falling branches create unnecessary debris on our lawn and the streets we have to drive through.

Landmarks

Merrick House

The Merrick House, Photo retrieved from miamiandbeaches.com

The Merrick House is the childhood home of Coral Gables’ founder George Merrick. This house sits on the land his father left to him which became the home to where Merrick would design Coral Gables. It started as a frame house in 1903 and was built upon in 1910.

Agrupacion Catholica Universitari Acu, Photo provided by Juan planas

During the 1960s the house was rented out by an organization known as Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria (ACU) of which my grandfather Juan Planas is a lifetime member. A couple of months after renting the house the City of Coral Gables did not allow their lease to continue due to strict family residential zoning. Since the house was rented by an organization and not a family they could not rent the home. Years after that The Merrick house was restored by the city to its 1920s time as well as improved on its aesthetic with the Merrick family’s art, furniture and personal treasures. The City of Coral Gables has guided tours on Wednesdays and Sundays for around the price of five dollars. The Merrick house landmark stands as a reminder of the brilliant founder who had a vision of such a beautiful city that we call Coral Gables.

Coral Gables Elementary School

10/6/1935: Coral Gables Elementary School building, Photo retrieved from flashbackmiami.com

During the beginning of the foundation of Coral Gables George Merrick sold this piece of land to the Dade County School Board in 1923. Initially Merrick sold the land for $10,000 and the construction of the building for $25,000 to create this public school in the same Mediterranean revival style as the rest of Coral Gables. By 1926 the school’s population had risen to 1,000 students. The construction of his school serves as a public school for families of all socioeconomic backgrounds. The school also provides learning for various foreign languages as well as learning for children with special needs. Overall Coral Gables Elementary just adds to the list of the great aspects there are to living in the City of Coral Gables.

City Hall of Coral Gables

City Hall of Coral Gables, Photo retrieved from townandcountrymag.com

Coral Gables City Hall was constructed from 1927 to 1928, after the devastation of the Great Miami Hurricane. The building was designed by Phineas Paist and Harold Steward in the same Mediterranean Revival style as the rest of Coral Gables. After the construction of this building it created a complete cohesive style of the entire city from its homes, offices, schools, and now its city hall as well. The City Hall of Coral Gables was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on July 24, 1974

Green

Matheson Hammock Park Beach

Matheson Hammock Park Beach, Photo retrieved from miamibeachadvisor.com

If you’re looking for an alternative to the crowded beaches of south beach when you’re visiting Coral Gables then Matheson Hammock is the ideal spot for you. Since 1930 Matheson Hammock welcomes tourists from all over the world as well as its own locals to its beautiful beach and its fun activities. Some of Matheson Hammocks’ recreational activities include delicious restaurants like Red Fish, a full service marina, a man made pool and scenic walking trails for its nature loving visitors. In the marina visitors can rent kayaks, paddle boards, and take boating lessons for both sailing and power boating. Overall Matheson Hammock provides a beautiful beach and various recreational activities for everyone to enjoy in the City of Coral Gables.

Venetian Pool

Venetian Pool, Photo from coralgables.com

Opening in 1924 Venetian Pool was part of George Merrick’s master plan of Coral Gables. When it opened in 1924 it was known as “Venetian Casino” because pools and swimming venues were referred to as casinos during the early 1900s. It was designed to be a community mingle area for residents of Coral Gables to hang out by a beautiful pool. The pool was crafted out of a rock quarry that George Merrick used to build many early homes in the city. Artist Denman Fink and architect Phineas Paist were integral in the design of not only Venetian Pool but of countless other aspects of Coral Gables. Since its inception in the 1920s Venetian pool has been a beautiful aspect of early Coral Gables and has become a famous staple of the city’s greenery.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Photo retrieved from ticketweb.com

Fairchild Gardens gets its name from one of the most famous plant explorers in history, David Fairchild. Fairchild started his career at age 22 by starting the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the United States Department of Agriculture. He then spent he rest of his career traveling the world searching for plants that could be of use to the American people. During his travels he visited every continent except Antarctica and brought back countless plants including: soybeans, bamboo, cherry trees, mangos, and nectarines to name a few. Fairchild then moved to Miami in 1935 and worked with other passionate plant collectors and environmentalists like Marjoy Stoneman Douglas, William Lyman Phillips, and Charles Crandon. This group of passionate collectors dreamed of some kind of botanic garden and worked tirelessly to achieve that dream. That dream came to reality in 1938 when Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden opened its doors to the public. The garden then became a member of the Center for Plant Conservation in 1984 by preserving endangered U.S. flora. After Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992, Fairchild Gardens has ramped up their efforts not only to restore the garden but to identify and save endangered plants ravaged by the storm. Since then they have continued to collect plants from all over the world and now include tropical fruit, orchids, and native Florida plants as part of their collections.

Transportation

Coral Gables Trolley

Coral Gables Trolley, Photo retrieved from miamionthecheap.com

Since its establishment in 2003 the Coral Gables Trolley has been taking residents, commuters, and tourists around the beautiful city of Coral Gables. The trolley was created as a free and environmentally friendly transportation service in order to relieve traffic around the city and connect its residents to the rest of the city. Every day around 5,000 people use the trolley’s convenient service. The Coral Gables trolley also links up with the City of Miami trolley on Flagler, Coral Way, and Grand Avenue. The trolly has two distinct routes, the North/South Ponce de Leon Boulevard and the Grand Avenue Loop route. The Ponce De Leon Boulevard route runs from the Douglas Metrorail Station to Flagler Street along Ponce de Leon Boulevard while the Grand Avenue Loop route runs from the Douglas Metrorail Station to Grand Avenue, LeJeune Road and Granello back to Douglas Station. Overall the Coral Gables Trolley acts as a free environmentally friendly form of transportation for its residents to travel around the city.

E-Scooters

Bird E-Scooters, Photo from rosenohrlaw.com

One of the very first things that I noticed after moving into Coral Gables was how many e-scooters were scattered around the city and specifically on Pone de Leon Blvd, the street I live on. It seemed you could not walk ten steps without noticing one propped up on the sidewalk or see someone riding it to work or lunch. I simply cannot count the amount of times I have used these scooters to go pick up food or to just ride around the city with friends. Coral Gables’ large but compact commercial district enables residents to be able to hop on a scooter and ride around the city unlike most parts of Miami.

Food

Miami’s Best Pizza

Miami’s Best old location, photo from google reviews

Coral Gables is also home to the greatest pizza shop in all of Miami, Miami’s Best Pizza. Its name speaks for itself in that for the past 50 years they have simply been creating the best pizza in Miami. Back in 1970 Miami, Florida got its first Little Cesars pizza joint on US-1. Despite the fact they had the name they didn’t have much of anything that would resemble other Little Cesars, like crazy crust. Then the original owner Al Papich handed down the store to his son Ray who then partnered up with Charles Butler. Then in 1990 when the franchise agreement ended the store polled their customers what the new name of the shop should be, thus Miami’s Best Pizza was born along with the slogan, “same pizza, same place, same people.”

Miami’s Best old location, photo from google reviews

Miami’s Best has been a staple in the community of Coral Gables over the 50 years they have been around. Throughout the time they’ve been making pizzas most of the went right across the street to the students of The University of Miami. Along with the ties to the university, Miami’s Best’s quality owners created a great area for families to spend time together and have a great meal. I can still remember watching the chefs make the pizza through the window and playing arcade games with my cousins waiting for our pizza to be ready.

Despite all the success Miami’s Best had over 44 years they still did not own the prime US-1 real estate their restaurant stood on. With their lease coming to a close and the recently passed away landlord’s family already asking the shops highest willing rent price, Miami’s Best Pizza came to a close. However, after a three year absence randomly a sign went up saying they would be back by the end of 2018 with the University of Miami as the landlord. This got me and my entire family extremely excited while we hoped and hoped it would feel the same. After they announced that they would be bringing bringing everything back from the oven to the telephone number, we began counting down the days till they reopened. I’m also happy to say that after a three year absence they didn’t miss a beat.

New Miami’s Best Location, photo from owner on google reviews

The Local Craft Food & Drink

The Local, Photo retrieved from miamifoodpug.com

The Local Craft Food & Drink was created by Miami’s own award winning chef Alberto Cabrera in 2011. Throughout Cabrera’s life he traveled throughout the United States and Europe learning how to cook with various ingredients from countless backgrounds rather than from a formal culinary education. After returning to Miami in 1996 he got a job at Baleen and four years he became chef de cuisine. He then worked at a few other restaurant such as Norman’s, la Broche, Chispa, STK Miami, and eventually designed an entire menu for Karu & Y. Once Karu & Y closed Cabrera began his first solo venture, The Local.

Alberto Cabrera at Little Bread, Photo retrieved from yelp.com

Alberto Cabrera’s vision for The Local, was to create a comfortable and friendly place for families and friends to enjoy some excellent gastropub. The Local’s menu is filled with excellent choices for both lunch and dinner for all types of tastes. Whatever you order whether it’s their famous Mississippi brisket burger, Nashville fried chicken sandwich; or if you’re in the mood for seafood their fish and chips or creamy polenta and shrimp, you’ll leave satisfied. The Local also has incredible appetizer options with their small plates of truffle fries, fried chicken bites, and their delicious disco fries which they cover in homemade cheese and bacon bits. With a comfortable atmosphere and spectacular menu you can never go wrong with stopping at The Local.

Nashville Fried Chicken Sandwich, Photo retrieved from google reviews

The first time my family and I ever visited, The Local, was the day we finished moving. After unboxing countless packages and lugging boxes up the elevator we visited The Local for dinner. We walked down Giralda and stumbled upon what seemed to be a trendy burger joint. After scanning over the menu we realized we found something much better. Deciding what to order was the most difficult part of our visit, but eventually we narrowed our decision down and ordered. After what ended up being three orders of truffle fries and our delicious meals we left knowing we found a special place.

The Local, Photo retrieved from google reviews

Havana Harry’s

Havana Harry’s entrance, Photo retrieved from zagat.com

Since 1995 Havana Harry’s has been Coral Gables’ delicious Cuban-American fusion restaurant serving as a local favorite and spot for tourists to try a taste of Cuba. Havana Harry’s has taken inspiration from Cuban, Spanish, and Latin-American dishes while putting their own twist to create an extensive and delicious menu. Whether its their vaca frita, bistec empanizado, or medianoche you can never go wrong with what you choose to order. They have also done an excellent job at creating an elegant yet comfortable feel to combine with their exquisite menu that visitors can enjoy during a casual lunch or sophisticated dinner.

I’ve been eating at Havana Harry’s for almost my entire life. Growing up in a large extended family, Havana Harry’s has always been our go to for family gatherings whether it’s birthdays or celebrations. Having the ability to mass order takeout food for 20 without losing any quality is just another thing that adds to the countless amazing things about this delicious restaurant.

Business

The Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel, Photo retrieved from wlrn.org

The Biltmore Hotel was first built by George Merrick in 1926 during his creation of Coral Gables. The Biltmore would then become home to Coral Gables’ affluent residents by hosting elegant galas, golf tournaments, fashion shows and water shows in what was once the biggest pool in the world. After years of being a staple in the city as a place for lavish gatherings it was turned into a military hospital during World War II. Even after the war concluded it continued as a hospital for veterans of the war. After the hospital was closed and the building an abandoned shell, the stories of the haunted hospital began. Neighborhood kids would sneak into the building so much the City of Coral Gables hired a security guard. After stories and rumors spread The Biltmore gained its reputation as a haunted building. In 1983 the city put $55 million into renovating the hotel and had it reopened in 1987. The beauty of The Biltmore Hotel and the history between its walls has made it a major part of The City of Coral Gables.

Jae’s Jewelers

Interior of Jae’s Jewelers, Photo from timeout.com

Jae’s Jewelers was established in 1945 by Brooklyn native George Hornik who moved to Miami in 1938 and then served in the Navy during World War II. After the war Hornik moved to Colorado where he studied watchmaking and eventually started his business repairing watches. By 1956 his partner and wife of 60 years convinced him to move the business to Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. Up until they passed the business down to their son they were affectionately known on Miracle Mile as Mr. and Mrs. Jae. Their son Bruce, a gemologist and one of the most knowledgable jewelers in the city and has also been nicknamed Jae.

Jae’s Jewelers early beginnings, Photo from jaesjewelers.com

Jae’s Jewelers has just recently gone into its third generation with both of Bruce’s daughters becoming gemologists as well. His daughter Jennie moved to Bozman and opened up a sister store while Jilian stayed at Jae’s and is now their sales manager. The passion the entire family has towards what they do is infectious to all who visit while the 54 years they’ve been on the mile has made Jae’s Jewelers a staple in Coral Gables.

Books & Books

Books & Books, Photo retrieved from booksandbooks.com

Books & Books was first opened by Mitchel Kaplan after he dropped out of law school in 1982 in a small 500 square foot space in Coral Gables. Over time Mitchel worked to create a comfortable space where like-minded people could visit, learn and discuss with their friends. Mitchel filled that small location with as many books he could about art, architecture, photography and more until they were able to move to their current location in 2001. After relocating across the street to a beautiful 1927 building listed in the Coral Gables Register of Historic Places. With a much larger location Books & Books was able to do much much more. Now they host over 60 author events per month featuring celebrities, artists, and poets.

Summary

Ponce De Leon Boulevard, Photo retrieved from realestatebulldog.com

For almost 100 years The City of Coral Gables has been a beauty, filled with vibrant art, Mediterranean architecture, gorgeous nature, and unique history everywhere you look. From the beginning of the planning of the layout and design of what George Merrick dreamed of, to the creation of what Coral Gables is today has left its mark on its residents and tourists that have experienced what this great city has to offer. The vast amount of landmarks scattered around the city truly showcases the deep historical background of the beautiful Coral Gables from its schools, buildings, and its own City Hall. The City Beautiful that is Coral Gables has created a mediterranean paradise in the middle of Miami, Florida as a home to countless backgrounds and ethnicities that truly encompasses what Miami is all about.

The beautiful nature scenery that encompasses the city and its residents creates the atmosphere of a paradise to perfectly surround the unique architecture that Miami had never seen before. From it beaches, parks, and tree lined streets Coral Gables has been shown to be perfect example of how to use nature to beautify an already gorgeous city. The presence of these sites have been present almost as long as the city itself, tying the natural surroundings of the city into what residents and visitors see whenever they look around.

Coral Gables is also home to countless delicious restaurants that in and of themselves have plenty of interesting historical backgrounds to go with the already historical city. These restaurants and business have become part of the great community of Coral Gables by creating comfortable and friendly locations for its visitors to enjoy the food they have to offer. The intimate relationships that customers create with the businesses themselves as well as the ones they build upon with their own friends and families can be attributed somewhat to the great memories they create at their favorite local spots. This tight knit community of Coral Gables is just another aspect that sets it apart from most cities.

Overall, The City of Coral Gables has been creating a place for its residents and visitors alike filled with unique food, architecture, history, nature, and art to truly encompass what it’s like to live in Miami. Still flourishing after 100 years, The City of Coral Gables isn’t looking to slow down their creation, continuing to build upon their own history and working everyday to make this city the best that it can be.

Citations

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